January 6, 2018

Birthday Albums Bonus – What Went Down

This project has gradually tumbled out of its structure like a thin paper bag full of vomit. The rules have been flexed and then broken, a once-beautiful thing crazed and weatherbeaten into something that we barely recognise any more, something that we can’t control, something that we’re not even sure that we like any more. But hey ho, gotta keep on keepin’ on.

Foals – What Went Down

As previously mentioned, the reason why this album has snuck into the birthday albums project is that I was given it for Christmas two years back, but it must have been a Christmas that was particularly rich with CDs, and it’s taken me until now to get round to listening to it.

It doesn’t get off to the most promising start, in my opinion – the eponymous opening track is a bit of a racket, there’s no other way to describe it. Not the worst racket I’ve ever heard, it’s true, but it’s a strange choice to go first. There was a similarly aggressive song on Holy Fire too, but it was track number 9, which strikes me as a much more sensible place for this sort of chaos.

As far as I’m concerned, the album properly gets going with track two, Mountain At My Gates, which is a far more Foals-y sort of song, with shimmery guitars, groovy serpentine bass, and a thick, bombastic drum beat. At the other end of the spectrum is the more ambient-sounding Give It All and London Thunder, and throughout this gamut they provided a range of sonic environments that evokes everything from Coldplay to Echo And The Bunnymen and even a non-entirely un-Royal-Blood-like experience in Snake Oil.

Best Song

Well, you know me, I like a nice jolly bouncy bassline, and both Mountain At My Gates and Birch Tree definitely fulfil in this category.

What’s Next

Well, my Christmas haul of CDs didn’t match the copiousness of the birthday lot, but the one album that I did get is from an obscure Hull-based band called Pearl’s Cab Ride who don’t even have a page on Wikipedia, that’s how obscure they are. So how could I resist?

I imagine that by now you’re wondering if this series is ever going to end, or if I’m going to keep finding weak excuses to prolong it indefinitely.

January 5, 2018

Maisy On A Box

The cat balances on a box
A slightly too-small box
On top of another box.
The cat shifts a hip
To the other corner of the box,
Twists into an @
Extends a paw
Points her whiskers the other way
And counterbalances – just right – with the tip of her tail.
The box wobbles
And tilts her off,
Which was exactly what she intended.
Nothing to see here, right?

December 18, 2017

Shed Seven

If you like, you can consider this as a sort of bonus episode of the birthday albums project. Or, if you’d rather not, then don’t.

Last week I was listening mostly to the new Shed Seven album, Instant Pleasures. Now Shed Seven, if you’re not familiar with them, were big around the time of Britpop, and while not necessarily at the forefront of the scene, I can definitely look back on them with fondness. They never had a number one, but the single Going For Gold, and the album A Maximum High from which it was lifted, both reached #8, which were their greatest successes. They split up in 2003 but reformed in 2007 and have been touring on and off since then, though this year’s album is their first since 2001. And you know what, it’s good. It more than meets the standard set by their earlier work, and so I’ve had no problem playing it on repeat all last week to make sure that I’d be well-prepared for their Saturday night gig at Brixton Academy.

It’s been many years since I’ve been at Brixton Academy but it hasn’t changed a bit. The foyer still gives you that theatre-esque vibe, and the interior still has that five degree slope that gives your hamstrings a good workout.

Playing support were another great Britpop band, who are also enjoying a bit of a resurgence with a new album this year, Cast. In fact, it’s slightly odd that Cast were supporting and not the other way round, as arguably they were the bigger band at the time. They had actually started playing by the time we arrived, as we had dallied in Canova Hall for a second round.

Cast at Brixton Academy, 16th December 2017

It’s depressingly frequent these days that the sound mix for the support band is awful, and Cast might have been the worst victims of this that I have ever, ever known. All the power of the PA was being poured into making the kick drum as loud as possible, so there was no room left in the lower half of the sonic spectrum for anything else. I can’t state with even a single percentage of certainty that the bass guitar was plugged in at all. I moved down to the front in the hope that I’d be able to get a better mix with the sound bleeding off the stage, but even at close range, the kick drum overpowered everything. I felt embarrassed for the sound man, and great pity for the band.

Shed Seven sounded much better, though I still think that with a lighter touch on the kick, they could have sounded even better. I didn’t take any photos from the down the front, though I did get hit by a flying drink while I was down there. I’m not quite sure what was in the cup – with no noticeable aroma, I’m totally stumped. However it can’t just have been water, as it definitely made my hair go a bit crunchy. This is a mystery that we may never get to the bottom of, and maybe that’s for the best.

Shed Seven at Brixton Academy, 16th December 2017

The band put on a good show though. Rick Witter has just the right balance of cheekiness and friendliness to bring a smile to your face, and his singing was on point. The whole band performed excellently, though once again the sound balance ruined things slightly, as I know that there are loads of really tasty basslines on their latest album, and absolutely none of that detail was even remotely audible in the room.

After the gig, 5000 people spilled out into the streets, repeating the chorus of the gig closer, Chasing Rainbows, ad infinitum. I leaned casually against the bus stop and waited for the 345. I didn’t take any photos of that bit, more’s the pity. I also bought the last chicken and chorizo pasty at Clapham Junction station at about 11:45pm and it was surprisingly tasty.

What’s Next?

Never satisfied, you are. Well, here’s the thing. I think I’ve found an album that I was given for Christmas about two years ago and somewhat embarrassingly totally forgot to ever get around to listening to. So, in the interests of padding out this series (and hey, maybe this’ll take us right up to Christmas, and I’ll get more CDs, and the whole jolly thing can just keep on going forever) let’s listen to What Went Down by Foals.

December 10, 2017

Prize-Winning Indian & Rye

Inspired by a talk given by Rebecca Earl, on history and cookbooks, at the Also Festival 2017

In a time when self-expression
Was restricted to the kitchen
Emily was known for her coconut pie.
Hard-won daughterly love
Dutifully mixed into a loaf
Of prize-winning indian and rye.
As she waits for it to rise,
She scribbles down some lines:
Secret poems on a packet
About certain slants of light.
Pin-point observations
Advice to eat in moderation
Far beyond her generation
Words that linger sharp and wry.
Freedom in her poetry
To share out her legacy
So that alone she cannot be,
And noteless, she won’t die.

December 9, 2017

Birthday Albums #7 – Kintsugi

Death Cab For Cutie – Kintsugi

Of my birthday albums, I’ve saved this one for last, because honestly I don’t think that Death Cab For Cutie can possibly disappoint. While the breadth of my Death Cab For Cutie listening experience is not exhaustive, I think that of all the albums, nay, of all the songs, I’ve heard by them, I can’t call a single one anything but good.

You seem to be actually reviewing the music, Pete. Are you feeling okay? This is normally the bit where you go off on a ramble about lemon curd or notebooks.

Ah, you got me. In idiosyncratic fashion, this review is actually going to be about cars.

Colour me surprised

It’s about a month since I started listening to this album, and for the last two weeks I haven’t actually listened to it much at all. There’s an explanation, but some background is required. For years we’ve been vaguely intending to replace the car “at some point”. We bought it in 2004 and it was already three years old then. Since then, it’s been an absolutely fantastic little motor, giving us very little grief at all, but this summer our vague intentions have gradually become more concrete, and we’ve been taking the project a bit more seriously. It had a few repairs that needed doing, each of which would have cost a few hundred pounds. I had the funds available to replace it outright, so figured that it was about time. About 10 days ago I went to hand over our old car and collect the new, and since then we’ve discovered that the stereo in the new car won’t read CDs. The garage are going to fix it, but until then, no CDs, and since I haven’t gotten round to ripping Kintsugi and putting it on my USB drive, I’ve been listening to other stuff in the car.

Cool story, bro

Yeah, sorry, I couldn’t think of a way to make it interesting.

So you know how certain albums get associated to particular places or events in your mind? The albums that your parents played in the car when going on holidays will then always have a connection to that holiday? Or a particular album that you played on repeat back when you were a teenager, and a girl that you were besotted with didn’t reciprocate, will always remind you of your painfully embarrassing self-piteous behaviour during that period? Well, in such a vein, Kintsugi will surely become the album that reminds me of “The Astra”, 2001-2017, almost certainly by now stripped, gutted, and compressed into a metal cube, or plonked onto a pile of seven other cars in a local scrapyard where it can rust, rust, rust for the next few years.

So, now you’ve got that out of your system, do you want to talk about the album?

Don’t rush me. I’m having a bit of a moment here.

In your own time then

Well, upon first listen, my thoughts were that it was good, but not their best. Nothing on here had the same impact on me of the greatest tracks of Plans or Narrow Stairs, but to be honest those albums were so spectacular in both lyrical content and arrangement that they’d be difficult to beat. I suppose part of the problem might be the source of inspiration behind the words – whereas Plans was broadly about the unpredictability of life, and how you can’t control your destiny, merely guide it, and listening to Narrow Stairs can be a cathartic experience that gets a bit morbid at times, Kintsugi draws a lot from Ben Gibbard’s divorce with Zooey Deschanel. Now, I’ve never been married to Zooey Deschanel. I’ve never been married to any Hollywood actress. I’ve never even been married. And I don’t want to belittle the emotions of anyone who has been married to a Hollywood actress, but these lyrics just don’t resonate with me. When I hear a breakup song, I don’t process it as a song about a breakup – it just feels like a song about other breakup songs. I guess part of this stems from the fact that I’ve never personally experienced an ugly breakup, and I’m hoping that this continues. However it does mean that I am in the (I guess) minority who is just simply not the target audience for this album, from a lyrical point of view, at least.

Musically speaking, I’m definitely more wowed by the up-tempo tracks such as No Room In Frame and Good Help (Is So Hard To Find) (the latter of which is very tasty indie-disco-pop indeed) than the sparser songs such as Hold No Guns and Binary Sea but then I suppose this is to be expected, as these tracks act more as a vessel for the lyrics, which we’ve already established are utterly wasted on me.

Best Song

As I mentioned, the danceability of Good Help (Is So Hard To Find) cannot be suppressed.

What’s Next

Well, that’s the last of the birthday albums, so the project is officially done. However, at the weekend I’m going to see Shed Seven, so this week I’m going to be listening to their new album Instant Pleasures a lot. I’ve already listened to it once, and it’s pretty bloody good, so maybe there’ll be a combination album/gig review next week for ya.

  • Comments: 2
  • Oh you're making me tear up again. - Pete
  • RIP, The Astra. You took us to some places, and brought us back again. - Karen
November 21, 2017


Written on the summer solstice, and saved for a gloomy day in autumn.

It is the hottest June day since 1976.
I am staying very still, indoors,
So that the neat does not notice me.
The heat creeps around the door
Sucking at the limp air
Until there is nothing left to breathe.
It shimmies across the room,
Seductive, soporific;
Presses itself into my skin,
Holding me down.
Sticky-breathed stroking,
Nothing to do but surrender.