Friday, June 30, 2006

Next Time Round

Why I would be no good at reviewing records is, well, I don’t know how this works, but somehow I am able to miss the obvious on the first few listens to something, maybe there are too many factors at play, expectations, trying too hard, distractions; whatever. I put the record away for a while, having listened to it just enough times to have some small part of it, almost unknowingly, embedded somewhere in that corner of the deepest recesses of my brain where song fragments lie in wait for an opportunity to surface.

Then I go about my business.

Until, for some reason, I am reminded of this record I have had sitting in that pile over there, maybe for a few months, maybe a year, who knows, and I think, well, I don’t recall being all that excited by this at the time, but I should give it another go, because they have another record out, or someone blogged positive about it, or I have a nagging feeling that there is something there busting to be let out. I listen again. I think, I remember this. I think, hey, this is quite good. I think, you idiot, you’ve missed the point again.

It ... is ... happening ... again ...

A few days back, Pitchfork mentioned that M Ward has a new album in the works, wherein he is backed by a “full band” (full of what? being the real question). I bought “Transistor Radio” some time back, played it a few times, pigeonholed it under “quite good but not “Transfiguration of Vincent””, and promptly went on to the next thing. I can’t believe that I had entirely forgotten about it. But I had. So I listened again last night. And again today. And do you know what? I can now say it is one of the best records I have listened to this year. Mr Ward is somehow able to occupy a place slightly outside of time without sounding in any way contrived or forced. I suppose you could say something similar about Gillian Welch. But in the case of M Ward he is somewhere between the Pacific Northwest, John Fahey and Bob Dylan. In fact, the opening piece funnels the Beach Boys through the mind of John Fahey. And succeeds. From there it’s a trip through a world of song fragments, some developed, some less so, and always (as was the case with “Vincent”) a stone classic is never far away. What I really like about M Ward is the way he chooses not to sing his heart out, but always keeps a little something permanently in reserve. It keeps you wanting more but also glad he doesn’t give it to you.

Then there is the mysterious case of “The Life Pursuit” by Belle and Sebastian, a group that should have worn out its welcome some time ago but somehow keeps finding a new chain to pull. I think I dealt with my early impressions on these pages a while ago. Those turned out to be my only impressions, until a copy turned up in The Shop Formerly Known As Revolution on the weekend, which I duly bought. (Who can resist a photo suite of gorgeous young lassies dressed in tartan?) There may still be some patches of this record that I can’t quite warm to, but it is relatively early days, really, and I feel confident in saying that, whoever you are, you will like this record. Adrienne says they must have been listening to The Kinks. It could be true (although I put the overall feel of this record a few years later than “... Are the Village Green Preservation Society”, which is our own benchmark Kinks long player). It certainly sounds very clean. Stevie Jackson’s guitar playing keeps getting stronger and stronger. Belle and Sebastian may yet outlive the cardigans and old Penguin paperbacks jibes. They may make more great records. This may turn out to be one of them.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Roll Call

There are many institutions which, having at one time or another been a large part of life, are no longer there; or have moved; or have irrevocably changed. Here are a few:

Cafe Paradiso
The Carlton Moviehouse
The Valhalla
The Black Cat Cafe
Dizzy Spinners
The Carlton Noodle House (or maybe it’s still there?)
Alice’s Bookshop (in its first, Trefor John incarnation)
The steps of Missing Link Records (in its original location)
Gaumont Book Co
Exposure Records
The Metropole
The Club
The Old Greek Theatre
The Venue
The Seaview Ballroom
Harley Court Cafe
The Galleon
The Longford
The Lumiere
The corner bar at The George, when it first opened under Donlevy Fitzpatrick’s stewardship, and the bakery a couple of doors up, on Grey Street
Upstairs at the Continental

And do I hear that the Astor is closing and/or has closed?

Monday, June 19, 2006


Throw yourselves behind this humanitarian campaign.

Give generously.

You know it makes sense.


We should like to take this opportunity to welcome the most recent additions to the circle, namely:

Niall Atticus Florien O'Shannassy, born 13 June 2006

Nicholas Hugh Breward, born 15 June 2006

Thanks to the wonders of email and digital photography, distance is no barrier to an early viewing, and we are fortunate to be able to say that both are as gorgeous as is it possible for small humans to be.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Dylanologists rejoice!

Yes, the fabled Bob Dylan radio shows have appeared on Ye Olde Gas-Light Internet, courtesy of the good folks at mp3@3pm (scroll down a bit; they're spread over a couple of posts).

From what I've heard so far, I observe:

1. Dylan would have made a very good late-night radio host, with his gruff voice and smooth delivery, kind of (if I remember rightly) like the radio voice on Jim Jarmusch's "Night On Earth" - was that Tom Waits? Maybe I have that totally wrong.

2. This seemingly strange career shift may turn out to be, in typically oblique fashion, a kind of audio "Chronicles, Volume Two", with Dylan seeking to put his own spin on his own mythology, sorry, autobiography. I mean that in a nice way. He is a fascinating man.

Sadly, though, the Macintosh doesn't seem to be able to download episodes one and seven, so I herewith provide, for my own benefit, direct links to those episodes on the off chance I can get them that way. I know dirrect links are a transgression of the unwritten law, so if I offend anyone by doing so, they only have to ask (nicely).

Episode One

Episode Seven

Saturday, June 10, 2006


By way of value-adding the previous entry, we provide the following links:

1. Go here and scroll down to find and excellent description of the works of Kevin Huizenga, and incidentally rare evidence that I am not his only fan in the world;

2. Go here for an entirely wrongheaded and misguided review of "My Life in the Bush of Ghosts", which raises a number of discussion points, none of which will be elaborated upon here. Including: should people be allowed to review records that were released before they were born; is "My Life in the Bush of Ghosts" post-punk's answer to "Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band", i.e. revolutionary in its day, changing the face of music to such an extent that its very existence creates a kind of built-in redundancy (how can you sound fresh when pretty soon everything sounds like you); and, am I, despite fighting against it, becoming a crusty old curmudgeon of the Ian MacDonald, it-was-all-better-in-my-day type?

Saturday, June 03, 2006

Who Knows Where The Time Goes?

I have a couple of longer pieces, or at least a bit more thought-out than usual, that I want to write but I can't seem to get it together at the moment. I blame the onset of winter in these parts. (Others might blame Google Earth. I found the farm I grew up on!)

I have another one of my personal-reminiscence-type pieces ready to go, and another playlist (already?), both of which will get posted very shortly. But for now just let me say this:

1. During the week there were many tears in our house, on account of one of the two guinea pigs we have been minding for friends for almost three years now, name of Cuddles, passed away quietly in his sleep. The owners of Cuddles, and his good friend Pepper, are due back in a matter of weeks and it is a shame, having come so far, that we are unable to deliver up two healthy guinea pigs. Jules, aged six, appeared to have some trouble understanding his own emotions and, consequently, they manifested themselves as anger (the following morning he had sorted himself out and began asking questions like, "Are you sure he was really dead?"). Carl, aged eight, was the more distraught of the two, but still managed to find the silver lining: "I really miss Cuddles, even though I couldn't tell which one was which; at least now I will know which one is Pepper."

2. I might have mentioned that I received a large shipment of comic books from my Canadian pusher-man recently. A large proportion of them consisted of work by Kevin Huizenga. The more I read of this fellow, whose name I wouldn't have even recognised a year or two ago, the more impressed I am. He is a very gifted and surprisingly wide-ranging storyteller, a fine observer of human behaviour, and he draws like a treat, too. Don't you just hate people like that?

3. Also buried withing the aforesaid comics shipment: the final issue of Charles Burns's "Black Hole". Upon finishing, at long last, this beautifully drawn but frequently distressing saga of 1970s teen angst and plague, one's first response is, perhaps, envy addressed towards all the people who are able, now, to buy it off the shelf as a single publication and read it through from start to finish in one go. What they won't ever have, though, is the experience of living with the accumulated sense of anticipation every time another issue loomed. An ongoing, self-contained story, stretched out over, what, is-it-really-ten years? That's something I don't think we have seen the likes of since the days of the serialised novel a la Charles Dickens, and even they were churned out well inside a decade. It seems kind of strange not to have to wait for the next issue any more. And, even if the story might perhaps turn out to be just a bit less than meets the eye, that's really neither here nor there, given how well it all holds together, how gorgeous it is, and how amazingly consistent the drawing, writing, and tone have been over all of those ten years and twelve issues. How did he do it?

4. I have resisted most fancy-pants CD reissues of "classic" albums with their barrel-scraping extra tracks and typo-infested liner notes (exceptions: Television's "Marquee Moon" and "World of Echo" by Arthur Russell). But the floodgates may have opened with my recent purchase of not one but two of the Greatest Records Of All Time ("groats" for short), remastered and expanded, and gorgeously packaged. I am speaking, obviously, of "Remain In Light" by Talking Heads and "My Life in the Bush of Ghosts" by David Byrne and Brian Eno. These two records were staging-posts in my life. I would never need to listen to either of them ever again, on account of their being so much a part of me, but it is a pleasure to hear them as I have never heard them before: no pops, no clicks, nothing muffled, just pure joyful sound. It's a shame that "Qu'ran" couldn't be given a run, but understandable too, given the times in which we live, and anyway I can always crank up the turntable whenever I want to listen to it.

5. A big Internet hello to the human being behind Voltage Controlled Technicolor, who has gone to the trouble to offer us mere mortals an astounding collection of complete albums, most of which none of us will ever have even heard of, for download. There is very little here that you can imagine would be troubling the copyright police, on account of obscurity and presumed out-of-printness, which is a very welcome change from the seemingly endless parade of "mp3 blogs" that offer the latest "hip" "indie" records for complete download, a dubious enterprise at best, but even worse when (a) they boast about how many copies of things they have put up have been downloaded and/or (b) they have the temerity to request that users click on a banner ad on the site, which I can only assume results in some small amount of revenue to the person behind the site. This is like saying, "It's fine to deprive the musicians of what little they would have made if you had bought the record, but, hey, I'm giving it to you for free, so pay me instead." I don't think it's meant to work that way.

6. I'm going to shut up now. It's late.