October 20, 2017

If birds were on twitter

Red robins would be asking you:
What would Jeremy Corbyn do?
Peacocks always posting selfies;
Magpies’ jokes are someone else’s.
Ducks and geese go on and on
About what their prodigal brood has done.
A pheasant moans about bad drivers,
A blackbird says his noisy neighbours
Always wake him up at dawn
(At least he gets to catch the worm).
The pigeons in Trafalgar Square
Brag about their followers.
Amidst this chattering of fowls,
The only sense is from the owls.
The whole covfefe’s a squawking throng,
From hashtag tits to muted swan.
But there’s no such thing as real bad news –
It’s lucky if they crap on you.

October 15, 2017

Birthday Albums #5 – The Fault In Our Stars

Various Artists – The Fault In Our Stars (Soundtrack)

How did it get on my wishlist?

I put this on my wishlist after watching The Fault In Our Stars film and being fairly impressed by the soundtrack and how well chosen the songs were. Instead of just being a bunch of backing noise, the music added a noticeable character to the film.

And why did you watch the film?

I saw a trailer for it on TV and thought that the cast looked pretty good. We’d just watched Big Little Lies so the Laura Dern / Shailene Woodley combo looked like a winner.

What’s it like?

Now hang onto your hats because this will come as a huge surprise, but the soundtrack to a drama about teenage cancer patients isn’t exactly a party album. The songs are mostly fairly glum, but beautiful. There’s an Ed Sheeran song and a Ray LaMontagne song on there, so that probably gives a fairly good indicator. That said, there are one or two slightly more uplifting songs on there, and a totally incongruous Swedish hip-hop song. At first I was puzzled by its inclusion, and wondered which scene it accompanied, but then I reminded myself and nodded in satisfaction.

After listening to it for a couple of weeks, I’ve reached the point where I need to move on to something else, maybe something with a bit more spring in its step, but this is still a fantastic album that I have every intention of coming back and listening to more of in the future.

Do you often cry like a baby at romantic films for a teen audience, or was it just this one time?

You’d have to be a heartless automaton to not cry at this film, disembodied voice.

Yeah, but you cry at films all the time, it’s hard not to tease

Yes, admittedly in recent years I find myself crying to films increasingly frequently, but maybe that’s just because I’m watching different kinds of films these days.

You cry at the end of Elf when Zooey Deschanel is singing “Santa Claus Is Coming To Town”

I cannot tell a lie, I do.

And you cry at least once in pretty much every Pixar film

Look, the guys who make these films are professionals. They know how to get the emotional reaction they seek.

Do you want me to change the subject?

In the interests of rescuing this album review that has gone hopelessly off the rails, that might be for the best.

Okay. Let me just check where I got to on the script. Ah, yes – Best song?

Boom Clap is just spectacularly catchy, it’s sheer pop brilliance.

What’ll be next?

Shields by Grizzly Bear.

  • Comments: 2
  • Maybe it's a question of building up a tolerance. Maybe regular reading of teen fiction me... - Pete
  • I won't say I cried like a teenage girl when I read the book because my teenage daughter r... - Gammidgy
October 8, 2017

The Trans-Pennine: A Cautionary Trail

Nearly a year ago, my Mum and I cooked up the idea of walking the Trans-Pennine Trail. Honestly, I wasn’t that mad about that particular trail; it didn’t look very pretty. Nor did I like the symbolism of walking to Armpit, where it ends – I’d rather walk away. But I did fancy heading off into the wilderness for two weeks to see what I was made of.

Pete wasn’t mad about it either; he wanted to go walking with me, so the new plan, to leave him in charge of Casa Uborka while I went off to have fun, was pretty unappealing. I mollified him by arranging some walking weekends on the Thames Path with him, and we had a lovely time, as has been mentioned before. Meanwhile Mum started training and was soon walking 15 miles twice a week, far more than I have the time to manage.
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  • Comments: 2
  • Nobody knows. - Karen
  • I really enjoyed reading this :) *Do* banana skins biodegrade? - Lisa
October 2, 2017

Half Century

Fifty approaches, and I’m
More like a building into its foundations
Than a bee on a flower.
My bucket list is emptied across the sand;
All my youthful potential,
which was squandered,
has got its second wind.
A late summer breeze;
A reprieve.
A sigh of relief that I’m finally filling my wings.

October 1, 2017

Birthday Albums #4 – Attack of the Mutant 50ft Kebab

Space – Attack of the Mutant 50ft Kebab

How did it get on my wishlist?

Every now and then, I wonder about the bands I listened to in my teens, and what they’re doing now. Remember Spiders by Space, that album that your girlfriend wouldn’t buy because of the cover? I discovered that they’re still active, so figured let’s slap their latest album on my wishlist and see what comes from it.

What’s it like?

On first listening, the album basically sounded like regret. It sounded like the sound of my pen on paper writing a letter to Karen’s dad saying “I’m so sorry that I put this album on my wishlist because you spent your money on it and now I feel really guilty.” The songs are musically uncreative and the lyrics devoid of any wit or cleverness. Most of the choruses are just the title of the song repeated four times.

As I played it through for a second time, it wasn’t quite so bad – with a little familiarity behind me, I could start to appreciate one or two nifty little pop hooks here and there, but still there is nothing that I would go so far as to recommend to a friend. Maybe to someone I didn’t like, someone whose time I wanted to waste.

Best song?

The best bit of this album was the bit where I felt like I had definitely given it as much time as it deserved, and unceremoniously removed it from the car to make way for the next CD. Normally at this point I’d rip it to MP3 and add it to the archive, but I might not bother on this occasion.

What’ll be next?

The Fault In Our Stars soundtrack by Various Artists. I sense that reviewing this will be tricky, so I’ll just do my usual stunt of just blathering on for three hundred words without actually reviewing anything. Damn, I’ve just given away all my trade secrets, haven’t I?

September 26, 2017

Birthday Albums #3 – Bonxie

Stornoway – Bonxie

How did it get on my wishlist?

I first heard of Stornoway when they played on Jools Holland in 2009. Quite why I was watching that specific episode, I’m not sure – it might have been because Foo Fighters were also on it, which offers a nice and completely unplanned link back to the previous review in this series! Stornoway were absolutely stunning, and they had a very rare united quality about them – not just a bunch of musicians on a stage, but a single organism. We then found out that they were playing a gig locally in February 2010, so Karen and I went to that. An interesting thing happened at that gig – towards the end of the show, there was some sort of technical problem that resulted in the power being cut. The band proceeded to play the next song unamplified. The audience watched in silence, of course, and the intimacy in that room was electrifying. The ever-cynical Karen theorised that the power cut had been a stunt, orchestrated by the band to deliberately create that tender moment. And maybe it was, but fuck, it worked. Anyway, for some reason we then forgot about Stornoway for a while. Until recently, when Gammidgy (who has always been a fan of theirs) brought this album to my attention, and also bore the sad news that they split up earlier this year. I realised that this here was a remarkable band who I had somehow, despite being offered all the opportunities, allowed to slip through my fingers. So it’s time to catch up.

What’s it like?

Stornoway are a very difficult band to categorise. They’re a bit indie, a bit folk, a bit pop, a bit rock. A lot of reviewers find them to be twee, a little bit in the vein of Belle and Sebastian. I can see why they get that impression – Brian Briggs sings with pure, high, almost choirboy-esque voice, and writes lyrics of sometimes endearing naivety about, or inspired by, nature. It’s certainly not sex and drugs and rock’n’roll, and the prejudiced reviewer might dismiss it as immature. But it’s touching, and clever, and thought-provoking, and in many ways this album is reminiscent of early work by The Divine Comedy – I can easily imagine Neil Hannon’s voice singing a lot of these songs.

This is the bit where I get distracted and start writing about something that has nothing to do with the album

In recent months, both my home ISP (A&A) and my mobile network (GiffGaff) have increased my monthly bandwidth allowance. For which I am grateful, but having adopted a frugal approach to ensure I stayed within the previous allowance, I suspect that I’ll rarely end up actually making use of the extra that’s now available to me.

Have they done any interesting covers?


Best song?

You know what, I’m bailing on this question. Which is very unlike me, but honestly there is so much well-written eclectia on this album, I could just go round and round in circles.

What’ll be next?

Attack of the Mutant 50ft Kebab by Space

September 19, 2017

Birthday Albums #2 – Sonic Highways

Foo Fighters – Sonic Highways

How did it get on my wishlist?

This is almost the wrong question to be asking. Given that I own all of the Foo Fighters’ studio albums, the question should be “why did it take me 3 years to get round to owning this album?” to which the answer, I suppose, is “lukewarm reviews”. I got the impression that this was one that I could afford to miss. But then, as my birthday rolls around, I get a little nudge from Karen to remind me to make sure there’s plenty of stuff on my Amazon wishlist, because apparently I’m very difficult to buy presents for, so hey presto.

What’s it like?

The thing about Foo Fighters is that they’re undeniably popular, but I think it’s also fair to say that they’re not exactly the most musically adventurous rock band in the world. When you hear a new Foos song, you never have a moment of doubt where you wonder if your ears deceive you. And while lots of their songs are great, a lot are also Foos-by-numbers.

I had high hopes for this album, because I knew that each song was recorded in a different city across the USA and the album was intended as a homage to the musical heritage of each of those cities, so I was expecting a lot of diversity (you know, a country-ish song from Nashville, grunge from Seattle, and so on). But sadly it’s just got a lot of the Foos-by-numbers on it, and after a few listens, I was a bit underwhelmed. But to end the review there would be doing it a disservice.

Maybe it’s not just an album? Maybe it’s something else. Like a bimonthly curated box of snacks?

Back in 2013 Dave Grohl made a documentary called Sound City about the Sound City Studios in Los Angeles. As part of that documentary, he gathered a whole heap of musicians together to make an album of 11 songs, with one day spent on each song. And it was pretty good, and Dave enjoyed showcasing the historical context around the music, and wanted to do more of that sort of thing, so the idea for the Sonic Highways album-cum-television-programme was born. The next Foos album would be recorded in eight different cities, with one week on each song, along with a companion documentary series that talks about the musical history of each city.

After listening to the album a few times I felt compelled to discover what value the documentary added, if any. So I’ve started watching it, and at the time of writing this review I have seen four of the eight total episodes.

It all becomes a bit clearer now. The band would actually roll up to each studio with the song in a mostly-written state. With the exception of some last-minute changes to arrangements, the only influence that the specific city would actually have on its respective song was the lyrics, which would be heavily inspired by the interviews in the documentary, and often a guest musician appearance (which was generally fairly subtle in its impact). The documentary itself is actually damn interesting, excellent at immersing you into each city’s culture, but the songs end up feeling like a bit of a rushed afterthought. There is a small amount of footage of the band during each episode, and I could be wrong but I get the impression that some of Dave’s bandmates aren’t as enthusiastic about this project as he is.

One thing that is made explicitly clear in the documentary is that doing eight songs from different genres was always something that they strictly wanted to avoid, so that explains why we didn’t get the genre fruit salad that so many people were anticipating. Dave didn’t want to end up with a clusterfuck album (my words, not his) that jumped around all over the place – he wanted to make sure it remained, at its core, a Foo Fighters album. Which is commendable, but I think they played it a little bit too safe. My opinion (and maybe the rest of the band felt the same way) is that the process of making the documentary, far from unlocking fantastic new opportunities for the music, through its demands actually forced them to compromise.

Interestingly though, the experience of watching the documentary does improve the experience of listening to the album. Knowing the background behind the lyrics gives them a lot more weight, and the songs themselves feel more familiar, in the good way. So I’m glad that I did decide to watch it, as it has improved my sentiments towards the songs considerably.

Best song?

In my opinion, Subterranean stands out, but if I’m brutally honest it’s (like everything else on this album) still just an amalgamation of half a dozen previous Foos songs.

What’s next?

Bonxie by Stornoway

September 14, 2017


This is the pole
That centres our dance
On a white-knuckle ride,
A meeting by chance.
We stand, disconnected, always looking down,
Swaying together under the ground.
Closer than lovers, breath in my face;
A zipless encounter that we’ll soon erase.

Absorbed in our phones
We glide to our homes
Past oystercard zones
And adverts for loans –
Our fingers meet, chance-like
Our gazes slip, trance-like
The lightning connection
The foreign inflection;
No dangerous smile,
No risk of rejection.

Holding ourselves in complete isolation,
Blanking blank faces at every station.
The pole stands between us, keeping us straight
Where hundreds before us held on;
It’s hardly the moment to ask for a date:
Mind the gap, it’s time to move on.