Blog: entries tagged with "review"

Drawing blanks

Drawing A Blank coverTo summarize the summer:

We released the first full-length Flickershow CD, entitled Drawing A Blank. Ten songs; I played bass, sang harmony, did arrangements and other odds and ends. We’re quite proud of it, and the CD release party was a blast. There’s a link to buy it online from our website, and it’s also available through that music store Apple runs. Things have been a bit quiet since the CD release, since Julian’s just got married (check out their awesome first dance on the YouTube) but there will be gigging in the new year, and with luck some out-of-town gigs in the spring.

All other music ventures have been on hold, meanwhile. I’m starting to plot my return to action, but it’s been nice to take a break for a few months and mess around with other things like writing and drawing (including the cover art for our CD) and catching up on comics.

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oo vuf welcome

From the What I Been Listening To department:

Still from JamFor unfathomable reasons, I’ve been hooked on a show called Blue Jam. Aired in the late ‘90s, it was the brainchild of Radio 1 enfant terrible Chris Morris, whose earlier pranks had included a discussion of ludicrous methods to obtain a legal high, and most famously, the “non-announcement” of the death of a still-living cabinet minister. After the latter incident, BBC censors clamped down hard; why they ever let him back through their doors is a mystery.

Blue Jam is a deeply disturbing show, but utterly hilarious. Sketches and monologues drift in and out amid music of all sorts, starting with an always-different introduction delivered by Morris in a sinister monotone (“When thrapping door-knock brings not chums with cakes, but friends of Sweaty Fred, full madding because you failed to sell… welcome in Blue Jam…”) and quickly descending into a nightmarish world of misfits and psychopaths.

Almost every character we meet is unhinged: the doctor who amuses himself by humiliating his patients and prescribing useless treatments; the parents who belong to a baby-fighting ring; the avant-garde artists who disembowel a man and put him in a display case (much in the fashion of the art-murders on David Bowie’s album Outside). Some favorites: Maria, the four-year-old hardened criminal, Rothko the doberman, and the inexplicable club-scene and style roundups from Michael Alexander St John.

Some of the best sketches were spun into a six-episode series on Channel 4 called simply Jam, and lots - probably most - are up on YouTube. I’m almost afraid to link to any, but here’s a typical opening, and a sketch about a television repairman. Browse the Related Videos at your own peril. Expect mayhem, blasphemy, dead babies, dead dogs, sexual deviance and bad language.

UK radio comedy review site radiohaha offers this appreciation of Blue Jam. Torrents of it and other Chris Morris shows are available at the fan site Cook’d and Bomb’d.

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Review: Brian Eno - Another Day On Earth

CD cover imageEno’s first disc of songs in over a decade. It does share the gentle atmosphere of its near-namesake of thirty years ago, Another Green World, but all the tracks actually do have vocals.

Eno has remarked that lyrics may be the ‘last really hard problem’ in music, as technology makes it easier to produce slick-sounding recordings. And honestly, I don’t find most of his lyrics that interesting. As with a lot of Eno’s work since about the tail end of his “rock” era, they’re generally vague and unevocative, with titles that all seem to involve “up” or “down” or “under” or “over” or “between”, and the songs themselves are along similar lines.

And musically? There’s a uniformly soft, introspective mood throughout, even to the point where the songs can blur together a bit, but it’s pleasant enough. There’s a sort of undersea feel to “Going Unconscious” that’s quite lovely, with the same eerie sense of wonder that Boards Of Canada are so good at. What goes around comes around…

“This” opens the album on a bouncy note, and were it not for the final verse (something about “this revolver / this fire / I’ll hold it up higher, higher” really bugs me, for some reason) it’d be near perfect. I keep expecting it to turn into “Paranoimia” by the Art of Noise, though… seems like a mashup waiting to happen.

“How Many Worlds” has a folk-song naivete that develops into something quite stirring thanks to a lovely string arrangement that seamlessly blends the real (frequent Eno collaborator Nell Catchpole) and the synthetic. Eno’s fascination with vocal processing continues, too: he sings in a fragile, machine-assisted falsetto on “And Then So Clear”, and the modulated voice-over on “Passing Over” has been understandably likened to a Dalek.

The creeping dread of “Passing Over” is one of the few jarring moments on the album. But the most powerful and hardest hitting track is the closer, “Bone Bomb”. Its catchy, sweetly chiming accompaniment belies the chilling words, recited by Aylie Cooke: “my body / so thin / so tired / beaten for years / ploughshare to bomb”. By a strange coincidence, Camper Van Beethoven’s latest album also closes with the song of a suicide bomber, but its platitudes about faith and the Lord fall flat. By contrast, the soft, resigned interior monologue of “Bone Bomb” hits like a punch to the gut. “Everything stolen except my bones / now I am only bone / I waited for peace / and here is my peace.”

So Eno can certainly write evocative words… maybe it’s just verse that’s the problem. Bring on more spoken stuff!

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Review: Mike Doughty - Haughty Melodic

CD cover imageSoul Coughing frontman Mike Doughty once referred to himself as “the geek that gets to surf the Rhythm Section of Doom”. Here, without the nutty funk and drive of his old band, his tunes are a little less distinctive, more in a radio-friendly rock vein, but it’s decent enough. “Looking At The World From The Bottom Of A Well” and “Unsingable Name” get things off to a catchy start, and set the tone lyrically. These are definitely more personal songs, about love and lovelessness, learning to behave, and even one simple and utterly earnest statement of faith (“His Truth Is Marching On”).

The production does get a little wearing. Digital pitch-correction drives me bonkers, especially on singers with distinctive voices - thankfully it’s not noticeable except on a couple of occasions. And it’s kind of cool to hear Doughty in a different context for a change. Harmonies, for one thing: “Madeline and Nine” turns out quite pretty, and when Dave Matthews (whose label released Haughty Melodic) pops up on “Tremendous Brunettes”, their rasping voices do seem like a natural match.

There’s definitely less arty, smartass goofing here - so much so that the Soul Coughing-era “Busting Up A Starbucks” seems like a weird throwback - but Doughty’s way with words and self-effacing humour keeps things from dragging. Not too bad.

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Review: Velvet Goldmine

Finally watched Velvet Goldmine last night. It’s basically a revue - there’s a thin plot about a reporter looking into the extravagant life of a vanished glam rocker reminiscent of David Bowie (complete with “Ziggy Stardust” stage persona)... but it’s mostly an excuse to do an extended music video with fey, pretty boys in glitter and makeup doing lots of posing and snogging and Oscar-Wilde-quoting amidst all the rocking out.

It goes on a bit long, perhaps, but there’s plenty to recommend it if you’re a music geek and/or like watching pretty boys snogging. It’s full of references, and the soundtrack is almost all period stuff. No Bowie - that’d make the parallels too obvious, I suppose - but plenty of stuff like early Brian Eno and early Roxy Music, both in original form and covered pretty ably by the cast with help from Thom Yorke, Shudder To Think and others. Most of those musical details went over my SO’s head, but the eye candy made up for it. :D

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The Decemberists - Castaways and Cutouts

CD cover - Castaways and CutoutsThe Decemberists play quiet singer-songwriter pop… or that’s what it sounds like on the surface, at least. Listen to the lyrics and things get rather ghoulish. The drawings that adorn their album covers provide a clue in their passing resemblance to Edward Gorey: the music, too, has a similar love of the macabre and the gleefully morbid. The songs on Castaways and Cutouts depict the anguish of a child’s ghost, a mother with a ruinous secret, and other unfortunates. Even the otherwise fairly playful “July, July!” has a line about a gut-shot gin-smuggler. It’s as grim as anything Gorey wrote, but it could perhaps use a bit more whimsy.
Singer Colin Meloy has a fascination with soldiers, bygone eras (they’re named, after a fashion, for the Russian Decembrists) and terrible poverty (babies “raised on pradies, peanut shells and dirt”), looking all sorts of ghastly things right in the face and finding the terrible beauty in them. Romanticizing? Well, yeah. But it’s pretty compelling. And the melodies are lovely.

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