Thursday, June 29, 2006

The Shoebox Tapes

Dear Friends, though we moved house almost two months ago, we still find ourselves surrounded by the flotsam and jetsam of our material lives. Unfiled files lie on the office floor. Cairns of books await shelving. CDs still cavort unfettered in the living room. Entropy laps at our shores.

To give her the credit and applause she so richly deserves, Dearest Wife has fought --and continues to fight-- the chaos with ruthless efficiency. But there is, I can see, only so much that is superhumanly possible. So I am forced to admit it: Pilbo triumphs aside, I probably haven't been contributing enough to the effort. Bad FiL.

The other night I therefore set about to make at least a token effort to continue disciplining our (mostly my) unruly CDs. That's when I stumbled upon a shoebox nestled betwixt two photo albums. Memory dimmed and curiosity piqued, I opened it. Inside was a clutch of about ten C90 cassettes, the survivors of a brutal, rushed, pre-move cull that saw scores of their brethren either trashed or banished to charity shops. Though the purge itself is a blur, as I dug through the cardboard sarcophagus I realized why these artifacts were spared. Merely looking at them evoked, like a most enjoyable and fast-acting drug, memories, feelings, faces, places. Two in particular caught my eye, and listening to them just brought it it all into more intense focus...

Insert: A hand-drawn manga youth stares intensely out from a fluorescent yellow background, mumbling something cryptic about film noir.
Music: A starry, shoegazey pie of ethereal gossamer. Heavenly. Popguns. Charlottes. Sea Urchins. The Sweetest Ache. And more.
Tape: 'Manheim Dominatrix,' a lovely compilation crafted by one of the Dearest of my Dearest Friends, Bishakh (say 'Hello' to the folks, Beesh)
Date: Circa 1990.
Place: In flux, transiting from the comfortable, familiar structure of American undergraduate study to the freeflow, self-starting opacity of old-skool, English postgraduate academia.
Moods: Effervescently excited, terrified, self-doubting.

Heavenly - I Fell In Love Last Night (buy here)
Popguns - Landslide (buy here)

Insert: Plain, hand-lettered. Don't want to seem too keen, you know.
Music: A painstakingly assembled roster of tunes, each one carefully selected for mood or message. Band of Holy Joy's 'Real Beauty Just Passed Through' - right, she should get the message there. The new vocal mix of 'Belfast/Wasted' - picked for it's sweeping, evocative architecture, and not for the line 'Do you recommend yourself to my gentle senses?' How was I to know she didn't care much for electronica?
Tape: My first musical offering to the woman who would later become Dearest Wife.
Date: Probably November 1992. And yes, it did indirectly get me a date. An excruciatingly awkward one. I had the trout. At least she held my hand on the way back.
Place: The surreal hothouse of Cambridge.
Moods: At the time - giddily gleeful, petrified, maladroit. Today - pleasantly gratified (yes, she and her friends did pore over each song), bewildered (how the heck did we get here from there??).

Band Of Holy Joy - Real Beauty Just Passed Through (buy here)
Orbital - Belfast/Wasted (this version can be found on either 'Volume Three' or 'Best of Volume.' Happy hunting...)

And finally, some miscellaneous notices, if I may:

First, and most important, you may have noticed that marvellous Merz has once again rejoined us at Mars Needs Guitars. I am overjoyed that he has - Merz, you were sorely missed!

Second, Contrast Podcast #14 is up and tremendous Tim was kind enough to include my contribution. The wonderfully gruesome theme is 'Dinner music For A Pack Of Hungry Cannibals,' so do pop round here to have a listen to the ghoulishly groovy tunes on offer.

Third, at work yesterday one of my colleagues and I broke out into an inpromptu rendition of Iron Maiden's 'Run To The Hills.' Don't ask why. However, I was shocked and impressed by the high quality of my Bruce Dickinson imitation- I didn't know I had it in me. Here, try it for yourself:

Iron Maiden - Run To The Hills (buy here)

And last, it will be a few days before I venture again into the blogosphere, as we are off to Mayne Island (y'all should really come out and visit) for the long Canada Day weekend. We hope to frolic with ravens and gambol with orcas, but mucking about in tidal pools and hiking lovely wooded trails will do nicely as well. Thankfully Darling Daughter has recovered from her bug, I've rebounded from mine, and Dearest Wife is also on the mend. We are looking forward to our time away.

See you all next week!

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Start the Week

Dear Friends, I want to post but at the same time am not really feeling up to it. Compulsion fights exhaustion. Desire for expression wrestles with sniffings of dejection. So let's see what wins out...

The weekend, I must say, was a good one. Nay, it was a happy one. Even the mundane was enjoyable; on Saturday, Little Man and Daddy set off in search of bagels and somehow, inexplicably, ended up at Granville Island. Eating pizza. By the water. Listening to a pleasantly noodling jazz band. And I don't, as a rule, care much for noodling jazz bands.

A sunny Sunday saw an afternoon visit to the beach, which turned out to be a concentrated burst of Vancouver essence. Sailboats scudding across English Bay against a backdrop of mountains, some still capped with snow. A seaplane making its ungainly way across the sky like a fat duck. A family grilling sausages behind us, chatting in Russian about computer game development. Strident crows chasing a bald eagle away from delectable shoreline pickings. A Chinese teenager in bikini top and micro-skirt teetering across the sand on high-heeled cowboy boots. Occasional bursts of dub rythm blowing down the beach from far away. Teen boys in baggy shorts sluicing across the moist sand flats on wakeboards to impress teen girls. Darling Daughter and Daddy laughing at their own sandy funhouse shadows.

A good, happy weekend.

Unfortunately, the edges started to come unstuck on Sunday evening. Darling Daughter was struck rather suddenly and most unpleasantly by the local stomach bug that's doing the rounds. Cue hours of cleanup and comforting. Monday dawns, and I'm feeling squiffy myself. Cue fervent hopes that it's the mildish cold that Dearest Wife is just shaking off, rather than gastro-germ. Later in the morning, news that the in-laws are returning to town today. They had
intended to spend a week on Mayne Island, but Beloved Mother-in-Law is simply too frail and so after two days they came back to Vancouver. That hits me hard, another reminder that her end is near. Musings on the nature of impermanence don't help - I'm too attached. Then, a call from my own Aged Mother, seeking solace from the solitude of her recent bereavement.

Dearest Friends, I'm feeling drained, so drained, nothing left to give. And it's only Monday...

Depeche Mode - Shake The Disease (buy here)

I did actually drag myself out to Zulu at lunchtime on the pretext of picking up another Camera Obscura ticket (Yay! Dearest Wife is converted and will accompany me to the their show on 24 July), but of course I ended up buying discs. Only two, though. Included in that duo was the latest album from Montreal's Pony Up!, the coyly titled 'Make Love To The Judges With Your Eyes.' I had been quite taken by last year's twinkly, downbeat poplet of a track 'Shut Up And Kiss Me' and what I heard from the listening post this afternoon seemed to reflect the betwixt and between I found myself in. Bright, bubblegummy vocals declaiming not-so-bright, bittersweetish lyrics over ambivalent pop tunes with a wash of grey, if not black. On top of that, in my current frame of mind I could not resist a track entitled 'The Truth About Cats And Dogs (Is That They Die).'

Pony Up! - The Truth About Cats And Dogs (Is That They Die)
Pony Up! - What's Free Is Yours

(Buy here, direct from the label)

I hope you will enjoy.

(UPDATE 28 June, 11:00 AM: Hooray! EZarchive has awakened from its 12-hour coma. You should now be able to sample my delectable wares as normal. Yum, slurp...)

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Unlikely Stories

My Dear, Dear Friends, do not lament! Please, dry your eyes, open your blinds, and cease your mournful wailing. For, contrary to popular belief, I have not succumbed to the Pilbo. Indeed, I have emerged emotionally and physically unscathed from my trial, and the flatpack creature now stands fully assembled, occupying pride of place in our living room. Can you feel my warm glow of contentment from where you are?

Perhaps even more shocking, Pilbo and I actually bonded during the assembly process. Yes, there was one sheared screw and half of the f**king wooden dowel things were too thin for their designated holes. But Pilbo & I worked together to overcome these challenges. And to what do I ascribe this felicity?

Camera Obscura, of course.

Things started off worryingly; I opened Pilbo's box and laid out its constituent parts on the floor. They eyed me malevolently and muttered threats. I stared back at them coolly, knowing the importance of not showing an Ikea product the slightest ounce of fear. Realising that maintaining a tranquil state of mind would be key to prevailing over the creature, I slipped the album into the CD player. The organ notes soared out of the speakers and immediately the Pilbo bits fell silent. By the time Traceyanne had finished singing her first line, I could see the tension drain away from them. By the time she was announcing 'Hey Lloyd, I'm ready to be heartbroken,' they were positively cooing. I smiled at them and asked: "Shall we make this as pleasant as possible?" The bits burbled in agreement. Forty minutes later with nary a contretemps, we were finished. Oh, and the PivotPlus? Pilbo says it tickled.

Dear Friends, I've decided that Camera Obscura is the key to world peace and happiness. Forget your organized religions, your healing crystals, and your yogic flying - this is the real deal. I say we play the album simultaneously on every radio, CD player, tape deck, and speaker across the planet. Mark my words, Jew would embrace Palestinian, insurgents would dance with coalition forces in the streets of Baghdad, long-estranged relatives would reconcile, and Tom would shack up with Jerry. Oh, to heck with it, I just can't stand it - here's another track:

Camera Obscura - Razzle Dazzle Rose (buy it! Now! That's all you're going to get from me!!)

In other music news, a couple of weeks back I came across the most extraordinary video for 'Bathtime In Clerkenwell' by The Real Tuesday Weld. It was posted by the marvellous Colleen on sugartown, and you can (and should) see it here. I was fascinated, enthralled, and overjoyed - all those cuckoos! Those clocks! The bathtub!! I showed it to my office colleagues. I showed it to Dearest Wife, Little Man, and Darling Daughter. They all loved it (though Little Man prefers the Lordi video, truth be told). So, I went out and bought meself the CD whence the track comes. 'I, Lucifer' is a wonderfully odd creation. It bills itself as a soundtrack to the satirical Glen Duncan novel of the same name, in which Lucifer returns to modern-day London for one last shot at redemption. But the album is no goth dirge or industrial jackhammer; it mixes electronica , vintage swing, and twangy guitar to shape some rather compelling music. Please, do have a listen:

The Real Tuesday Weld - Bathtime in Clerkenwell (buy here)
The Real Tuesday Weld - (Still) Terminally Ambivalent Over You (you Brits should buy here)
The Real Tuesday Weld - La Bête et la Belle (je dirige nos amis francophones ici)

Still on things literary, I'm getting reacquainted with our library, now that Dearest Wife has shelved (with only token help from her lazy, gadabout husband, I fear) most of our vast collection of books. One tome that caught my eye and through which I leafed was Alasdair Gray's Unlikely Stories, Mostly. Gray is a monumental writer and has been justifiably described as one of Scotland's best authors ever (Colin, back me up on this, pretty please?). He in turn describes himself as "a fat, spectacled, balding, increasingly old Glaswegian pedestrian." I love him and everything I've read by him to pieces, though I've yet to work through his masterpiece, Lanark. His writing is surreal, magically real, dryly hilarious, highly allegorical, and exquisitely illustrated by his own hand. A good place to start, methinks, would be Poor Things, the first book of his I ever read and still my favourite. In the interim, I offer you a facsimile of 'The Star,' one of his early short stories from 'Unlikely Stories, Mostly.'

Finally, I've been spending a bit of time this week over at the home of those mavens of indie style and cultcha, The Rich Girls Are Weeping. You should as well. Today the fabulous Cindy Hotpoint posted a slew of Madonna (or Madge, as we Brits know her) covers that are well worth checking out. To complement and partly round out that offering, here are two more:

Teenage Fanclub - Like A Virgin (from the 1991 'Star Sign' single. Try eBay...)
Ciccone Youth (aka Sonic Youth) - Get Into The Groove(y) (buy here)

Gosh, another posting heavy on things Caledonian. Hmm, maybe Scotland is the centre of the universe...

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

FiLbo versus Pilbo

A brief post today, mes chers amis, for tonight I must devote all my energies to an odious task: the assembly of an Ikea Pilbo coffee table. Yes, I know, it all sounds so pleasantly bourgeois: "Oh Emily, do come by for a glass of Shiraz and bring us a copy of your latest oeuvre. Miles will be assembling the Pilbo and we would love "Spirit of the Yak: A Photojourney Through Mongolia" to be its inaugural book."

But it's not.

No, I can assure you it will be an interminable night of unbridled rage, gut-knotting frustration, opaque instructional heiroglyphs, sheared screwheads, screaming fits, marital discord, cracked particle board, and blood, all ending in complete, utter, and irredeemable despair. Nevertheless, this is my challenge, my Nemesis for the night, and my loins I am a-girding. With a clear mind and a fully-charged Black & Decker PivotPlus cordless drill/driver at my side, I will take on the Pilbo. But it may very well end up like this:

Black Flag - Nervous Breakdown (buy here)

As an aside, the PivotPlus is a true genius of marketing. It can be configured to look either like a blaster pistol or a lightsaber, thereby allowing us late thirtysomethings to secretly pretend we're both Han Solo and Luke Skywalker while ostensibly doing useful things around the house. And we can feel really confused about our emotions towards Princess Leia.

Before I go (no, no, I'm not procrastinating), I did want to mention that today I visited Zulu (sigh, don't ask how much) and picked up 'Losin' It,' the new release by local band Vancougar. Doesn't that name simply rock?? These four sassy lasses pump out some luscious licks of hooky, edgy power pop with completely sussed lyrics. 'Mine First' skewers a hipster's angst at seeing "their" cherished underground band making it big. And 'Way It's Gon' Be' so perfectly captures the wobbly expectations and frantic projections of a budding relationship

Vancougar - Mine First (buy here)
Vancougar - Way It's Gon' Be (visit them here and here)

And late at night I’ll wake up
And I will touch your hair
Just to make sure that this is real

That’s the way it’s gon’ be

‘Cuz haven’t I waited for years?
And haven’t I paid all my dues in tears?

In the same foray I also purchased Camera Obscura's 'Let's Get Out Of This Country.'


*Sigh* once more.

And then *sigh* again.

Dear Friends, this is truly a work of splendour and beauty with not a dud or filler track to be found anywhere. Indeed, this piece of shimmery, coy loveliness might be just the ticket to see me unscathed through my impending Pilbo flatpack death match. Speaking of tickets, I picked one up for their July show in Vancouver. Dear Bryce at plasticmusic seems similarly smitten, and he has posted the North American tour dates for the edification of all. And I must offer you this:

Camera Obscura - Country Mile (buy here)
Camera Obscura - Let's Get Out Of This Country (visit them here)

Let's get out of this country
I'll admit I am bored with me

I drowned my sorrows and slept around
When not in body at least in mind

We'll find a cathedral city
You can convince me I am pretty

We'll pick berries and recline
Let's hit the road dear friend of mine

Oh, and one last thing, I promise. I made my inaugural contribution to the Contrast podcast, plus I added my tuppence to Merz the Magnificent's latest community post on the best music of 2006 to date. Please do visit both, if you've not already had enough of me...

Right, I can hear the Pilbo snuffling and wuffling downstairs. Can't put this off any longer (though not a bad effort, considering this was to be a 'short' post). Time to face my fears...

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Ships, Seas, and Salvation

Hello, Dear Friends! A few snips & snails from me to you at the end of today, a better-than-most Sunday. You may be pleased to hear (or you may not give a toss) that in sharp contrast to last week, I'm not agitated. Not irritated. Not discombobulated. There is still much roiling of seas around me, but my wee craft seems to be bobbing along and taking on only minimal water. Nothing the bilge pump can't handle.

Given the day of the week it is, I thought it might be apposite to relate to you the only concrete thing I remember from several years of Sunday School: how to mug an old lady using a walker (Brit translation: Zimmer frame).

I must have been around thirteen or so, and was preparing (or rather, being prepared) for Confirmation. The lessons themselves were dull and dry, and I recall feeling extremely uneasy; I wasn't sure at all if I believed in all of this Bible stuff, but I sure as heck was petrified at what might happen if I didn't (cue: hellfire, damnation, wrath of God etc ad nauseam). I was an impressionable lad with an active imagination...

Helping out with the teaching were some older, ideologically sound teenagers. They were supposed to go through various exercises with us ("Describe your favourite saint" and things like that), but as soon as the Fathers and Sisters were out of the room, the japery started.

One Sunday our Sweet and Tender Hooligan Shepherd of the week asked for a volunteer. He wanted to show us how to mug an old lady. I don't know why, but I raised my hand. He told me to stand at the front of the class with my hands on a chair in front of me. I was to be the hapless granny, the chair my walker. As I shuffled slowly, Hooligan Shepherd grabbed my ankles, flipped them over my head, rotated me over the chair, and lowered me gently (remember, he was also Sweet and Tender) onto the floor such that I was lying on my back. He then finished by saying one was supposed to grab the handbag from prostrate, winded (paralysed?) granny and flee. Charming.

So there you have it - the sum total of what I remember from Sunday School, and one of the reasons I am leery of churches and organized religions. Thanks to Mentok for drawing this memory out of me through our comment exchange last week. I thought about posting Public image Ltd's 'Religion' as an accompaniment, but I'm simply not feeling aggressive or uncharitable enough. Instead I give you the fluffier:

Culture Club - Church of the Poison Mind (buy here)

In other news, for some time I've been studiously ignoring Sufjan Stevens. Too much hipster hype, methought, best stay away. But witnessing the conversion of Colin, now on a ship sailing to Sufjan City with Ash, and the retreat of Coxon and LovelyBelle to a Sufjan-free island redoubt, I thought it was time to stop treading water. So I listened to one track. Then another. I read up on the man, pinching my nose to shut out the stench of arch hipness. Then more tracks. And then this one:

Sufjan Stevens - Casimir Pulaski Day (buy here)

And that did it. Colin, wham bam thank you man, chuck me a life ring and pull me aboard. I've been in this cold, cold water for so long that I look like a prune. I am now baptized, Hallelujah (even if it's not a hard rock one)! Shuffleboard with Sufjan, it is.

And now, a riddle. Quite by chance I caught an episode of an old telly programme that made me laugh like a drain. But rather than tell you what it was, let's see if you can guess it. To guide you, I offer two songs and a strip of dialogue. And the winner gets... oh, I don't know. I'm sure we can come to some agreement. At very least my unyielding admiration.

The Associates - Party Fears Two (och aye, buy here)

"Angus Podgorny, what do y'mean??" "He wasnae so much a man as a ..."

Blancmange - That's Love, That It Is (buy here)

Oh, dash it, I'm just feeling so compassionate and generous right now. And no, I'm not being sarcastic. 'I want to give peace, love and kisses out to this whole stinking world. The gypsies, the travellers and the thieves. The good, the bad, the average and unique. The grebos the crusties and the goths...' So here you go, a final few gifts on what is fast becoming Monday morning.

Carter USM - The Only Living Boy In New Cross (buy here)

dINbot - Beastie Bop (Ramones vs Beastie Boys) (onetwothreefour ch-ch-check it out here)

Bjork - Fool On The Hill. Sung in Icelandic and recorded when she was all of 11 years old. Appears on the eponymous 'Bjork Gudmunsdottir,' which I understand is only on vinyl & I have no idea where it can be found (EDIT: Many thanks to Buffer Low from Oz for sending this jpeg of the fantastically exotic album cover). A lovely song, perfect to wind down to...


go to sleep...

dreaming happy dreams...

Thursday, June 15, 2006

At Home He Feels Like A Tourist

I find myself in a curious spot, Dear Readers. Very curious. I warn you this may not be particularly linear. You see, this week has been a week of connections. I don't mean capital-C Connections with Very Important Persons (though there have been a couple of those too, if truth be told) . I'm talking about lots of lower-key connections. Lower-key, but each wonderful and portentious in its own small way.

With Jack the Bear (about which more in the future, I promise).
With the person who cleans the loos at the office.
With co-workers.
With the baristas here (mmm, wish I could buy you each a cup of their luurvely coffee)
With cyber-friends.

It has also been a week of re-connections, largely due to the flurry of e-correspondence surrounding my high-school reunion. Mails exchanged with people who I've not thought of in two decades. Connections also continue to be re-forged in the wake of my father's death.

All this forward and backward connecting has drawn me hither and yon. I've been doing much travelling to past times and locations, as well as to those that I want to visit. And sometimes if I think too hard I confuse myself. Like with the place pictured above. Husab. In the Namib desert. I find myself thinking: Was I really there? Or do I want to go? (Answer: yes, and yes).

Then there's cyberspace. Oh, let's not even go there. Too late of course, I'm floating right through it (and so are you).

And home. Where is home? A question that springs from one posed by Colin (yes, him again). Born in New York, raised there by parents who never considered it home. So neither did I. Then a stint in Washington DC. Too transitory to root. Then just shy of fifteen (fifteen!) years in England. Tight friendships forged, a family started. But always in the background the thought: not home, will leave. And we did, last year. Where is home? Perhaps more appropriately: What is home??

The truth is I'm not sure where I am. Or where I'm going. But I am thoroughly enjoying the journey, and the connections I am making along the way.

And the soundtrack, of course:

Dead Can Dance - Frontier (buy here)
This Mortal Coil - Song To The Siren (buy here)
Pale Saints - Time Thief (buy here)
Gang Of Four - At Home He's A Tourist (buy here)
Joe Topping - Two Bottles of Red (buy "Love, Loss & alcohol" here) . Joe was in the Namib with me. I'm sure of that.
Talking Heads - This Must Be The Place (Naive Melody) (buy here)


Codicil: I must, must point you again towards Colin (no, don't groan, he's splendid and worth frequent visits) because he's posted a most wonderful Public Image Limited track: "Careering" live on the Old Grey Whistle Test. And to complement said posting, here is a glorious 1980 performance by PiL of "Poptones" and "Careering" on American Bandstand. It's a big file, but worth downloading for its pure, unalloyed brilliance.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Dharma Bum

Oh my, how embarrassing. I'm really rather ashamed of that last outburst. Sheepish, even. In this morning's warm, bright light it became even clearer how much I overreacted. Sigh. Yes, I was inconvenienced, but also had some very pleasant interactions with folks that I otherwise would not have had. Bad FiL, you should know better...

Many thanks to Colin and Monsieur Le Woof for their kind and helpful suggestions on how to soothe the seether. A big shout out also goes to my Bodhisattva Of The Week, Bishakh, for reminding me of the Dharma. Don't worry, Dear Readers, I'm not going to get all mystikal and wind-chimey on yo asses. But over the past couple of years I have found the Buddhist teachings in which I have dabbled rather helpful and practical in dealing with tough emotional situations. So for those of you so interested or intrigued, let me point you here, here, here and here. There, it's over.

And finally, a big thank you and much love go to my Darling Son (intrepid beyond his three years) and Dearest Father-In-Law for locating that which I had misplaced.

Anyway, on to what I originally wanted to share with you. This past Saturday Darling Daughter performed in her very first proper ballet recital, and it was a treat to watch. Dearest Wife and I were sooo proud, while Darling Daughter was sooo excited to be onstage. She and her troupe of fellow six-year-old ballerinas did a charming little number to that Ooh La La song from the cartoon film Anastasia. Oddly, however, the programme said they were supposed to be woodland nymphs - we failed to see the connection. Indeed, the show, captivating as it was, was most curiously scored; one group of ten-year-old jazz dancers performed to, and I kid you not, Nine Inch Nails's "The Hand That Feeds", while another posse hi-stepped to The Sweet's "Ballroom Blitz." Stonking, but most peculiar.

Nine Inch Nails - The Hand That Feeds (buy here)
The Sweet - Ballroom Blitz (buy here)

In other news, I have recently found myself at the receiving end of a stream of flattering e-mails from bands and their various impresarios offering up CDs and mp3s along with sweet words encouraging me to post them. The initial rush and reverie of hubris ("Moi? A bellwether of taste?? How grand!") very quickly gave way to an equal and opposite snapback reaction that I was simply a marketing channel, a mere billboard to advertise wares ("Hah! I won't be their capitalist stooge!!") Eventually sanity prevailed and I figured I might as well try what was put in front of me (as, indeed, we exhort the children to do). If I don't like it, I don't have to eat it...

Well, one of the tidbits I did try and quite like was a track by Black Fiction, a band out of the San Francisco area. "I Spread The Disease" is indeed a rather infectious, yet pleasant, dose of shambolic noodling with vocals that ordinarily would be way too 70s falsetto for my liking. Very appropriate for pootling along the coast in your multicoloured VW camper van.

Black Fiction - I Spread The Disease (visit here and here)

Dear Readers, I've also recently been playing on ye olde Victrola a monstrously good ditty from Brighton arty types, Shrag. "Pregnancy Scene" is full of starkly jagged guitars, shouty vocals, righteous lyrics, and spoookily wobbly, thereminesque keyboards. Most delish. They have a Myspace page, but I find their Fotolog and this here interview much more fun. Though they've been around for a few years, their output has been teasingly spaced out. However, they will be iminently releasing "Pregnancy Scene" as a double-A side 7-inch (how quaint!) with "Mark E. Smith" (yes, a song about that one) through the Rough Trade singles club. They are good, oh yes they are.

Shrag - Pregnancy Scene (umm, gave you all the links I have up above...)

Finally, you may have noticed I redecorated. The pea-green seemed so refreshing at first, but ended up making me nauseous in a Linda-Blair-Exorcist kinda way. Ah, impermanence. So simple indigo it is, redolent of dawns and dusks and vast oceans...

And so to sleep I go...

Sunday, June 11, 2006

So Agitated

Dear Friends, I'm furious. Pissed off. Seething. Angry. So angry.

Why? Nothing major. Something misplaced that has caused me to waste an inordinate amount of time and will screw up my schedule tomorrow. My fault entirely.

But I am dispropoportionately infuriated. And totally overreacting.

Maybe it is all coming out the sides. Straws, camels, backs & all that.

Shame, it was a good weekend otherwise. And I had to go and spoil it all...

Did I mention that I'm furious?

Soothing suggestions gratefully accepted...

Ministry - Burning Inside (buy here)
Electric Eels - Agitated (buy here)
Slipknot - (sic) (buy here)
Veruca Salt - Seether (buy here)

Saturday, June 10, 2006


Dear Friends, throughout the day I had been musing about what I might post. Should I write about the nifty sushi bar I had recently discovered? Perhaps some reflections on having reached the first anniversary of my move to Vancouver? How about The Jam's Sound Affects, which I had recently rediscovered and had been on heavy rotation on the car cassette player? Or maybe transsexuals? I decided to see how the day progessed and what would move me to write.

Well, something eventually did.

This evening, as I was getting ready to read to Darling Daughter, my father-in-law rang to say he had heard news of his nephew, Robby, who is a US Army combat scout Humvee gunner in Iraq. A couple of days ago, while on a mission, their convoy was hit by a roadside bomb. The good news was that Robby was uninjured. The bad news was that one of his buddies, nicknamed Toast, had been killed. He was also a gunner.

I despise the war in Iraq. But I am concerned about Robby and have kept in touch with him. He is doing what he feels he must, and is doing so with good humour and honour. He recently turned twenty-one, but I get the sense that he has aged far more than that over the past six months since his deployment.

I never met Toast. I had only heard him mentioned in passing by Robby's father. But this evening I visited his Myspace page.

Toast was twenty years old. He was engaged. His fiancee is eighteen.

He was proud to be serving with his buddies in Iraq, but was equally "interested in completing my job so I can go home."

He liked Interpol, The Faint, Deftones, The Strokes, Bloc Party, My Chemical Romance, Bjork, Donnie Darko, Clockwork Orange, Leon, "and other good stuff".

His penultimate blog post on Myspace, dated 28 May, reads: "In june i will be home again,i am excited to be seeing my friends and family again.I am also excited to be spending the money ive earned so far.Its gonna be a long trip home but it will defanitly be worth it.Cant wait,im so hyped up, just got to stay alive till next month."

Twenty years old.


Excited to be seeing friends and family.

I never met Toast. But I feel so achingly sad.

And I know what I have to post tonight.

Interpol - A Time To Be So Small (buy here)
The Faint - Glass Danse (buy here)
Bjork - Army of Me (buy here)
The Strokes - Vision of Division (buy here)

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Born Under An Auspicious Star

Dear Readers, I received some truly wonderful news this morning. The sort that filled my heart with a warm gladness that stayed with me throughout the day. The kind that kept me smiling despite the attempts of others to make me frown. Pray tell, you ask? Well, alright. Nestled in amongst the spam of my inbox, I found a mail from one of my Dearest Friends announcing the birth of his second daughter, Kyra, on Sunday night. Despite a precipitous arrival, both mother and baby are fine.

Now there is nothing I find more hopeful, more joyous, than the arrival of a new life. But on top of that, wee Kyra seems to have been born on a most propitious date. For 4 June, as her proud father advised in his mail, is a good day for Girl Power. On that date in 1919, the U.S. Senate voted in favour of the 19th Amendment giving women the Constitutional right to vote. It is also the birthday of both Angelina Jolie and Dr Ruth Westheimer. In addition, I pointed out to Dearest Friend that his newborn shares a first name with Belgian garage rock goddess Kyra Rubella, she of The Headcoatees fame. So indeed, the planetary alignment is most favourable. Welcome, petite Kyra, and may you shine as brightly and fiercely as the auspicious star under which you were born.

And so, to celebrate Grrl Power and the new arrival, I offer a few subjectively chosen tracks. I hope Kyra will take inspiration, though her folks might want to watch the lyric content a bit for the first several years...

PJ Harvey - Sheela Na Gig (buy here)
Her debut album, Dry, left me walking around with jaw on floor for weeks. A wonderful, wonderful declaration of empowerment. Find out what Polly Jean did next here .

Silverfish - Big Bad Baby Pig Squeal (buy here for as little as ONE SKINNY YANKEE PENNY!!)
All together now: "Hips, tits, lips, POWER!!" Early Camden proto-riot grrl band fronted by formidable, bellowing Scot Leslie Rankine. In 1993 Leslie changed direction somewhat and formed trip-hop band Ruby, which I must admit I never could quite get into. Still, full marks for daring to be different.

Huggy Bear - Her Jazz (buy here at an extortionate price)
Proclaimed the arrival of a new renegade girl/boy hypernation back in 1993. Shock troops of the riot grrl movement in the UK. Learn your history here.

A-Lines - Four (buy here)
Kyra's current band, also staffed by Bongo Debbie and the lovely Nurse Julie. Indeed, the first two are ex-wives of Wild Billy Childish and the last is his current one. Yes, it is a bit soap-opera (sidebar: Chere Mam'selle Crumbcake has a fantastic personal Billy/Kyra anecdote here) but everyone seems to be getting along. Gloriously. Rockingly. Visit them here.

Lotte Lenya - Morität Von Mackie Messer (buy here)
You may remember her for her role as Rosa Klebb, the lesbian SPECTRE agent who tried to kill James Bond with blade-tipped shoes in From Russia With Love. However, she was the longtime collaborator of Kurt Weill and Berthold Brecht, and for twenty years was also Weill's wife (EDIT: Thanks to wenhaston for spotting my error). Her performances of Brecht's & Weill's work are second-to-none. Herewith Mack The Knife as it was meant to be.

Jenny Toomey - Your Inarticulate Boyfriend (buy here)
Co-founder of seminal indie label Simple Machines and passionate advocate of the independent musician. A force to be admired and reckoned with. Oh, and she makes some sweet, sweet music.

Celia Cruz - Liego La Zafra (buy here)
The Queen of Cuban Rythm - without a doubt!! Listen, love, and visit the Smithsonian web exhibit that tells you far more about her life and music than I possibly could. Azucar!!

X-Ray Spex - Oh Bondage, Up Yours (buy here)
The in-your-faces-with-braces Polly Styrene was the antithesis of the singer-as-Barbie model. Little girls should be seen AND heard.

It's a good job Kyra arrived when she did and not on her due date of 6/6/06. Otherwise I would have ended up posting The Charlie Daniels Band, Slayer, Deicide, and, if you were lucky, a spot of Bauhaus (EDIT: But you simply MUST read this).

OK, I can tell from your faces that you REALLY want the Charlie Daniels. So here you go:

Charlie Daniels Band - Devil Went Down to Georgia (buy here)

Oh, alright, alright, stop making those mournful eyes at me. Here's the Slayer:

Slayer - Disciple (buy here and celebrate National Day of Slayer with judicious suggestions from here)

Now look, just stop it. No more whining. Right, here's the Bauhaus. Now let me go to bed.

Bauhaus - Silent Hedges (buy here)

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Back To School

Dearest Friends, though we find ourselves in the year 2006, my mind, spirit, and soul have all spent much of this week back to 1986. You see, my 20th high school reunion is upon me, so this time my nostalgia, I feel, is justified.

I have been finding it most peculiar revisiting those days in my mind. My time at school was largely a happy one; I had good friends and good teachers. But looking back at myself, I wince at at what I now see as my geeky gawkiness. The skinny ties, tweed jackets, and collared shirts that I wore as some sort of mod/new wave statement now just seem dreadful. My unrequited schoolboy crushes embarrass today as much as they did then. Yet what is also awakened as I handle today the artefacts of that era -- my old subway pass, my yearbook, my recently-liberated-from-the-basement vinyl records -- is the memory of a boy suffused with passion and excitement for the possibilities of the future. For him, 1986 was the edge of a new milennium. And how did he respond? He is still trying to figure that out...

I will not actually be able to attend the reunion; time and distance (I am in Vancouver, my high school is in Noo Yawk City) make it unfeasible. So instead I have created a wee playlist that I offer to the DJ who will be playing the imaginary reunion dance that won't be taking place. The songs, one for every year that has elapsed, are redolent of nights spent listening to The World Famous WLIR, the thrills of first concerts (General Public, 1985, Radio City Music Hall), and weekends spent trawling the record stores of Greenwich and East Villages (St Mark's Sounds, Venus Records, Rebel Rebel). So I invite you all in to the darkened cafeteria (there's a dustbin by the entrance labelled "Shame") to enjoy as you see fit. Go on, dance, or hang awkwardly around the edges if you prefer. Just party like you did in 1986.

Heaven 17 - Let Me Go
Blancmange - Living On The Ceiling
ABC - The Look Of Love
The Cure - Love Cats
Haysi Fantaysee - Shiny Shiny
Classix Nouveaux - Guilty
Jo Boxers - Just Got Lucky
Style Council - Shout To The Top
General Public - Tenderness
Madness - Our House
The Jam - Town Called Malice
The Beat - Ranking Full Stop
The Fixx - One Thing Leads To Another
A Flock Of Seagulls - Space Age Love Song
Duran Duran - Hungry Like The Wolf
Ministry - Effigy
Time Zone - World Destruction
Intaferon - Get Out Of London
Wide Boy Awake - Slang Teacher
Yazoo - Only You

Oh my, so much music. But you could start by buying these.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Harmony In My Head

Today I picked up my tickets to see Buzzcocks, who are coming to Vancouver on 30 July. Being too young (cue girlish laugh and coy toss of flowing locks) to have seen them during their 1976-1981 heyday, I went along to see them at Washington D.C.'s mighty fine 9:30 Club (the old shoebox on F Street, natch) during their 1989 reunion tour, more out of morbid curiosity than anything else (EDIT: See comments for valid challenge to that statement). But, Dear Friends, oh how they rocked! I enjoyed myself so tremendously and completely that I was forced to take to my bed for the following 24 hours to recover. Since reuniting they have produced five new studio albums, none of which, in my opinion, match the quality of their shiny original catalogue. But then again it's hard to do so, and some of the new material is highly enjoyable. Anyway, I am looking forward to the show, and here are a few nuggets to get you salivating as well:

Buzzcocks - Breakdown (buy here). From the famous "Spiral Scratch" EP released in 1977.
Buzzcocks - Orgasm Addict (buy here). The most notorious, and fun, track of the bunch. Released as a single in 1977.
Buzzcocks - Under The Sun (buy here). From 1999's "Modern".

After getting my tickets at Zulu Records, I made the mistake of browsing that magnificent store's other wares. Not to buy, you see, just to look. Ah, but you can see what came next - spirit was willing, but the flesh was weak. I walked out with Volumes 2 through 5 of a wonderful series celebrating French 60s pop, cleverly titled "Pop a Paris". But that's a story for another day. I also left with a just-released compilation of work by The Pointed Sticks, a much underrated Vancouver band not a million miles away from the Buzzcocks in terms of style and era. Formed in 1978, they peddled an infectious brand of fun, buzzy punk informed largely by the then-incandescent London scene. And they were named after the Monty Python sketch. They actually signed to Stiff Records in 1980, but after a promising start the label decided not to turn their studio work into a full-fledged album. In 1981 they broke up without ever really breaking out of their West Coast scene. However, they did support Buzzcocks on one of their early tours of the US, so who knows what might happen. Oh, and last summer my children bought lemonade from guitarist Bill Napier-Hemy's kids. Honest.

Pointed Sticks - What Do You Want Me To Do?
Pointed Sticks - Apologies
(Brand new compilation "Waiting for the Real Thing" - buy here!!)

Update: I think I'm getting some superpowers back. A few minutes after saying goodnight to my six-year-old daughter, Dearest Wife heard crying coming from her room. Deep, uncontrolled sobs. She went in to comfort her and emerged to tell me that apparently Darling Daughter had left her favourite red panda stuffed toy in the school playground. Dearest Wife had reassured her that she would go look in the Lost-and-Found tomorrow morning to see if he had been turned in. I looked out of the window at the rainy, dusky sky and realised what I had to do. I saddled up the car, drove to the school, and, flashlight in hand, searched the schoolyard. After a few minutes I found a bedraggled panda sitting on the ground. He was very pleased to see me, but I was far more pleased to see him. I returned home and gently woke Darling Daughter, who had just dropped off to sleep, to tell her panda was safe. Big hug, sleepy smile, and the most sincere "Thank you, Daddy" I can remember ever hearing. For a brief, crystal-clear moment I knew exactly what it means to be a father.

(N.B. Blogger still refuses to upload pictures, but I found a way around this wee problem. Oh yes, I am clever. So ponder my brilliance with awe and wonder. Or don't. Choice is yours. Frankly, I wouldn't be too impressed. No, really.)