25
Mar 20

Things I Wish I’d Known Before My Wife Got Presumed Coronavirus

FT8 comments • 6,582 views

For the last 12 days I’ve been nursing my wife Isabel through presumed COVID-19. She’s starting to feel better now, or I wouldn’t be writing this. 

22
Mar 20

Omargeddon #11: Arañas en la Sombra

FTPost a comment • 65 views

I’ve been categorising Omar Rodriguez-Lopez’s solo recordings into three distinct, non-equal eras. Early ORL spans from 2004-2009, mostly consisting of experimental jams that were often reappropriated as Mars Volta songs. The middle period from 2010-2013 has an overall focus on up-front vocals and synths. Finally, the Ipecac Recordings series released in 2016-2017 represents the late era, including a mix of reworked material with a smattering of indie, pop and classical.

But this isn’t strictly true, since he has a tendency to work on records simultaneously, at least two or three at the same time”, meaning records can be released years after they’ve been completed. This is certainly the case with Arañas en la Sombra (“Spiders in the Shadow”), an album featuring the very first Mars Volta line-up and thought by many to be the long-lost Mars Volta album The Somnambulists. This suggests that it was recorded in the early 2000s, and I’m guessing that vocals were added sometime around 2012 due to the presence of Teri Gender Bender, although it wasn’t released until 2016, making it cut across all three eras.

It was instantly familiar to me, and not just because I’d heard several of the tracks in demo form on the Ramrod Tapes. When this tranche of material was leaked in 2013, it felt like the final goodbye from the Mars Volta, and I listened to the shit out of it. It also feels familiar in a brain-itchy way – I’m sure I’ve heard some version of the lyrics to “El Vacio” on another song but can’t identify what it is (and may be totally wrong). But it also feels familiar because it reminds me of De-Loused in the Comatorium, the first Mars Volta album, albeit one recorded down a different pant leg of the Trousers of Time.

9
Mar 20

FATMAN SCOOP ft CROOKLYN CLAN – “Be Faithful”

Popular28 comments • 2,066 views

#962, 1st November 2003

The NME once put Public Enemy on the cover with the strapline “The Hardest Working Man In Yo! Business” – you feel Fatman Scoop might fancy a shot at that title. It’s not so much the intensity of his hustle, but the breadth of it – he branched out from hype man to radio DJ to featured artist to DVD producer to Celebrity Big Brother star, barreling through a career on confidence, connections, and that parade-ground bellow of a voice.

5
Mar 20

SUGABABES – “Hole In The Head”

Popular19 comments • 1,361 views

#961, 25th October 2003

“Hole In The Head” has three tough acts to follow. “Overload”, the one which perfectly introduced the Sugababes and their core idea – talk-to-the-hand teenage moodiness as a girl group operating system. “Freak Like Me”, the one (and the one-off) which brought them back from the edge of dissolution. And “Round Round”, the one which established, with an easy confidence, who the Sugababes were as a newly stable concern. 

24
Feb 20

Unheard / Unread: January 2020

FT2 comments • 443 views

Starting in 2017, I’ve had the aim of listening to a new (to me) album every day. This has been – for the most part – one of my best ever ideas. That said, in 2018 and 2019 I didn’t actually manage to finish – in fact I only got about 100 days in each time. The error was in trying to write it all up as well as doing it.

Still though, it’s good to have some way of recommending these things! So this year, the plan is more modest – a monthly round up of my favourites from the new (to me) records I played. Oh, and this year I’m combining it with the Unread Comics Project too, an attempt to do right by half a decade’s worth of Comixology sale buys. 

Here are my picks for January.

23
Feb 20

THE BLACK EYED PEAS ft JUSTIN TIMBERLAKE – “Where Is The Love?”

Popular18 comments • 1,744 views

#960, 13th September 2003

The album the Black Eyed Peas put out before Elephunk featured DJ Premier beats and Mos Def and De La Soul guest spots. The album after it featured “My Humps”. Perhaps there are more dramatic transformations in music, more shameless grabs at pop’s brass ring, than this shift from mid-ranking respectability to world-straddling infamy – but not many.

We’ll get our chance to weigh up the Peas’ platinum-coated Imperial Phase eventually. First, though, the song which broke them – the only record you could credibly claim as a pivot between the head-nodding backpacker Peas and their incarnation as cyborg hit delivery systems.

It’s also – and with hindsight this seems even odder – the only No.1 single explicity about the Iraq War and the wider War On Terror.  There are bands who would have given their granny’s liver to get lines like “Overseas we’re tryin’ to stop terrorism / But right here we got terrorists living / In the USA, the big CIA” to the top of the charts. And “A war’s going on but the reason’s undercover / The truth is kept secret, it’s swept under the rug” is more forthright and plain-spoken than anything the Manics got to the top. Where are the protest songs? Right here. And nobody gave a shit.

To be honest, I’m making this case and I don’t give much of one. One thing “Where Is The Love?” does, as it wraps its occasional truth-bombs in a swaddling of Timberlake-crooned positivity, is demolish the remaining flimsy case for entryism in pop and the value of ‘subversion’. Unless the supposed subversion was so plainly telegraphed and self-congratulatory as to fool nobody, it would slip down pop’s throat with barely a hiccup.

And so the Iraq War’s “Ghost Town” moment – a song plainly against the conflict, at number one for six weeks while the post-war situation tilted from optimism into insurgency and the rationale for the war dissolved in plain sight – was barely noticed. And as such “Where Is The Love?” is the perfect Iraq War protest song: an echo of the February mass protests, where an unprecedented show of peaceful dissent was similarly simply… absorbed. It happened, and it stopped happening, and nothing changed. (Unlike the grotesque chaos unleashed by the war itself, of course.)

So as a song of protest, “Where Is The Love?” despairs – it sees the chasm opening and the only response it can find is shopworn, the early 90s mantra of positivity, which fades even as it’s evoked. Where’s the love, y’all? I don’t know. But aesthetically it’s a different matter – those moments where Will.I.Am and Taboo shake the listener’s collar and try to get their point across are the song’s most desperate and propulsive. The “war’s going on” lyrics in particularly are rapped with mounting and hopeless urgency before Justin Timberlake ushers the song into its beatific chorus.

It’s a swoonsomely pretty song too, in places. The sprightly string lines, and Timberlake’s hooksome coos and harmonies, speak to a group alive to the possibilities pop offers for big feelings and big earworms. On Bridging The Gap, that prior LP, the Peas’ rapping is strictly wholemeal but their fascination with hooks – reusing them, referencing them, translating them – is obvious, and a pointer to where Will.I.Am’s leadership would start to take the group. “Where Is The Love?” is simply the point where he, and his band, admit to themselves that they are just not good enough MCs to contribute much to songs which are selling themselves mainly on those hooks.

So we have an answer for how you get from Mos Def to “My Humps”. “Where Is The Love?”, in form and in content, is an approach hitting its limit. A humane, likeable approach – peace, love, rapping and brotherhood – but one crumbling in the face of the marketplace and the world. New days are strange, is the world insane? The answer was yes, and we were impotent against it. The Black Eyed Peas weren’t the only ones to find their way through the decade by closing their eyes and dancing into that madness.

(One personal point: this is where Popular catches up with itself – the song at Number 1 when I started this project. I was expecting to get here sooner. I was also expecting – well, hoping, I suppose – the topics to feel less relevant. Thanks for joining me on this pothole-strewn road.)

19
Feb 20

King William’s College Kwizz 2019. FT Round 18

FT7 comments • 103 views

During 2019:
 1 who needed just 7.69 seconds at WD18?
 2 which myopic nightwatchman fell just eight short?
 3 which Servant, having acted the part, was elected in reality?
 4 where did a spiral slide add fun to the Holy and Undivided Trinity?
 5 whose famous embrace in Times Square has been remembered 73 years later?

18
Feb 20

King William’s College Kwizz 2019. FT Round 17

FT3 comments • 83 views

 1 where did Colonel Ross and the Inspector await the travellers?
 2 where did the duo alight when following up Cubitt’s conundrum?
 3 which little “halt-on-demand station” was used by the would-be anglers?
 4 from where in the Peak District had the prep school Principal obtained a return ticket?
 5 from where did they plan to take the 11:10 to investigate the death of the colonel of the Royal Munsters?

13
Feb 20

King William’s College Kwizz 2019. FT Round 16

FT12 comments • 159 views

 1 what included the Bill as part of the Rape?
 2 what is long in Britain but short across the pond?
 3 whence the destination of Commons members on resignation?
 4 what was the location of an old world strigine residence of great charm?
 5 in what did conflict between Maharashtrian refugees and the weeping willow lead to arson?

12
Feb 20

The Freaky Trigger Movie Poll 2019: #10 – #1

Do You See + FT5 comments • 325 views

Oscars Schmoscars, this is the list about five people have been waiting for. And while there is a lot here in common with the Best Picture lists from this year (and last), the conclusion is somewhat different – albeit partially due to UK release dates. So below we have Queen’s, writers, gangsters and some women who don’t seem significantly littler than the average.

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