Tom Ewing

1
Feb 18

GARETH GATES – “Anyone Of Us (Stupid Mistake)”

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#931, 20th July 2002

gates anyoneIf you’re going to apologise for infidelity, “it could happen to anyone” is not the best starting point, but in its very callowness this is a much more suitable song for Gareth Gates than any of the other stuff he was handed. Gates’ selling point – the reason he’d almost won – was his teen idol innocence, a perception of naivety which gave the tabloids a stereotype-fuelled field day when he had a fling with Katie Price.

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31
Jan 18

Read Harder Challenge (2 of 24): HORTUS VITAE

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Hortus Vitae: Essays On The Gardening Of LifeHortus Vitae: Essays On The Gardening Of Life by Vernon Lee

(Read as part of the 2018 Read Harder challenge. Category: A book of essays.)

Vernon Lee, pseudonym of Violet Paget, was an essayist, story writer, and aesthete active in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries. She’s not quite forgotten now – there’s a Vernon Lee society with its own journal – but her essays come quite low down the list of things people remember about her. She’s better known for her supernatural fiction, her feminism and pacifism, and her theories of psychology and aesthetics – she was one of the first people in English to use the word “empathy”.

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29
Jan 18

2018 Music Diary Week 4: The Week Of Peel

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NEW MUSIC

first aid kit ruins

Day 24: FIRST AID KIT – Ruins: Slickly produced, occasionally countrified, notes on romantic disappointment by a pair of Swedish sisters who sing with a Nordics-meet-Nashville twang. There’s nothing off-putting or irritating about this record, and several tracks hide a melodic twist which rouses me into brief attention. But that’s about it.

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25
Jan 18

And Then I Took Some Of THESE

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Mark E Smith, 1957-2018. Some things to read.

My favourite ever piece or sequence of pieces on The Fall is our own Kat Stevens’ stint on One Week One Band. It’s very wide ranging, very funny, and especially perceptive about the different things different musicians brought to The Fall. It also gives the Brix Years their due, which I’m pleased about – it may not be the greatest era of The Fall, but it was where I jumped on.

Another writer who’s good on The Fall as musicians is Douglas Wolk – his review of their Peel Sessions box set is an excellent single-article history of the band’s development, making the argument that they were often at their best in the pressure-cooker environment of the BBC studios. Peel repeated a bunch of their sessions across two weeks in the summer of 1990, and I stayed in night after night to tape them. I don’t think any Fall recording on any format could be as berserk as the session version of “Container Drivers” that kicked off the C90.

Over the last decade or so there’s been renewed interest in Mark E Smith as a literary figure, though. The Quietus has an excellent long piece by Taylor Parkes discussing him as a crafter (and, crucially, performer) of short stories in song from “Spector vs Rector” on through most of the 1980s.

And then there’s the critic I most think about when I think about recent interest in The Fall: the late Mark Fisher, aka K-Punk. Fisher is an interesting critic of The Fall because he was devoted to them but in one specific aspect – he’s quite caustic about Smith’s decline as a visionary writer (the element he loved) and reification as a national Northern treasure. It’s a reading that de-emphasises a lot – mostly the man’s identity as a working musician, a James Brown style bandleader/martinet/monster. And the fact that – granny-on-bongos jokes aside – The Fall were always a collaboration between Smith and specific sets of musicians (or dancers/artists/etc) with specific talents, something that comes out in Kat’s writing. I quit listening in 2000 or so but there are surely great pieces to be written about his late lyrical approach in this punishing, gigging context. This conversation on Smith, Brian Clough and management, from K-Punk’s blog, is an interesting angle.

But there’s much that’s truthful about Fisher’s position as well as harsh. First off, Smith really was a unique, visionary creator – there’s nothing in English pop remotely like, to take one example, “Wings”, the SF yarn Fisher talks about in this essay. And second, there was certainly a Cult of Mark E Smith, of the cartoon curmudgeon and bully, the straight-talking prole with the difficult band and the endless catalogue. He played up to it – crafted it, even – but like all cults I doubt it did him (or anyone) any good.

23
Jan 18

ELVIS VS JXL – “A Little Less Conversation”

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#930, 22nd June 2002

elvis jxl 2002 was the 50th anniversary of the charts, and Elvis had been dead for half those fifty years. The scale of the public reaction upon his death took media observers by surprise; the Elvis industry kept on rolling, turning a star back into an icon. By 2002 the name was still household, the face still instant, his life and death bywords for some kind of American promise, or tragedy, or comedy. What about the music? There, perhaps, was a problem. Was Elvis “relevant”?

“Who cares?” you might ask. To the people who stood to make money off it, that response was naive. But for some there was also a question of cultural propriety – Elvis was the first dead rock’n’roll icon whose work risked losing its audience, fading into a gentle twilight, respected but hardly heard. His partisans might not have put it so crudely, but the impulse was clear – Elvis mattered, and had to be seen to matter. The corpse must be re-powdered and kept on show.

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22
Jan 18

2018 Music Diary Week 3: The Week Of Appropriation

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NEW MUSIC

fob mania

Day 19: FALL OUT BOY – Mania: Short, and making no secret of its modern pop inspiration (there’s a song here with a reggaeton beat!), Mania underlines Fall Out Boy’s flexibility and their continuity. Basically, they’re all about those long, epigrammic lyrical unburdenings – what makes FOB FOB is their cadences, not their instruments. Wentz’ lyrics don’t necessarily even connect, they’re a series of verbal poses and the songs, in whatever style, are the catwalk.

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15
Jan 18

Read Harder Challenge (1 of 24): SIX TO SIXTEEN

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Six to Sixteen: A Story for GirlsSix to Sixteen: A Story for Girls by Juliana Horatia Ewing

Read as part of the Book Riot Read Harder 2018 Challenge (Category: “A children’s classic published before 1980”)

She’s no relation, but I’ve always had a curiosity about the work of my mid-Victorian namesake Mrs Ewing, author of dozens of books and short stories for children. In her time a bestseller – enough that her early death sparked an 18-volume memorial edition of her collected works – hardly anyone reads her now, but there’s a chain of admiration linking her to the present day. There’s something of Mrs.Ewing’s unpatronising interest in childhood concerns in the work of E. Nesbit, for instance (who is not much read herself but whose flame is kept alive by Pullman and others).

Even so I was a bit scared to approach Six To Sixteen – I had the idea Mrs Ewing’s books might be rather dry and improving, since she was keen for them to lead her child-readers along virtuous paths. But I was wrong. If there’s a central message of Six To Sixteen, it’s one that’s orthodox today but I suspect was a good deal less widely agreed in the 1860s – the need for girls to have an education and lifestyle that strongly emphasises curiosity and “intellectual pursuits” (everything from art to naturalism to languages) over the traditional domestic and social spheres of the Victorian feminine.

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2018 Music Diary Week 2: The Week Of Intensity

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NEW MUSIC

camila lp

Day 12: Camila Cabello – Camila: Short, well-put-together pop LP which puts “Havana” fourth – I don’t really get how post-physical media track ordering works, but back in the day this would have been a statement that yes, she has plenty of others where that came from, thank you. And it’s true – the sound of the LP is the woozy, sparse mid-tempo mode of current pop, but with stronger songs and Cabello’s slightly raspy, bullshit-weary tone to elevate it.

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9
Jan 18

Popular Crystal Ball: 2017 – Islands In The Stream

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Tom, enjoying Havana

Tom, enjoying Havana

Its Sheeranmania bookends might fool you into thinking that 2017 was just as bad a year for Number Ones as 2016. It wasn’t. For a start, very little could be. But while last year saw the charts reeling under the impact of streaming, this year they adjusted. New rules: get people in the first 30 seconds or GTFO (aka fail to count as a play, fall off the Spotify playlists, etc.) The emerging formula – with some variations – is to put the chorus first and then, if we’re lucky, fool around with variations and guest spots later. Those stars big enough to ignore this imperative often used their power badly.

Anyway, the Number Ones of 2017, in order. I’m pleasantly surprised at how far down this list I have to go before I get to singles I would turn off rather than hear. I’m also pleasantly surprised that – assuming I ever get my groove back – the future of Popular holds the opportunity to write about Young Thug, Quavo, Daddy Yankee, Chance The Rapper, and more. But I’m disappointed that I don’t really love any of these songs, even my favourite.

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8
Jan 18

2018 Music Diary Week 1: The Week Of Flutes

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Last year I posted the new records I listened to every day on Facebook, deliberately writing nothing about them. This year I’m still listening to a new (to me) record every day, but I’m trying to be more thorough about what I think of them, and I’ll be posting this every week on here.

NEW MUSIC (2018)

cupcakke ephorize

Day 5: CupcaKke – Ephoriser: New LP from the Chicago rapper – last year’s Queen Elizabitch got the balance just right between ear-burning sex raps, conscious stuff, put-downs of the competition and introspective jams, and the beats were sproingy good-time things. This new one is a lot less fun – consciously so in places – but even the filth sounds jaded, dutiful even. Some strong, melancholy beats – a lot of woodwind – but they don’t suit CupcaKke’s aggressive, barking flow that well.

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