Posts from 8th November 2004

Nov 04

Huge article

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Huge article in the November issue of Scientific American asking (cue doodly synth music) “What is the secret behind music’s strange power?” I’m a sucker for music/brain articles–it’s one of my favorite subjects to obsess over–but for once, I’d like to see a piece that isn’t just a research summary. The article is a laundry list of studies, mostly focusing on neuroimaging (“Is there a center for music processing in the brain?” etc etc ad nauseum). I also get disappointed that so many of these experiments revolve around classical musicians or use classical music, and are done in lab settings that bear little or no resemblance to the environments where people actually experience music.

Senses of shame: CHAKA KHAN – “I Feel For You”

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Is it because she is blind that she feels for me? Or that the lights are off? Either way the last thing I want is a woman with scary hair groping me up and down. Especially if she is then going to drag along fellow blind man Stevie Wonder on harmonica and Mellie Mel (so bad they named him the same thing TWICE) to stumble around in the room. Of and who is that in the corner. Diminutive groper Prince who also fancies “feeling for me” even now I have turned the light on.

I Feel For You is an appalling piece of mid eighties muck. Disco diva: Check. Some rapping: Check. Stevie Wonder’s nasty one size fits all mouth organ playing. All summed up in a song so poor that the Bangles probably rjected it. It has thouse Star Wars breaks in it which always make me think of Chaka getting shot with a futuristic ray gun (not an unpleasant thought) but beyond that it is like a cess pit of all that was poor about eighties black music. The rap is not credible, the song is pathetic, and she feels for me? Well I suppose after creating this kind of pain she should feel sorry for us. I would rather she did the time for her crime though.

The literal mening of “I Wish It Could Be Christmas Every Day”

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The literal mening of “I Wish It Could Be Christmas Every Day”was made clear on Ant & Dec’s Saturday Night Takeaway this weekend. On an evening where half the country was out at an organised fireworks display, they finished off their current run with their version of this Christmas classic. They did not wish it could be Christmas every day, they merely wished they could sing the song every day. And it seems that they can.

Macaulay Culkin is a funny looking chap.

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Macaulay Culkin is a funny looking chap. Was he ever a cute kid? I’m not sure. His popularity may well have been more based on his resemblance to Edvard Munch’s Scream. Is it any wonder that the Scream horror franchise traded on this image for its laughable villain, just as the demographic for Home Alone turned into the demographic for horror movies? Creepily precocious as a youth, Mac is now turning up as a grown up actor and it is unclear what kind of role he can play.

He seems uncomfortable in Saved!, despite being able to sit down for the entire movie. His self-pitying wheelchair bound brother of Mandy Moore’s evangelical teen queen is a truly odd performance. He looks too old for the role (he is) and any explanation that his accident held him back a year does not convince. I think we are all well acquainted now with the idea that teen movies can be ideal places to do light satire, and Saved! is a stab at a religious satire. It has a promising set up, but seems to be based around the wrong character (Jena Malone who has sex with her gay boyfriend because she believes Jesus told her to). The religious subplot aside this has all the standard teen trappings seen in Mean Girls, though slightly less automobile accidents (only slightly). I think certainly post Mean Girls that teen movies can only be interesting when they deviate from the formula: which Saved! certainly promises to do. However the film drifts from its promising set-up into the standard cliches and so our main enjoyment is watching a strange Culkin trying to make something of an underwritten role. It does not help that he has a voice a bit like Edward G.Robinson now. Culkin sidestepped teen movies in his own teens (too busy fighting his parents in the courts), and would never have played the lead – but you cannot make up for those lost chances as a funny faced twenty something.

Or maybe he just looks uncomfortable cos someone gave him a lumpy wheelchair. There is always that possibility.

THE SQUARE TABLE 20 / Fatboy Slim – “Slash Dot Dash”

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Simultaneously lazy and ballsy, a rum way to end a pop career but weeks away from its brief radio life at least it sounds like a footnote, so not as undignified as it might have been. As a track on one of the prime Fatboy albums it would have worked great – a little in-joke irritant to keep the party mischievous. As a stand alone – eh? 3 (Tom)

You could say this is one of the worst songs ever recorded, but it’s not really a song. It’s a bad idea, repeated over and over. It has no entertainment value, no value in being so bad it’s good, it has no meaning. It’s just terrible. 0 (jel)

Considering the likes of the Go! Team and Teddybears STHLM have recently – and surprisingly – been striking pop gold with elements of the Fatboy sound, its more than a little disappointing to see Norman Cook return with a track that fails on almost every conceivable level.

Slash Dot Dash would have sounded lame as a throwaway skit on a Rephlex release from 1999, let alone as a comeback release from the most famous face in British dance music. Who exactly does our Norm think this record is supposed to appeal to? The beat would struggle to ignite even the least discerning dancefloor, the vocal sample is too intrusive, and the guitar solo would elicit little more than a rush to the bar/toilet at your average indie disco. (Slash dash! Do you see?) There doesn’t even appear to be anything worth stealing for a decent remix. Thank heavens it’s only two and half minutes long. 0 (Matt D’Cruz)

Wire’s “Dot Dash” re-written as a wide-eyed jingle for an animated car commercial? This is the sort of pea-brain, sample-based dance track that nearly anyone with a computer and a couple of Acid loops can make nowadays. The main difference is that Norman Cook makes a living producing disposable plastic like this. “The Rockafeller Skank” might have sounded fresh to mainstream ears in 1998, but no-one asked for this carbon copy of a dim flash at the end of 2004. 2 (Michael Gill)

Go back into history, realize you left Rockafella Skank half-breathing on the dance floor. Revive it, give it a new name and serve it with an ironic vocal sample. The internet is so passe – that shoulda been “dot org” Mr Slim Not So Shady – even when it stutters around a surf guitar. The main problem I have with the song – apart from its block rocking dumbness – is that it won’t even get the lads dancing. Or maybe that’s a good thing? Dot dot dud. 3 (Stevie Nixed)

IT’S annoying IN a REALLY unsubtle WAY like A neon LIGHT flashing IN your WINDOW. slash DOT dash DOT slash DOT slash DOT com DOT com LIKE a MOUNTAIN dew AD with CARROTTOP slash DOT slash DOT and EVERYTHING everyone THOUGHT fatboy SLIM would SOUND like AND what DO you KNOW he DOES sound LIKE a REPETITIVE fratboy LET loose ON a SOUNDBOARD just MAKE it STOP now please.

It’s not so much that I hate it as that it makes me want to change the channel. But then I never cared much for that station anyway. 3 (Forksclovetofu)

There’s some XBox game – hell, there’s probably a bunch of applicable XBox games – where repeatedly pushing a button in a certain situation caused a character to repeat the same soundbite. Waiting for Player 1 to return from a potty break, or running through a boring stretch of plot-related hoohah, I’d entertain myself with a little re-re-re-r-remixing of that dialogue snippet. So, yeah – if I had access to quality recording equipment, I too would slap that jive talkin’ on top of a tepid fast beat and see how large a throng I can get throbbing and twirling with it. Norman, you lucky slack bastard, I salute you. 3 (David Raposa)

Dumbfounding. The rumbling bass is dance-inspiring, but the vocal sample eats at my nerves whenever I get going. Even without that, though, I don’t know that this functions so well even as a pop track – it’s short enough, but it’s not engaging. Feels dated too. 3 (Atnevon)

I could laugh, but it would just turn to tears anyway. This is a shockingly bad record and I say that as someone who thought the last album was great fun (I even liked the Macy Gray stuff). What happened Normy? I’ve often thought that married life just saps the creative spark from people (perhaps Liam Howlett is another example, though not even anything on the latest Prodigy album is as kamikaze yet retarded as this) and you’re only serving to prove this daft paper bag of a suggestion may actually hold some water. Riotous in a bad way, yet wretchedly predictable and formulaic much like the rest of the new album. I’ll give it something just because it reminds me of the theme from Art Attack and Neil Buchanan has more talent in his paint-drenched right thumb than Mr Cook has left in his entire self on the evidence of this cacophonous trouble gum. Oh God, I am now officially ‘teh old’… 3 (Steve M)

A stoopid surf guitar lick is the only thing that delineates what’s the chorus and what’s the verse here, and even that sounds like aimless jamming, like a misplaced band in that holistic jam that Jools Holland does as the start of each show. This is a structure on which to hang samples- I mean who LISTENS to this stuff? Yet the thing is, we all do- it’ll be ubiquitious on TV and radio trailers for ages. Cook knows this, which is why the actual track is only 2 minutes long. It’s marginally more proficient than most trash-dance singles, so it gets a slightly above average 6 (Derek Walmsley)

A comment on internet culture goes the press release. Yeah right, as if anybody will buy that crock of crap. You got bored and some PR guy told you this would be a good idea. You knocked it out in your tea-break. You know shit sells.

But this is enjoyable. Pleasingly primitive in its delivery. The Slash, Dot & Com simply and rather cleanly cut and pasted multiple times over a short guitar riff, over and over and over again. Dot com, dot com DOT COM. Completely dumb but strangely compelling. Ill happily plead musical ignorance for this short 2:20 of pleasure. 7 (MW_Jimmy)

The title and its repetition are a bit irritating, and any future-shock glamour of ‘dot com’ feels as much a thing of the past as Fatboy himself does now: but I really like the music – it sounds no more like big beat than it does like a rather old-fashioned crime movie theme, rumbling along with pace and energy, suggesting exciting gun- and car-related action, almost a modern Duane Eddy. I’m always glad to hear some prominent scratching too. Has there ever been a shorter dance music single, assuming the official version really is 2.20? I would have welcomed another minute, at least, and I imagine the release will have some lengthier mixes. Still, tremendously enjoyable, bar the lyrics. 8 (Martin Skidmore)

You cannot libel the dead.

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You cannot libel the dead. Which is why it always suprises me that bio-pics are often completely reverantial towards their subject. For example Finding Neverland is a film designed to rehabilitate the reputation of a man whose reputation is, since his death, primarily for writing a children?s classic. I am not aware of anyone who refuses to countenance Peter Pan?s literary status by suggesting that the whole play is sullied by JM Barrie dicking around with another woman and her kids during its gestation. As a rehabilitation to people who are unaware of the original minor society page scandal it is wholly successful. Mainly because the film takes enough liberties with the story to make James Barrie seems innocent. That is after all its job. (Liberties like killing off the woman’s husband who was actually alive for some of the time…)

Oh, look out for Ian Hart playing JM Barrie?s cricket mate. At least that?s his role in the book. In the credits he turns out to be Arthur Conan Doyle. It might account for his perceptiveness. But oddly according to Finding Neverland, Doyle is just a bit part in Barrie’s life.


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Rich Johnston’s comics gossip column reports an upcoming book from Marvel, Combat Zone: True Tales from GI’s In Iraq. How true, precisely? Here’s what Johnston has to say about the credentials of co-writer Karl Zinsmeister:

“He’s editor-in-chief of the American Enterprise Magazine, the in-house magazine of “The American Enterprise Institute” (AEI). The AEI is a neo-conservative think tank, with strong ties to the oil industry and the White House, and one of the most important architects of President Bush’s current foreign policy. Famous members include Richard Perle, former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, ExxonMobile’s CEO Lee Raymond and the Vice-President’s wife Lynne Cheney.

Should be ‘interesting’.

EXTREME SCIENCE LIVE 1: Being shot by a firework

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1: Being shot by a firework

AIM: To discover what happens when someone is shot by a cherry bomb style firework at a distance of five metres.

APPARATUS: A “Five Stars” Firework, some slighly softer ground than expected.

METHOD: Place the firework in the soft ground but perhaps don’t secure quite as carefully as you might. Light blue touch paper. Retire and observe after the first “bomb” is shot out the firework fall over, then aiming at the entire crowd standing by the back wall of the house.

RESULTS: The second bomb bounced off the wall harmlessly, the third hit the person next to me squarely in the guts. Slightly winded it was suggested initially that this was more due to shock than power behind the “bomb”. However closer examination showed a singed outer layer of clothing, and a welt underneath similar to that you might get from a paintball. However when looked for, not offending solid was found.
The fourth and fifth bombs equally missed the crowd.

CONCLUSION: You really, really should make sure the fireworks are secure before lighting the fuse…

Bonfire night food:

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Bonfire night food: I went to a bonfire night party Saturday (frankly mentioning Guy Fawkes seems pointless). All the usual food suspects rocked up from our extremely generous hosts including the baked potato and sausages. There was however a grand attempt at a Pumpkin and Gruyere Soup which truth be told did not live up to its billing. I assume this comes more fromt he recipe than its cooking, trusting said cooks implicitly. However its whole manner of cooking (inside the hollowed out pumpkin) suggested a dish made for looking at rather than eating.

The main problem with the soup was that rather than pumpkin or Gruyere coming to the fore, the whole thing tasted a bit too much of cream. Having seen the recipe this is almost certainly due to the recipe being about 90% cream. The pumpkin bits were nice, but Gruyere seemed an odd cheese to pick, it remaining pretty much intact after melting. Perhaps a blue cheese would have been better, something that has a strong flavour but melts to a runny consistency. Still the evening went on with a swing perhaps due to the discover of an old bottle of…

Bonfire Night Bouze:
It was a party, and therefore the beer, wine and spirits were being rocked (including some wonderful early doors Sea-Breezes). But as the evening unfolded your adventurous correspondent noticed a bottle of Cynar, which appeared to have a picture of an artichoke on the label. An inquisitive soul I asked and was duely poured a glass. It was indeed an artichoke liquer, and with the exception of its very sweet initial taste, managed to be exactly like what you expect an artichoke liquer to taste like. Nasty.

Unlike the bottle of home made Sloe Gin found later. The householders wrinkled their noses up at said gin, as if to say it was the biggest waste of Sainsbury’s London Dry Gin ever. Well three years since bottling it has to be said they ate their words. The sloes had matured leaving a nicely fruity and naturally sweet drink which warmed me up no end. The rest of the group discovered that with a splash of grapefruit and soda a slightly stronger Sea Breeze could be constructed. And the evening nicely went full circle.

The Last Dance by Ed McBain

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The Last Dance by Ed McBain

This may be as inconsequential 87th Precinct novel as I’ve ever read, and I’ve read nearly all of them. Nothing changes for any of the regulars, no character development that amounts to anything, a very dull mystery, stretched out by a clunky mishearing, no exciting action. But maybe this makes it worth some thought, in that all we have left is the essence of what makes McBain worth reading.

I think there are three elements to this. One is the characters. Nothng happens to them here, but they are very present, and while Carella remains the central figure, as he was in the dozens of preceding books, the most interesting is probably the vastly less likeable fellow detective Fat Ollie Weeks. Carella is perhaps too simply nice and good, a perfectly fine centre but not terribly rich, while Weeks is a nasty piece of work, but his racism and sexism and general misanthropy are drawn with real care and honesty, and this makes him an unusual and compelling hero, and he is given a good role in this one.

Then there is his prose. He’s no Updike by any means, but he is a tight and skilled writer, particularly strong on atmosphere – I can’t think of a better writer of weather, for instance, but he also evokes his city, a barely variant New York, the sometimes subtle distinctions between areas and moods, very well indeed.

But maybe what keeps even an unremarkable 87th Precinct novel compellingly readable most of all is his dialogue. The form that he virtually defines in these novels is the police procedural, and central to that is the interview, the detectives interrogating witnesses and suspects, and he manages that with enormous strength, catching different voices and styles with conviction and flair, making every page of these dialogues utterly gripping. That last word, gripping, is the sort of thing that people say about genre work rather than in higher literary criticism, but it’s not such an easy thing to do, and not to be disdained. McBain can carry you through a novel with little in it with these qualities, and maybe as trivial a work as this serves to emphasise what a terrific writer he is.