Posts from 19th October 2004

19
Oct 04

B.BUMBLE AND THE STINGERS – “Nut Rocker”

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#135, 19th May 1962

Roll over Tchaikovsky! Hokey, straightforward and highly effective dance number: one of a stream of jolly, uptempo, slightly goofy hits that swarmed the British charts in ’62/’63. Some were harmless, some annoying – this splicing of rock and roll drums and piano corn is one of the good ones.

A Starbuck on every corner: Galactica revisited

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A Starbuck on every corner: Galactica revisited
It’s all gone horribly wrong.

Having spent the end of last week watching Battlestar Galactica: The Mini-series, I was ready to savage both the show and the continuation of Hollywood’s misguided obsession with reinventing the past.

After all, while the original series was never the world’s greatest space opera, it came at a time when American television was relatively uninterested in science fiction. And with years of teatime re-runs, this 70s tale of a rag-tag fugitive fleet on the run from a race of robots hell bent on wiping out the human race gradually worked its way into the hearts of a generation.

So, this reimagination could only ever end in disappointment. And the mini-series duly lived down to all my expectations.

The paper-thin characters devoid of (what else?) character, the clunky dialogue which criminally left the likes of Edward James Olmos (Commander Adama) very little to work with, the redesign of the Cylon warriors from clunky (but scary) chrome toasters to standard-issue CG, the token shifty Brit (God bless America), the cynical and gratuitous use of US TV sex (so synthetic it makes the CG look good, so lacking in titillation or narrative value that it’s neither use nor ornament), never mind the issue of Starbuck changing genders to become a woman: I was going to have fun, at least compared to the amount watching the mini-series had given me.

But I made the mistake of holding off the vitriol until after the first episode of Season 1, which got its world premiere on Sky One last night.

Now, we all know how Sky works: it steals the best of the shows from the US then fills out its schedules with a bunch of its own dodgy dramas and documentaries. So, for me, the phrases “big budget US scifi series” and “world premiere on Sky One” are not easy bedfellows. Quality is patently not a watchword for global first runs on Murdoch TV.

But if the rest of the series lives up to the strength of episode one, then I’ve got some apologising to do.

It opened with the revelation that since we last saw Adama and his colonists, the Cylon ships had been attacking for days, precisely every 33 minutes, forcing the human fleet to jump to another location and start the clock again. Everyone was running on empty. Species on the verge of a nervous breakdown.

And by some miracle, the director made it work. It was tense, it was harrowing, it was dark. Indeed the opening 10 minutes of the first episode proper had more human interest and drama than the whole, hackneyed four hours of the warm-up act. Gripping stuff. So much so that the surprise appearance of a Cylon warrior halfway through actually made me jump. Programming that moves you – that’s good TV.

And with a little reinvention of Galactica lore, they could have laid the groundwork for something exciting. In this version of the story, the Cylons were created by humans, and in their bid to wipe them out, the robots have developed the ability to build models that resemble humans – the most notable being a pneumatic blonde, who bedded our shifty Brit scientist in her quest to get at the humans’ defence systems, and now haunts his every waking moment.

But she’s not the only one – there’s a Cylon in Galactica’s crew. A mole, a sleeper – so what else is new? But in revealing this character’s dual identity so early in the proceedings, one can’t help feeling that they’ve a little more in store than the tired old witch-hunt storyline.

And there’s going to be mileage in the relationship that surely must develop between Starbuck (sassy gal, best fighter pilot in the Corps) and Adama’s son Apollo (All-American hero). There was always a love story there, even in 1978, when they were both young men – the two strapping young fighter pilots were always laced with a homoerotic undertone. It’s just a shame that the 21st century producers didn’t have the intestinal fortitude to carry that love through without tampering with Starbuck’s DNA.

So after a shaky start, things are beginning to look good. Let’s just hope they know where to take it.

FREAKY TRIGGER TOP 25 SCARIEST THINGS – 13: Being Somewhere You Shouldn’t Be, And Hearing The Barking Of Approaching Dogs

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One of the favoured pastimes of a childhood family holiday (too old to be tucked up in bed early, too young for ten-franc bottles of wine and pursuing Dutch girls), was to round up a group of other kids, grab a load of torches and set out into the several acres of woodland that surrounded our campsite. Ostensibly, this was in search of fun and adventure, but it was mostly for the sake of scaring the younger children senseless. Tales abounded of random pit-traps hidden on the paths, vicious wild boar roaming free, that kind of thing.

So imagine our delight when, on one particularly epic exploration, we stumbled into the grounds of le chateau and found, in the middle of a large mound of earth, a door leading inside, down to what appeared to be some sort of hidden shelter. This was the most exciting thing that had ever happened to us! The tunnel seemed to go on for ages! There were bats! The girls were looking visibly scared! It was like the Goonies, only without the gangsters and booby traps and other dangerous things.

Our excitement was brought to an abrupt end. “Ssh!”, said some long-forgotten holiday friend. “That sounds like dogs barking. I swear they’re getting louder.” I’d never run so fast in all my life.

Of course, they were probably chained up after all. Security firms, by and large, do not let angry German Shepherds loose on unsuspecting intruders. The fear is all in the anticipation, the knowledge of approaching danger, the blind panic that sets as you work out whether that barking is far enough away to give you time to finish your drunken piss and get the hell out of that industrial estate. And of course, that’s exactly what they want you to think.

Cinematically, meanwhile, being chased by angry guard dogs is the inevitable fate of either the hapless buffoon, the comedy bastard or, in the case of Ed Rooney from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, both. And no one wants to end up looking like that, do they?

THE SQUARE TABLE 19 / CIARA ft PETEY PABLO – “Goodies”

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POP FACTOR: 762 CONTROVERSY RATING: 205

An apology: work has been very, very busy lately. Something had to give, and that something was the Square Table. Hopefully it is now, in the immortal words of Barlow,G. “back for good”.

Touch-don’t-touch R&B very much from the Milkshake school but with added drooling from Petey Pablo. The initial bubblecrunk intrigue wore off pretty quickly for me – after a few plays the teasing turns to frustration. Some lovely sounds but they don’t – how shall I put this – give much up. 6 (Tom)

I mentioned how out of touch I’ve become in my Alcazar comments: well I’ve no idea what kind of record this is, except when Petey Pablo is rapping, in a very cool and laconic style, it sounds rather crunk to my ignorant ears, but I expect it is something quite different and probably very fashionable. It’s a beautifully controlled and produced record, and the restrained but sexy female vocals, presumably Ciara, are great. It’s got a lot of subtle, underplayed sexiness that reminds me of Prince’s ‘Kiss’ or some of the best of TLC or Kelis – I wonder if this might have the same kind of popular success as ‘Milkshake’? Given the right video, I think it might. Absolutely wonderful, and one of my favourite singles of the year. 10 Joker (Martin Skidmore)

It seems impossible that songs like this don’t make the UK Top 40. Naturally, it’s ubiquitous on this side of the Atlantic. Lil Jon and his cohorts saturate the airwaves to such a degree that it’s difficult to appreciate any one track on its own distinct merits. Then again, that may be because each of his productions adhere to such an idiosyncratic formula that they become nearly interchangeable. But even in the face of such criticism, this is simply excellent. Amazing (albeit recycled) production, great vocal hooks, occasionally-great lyrics (“You’re insinuating that I’m hot”) – I love it. More evidence that mainstream pop trumps indie foolishness every time. 10 Joker (Atnevon)

Like: acid-style synth line (actually k-like, more of this please, producers take note; breathy Tweet-lite vocals; ‘goodies’ in general. Can’t really imagine this at no. 1 in UK, though.
Dislike: mixed metaphors — image of goodies squeezed against glass jar: surely they should ‘stay in the bra’ instead?; pervey Pete Pablo drooling over the goodies — couldn’t we be left to imagine the goodies-grabbers? (also makes listener third party to goodies-perve dialogue, rather than placed in perve position).
Generally bored of: war of the sexes R&B. 9 (alext)

this might be up there with Usher’s ‘Yeah’ by the end of the year though this is my first listen. the immediate distinction between this and that is the male/female vocal switcheroo. she sounds so flighty, breathless, high and concerned but still soothing like Beyonce in her quieter moments, he’s all whatever (‘i been workin at it ever since i came to this planet, i ain’t quite there yet but i’m gettin’ better at it’), such modesty a rare treat in this game. apart from a few sweet little nuances like that, not much else to say and i can’t get THAT excited about it. maybe too subtle – though that may prove to be a real strength in weeks to come and it should ride the crunk wave pretty well as it’s one for ladies AND fellas in equal measure. 8 (Steve M)

It’s a sort of Milkshake reshook, a dirty South jailbait come hither. The tiger-in-the-cage bass line, the freekaleek whistles and synths, the Faux-yonce vocal stylings, the de rigeur hip hop chorus… it’s all been done before. Not quite this nice, LATELY tho; which is a helluva saving grace. This is lean and nasty and struts on high heels it stole from mommy’s closet. Play ball. 8 (Forksclovetofu)

Neptunes?
Well a little rooting around sees me put wrong on that. It’s Lil’ Jon no less – the guy who spoils recording two-fold by getting himself on the record and also appearing in the videos. Thankfully not here.

What are her Goodies?
Where I am from goodies are sweets. I hope the video is Ciara naked in a sea of Werthers Original.

Better than (I’m obviously alluding to it) Kelis’ Milkshake?
Better put the headphones on. Yes, it’s sonically going on. Left, right, left. Snippets of things here and there, not quite giving us enough. Production is minimalist; it’s very reminiscent of Rosco P. Coldchain – Hot.

Best Bit?
The introduction of cowboy theme when the bad guy rappers arrive.

I’m sold. 8 Joker (MW-Jimmy)

“Goodies” is a slowed down “Yeah.” A Crunk & B tune that lacks the grit of Usher’s ultra-laser single. As such it doesn’t scream, instead it floats around you. Kinda overdosing on codeine. Although it’s supposed to be a Ciara tune, it’s Peter Pablo – basically a less manic Lil’Jon substitute – that dominates this track. Ciara’s sumnambulic singing appeals but never convinces. Cookies, boobies, whatever. She’s teaching us/Petey a lesson: you may have the bling, she’s not buying. Or selling. Like I said, whatever. Beyonce already taught me all I had to know about being independent. The lyrics don’t really matter, it’s the twangy guitar and the whistle that have me most hooked. Bada Boom Bada 7 (Stevie Nixed)

The dumb rapping at the start is a red herring, ’cause the gossamer female vocals are the main thing to relish. Smooth vocals catalyse an otherwise low key production (G-funk style synth sounding like the dry whine of a phone left off the hook). The lyrics describe a tantalising come-and-get-me flirtation. Not much happens, but it stays in the aural-erogenous zone expertly. 7 (Derek Walmsley)

Sex can occasionally be interrupted by moments of blandness. It happens. “Goodies” has enough going for it – the achingly stark vocals, a rough minimal beat, the synth from Usher’s “Yeah!” – to provide me with a sensual and insidious thrill, yet all of the additional adornments (Petey Pablo’s languid rapping, the vocal layering on Ciara’s voice) threaten to bring the sizzle down to a simmer. It?s a curious song to hit the #1 spot, since it doesn?t have a huge hook to grab onto, but we mustn?t underestimate the power of sexual allure. More girly crunk, please! 7 (Michael Gill)

For the first time in this Square Table I’ve been confronted with a record and an artist I know absolutely nothing about, so presumably this is massive in the States at the moment. Still, it allows me to approach Goodies with an open mind and… its not at all bad, actually. It sounds like a crunk record, great Southern drawl in the opening verse, but with all the awkward edges sanded off and glossed over with that great girly pop chorus. I can’t imagine a record like this really hitting big over here, but that says more about how far apart our singles charts are than anything else. Its probably too sparse, too minimal, to really appeal to UK radio programmers, but nonetheless I approve. 7 (Matt D’Cruz)

Goodies. Never really liked them. I always rooted for the baddies. And rooting is what this song is all about, which goes to show that goodies have changed a lot since I were a nipper.

Nice squeeky bit, but both the breathy lady sex bits and bored man sex rapping are inferior to other entries in this genre. 4 then, though if I think about Graham Garden, Bill Oddie and Tim Brooke-Taylor that score goes down to a 3, as the idea of a hairy ornithologist getting down to this is ALL WRONG. (Pete)

Bootylicious for about 10 seconds, but then turns into “Freak-a-leak” with Casios set to stunt and featuring the little Dutch dike boy cock blocking and sandbagging in his smart li’l clogs. Methinks a little carpetbagging’s happening here, too – sure, come on North, all you fine Southern pimps; bring your crunk and your draaaaaaarwl and maybe we can hook you up w/ some nice round reparations, sloppy seconds style. But, please, only able-bodied folk need cross the Mason-Dixon. Lady folk that sound like they hit the pipe sing like they got no pipes, and there ain’t no need to lay that rusty sort of stuff up here. 3 (David Raposa)

Gasp! [choke!] It’s…

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Gasp! [choke!] It’s… The First Ever ILC Greatest Comics Poll for your joining-in pleasure.

monkey-wrenching the k-kapital machine

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monkey-wrenching the k-kapital machine:

obsessive US pol-wonks will know what this is abt viz the left blogosphere’s organised assault the last few days on the share price of a media corp called sinclair (which is planning to air an anti-kerry film just before the election on the many TV stations it owns: it reaches abt a quarter of US tv-viewing homes) === anyway the activists have targeted its advertisers, 80-odd of whom (as of like now-ish) have withdrawn advertising

this is an on-going chart of its share-price (refresh every 10 mins or so for effect)*:

perhaps this makes me a bad person, but i have always loved market tumbles – just the shape of the rallies and struggles and then OOPS over another cliff next stop the FLOOR… and of course this movement is half-mechanics or more, all sorts of automatic checks (or automatic SELL NOW programs), hence the square-wave-ish jigglin up and down round the 6.5/6.49 mark – and the fact that there are dozens of ppl involved trying to make it go in one direction or another, like a multi-participant videogame** except the future of the world is at stake***

*[dear viewer from the future it is possible the fun bit is over and wobbly calm now reigns; the vertiginous plummeting i am refreshing, re-refreshing and refreshing once again, occurred on 18 and morning 19 Oct 2004]
**[in the 60s there wz a fashion for building music-making machines where the performers had input choices – the clever thing to say wz that the music’s score wz the machine’s CIRCUIT DIAGRAM: anyway i guess this reminds me of that, only here this picture is the piece]
***[they think this i mean: i choose to present myself as a mere feckless couch potato]

I had famous pork on Sunday

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I had famous pork on Sunday. It came from Stinky Jim, you know, of Jimmy’s Farm fame. Jamie Oliver’s mate. That’s the one. Anyway, it had been brought from his piggery in Essex to Durham by my friend Pippa, who was there visiting her parents and invited me to join her for the weekend. She hadn’t been able to get a roasting joint, so she bought some huge ribs instead and her mum stuck them in the Aga while we went off to pick apples, damsons and the three remaining blackberries in the garden for a crumble pud.

Mrs D. was worried they wouldn’t come out right, not having been marinaded, barbecued or any of the other things you’d normally expect to be done with ribs, but they came out lovely. She’d salted the skin well and the crackling was so crunchy I had trouble biting through it, the fattiness (they were pretty fatty, but that’s bellies for you) kept the meat from drying out and becoming chewy and they tasted pretty good too. In fact, they more than made up for the five hour train journey I’d endured to get to Durham, what with the East Coast line being closed all weekend.

The aesthetics of hand-crafted CDRs

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The aesthetics of hand-crafted CDRs — not that musicians actually sit around and carve in data on them, that would be a bit much. But increasingly my actual music purchases are steering away from ‘official’ CDs as such — personally I think the distinction will grow less apparent with time — towards the kind of small-release/home-release efforts that can either be literal one-offs (CDRs with differing art from release to release, or even different tracklistings) or part of a more formal effort. Burning Shed falls into the latter camp with its standardized made-to-order efforts, while Time-Lag has crossed over from limited vinyl releases to doing similar with CDs or CDRs, and that’s just the tip of an increasingly huge iceberg.

What’s not entirely clear to me is what the musical demographics are of bands and performers taking this approach — which is in and of itself not unique or new, and has a more well-known current hip-hop equivalent in mixtapes, released and ripped and traded fast and furiously (an observation on the new Eminem single I quite liked came from Matt H on ILM saying that he was disappointed because recent mixtape appearances showed him to better effect, indicating another perhaps marginal but known blur between what is ‘official’ and what isn’t). I’m not sure what the prioritizing of the artifact is with such tapes in and of themselves — comment if you know! — but similarly CDR releases get ripped and traded and so forth while at their best still trying to aim for something more to give value for money, to make it something distinct or worth owning beyond simply having the ripped file.

Perhaps for this reason where I tend to see (or more actively look for) such releases comes from people who implicitly or explicitly are focusing on ‘craft,’ however defined. The whole idea of limited runs and hand-created artwork and packaging and getting a little note from the person you bought it from is part fannish connection and part artisan-worship in a way — that you can use up-to-date technological efforts (PayPal in particular really has opened the floodgates) to get something with hand-printed or silkscreened art or a written notation of what number of the run it is or the like is part of the enjoyable conceit. That you can use the ‘fake’ to get to the ‘real,’ perhaps — if money is just an electronic listing in a computer.

And similarly most of the time the music being shared is home-created, or lo-fi, or experimental or random jams or something where the music is ‘real’ in Ye Olde Rockist Terms. It’s perhaps no surprise that that New Weird America hash is so closely associated with these efforts in ways — consider Sunburned Hand of the Man’s careful way of upping the mystique via their series of releases that usually sold out immediately — and that the sense of ‘artifact’ is all the more important, perhaps. But again, this is somewhat limiting in terms of what is intended by such releases — is the strictly downloadable microhouse mix any less real than such a CDR, despite the evanescence of the mix in comparison to something you hold in your hand?

There’s more to be said about this and a lot I’m doubtless missing. So I do welcome all further thoughts…

Music as Wallpaper

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Music as Wallpaper

I was watching Changing Rooms last night and heard ‘Winter Wooksie’ by Belle and Sebastian as background to Lawrence cutting out flowers. It felt right.

Given that this was coming to us from Chorleywood, Britain’s most contented town, the choice of ‘A Town Called Malice’ to illustrate putting up some window shutters seemed less appropriate. Unless the music director is a bit of a subversive.

Alan Hollinghurst – The Line of Beauty

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Alan Hollinghurst – The Line of Beauty

My local book group discussed this last month. I was the only one who enjoyed it. I felt I had to justify my position but found it difficult to explain why I liked it. It wasn’t nostalgia (the iconic cultural references are deliberately infrequent) and the characters bore no resemblance to my circle of friends. It is something to do with the writing; to be precise, the overall power of the writing.

“It’s just a load of eighties references interrupted by some shagging in the bushes” said one of those for whom the book didn’t entertain. “It’s 300 pages too long” said another. Maybe it is a little lengthy and yes, there is a lot of sex in it, but for a novel with few set pieces it was beautifully written. It lacks the cardboard character monsters of Martin Amis or the jokes of Jonathan Coe, but the line of beauty itself (a complex and multi-faceted figurine which ducks and dives throughout the text) could be enough to win it the Booker Prize this week.

I did wonder if it is possible to write a novel about the 1980s that isn’t a satire, though.