Friday, January 26, 2007

Heaven or Las Vegas?

Well, the truth is I don't really have any choice. I'm off to Las Vegas this weekend, so heaven will have to wait. Of course there are those who equate Las Vegas with heaven, but I cannot count myself amongst them.

I have never visited Vegas and, truth be told, it would not even bother the nether end of my "100 Places To Go Before I Die" list. Indeed, the only reason I'm going is to attend a work-related conference (if any of you do locate a Las Vegas conference calendar, let me assure you that the Credit Association of Footwear Executives shindig is not the reason for my trip). I did mention to Dearest Wife that we might go early and make a weekend of it, just because, but even my suggestion that we could renew our wedding vows at an Elvis chapel of luuurve failed to entice her.

So, why my lack of enthusiasm? To start with, I derive absolutely no pleasure from gambling; my heart does not flutter at the thought of blackjack, nor does the roulette wheel send me all tilt-a-whirl. On top of that, Vegas has always conjured up for me distasteful associations of grotesque excess and parochialism. I mean, why the bloody hell would anyone want to go see an ersatz rendition of the Great Sphinx of Giza in Nevada? Get on a plane and see the real thing in Cairo! Oh, I see, you want to stuff your face at an all-you-can eat buffet and see that dreadful Celine Dion chick warble all in the same holiday. Ye, gods!!

Yet despite my disdain, I find myself on the eve of my departure actually looking forward to the trip with a sense of morbid fascination, which surprises me. And so I step back and ask myself: why? First, I will admit to an ironic attraction to the kitsch. Skinny Elvis rocks 'n' rules, but Fat Elvis enthralls. Let the white tigers go free, I say, but that won't stop me from marvelling at the mammoth bronze busts of Siegfried & Roy (& lion) at the Mirage, where I will be staying. Second, despite my dislike of the Disneylandesque imperative to copy and sanitize the foreign for home consumption, I will be intrigued at the engineering required to recreate Venice's Grand Canal, complete with gondolas and gondolieri, at the Venetian. Third, I must admit to being attracted by the theatre and melodrama of a place where everyone seems to be pretending or aspiring to be something or someone else.

So, will I come back disgusted and repulsed, or charmed and exhilarated? Or both? Or neither? Aha, I think I get it: I really don't know what to expect. In many ways for me this is a trip into the unknown, and that's exactly the kind of trip I love the most.

Anyway, Dear Friends, my jaunt means that I'm unlikely to be around much until the latter part of next week. Do take care of yourselves, and I will leave you with a few Vegas tunes to enjoy until we meet again.

Cocteau Twins - Heaven or Las Vegas (buy here or e-here)
Dead Kennedys - Viva Las Vegas (buy here or e-here)
Suicide - Goin' to Las Vegas (buy here or e-here)

P.S. Spoilt Victorian Child is back. Rejoice! Then go visit him here.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Acting Silly

But, soft! what cacophony doth yonder eardum break? Yes, this week Contrast Podcast features actors who got a bit beyond themselves and decided to turn their hand to making music. But for the mirth and merriment their attempts have provoked, I think we'd all agree they should have stuck to their scripts. So, if you dare, you can download the podcast directly here or subscribe using this direct feed:

And so, without further ado, lights, camera, and a one-two-three-four:

(00:00) Orson Welles - I know what it is to be young (but you don’t know what it is to be old)
Tim from the face of today
(05:25) Isabelle Adjani - Le bonheur c’est malheureux
ZB from So the wind won’t blow it all away
(08:44) John Goodman - People like us
Jarrod from Living in fear is no good to anyone
(13:30) Dogstar (Keanu Reeves) - Cornerstore
Andy from Circles of Concrete
(18:20) 30 seconds to Mars (Jared Leto) - Capricorn
Waffles from Waffles radio
(22:29) Leonard Nimoy - The ballad of Bilbo Baggins
FiL from Pogoagogo
(25:51) William Shatner - In love
Marcy from Lost in your inbox
(30:49) Jennifer Love-Hewitt - Me and Bobby McGee
Natalie from Mini-Obs
(34:49) Nick Cave and Kylie Minogue - Where the wild roses grow
Tutu Vicar from The world won’t listen
(38:49) Vincent Gallo - Laura
Ross from Just Gimme Indie Rock
(42:47) Julie Delpy - A waltz for the night
Crash from Pretending life is like a song

Yep, the tuneless Mr Spock Leonard Nimoy was the Screamer Of The Week for me, and I've been waiting for a chance to unload that 'Bilbo Baggins' tune on you poor (but still Dear) unfortunates for some time now. Apparently some record exec in the late sixties saw Nimoy as the next teenage heartthrob, and thought 'Bilbo' would be the tune to break him. There was even a video of sorts recorded for some hip, kids show of the time. With only the highest in production values, it really must be seen to be believed. And lo, via the magic of YouTube, I can give you the experience right here.

However, there were two other contenders, both as egregious as Leonard Baggins, but truth be told I did not want to dwell on the choice too long as I feared I might actually start liking these songs. Actually, consider yourselves lucky, as I nearly foisted David Hasselhoff on you. Yes, that hunk of cheese, he of Knightrider and Baywatch fame, went and got himself a singing 'career' in the late eighties. Truth be told, the Germans love him and his jaw-dropping schmaltz-o-pop. Indeed, the title track of his his first album, 'Looking For Freedom,' became an anthem of unification and stayed at number one for eight weeks. Hey, 82 million Teutons can't be wrong - or can they?? I offer up evidence that they most certainly can in the form of The Hoffmeister's 1997 cover of Jonathan King's 1971 cover of (are you still with me?) B.J. Thomas's 1969 hit, 'Hooked on a Feeling.' Exhibit A: the indescribable video. Exhibit B: the song itself, reproduced below in full 128 kbps glory. Altogether now: OOGA CHAKKA!!

David Hasselhoff - Hooked on a Feeling (buy here, but don't tell anyone that you did)

The other contender was Eddie Murphy's 1985 hit 'Party All The Time.' No use begging folks, I'm on a roll here and will not stop. Produced and written by Rick "Superfreak" James, it boasts Eddie putting on a formidable falsetto. Oh, alright, seeing as you're now all threatening to slash your wrists, I'll end it here. Just be grateful I didn't go for 'Boogie In Your Butt.' But you can't resist clicking the link below, can you??

Eddie Murphy - Party All the Time (buy here)

Next week's theme, suggested by Dearest Tristesse of And Before the First Kiss, is 'X-Rated.' I'm counting on all of you to flood Tim's inbox with filth and smut galore - and I'm sure you are all up to the task! To find out how you can participate in the debauchery, just follow these easy steps.

For those of you forward thinkers, in two weeks time Contrast Podcast will be featuring 'My Favourite 45.' The idea is to submit your favourite single, preferably recorded directly from a much-loved, 7-inch circle of vinyl. So get cracking! Oh, and for all you kidz born with silver compact discs in your mouths: the hiss, crackle, and pops are all part of the experience.

For some time I've had Dearest Father-In-Law's antediluvian Dual 1210 turntable sitting next to the PC, and the '45' theme finally prompted me to try hooking it up and generating some sound. So, after much tinkering and some creative engineering to make the knackered stylus work, I managed to rip my first piece of vinyl. Yaaay! And the track I chose? The frantic, shouty, metallic 'Amok' by German industrial dance nutter Ledernacken. Think of him as the anti-Hasselhoff. And speaking of x-rated, well, my German is very rusty, but trust me when I say the lyrics ain't no nursery rhyme. For many, many years this 12-inch single lay unplayed, and I was unable to source a CD version anywhere. So though the sound quality isn't perfect, I'm thrilled to finally have it digitized and to be able to share it with you, Dearest Friends. Get your hobnailed jackboots on and dance, dance, dance!

Ledernacken - Amok (try finding it on eBay)

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Just Doin' The Do

Oh, my word! Who would have thought it would come to this? A whole gaggle of grown men reduced to tittering hormonal lusting longing vainly after a flash-in-the-pan, nineties pop sensationette. But it's true. Oh, Betty Boo, where are you baby? We used to have so much fun. You drive me crazy...

I blame Young Tim of Contrast Podcast fame. Yes, had he not chosen BB's (N.B. Not to be confused with that other BB, Billy Bragg, a/k/a the Big-Nosed Bard of Barking) frugtastic 1990 hit 'Where Are You Baby?' as his submission for this week's cast, none of this would have happened. But he did, and you can read about the resulting kerfuffle over here. Thanks Tim, hope you realized you've whacked all of our hormonal balances completely out of equilibrium.

I asked myself what it is about BB that set me all aflutter those seventeen (gulp!) years ago. I mean, to start with, it really wasn't my kinda music. On top of that, her singing was nothing extraordinary, and her rapping was more Vanilla Ice / Wee Papa Girl Rappers rather than LL Cool J / Missy Elliott. She was Drop Dead Gorgeous (apologies to Republica, who, come to think of it, also boasted a rather pulchritudinous female lead singer), but that itself is not sufficient. I think what really did it was the irresistable, popaliciously hooky tuneage of that first album (Boomania), combined with the quirky comic-book, retro sci-fi style in which she was wrapped. To tell you the truth, I blanked everything else that followed, but that succulent debut has made me a permanent slave to her rhythm. And so to compliment Tim's submission, I give you both this here video and that there song:

Betty Boo - Doin' The Do (buy here)

Betty recently re-emerged with Blur's Alex James as WigWam, which purported to offer "experimental yet accessible 21st century pop". Their 2006 release met with an underwhelming reaction. I don't really want to talk about it, but you can have a look over here.

Alright Luvs, in an attempt to stop the hot flashes, let me now turn my hand to a spot of housecleaning. Hold on while I slip into me housecoat, put on me headscarf, and grab my featherr duster. There, all set. Now let's tidy the old blogroll. The time has come to remove a few departed cyberfriends from the shelf. So farewell it is to Capas de Culto (muito obrigado, Mary!), Good Hodgkins, Clever Titles Are So Last Summer, This Isn't What It Looks Like (hope to see you around, Dear Galateaa), and You Can Call Me Betty (do tell us when the podcasts go live, Oh Simone). As Abba once sang, thank you for the music.

But along with tidying up comes sprucing up. To wit, I'm very happy to be placing a few shiny, new friends on the pogo a go-go mantlepiece. So please welcome Crash Calloway at pretending life is like a song, JC tha Funky Caledonian at Vinyl Villain, and Dearest Dr Tristesse at Before The First Kiss (hmm, I feel I know you from somewhere...). They are all lovely people with fantastic taste in music, so do go visit them - links are over on the right.

There, that looks much better. Time to hang up the housecoat...

And finally, we started in 1990, but we'll end in the 1980s. You see, in a few weeks we will be hosting an eighties party, and I've been preparing the soundtrack in advance. So far I have over five hours of music queued up on the old laptop, which is a good start, but there is still more to be mined. In digging through the hard drive, I unearthed two rough gems that rocked my teenage world. I remember spending many pubescent hours in front of my boom box, fingers poised to hit Play/Record, waiting for some fine WLIR DJ or other to play them. So, Dearest Friends, here they are, from me to you:

Cult Hero - I Dig You (buy here)
Cult Hero were basically early Cure in disguise, and the song was written to see if Robert Smith & Simon Gallup were musicaly compatible. It manages to be menacing, hypnotic, and groovy all at once, and the dumb lyrics (enunciated by Smith's postman, wouldja believe) are just a scream.

Beastie Boys - Cooky Puss (buy here)
The first Beastie track I ever heard. Essentially a series of prank phone calls set to crunching, phat beats and bass overlaid with pimordial scratching. For the uninitiated, Cookie Puss is an cake made by Carvel, a US ice cream franchise. Yo, where's the supervisor at??

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Where Are We Now?

Death by PowerPoint

This Tuesday finds Contrast Podcast somewhat positionally challenged, as it asks the question: "Where?" The contributors valiantly try to help it out of its quandary with a characteristically eclectic slew of songs. To hear the directional fun, you can either download the 'cast here, or subscribe using the following RSS feed:

Where am I going with this? Right here:

(00:00) Betty Boo - Where are you baby?
Tim from the face of today

(03:42) The Pixies - Where is my mind?
Natalie from Mini-Obs

(07:51) The Smiths - Nowhere fast
Jamie from The run out groove

(10:41) Digable planets - Where I’m from
Matt from Earfarm

(14:51) Bratmobile - Where eagles dare
Bob from Gimme Tinnitus

(16:57) Camper Van Beethoven - Where the hell is Bill?
FiL from Pogoagogo

(19:34) Santa Cruz - Where were you?
ZB from So the wind won’t blow it all away

(22:05) Nine Inch Nails (remixed by Danny Lohner feat. Telefon Tel Aviv) - Where is everybody?
Cindy from Adzuki bean stash

(26:57) Ted Leo - Where have all the rude boys gone?
Ross from Just Gimme Indie Rock

(31:52) Soft Cell - Where was your heart (when you needed it most) ?
Crash from Pretending life is like a song

(36:42) The Paper Chase - We know where you sleep
Alex from Totally true tales from Texas

(41:17) Iron Maiden - 22 Acacia Avenue
Waffles from Waffles radio

(48:01) Caplyn - Where did it all go wrong?
GD from Bitesize Bonus

(52:33) Mr Hopkinson’s Computer - Where is my Mind?
Simon from You can call me Betty

(56:39) Richard & Linda Thompson - Down where the drunkards roll
Tristesse from And before the first kiss

Next week's theme is 'Stick To Acting,' so trot out your favourite example of thespians trying to be musicians. You can find out how to submit your ravishing selections over here. I do so hope someone will turn up something like a lost album of Helen Mirren covering Cannibal Corpse...

And so, onto my list of also-rans, i.e. those songs that engaged in a toe-to-toe smackdown with Camper van Beethoven but lost. I present them to you in all their vanquished glory. Mock them not, for they gave it their all and only a treacherous folding chair to the head (unnoticed by Referee FiL) knocked them out of contention:

Sultans of Ping FC - Where's Me Jumper? (buy e-here)
Those Sultans pinged most magnificently on the UK scene around 1992, then went on to become relatively big in Japan. I love this frantic single more than I can really say in this family-oriented forum. However, I saw them open for The Ramones in London back in 1996, and was quite disappointed by what was quite possibly the worst performance I have ever seen. They broke up shortly thereafter, but decided to reform in 2005 and have another go at finding that jumper...

Therapy? - Nowhere (buy here or e-here)
Though I'm more partial to Therapy?'s earlier, grindier stuff (I mean, how can you beat the lyric 'James Joyce is fucking my sister' screamed at top volume??), this 1994 offering is a fine slab of pop underpinned by some fast & furious Judas-Priestian chugging. After that I sort of lost interest, but am open to reconsidering my position.

Mojo Nixon & Skid Roper - Elvis is Everywhere (buy here or e-here)
He is, you know. Go on, look under your bed. I dare you.

And for the record, Betty Boo was in my death cage match as well. Seems she got chucked out of mine, but won the battle royale over round Tim's way. Hooray!

And finally, in other news, Elizabeth's Roaring Machine has produced two most impressive compilations of Joy Division covers. The first is a glorious amalgam of 'Love Will Tear Us Apart' versions, and the second a fantastic smorgasbord of stabs at 'Ceremony.' Talk about the sweetest ache.

Right, I've settled into the sofa with a nice cuppa builder's tea and am about to watch "End Of The Century: The Story Of The Ramones." Hey ho, let's go!! Oh, alright, since you asked so nicely, here's a gratuitous track by Da Bruddas:

The Ramones - Blitzkreig Bop (buy da choonz here, and the DVD here)

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Out WithThe Old, In With The New

Mayne Island, or thereabouts, 30 Dec 2006

It's a bit odd, really. I've been finding it rather difficult to get this year going. No particular reason springs to mind, but it does seem to be taking several attempts to get it's motor started. Of late it's rather like the Squealing Pigmobile, which has been requiring several turns of the ignition to wake up on our sub-zero mornings. Well, we'll keep at it and hope to find our stride soon.

I hope you all had the holiday season you wished for. Ours was like the proverbial curate's egg: good in parts (Note to all philologists: yes, yes, I know the original joke was meant to satirize brown-nosing, but I'm using the phrase in the vulgate). Mother joined us for a week around Christmas, and was even more baggage-laden than the last time she came. Sigh. I was pleased, however, that she chose not to spend her first Yuletide of widowhood on her own. And everyone --especially me-- appreciated the delicious Christmas Eve, or Wigilia, meal she prepared consisting of traditional Polish fayre of the season: barszsz with mushroom dumplings, herring in oil, and pierogi, all washed down with a couple of shots of viscous, ice-cold vodka. Most impressively, she put the meal together while our kitchen sink was being unblocked a spotty, young plumber who was obviously as displeased at having been called out to spend two hours scrabbling in our crawlspace on the night before Christmas as we were at having to call him out and pay his fee. But that baggage of hers, sheesh. I have no idea how to begin helping her to unpack it. Unfortunately she developed a cold that turned into a minor chest infection upon her return home to New York, and which she stridently blamed on me for keeping the house too cold. Boo, hiss, bad son...

Christmas morn was a blast and a hoot. Everyone was thrilled to see that Father Christmas had indeed stopped by and had enjoyed the homemade gingerbread cookies left out for him. Darling Daughter was vindicated in her decision to set out a glass of milk rather than the shot of whisky that I had suggested, as the cup had been drunk dry. The crumbs of carrot scattered on the plate testified that the reindeer had appreciated their snack as well. The children were thrilled with their swag, and FiL was pleasantly surprised to receive an unsolicited Decemberists CD under the tree. But the gift that tickled me the most was the fully-functional toy chainsaw that Little Man received (see right). I had much fun wielding it myself.

Christmas over and Mother back in NYC, it was off to see out 2006 on Mayne Island with Dearest T, who survived the best (and very successful) efforts of British Airways to lose his bags. T is one of our closest friends, and it was wonderful to see him for the first time since we left England some eighteen months ago. Though going to the island is always a joy for me, for some reason the children were not on finest form, and they spent much of their time squabbling and being ornery. What was that about never working with kids or animals? Double sigh. Still, we had a couple of magical walks along the surreally eroded shores of the island, and during one such amble we were accompanied by a couple of sea lions out for a leisurely swim of their own. Dearest T and I also bumped into more pinnipeds during one invigorating morning spent kayaking on the steely blue winter waters around Mayne. We were shadowed by snorting harbour seals, who were either impressed by our intrepidness or amused by our relative human clumsiness. Unfortunately I don't speak seal well enough to tell which it was.

Oh and as for New Year's Eve? Well, it was less than raucous. Suffice it to say that around 10:30 PM I put down my newspaper and looked around from my comfy chair. Dearest T was sitting to my left playing solitaire (with real cards!!), Dearest Wife was to my right on the sofa reading a National Geographic, and the dog was curled up near the wood stove, snoring gently. I think we all retired shortly thereafter.

One of the key attractions of Vancouver is the relative ease of access to skiing, so after returning to Vancouver, T and I nipped up last Saturday to Cypress Mountain for a spot of skiing. Actually, we went to Grouse Mountain first, but redeployed because the previous night's windstorm had knocked out power to the facilities. Cypress was most enjoyable, though it was rather surreal to be whizzing down the slopes while looking out over the water towards Vancouver Island. During our time in the car that day, two CDs that found themselves on repeated spin were Auld Mr Smith's 'Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me' and the faaabulous 'I, Lucifer' by The Real Tuesday Weld (accept no impostors).

The Cure - Catch (buy here)
The Real Tuesday Weld - Terminally Ambivalent Over You (buy here)

Speaking of CDs, I have been meaning to tell you for some time that I've been thoroughly enjoying the sophomore album by Memphis, 'A Little Place In he Wilderness.' And guess what? On the day that I finaly decide to pull my finger out, I find that Dearest Marcy has also chosen to sing ther praises. Marvellous synchronicity, eh? Anyway, it is a lovely piece of work, and a fine example of how delicious the fruit of Canadian-American collaboration can be. By turns lush, bucolic, melancholic, haunting, and reflective, the album does not have a dud track. Definitely not a curate's egg, but rather a golden one. And it doesn't matter that the singer Torquil Campbell sounds like Paddy "Hot dog, jumping frog, Albuquerque" McAloon from Prefab Sprout. Honestly, trust me. Head on over to Lost In Your Inbox to get Marcy's take, but before you do have a listen to this:

Memphis - In The Cinema Alone (buy here)

And so that is how 2006 ended and how 2007 has started, Dear Friends.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

On Another Planet

Dearest Friends, it feels like I've been away on another planet for just aaages! In actual fact, it's been ten days or so since I last entered the blogosphere - egads! That's like a year in cybertime. I shudder to think how behind the edge I must be. I mean, swathes of bands must have faded in and out of cool during this time. Sigh. But anyway, I'm back, and pleased to be so. I look forward to catching up with you all.

Speaking of planets (note: all charges of contrivance must be filed in quadruplicate with the relevant authorities on, and only on, the fifth Thursday of the month), this week Contrast Podcast takes to the heavens with its theme of "Planets and Other Heavenly Bodies." Tim has fired up the old flying saucer and I think we're in for a truly cosmic experience. Heed his siren call to the stars, select your space conveyance of choice, and come listen to Podcastica Galactica!! You can go to hyperspace directly via this link, or you can subscribe via the following RSS feed:

And so, onto our planetary itinerary:

(00:00) Yo La Tengo - Moonrock mambo
Tim from the face of today

(04:23) Wheat - Closer to Mercury
Crash from Pretending life is like a song

(08:15) 2 Skinnee J’s - Pluto
Tom from Other People’s Toys

(12:17) Torchomatic - Venus calling Earth
GD from Bitesize Bonus

(16:16) Animals that swim - Near the moon
Ross from Just Gimme Indie Rock

(19:18) T.Rex - Planet Queen
Mu from Faces for radio

(23:15) The Police - Walking on the moon
Rick from Are you embarassed easily?

(28:47) Red Hot Chili Peppers - On Mercury
Andy from Circles of concrete

(32:35) Ash - Girl from Mars
FiL from Pogoagogo

(37:37) Sun Ra - Rocket number nine take off for the planet Venus
ZB from So the wind won’t blow it all away

(43:58) Glenn Tilbrook - Neptune
Natalie from Mini-Obs

(48:21) Moonbabies - Stars of Warburton
Marcy from Lost in your inbox

(53:21) Kronos Quartet - Marquee moon
Bob from Gimme Tinnitus

Next week, CP goes all questionable with the theme "Where?" To find out how you can participate, hop over here.

For this particular voyage throughout the solar system, I was fortunate to be accompanied by Dearest T and Dearest Wife. A finer crew I could not have wished for. I hope you will thrill to the tension and danger of our wee space opera. As for the music, Ash won out by a fraction of a light year, but a few other ditties came close:

The Pixies - Planet of Sound (buy here )
"One fine day in my odd past, I picked me up a transmission." Trompe le Monde isn't my favourite Pixies album, but this song gets me to Warp Factor 9 every time.

Zombina & The Skeletones - Red Planet (buy here)
The Cramps go surf 'n' ska on the set of Night of the Living Dead. Worra lorra fun, fun, fun from these groovy, ghoulish, garage Liverpudlians.

The Only Ones - Another Girl, Another Planet (buy here)
The original version of this poptastic classic, and the best. All other versions --by Blink-182, The Replacements, The Mighty Lemon Drops, etc-- are but dwarf stars to Pete Perrett's grandiose gas giant.

Also in the running was the lovely Interplanet Janet of Schoolhouse Rock fame, but in the end I decided that without the visuals it wouldn't be the same. Apologies to my Dear non-US Friends, as this probably did not feature on your childhood cultural roadmap. But I'm sure all you Yanks out there, at least those of a certain age, will feel the tug of nostalgia as you watch this: