Thursday, September 25, 2008

R.I.P. Nick Sanderson

I bought a lot of CDs in England the first time I went there in 1999.

A large part of why I ever wanted to go to England in the first place was the music.

And it's with some irony that the first CD I purchased in England was the latest Catatonia at the airport HMV in April 1999 (Yeah, some taffy band was my first purchase says this fifth generation Welsh-American!)

But the two best CDs I purchased on that trip were the two Earl Brutus albums. I had been reading reviews of Brutus shows in the British press and laughing out loud and this video confirms that I missed what could quite possibly have ended up being the best live band I would have ever seen.

Nick Sanderson was in the World of Twist who got some fame thanks to Noel Gallagher raving about one of their singles but, really, the Slade-stomp/Jesus and Mary Chain-fuzz/Fall-style-"singing" of Earl Brutus really was something special (yes, Pop Will Eat Itself did some of this kind of thing earlier but they were a bit more "dance" and less destructive too!)

I learned of Sanderon's death just today from the NME and now I'm going to go play this video about a dozen times in a row. Maybe flip some furniture over in homage!

Earl Brutus - "The SAS and the Glam That Goes With It"

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

A Certain Romance

It's a truism that the British are obsessed with class.

In some ways, that's a good thing as it divides society along economic lines instead of racial ones (though obviously sometimes they are the same divide).

And by "good thing" I mean that England -- to a visitor at least -- is not as divided and overtly racist as some sections of the United States (yeah, the UK produced Enoch Powell but that's not the same as seeing the Rodney King beating on TV, is it?).

The second truism is that the British are obsessed with place and quite proud of where they are from; There are more differences between residents of Manchester and London than there are perhaps between residents of Los Angeles and Houston and yet only a few hundred miles may separate those British citizens.

Which brings us to one of the great tracks of British rock in the post-Oasis era: the Arctic Monkeys' "A Certain Romance" from their 2006 debut album.

From the album artwork, the title taken from Albert Finney dialogue in "kitchen sink" drama, Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, and the thick Sheffield accents of the band members, the Monkeys are clearly "of a place" and it's that specificity that makes them so uniquely British.

The very act of playing up their Yorkshire upbringing puts them in line with Oasis playing up their Manchester upbringings -- the Gallaghers' love of Man City over Man United, for example.

In America, pop acts -- apart from rappers -- do not really have things that make them uniquely a Baltimore band, for instance, as opposed to a Chicago band; there are local scenes in America but that's a bit different than what I'm getting at; here, the only accents you'll hear anymore are in country music -- maybe a few New York accents if you play your old Lou Reed and Richard Hell records.

And while I still think that "Live Forever" is one of the best singles I've ever heard from the British Isles, I also think that Oasis got lucky; compared to a carefully wrought anthem like "Common People" by Pulp or "A Design for Life" by the Manics, "Live Forever" seems a bit simple-minded and -- dare I say it? -- bombastic.

Pulp, the Manics, and now the Monkeys have managed to write songs that mock (a bit) their own milieu while at the same time praising it; All three bands in these songs manage to criticize and condemn certain elements of the masses and yet still somehow produce anthems for a mass audience -- anthems for a nation of jaded individuals rather than the bland corporate rock we hear from American bands where the goal is to appeal to the broadest, basest demographic of this country's large listening public.

Very much like the Manics in "A Design for Life", the Monkeys in "A Certain Romance" are at once criticizing lad-ism -- "footie"-culture hooliganism -- and, yet, seem to be a wee bit proud that that's the world that spawned them. They sing that "there ain't no romance around there" as if to mock those who affect to be working class and aren't -- see the rise of the mockney accent.

The Manics sing that "We only want to get drunk" and "we are not allowed to spend" in the hope that the masses will see the larger forces that are consigning them to a life of "Work, Work, Work (Pub, Club, Sleep)" -- to quote a Rakes song title -- and the Monkeys are hoping that they don't turn into the yobs that "like to fight with pool cues in their hands." The Manics sound like school teachers sometimes but the Monkeys are indistinguishable from their audience -- at least they were when this track was released.

So while the Monkeys rail against those who "had a couple cans" and think "it's alright to act like a dickhead," they cannot so quickly condemn their own circle of friends. They acknowledge that "they'd probably like to throw a punch at me" and so set themselves apart from the crowd -- like the singer of "Common People", the singer of this track is of the crowd but set apart, watching, and commenting with wry detachment.

In the end, they -- like Oasis in a dozen songs before them -- champion what may be a less than exemplary peer group: "Well over there there's friends of mine...and, yeah, they might overstep the line but I just cannot get angry in the same way" only to reaffirm: "No, not in the same way" as the guitar riff spirals up in Buzzcockian ecstasy and the drums pound away -- echoing the early Manc genius of The Stone Roses -- into a thing of joy and transcendence, the cynicism giving way to pride, the weariness into uplift in the face of futility.

I guess this is the song that convinced me that the group were one of the greats -- not a fan of everything they've released -- but they have massive potential, for sure (lead singer Alex Turner's work in The Last Shadow Puppets confirmed this as well).

If I think of how many thousands of dollars I've wasted on bands that the British music press championed, only be to be disappointed, I'd break down in tears.

But, sometimes, the hype is deserved. Sometimes, every few years, a Sundays or Stone Roses or Oasis or Arctic Monkeys delivers a stunning debut that I don't get tired of playing.

Arctic Monkeys - "A Certain Romance"



Manic Street Preachers - "A Design for Life"M

Monday, September 22, 2008

The View - New Single

I am ratcheting down my enthusiasm for this new single -- is a new album due already? -- from The View due to the lesson I learned from their first album: two tremendous singles do not necessarily result in a great album.

(Not there's anything wrong with being a great singles band, though; it worked for The Smashing Pumpkins and The Bluetones.)

But that opening Oasis-by-way-of-Scotland hook and the various Libertines-isms are infectious!

Songs like this -- especially with a video like this -- have a weird sort of power; they make it seem, if for only 3 or 4 minutes, that things are right with the world -- the inner 18-year-old is alive again and the car stereo is blaring. Only the United Kingdom can produce music like this -- Scotland in this instance -- and this kind of single is the equivalent for me of American Top 40 AM radio in the 1970's.

The single is king and the perfect 4 minute pop song is the land's highest art form.

So what if the albums are never as good as the lead-off singles, eh?


The View - "5Rebbeccas"

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

In Which I Once Again Take Up The Gauntlet Thrown Down by Yvonne's Blog!

Okay, from Yvonne's post here at Webs of Significance, I have taken up the challenge -- hey, I'm fat and I like a lot of different food so why wouldn't I?

"1) Copy this list into your blog or journal, including these instructions.
2) Bold all the items you’ve eaten.
3) Cross out any items that you would never consider eating.
4) Optional extra: Post a comment here at www.verygoodtaste.co.uk linking to your results.

The VGT Omnivore’s Hundred:

1. Venison
2. Nettle tea
3. Huevos rancheros
4. Steak tartare
5. Crocodile
6. Black pudding
7. Cheese fondue
8. Carp
9. Borscht
10. Baba ghanoush
(Not as such, but I've had Iranian and Indian variations on the dish)
11. Calamari
12. Pho
13. PB&J sandwich
14. Aloo gobi
15. Hot dog from a street cart

16. Epoisses
17. Black truffle
18. Fruit wine made from something other than grapes
19. Steamed pork buns
20. Pistachio ice cream

21. Heirloom tomatoes
22. Fresh wild berries
23. Foie gras
24. Rice and beans
25. Brawn, or head cheese
26. Raw Scotch Bonnet pepper
27. Dulce de leche
28. Oysters
29. Baklava

30. Bagna cauda
31. Wasabi peas
32. Clam chowder
in a sourdough bowl
33. Salted lassi
34. Sauerkraut
35. Root beer float

36. Cognac with a fat cigar
37. Clotted cream tea
38. Vodka jelly/Jell-O
39. Gumbo
40. Oxtail
41. Curried goat
42. Whole insects
43. Phaal
44. Goat’s milk
45. Malt whisky from a bottle worth £60/$120 or more
46. Fugu
47. Chicken tikka masala
48. Eel
49. Krispy Kreme original glazed doughnut
50. Sea urchin
51. Prickly pear
52. Umeboshi
53. Abalone
54. Paneer
55. McDonald’s Big Mac Meal
56. Spaetzle
57. Dirty gin martini
58. Beer above 8% ABV
59. Poutine
60. Carob chips
61. S’mores

62. Sweetbreads
63. Kaolin
64. Currywurst
65. Durian
66. Frogs’ legs
67. Beignets, churros,
elephant ears or funnel cake
68. Haggis
69. Fried plantain
70. Chitterlings,
or andouillette
71. Gazpacho
72. Caviar and blini
73. Louche absinthe
74. Gjetost, or brunost
75. Roadkill
76. Baijiu
77. Hostess Fruit Pie
78. Snail

79. Lapsang souchong (I think - LOL!)
80. Bellini
81. Tom yum
82. Eggs Benedict
83. Pocky

84. Tasting menu at a three-Michelin-star restaurant.
85. Kobe beef
86. Hare
87. Goulash
88. Flowers
89. Horse
90. Criollo chocolate
91. Spam
92. Soft shell crab
93. Rose harissa
94. Catfish
95. Mole poblano
96. Bagel
and lox
97. Lobster Thermidor
98. Polenta
99. Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee
100. Snake"

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Dragon Inn (The Original)

I finally had a chance to see King Hu's Dragon Inn and enjoyed it. The picture quality and subtitles were not of the highest caliber and I think those factors may have limited my enjoyment of the film -- it's hard to watch a lot of the Shaw re-issues and then see something from the same era that looks so bad.

King Hu, apparently, did this film after his triumph with Come Drink With Me for the Shaw Brothers studio and you can see similar set pieces and themes at work in this film as well.

I thoroughly recommend Brian's review here, as well as the further essays he has up on his site.

Dragon Inn is certainly more stagey than Tsui Hark's version -- as is to be expected -- but it's also a good deal more stagey than similar Cheng Pei Pei films made at the Shaw Brothers studio at the time. I think part of that owes to the film's largest section being set in the titular inn.

But for film fans, it's not unlike watching an American Western -- very similar I'd say -- where the heroes and villains eye each other up in the saloon for a good long time before fighting it out.

Not quite the stylistic mix-up that A Touch of Zen is (not that that's a negative comment, by the way) and not the classic -- for me at least -- that Come Drink With Me is, Dragon Inn is worth seeking out to see an early classic of the wuxia genre.

Contrary to the listing on YesAsia.com, this edition of the DVD does indeed have English subtitles. They are not particularly good English subtitles, but they are there; I noticed they also dropped out a few times when characters were speaking.