Wednesday, 6 February 2013

The Paste That You Love

There's always an unsure moment when a friend introduces you to one of their friends that you've never met. You've heard a lot about this person, you feel obliged to get on with them at the very least. And then they say something rather controversial on the subject of religion, animals, politics, or on their preferred choice of biscuit. Where do you stand in this moment? It's not easy. There's no middle ground. They're looking at you for support. 

You could agree with them. Lay down, accept their point for now. Which would make you a bland, opinionless, arsehole. One of those boring people that just agrees with anything, nodding and saying 'yeah, yeah' to everything. You could refute their point. But there's no middle ground; you'd be locked into a debate. Oh god, they're a twat. They took great personal offence at you disagreeing. The worst part is, two others that are friends of the friend's friend heard snippets of the argument and they side with friend's friend. Great for them. They've ganged up on you and they're kicking you into submission with words. The icing on the cake? They start to use anecdotal evidence. 

"When I was in school I had a friend who got cancer who.."

"Two years ago I had a jewish friend that.."

"WELL, when I visited the factory.."

It's horrible. You got badgered into coming here to get shitfaced and you're locked in with these insufferable morons. When anyone starts using anecdotal evidence it's game over. These stories could be true; they might not be. They are probably exaggerated by emotion, but pointing that out makes you look petty. It's related to them and not the bigger picture in any way. Play it cool, turn away. You're forever a twat in their eyes. 

Anecdotal evidence ruins lives. Which is why it pains me to use it in today's blog which has decided to resurface like a bloated corpse. The point that I'd like to bring up today is that everything physical is slowly dying. And I have barely anything other than personal experience to back it up. Isn't that annoying?

What I mean by 'anything physical' is just that. Humans don't seem to be attached to physical objects anymore. Which actually sounds pretty nice, doesn't it? It's taken a while for things like Spotify and Netflix to appear and grow legs, but they're here now, replacing CDs and DVDs all the time. A couple of months ago, I saw someone on Facebook posting a status that said -

"Felt so retro today, actually went out and bought a CD lol"

The status attracted a huge number of likes (although I cannot confirm the actual amount because the person in question has unfriended me). When I go around to friend's houses, the compact disc doesn't exactly line the shelves anymore. And increasingly, the same is to be said about DVDs. People don't go out of their way to buy their favourite film; it'll probably arrive on TV, lovefilm, netflix or whatever soon enough (and if not they might just sneak in a quick illegal download). A lot of people I know have sold their collections.

My anecdotal evidence continues to slink into view when I talk about it happening already. HMV, one of the UK's largest music selling franchises has recently gone down the pan. It had attempts to launch a download service over the years, but the efforts were half-hearted and completely outmatched by the competition. I won't be too sad to see it go in all honesty. For such a large shop, there was such an increasingly shitty and overpriced selection of music that ended up being hidden behind a wall of t-shirts, mugs, and videogames. 

Aberdeen's biggest independent music shop, OneUp, has also recently closed down. There are mournful comments on the Facebook announcement they made. But we're a generation of Facebook commenters that do nothing; when OneUp announced they had financial problems last year, the sympathy increased, but customers and sales simply didn't. People had good words and fond memories, but couldn't actually be bothered going in. Last year, for an article I was doing on vinyl, I spoke to Yogi, one of the guys at OneUp. Even back then, he was pessimistic about the future of a physical medium. He said that records were for "the true music fans". But when I asked him if there were enough of them, he simply shrugged.

The last piece of horrible anecdotal evidence I will use is the one closest to my heart. The Stool Pigeon is a free music newspaper that was distributed throughout the UK and begun printing in 2005, two months before YouTube existed. In 2009 I picked up my first copy from a record shop in Paisley I frequently visited, as my music taste started to blossom from classic rock into all things new and alternative. 

I'd never heard of the vast majority of the bands, but the off the cuff articles with funny, upside down multi-coloured text that called people 'cunts' got my attention. I went there as an intern last year (and wrote a bit about it here) and spent a very educational two weeks running around and getting a bit sick and eating a malteasers ice cream next to a slimy canal in the punishing heat. The publication has now announced it will no longer continue -

"I wanted to do much more online, but the newspaper sucked up nearly all our resources and time. It's proved impossible to do both as well as we'd like and, to be frank, we're knackered."

But look at me! I'm becoming those people. I'm getting emotional here. I can't argue for physical things any more. They take up room, they burn resources, they're more expensive. I could go on about the sake of art, how everyone wants to sacrifice something good and wholesome for efficiency and better money, but all those things have been done to death. 

Do we really deserve to be nostalgic?  Is it worth getting attached to everything when it'll go away at some point? Reality is a turd-fest, so we may as well deal with it. We're a generation of emotional bloggers that will comment, upvote, retweet and like everything before we lift a finger to take action. If we truly become a nation that has bare shelves and little more than laptops and TVs to furnish our homes, will it really matter? Will we miss it? 

My prediction is that we will. We'll miss our new book smell. We'll miss inhaling record sleeve dust. But as soon as we remember how much effort it was to open a plastic case, lift the silver disc, plop it into a tray, and press play, we'll get exhausted and slouch back in our fart-powered chairs. Bliss.

Sunday, 11 November 2012

Ye Animals Collected

A particular brand of snobbishness washes over me when I ask someone about a recent gig they've been to. Well, actually, I don't ask, I usually see it posted in Facebook when I have nothing better to do. How often have you seen a post in a social networking site saying '_____were fucking amazing'? It's a phenomenon that's entirely responsible for how obsolete the phrase has now become.  An expression that, despite containing an expletive, has become as startling as a ham sandwich. When people don't go to gigs often, or indeed only once in their lifetime, they don't really know what to expect. The fact that the sound levels varied, or the fact that the lead singer couldn't hold a note and forgot half of the lyrics count for nothing, washed away by the excitement of seeing a bunch of people you're used to seeing in pictures and digitally compressed MP3s in your music collection. Because they played a handful of songs you know, the excitement was so much that the '____ were fucking amazing! :)' garble can consider itself posted five seconds into the first song of the night.

But I'm not saying I'm better than anyone else. I know about this phenomenon simply because I've been in this position a lot. It really does happen to everyone. You can only cut through the wave of bullshit when you get over your awe and properly see it for what it is.

Which is why I feel weird about reviewing live music, or anything for that matter. If I ever hint that I know what I'm talking about when it comes to music, then I deserve a smack. Because I don't, it's all bullshit at the end of the day. I try my best, but music isn't really something that can properly expressed by using words. And so I'm always slightly nervous when I'm expected to review a live performance, I don't know if my appreciation is coming from the adrenaline rush of being in the middle of a thumping gig with songs that I know being played, or if the band is actually decent. If I start to be overly pessimistic for the sake of it, who is to say the band weren't 'fucking amazing', you know?

So, taking this all into consideration, it's a good thing I wasn't asked to do a live review for Animal Collective's performance in Glasgow. Analysis is sometimes overrated. Sometimes you just want to get caught up in the whole experience. Just before seeing the group I excitedly explained to the unfortunate friend I'd dragged along that Animal Collective for me, were what the Beatles were to a teenage girl in the year of 1966. I love their albums, their innovativeness, the sheer joy one can experience from a bouncing, throbbing, Animal Collective track. There's Geologist, like a grinning, bopping Ringo, never seen on stage without his trademark headlamp which he uses to see all his equipment that makes the bleeps and blops. There's Avey Tare, yelping, jerking and screaming behind a stack of keyboards about adobe slatz and dinosaur anatomy. He has blue hair for the set, and mumbles something about eating meatloaf every day between songs, perhaps not realising that the closest Glasgwegians have come to eating such a dish is a slithering, undercooked square sausage. Panda Bear, plonked behind a drumkit, immersing the audience in his beautiful, yet melancholic voice has a brilliant vocal range and a great knack for drumming to boot. And how can we forget Joshua Caleb Dibb, aka Deakin aka 'The Deak'? The band's latest album, Centipede Hz, saw him return to the group after his non appearance on the brilliant Merriweather Post Pavilion album. Despite his absence apparently being brought on by AnCo's rigorous touring, he seems to be the happiest there, twisting his long face into a contented smile, and twirling in the middle of the stage with his guitar like a nerdy Pete Townsend.

But when Animal Collective do come on stage, the feeling that grabs me isn't the twinkle in my gut of being a fanboy. I didn't quite know what it was, but at the expense of sounding like an arsehole, it was good. I don't know if it was the pre-gig joint kicking in, but it felt right. The sounds were jarring the air around me rather than falling at peace with the world. Songs swung into one another like a pendulum, the band barely ever taking a break. It was mostly new material, but it stood up by itself, without needing any sentimental garbage to support it as being a right jolly jape. That said, the sentimental garbage was also great. Animal Collective aren't really a band that goes far into their back catalogue, but Peacebone, Brother Sport and My Girls, all got airings, each of them performed with a refreshingly new slant on the studio versions. I don't know if it's just my impatience, but the slower, more mournful songs weren't as exciting. That said, some songs really needed Panda Bear's fruity voice, glistening over an improvised, ambient space in the set in order to properly build up the next song. And the venue, the ABC in Glasgow, couldn't really handle certain sounds the band made. The sound system sighed as it's generic indie-pop sensibilities were crushed by the wall of strange noises produced by The Deak and his backing band. Even gig security continued to greet the band's performance with unimpressed frowns and sceptical stares.

So what can you really say in conclusion when you've been to a live performance? The £25 you've spent on the hotel, the £10 you've spent on the bus, the £5 you've spent on alcohol and/or drugs, and of course the £20 on the gig ticket itself is gone in 3 hours. When you see through the glaze, bands often disappoint, and if they don't, either an arsehole at the gig, or the sound system will mar the experience. It's also a drag for the bands themselves, going to venues and performing the same songs day after day to an audience that just wants to hear their most popular track. But tours consistently attract people. It's always the highest source of income for bands, high above record sales and miles above the bronze coins they'll receive for having their songs streamed on Spotify. Seeing a band live can't be defended properly, reasoning stacks against it.

But I don't really care about the drawbacks. Momentary, spontaneous experiences are continually sought after by humans, regardless of consequences. Which is why people want museums, culture, etc. Money doesn't really come into it our experiences, or at least, we don't care when we're enjoying ourselves. It's funny that governments see art and entertainment as little more than a business that makes money, as demonstrated brilliantly by our Prime Minister. So all I'm saying is that gigs should be celebrated for what they are - an impracticality. I recommend the experience. Just don't tell me how it was.

Monday, 3 September 2012

Hold onto your knuts

Here's a book that you probably can
 judge from the cover 
I was pondering blog topics a little while back, and I settled on doing a topic that I knew inside out. But I've done bands I like to death as a topic. And I was a little stunted for subjects, since I've got the whole jack of all trades, master of none thing going on. I study journalism, but there's not too much you can say about that unless you want to sound like an Andrew Marr wet dream. But as I was squatting over that toilet, unable to sit because the seat burnt my arse cheeks, holding on for dear life, trying not to splash shit on my trainers as I jolted back and forth, I realised something. I knew what I was on like the back of my hand. Not toilets. But the finest transportation service to grace planet earth - Megabus. Because friends and family are spread out between Aberdeen, Dundee, Glasgow, and even Birmingham, I've had to make heavy use of this budget service which has given me an uncountable number of experiences.

Stagecoach Group began Megabus in 2003 for the United Kingdom, and 2006 in the USA. Scouring the US wikipedia page has been interesting, because there appears to be a long list of Megabus drivers that have been caught drink driving, and generally crashing into things. But funnily enough, my search for out of control Megabus UK drivers turned out to be fruitless. Which is actually fair enough. I'm maybe being a little sceptical here, since I've never had any problems with their drivers. The service you get from Megabus is exactly what it says on the tin - low cost travel, and it isn't really so bad. As long as they maintain their toilets properly. Which isn't very common actually. Right away you can tell there is something a little iffy about Megabus before even using their service. You shouldn't judge a book by it's cover. But Megabus is a a bus service, not a library, so let us indulge in some prejudice as we look at their mascot in the picture just below.

Picture a sane person. Completely sane. Can you imagine them designing that with good intentions? I'm thinking this. It's late 2002. Stagecoach Group are on the verge of creating a fine, low cost service all can enjoy. They hire a designer to come up with a lovable mascot for this blossoming idea. The designer forgets his project and gets drunk on the very last day. Memories flood back to him, something has to be submitted. In a blind panic, he finishes his bottle of gin, grabs some crayons and paper from the Early Learning Centre, and hops on his bike. But there's a storm. He does the best he can on this creaking little bicycle with the wind swaying him back and forth. It's shite, but it's something. It's submitted, and Stagecoach Group are so pleased with their low cost bus idea that they love the drawing. The mascot has a melted face, resembling a perverted gnome thinking about molesting something innocent with his tangerine slice penis. But hey, maybe some people think it's wonderful.

The mascot is the tip of the iceberg. The toilets, as you may have guessed, are not desirable places to be. On one of my first ever Megabus experiences, the toilet was full, and had a broken flush. A mountain of faeces almost rose above the seat, competing with the thick vomit stain near the door handle that hung in the limbo between solid and liquid. Another visit saw a solitary trainer lying on the floor. The hand-dryer coughed and gave me a small piece of chewing gum, but didn't actually dry my hands. The sink doesn't usually work, and when it does, it takes the skills of a maverick jet pilot to avoid the jet of boiling water it shoots into your chest. And there's also the usual assortment of screaming children, drunks, hambeasts, and people playing their tinny custom ringtones for all to hear.

Sometimes I go on the 'Gold' service, which costs a little more, but can be well worth the luxury. These journeys have more comfortable seats, and are generally populated with a small number of polite, elderly folk, rather than a full bus of junkies and thieves. You also get a little sandwich, a drink, and a piece of shortbread, which is fantastic. These journeys are interesting in their own right, mainly for the steward that serves you. Sometimes the steward is sane, but I always hope for psychotically nice man. Psychotically nice man offers you shortbread in a threateningly nice way. His girder-like arms bulge underneath his tiny shirt, threatening to crush his basket of pancakes and jam (and your skull) at the first sign of refusal. His wide smile is particularly impressive, and his hollow eyes that have probably seen countless kneecaps broken stare into your soul and remove any desire to deny a tuna crunch on wholemeal bread. There's also trauma lady, who simply melts into an abyss of mental torment if you refuse her offers, occasionally looking back with a guilt-tripping stare. It's all fun.

Megabus doesn't have a twitter, and it's clear to see why. There are often various problems that would mean that they constantly get harassed for providing a questionable service in some cases. But I'm going to continue using it. It isn't particularly expensive and well...yeah. It's cheap. God bless Megabus.

What I'm currently listening to > \Drokk - Geoff Barrow/

Thanks for reading!

Tuesday, 10 July 2012

Nuts and Crisps, Paper and Coins

Every now and again, I talk about a band I obsess over on this blog. There's not a lot of reasoning behind it, apart from the fact that I enjoy doing it, and it would be cool if other people listened to them. For the last few months, that obsession has turned into yet another band that had great prominence in the 1980's, a decade I wasn't even born into, yet one that I won't shut up about. The band this time is XTC, who arrived in the same boat as Talking Heads, Wire, The Police, riding in on the tidal wave that came from the explosion of punk, rather unimaginatively, known as post-punk. This genre had the anger, energy, and spittle of punk, but it was a bit more moody, arty, and, well weird. Singing like you had a speech impediment, and playing synthesizers along with the crunchy, moody guitars suddenly became acceptable.

XTC picked up this way with their first two albums, heading in what only described as an 'arty' sort of direction. They even wanted Brian Eno, the go-to guy for weird at the time, to produce their second album, uhm...Go 2. But he politely declined. And whether or not it was due to that, or the departure of keyboard player Barry Andrews, XTC changed and got significantly more new-wave, significantly more pop, on their third album, Drums and Wires. Don't get me wrong, the band's first couple of albums are great, but the sound is of an unsure band, still trying to find their feet. 

Making Plans for Nigel, the only single off Drums and Wires, dragged the band into the charts. The song was written and sung by bassist Colin Moulding, and is about a young man pushed into a future that he has little say in. In my opinion, it's one of those perfect singles that can't be tainted with overplaying, even by a little bit. It opens with an odd little drum effect, and I'd be lying if I said I knew the name of it. But it gives the whole track an odd, offbeat feel, that compliments a thudding bass-line, which is iced over with a neat little guitar part. And it perfectly sets the tone for the rest of the album. On the whole, Moulding's bass-lines evolved for the album with an uncommon versatility showcased on the instrument; a springboard-like thud on Helicopter, a creeping ascent on When You're Near Me I Have Difficulty, a sharp, thudding slide on Roads Girdle the Globe. Producer Steve Lilywhite, master of new-wave, also firmly grounded and trapped the sound the band so desperately needed. He also made a return on the equally fantastic Black Sea, which gave birth to four singles and an album which was filler-free. Even the b-sides released at the time, Smokeless Zone and Don't Loose Your Temper still showcase the band's strengths and could hardly be considered second-rate. 

Around this time, the band had solidly been touring for years, and despite being on the brink of fame with a number of hit singles under their belt (Making Plans, Generals and Majors, Sgt Rock is Going to Help Me), primary songwriter and lead singer Andy Partridge decided that he (and the band as a result) could no longer continue touring - 

crap food dot jpg
"The problem for me was that I was beginning to absolutely hate touring. I wasn’t a young man anymore and my body was starting to rebel against the lifestyle. We’d been doing it pretty much non-stop for nearly a decade and I was sick of it all: the crap food, the hours stuck on a bus with the same faces and the general soul-destroying tediousness of it. I got it into my head that if I wrote an album with a sound less geared towards touring then maybe there would be less pressure to tour." *

 The frustration came to a head at a gig in Paris, where XTC were promoting their latest album, English Settlement. Partridge simply put down his guitar mid-song and stumbled off stage without a word of explanation. The band never toured again, arguably ensuring that they never had a drastic increase in popularity. Despite this, English Settlement gave the band their biggest hit with 'Senses Working Overtime', and the album was critically hailed as one of their best releases.

In the next 18 years, XTC would go on to release eight albums, including Psonic Psunspot, which the band released under the pseudonym The Dukes of Stratosphear, a fictional, psychedelic group that showcased the fact that the group never took themselves entirely seriously. The group's popularity waxed and waned unpredictably, especially in the US where the band's reputation increased a little with singles such as 'Dear God' and an appearance on Letterman, but each album threw something new to the table, and couldn't be seriously regarded as a step backwards.

Sometimes, in these little band reviews, I lick the arsehole of the musical talents each member has. In the case of XTC, the group was blessed with two great guitarists in the form of Andy Partridge and Dave Gregory, but the real unrivalled talent can be found in the band's rhythm section. Colin Moulding, an exceptional, self taught bass player first began with thudding minimalist lines, a standard of most post-punk bands. But as the albums stacked up, there are some great, 'busy' bass-lines on just about every track, that explore each of the songs fully instead of following the root note (a great example of which can be found in the song Mayor of Simpleton). The other half of this rhythm section was found in Terry Chambers, who left after English Settlement and was replaced by a number of session drummers. But out of all the arseholes I've ever licked, this is the one that needs the most attention (excuse that ghastly image). Nowhere to be found on top drummer lists, Terry Chambers, the quiet man's man of XTC left a real mark on the sound of XTC's, the sheer number of perfectly executed styles and beats provided on the likes of Black Sea and English Settlement is dizzying. 

XTC are still technically going on the back burner as Andy Partridge, the sole remaining member of the band points out. So there's (probably) not going to be any flashy eighties reunion from the band any time soon. And besides, going with the flow isn't something the uncool Swindonians have ever specialized in.

It seems that YouTube links are still the way to go, so here's a list of some of my favourite XTC tracks -

Scissor Man (Regarded as a "silly song" by Partridge it's nevertheless filled with a catchy, manic energy and a fantastic little outro)
Ball and Chain (A moan about unwanted housing developments in the 1980's. There's something about this video that I love, that I can't quite put my finger on, and it's one of my favourite songs from English Settlement.)
Scarecrow People (One of the group's cleverest songs, lyrically and melodically)
Summer's Cauldron (Woah, 1966 era Paul McCartney called. He's willing to get on his hand and knees for that dub bass-line.)
Deliver Us From the Elements  (Not sure what this is supposed to be about, but Jesus Christ, it sounds as if Moulding is trying to warn of the impending Apocalypse, the poor little bugger. Aztecs eat your heart out or whatever)
Towers of London (It's incredibly hard to pick one track from Black Sea, but this grower is well worth the extra couple of listens you may need to give it)
River of Orchids (A truly wonderful track that steps away from what is traditionally regarded as XTC. From the drastically underrated last couple of albums the band put out, Apple Venus volumes 1 and 2)
Radios in Motion (Ahhh, youthful arrogance. Nevertheless, this early taste of the band shows Partridge and Moulding bursting with energy and potential)

P.S -  Fun fact. Have you ever heard of Harry Partridge? He's pretty well known as an animator for things like Saturday Morning Watchmen . Well, he happens to be the son of XTC's Andy Partridge. If that wasn't even mildly interesting, then boo hoo, I don't have any more fun facts for you. 

P.P.S - Tired blog entry. The formatting is horrible, and I really need to make the effort in tidying this blog up, I'm aware of how ugly it is. Mistakes/awkward sentences ahoy, sorry.

Thanks for reading!

Saturday, 9 June 2012

Two weeks as a pigeon

If there's anything of reasonable importance that I have to attend, it's pretty much a given that I'll be late. I honestly don't know how I manage it. I don't enjoy letting people down, and I'm pretty fast on two legs. But in the corner of my mind, there's a very dozy nerve that is in charge of a large chunk of my brain. As opposed to suggesting that I should get my shoes on and brush my teeth, it urges me to watch a mediocre episode of the Simpsons, or pick my nose, or make a sandwich that I end up choking on as my body awakens in a jolt of panic causing my legs to leap forward and my throat to splutter up half digested chunks of hovis and branston pickle.

My name is Duncan James Graham, and I was born in 1991. I have an 'online persona' sort of thing known as 'Calamari'. This is because I am incapable of being witty or funny in the flesh. If someone approaches me in person I'll awkwardly mumble something about my top five favourite Steve Lillywhite produced albums and stare at the ground as they turn back to their friends and discuss Mumford & Sons and their trip to H&M, or whatever. I felt as if I should reintroduce myself because of yet another long absence from the blogging world. This blog to me is like the baby in Eraserhead (a film I recently watched whilst under the influence, which is not an advisable thing to do). Every time I type in 't...' into my browser, '' comes up as a suggestion, and I dare not look at the site to see the wheezing, sickly state it has been transformed into. I have yet to take the scissors to this son of a gun and watch it spew fake blood and porridge. But it was still a sad sight to see. So this week, I am doing a blog post based on my experiences as an intern at a publication, known as the Stool Pigeon. The Stool Pigeon is a great little music newspaper/website that I have enjoyed reading for years, but I'll not garble on, because the content speaks for itself and people have short attention spans.

So yes. I'm late for just about everything. And the Stool Pigeon was not an exception to this rule. Thinking London was much like Glasgow, in that you can walk around the corner and you'll probably see some sort of familiar building, turned out to be a very ill-fated assumption. My phone decided it couldn't handle Google maps, so after phoning the editor of the Stool Pigeon and asking for directions, I set off in a direction that seemed to be vaguely correct. I did not see that area ever again during my two-week trip. After walking/running for half an hour in what turned out to be completely the wrong direction, the editor recommended that I take a black cab. Being a little smart-arse, I thought I could rescue the situation by taking a bus, which would be cheaper. When the bus took me even further away from the office, I finally decided to stop being an idiot and I took a taxi. The driver was an exceptionally friendly chap who was bursting with pride about having the Olympics in London. He played tour guide as he waved his hands like an opera conductor, and talked about the first man to bring peanuts to Britain. My general feeling about the Olympics being held in London is total indifference, truth be told. I cannot relate to people getting excited about it, but each to their own, so I lied about my enthusiasm, and did a lot of smiling and nodding because he could barely understand me.

Because of one of my Journalism lecturers, I imagine editors to be large, dour faced, gruff, red faced chaps that bark across the office when someone incorrectly uses parenthesis. Phil Hebblethwaithe, the editor of the Stool Pigeon, was big, but not in the way I imagined. He was built like a daddy long legs and his knees practically came up to my head. But he had a smile that could melt butter, and he paid for my taxi fare.

Stour Space, the location of the Stool Pigeon office, was somewhere that I became completely enamoured with instantly. There was a nice little café below that served home-made soup and things in that sort of vein that I never managed to try. Upstairs were a whole load of studios, filled with polystyrene bodies, boxes, abstract paintings and attractive hipster girls. The building overlooked a canal which shimmered green on sunny days. The entire place had a warm sort of charm. Phil often referred to the place as a 'shithole' and yearned for a sleek office in Soho with an attractive secretary. That was probably because of the mice, which often shat around the new releases which were mailed to the office (a premonition for the majority of the content, one could say), the ants in the shared kitchen which swarmed around any stray crumbs of food, and the screaming baby that seemed to be permanently camped outside the window of the office.

But I'm definitely not one to complain. Sometimes Phil handed tasks to me which he described as tedious, and I really didn't mind. Even the most mind-numbing tasks were interesting. Sifting through and sorting out press releases and CDs was insightful to the sort of content that got in, and it was fantastic to listen to music that wouldn't see a public releases for months in some cases. The most draining task was interview transcribing, which I only really did once. The band was called 'Beach House' and I had a very mixed opinion of them by the end of it. Having listened to some sections over and over again for mumblings, I became very critical of the interviewees. I thought they had some interesting opinions and ideas, but it really boiled down to them being a couple of hippies that said things like "We didn't choose the songs, the songs chose us" and that they spent most of their time "chasing the energy". They seemed nice, but I couldn't take them very seriously.

My most common job at the Pigeon was to post stories for the website. Some of it came from press releases, some of it essentially came from other websites. It just really involved typing it up quickly before it went stale, and also put a little of the publication's humour in. One of my favourite things about the Stool Pigeon is that it doesn't take itself too seriously, ever. It doesn't really care about who it pisses off, and it isn't wrapped up with insecurities and who it can appeal to. So the articles always have a sense of humour, and it isn't necessarily under pressure to reprint hype and press releases.

And I got a gig review put up on the site which I was very pleased about. Trust were an absolutely fantastic band, and their album has to be my favourite release of the year so far (with the exception of maybe Visions by Grimes). Seeing the group perform live was an odd experience, because up until that point, I thought the description of a 'hipster' was something everyone grossly exaggerated for comic effect. I quickly  found this wasn't quite the case. Never in my life have I seen such a strange assortment of hairstyles and personalities. Most were incredibly self concious and barely moved throughout the throbbing pulse the live band produced. 90% of the audience stood motionless with folded arms throughout the set. One of the hipsters sported a large beard and a finely waxed moustache that curled at the tips. I know there's something incredibly wrong when someone starts looking at me for dance tips. I had no money for booze, so I tried to flail around like an idiot under the influence of nothing but good music. The beard hipster bounced around a little bit, actually turning his head and looking at the way I moved my arms for inspiration as if I knew what I was doing. I think he gave up in the end. The gig itself was excellent, although the venue was so new that they couldn't hang up my coat because they were still building the cloakroom. You can read my review here if you fancy.

I absolutely loved my time at the Stool Pigeon, and it gave me a real confidence boost for my future path. A lot of my memories of the place are unfortunately of me getting a feverish cold in the last week, snorting and sniffing my way through the ridiculously hot weather. But hopefully, the positive memories are going to shine through in time; chugging tins of cold tomato soup while churning out stories, eating a malteaser ice cream in the sun on my break, looking out towards the canal, and once again getting told off once again for constantly running everywhere.

What I'm currently listening to > \Visions - Grimes/

Thanks for reading!

Friday, 23 March 2012

Moroccan Handjob

A picture of my room that I sent to a potential renter.
Notice how I've used a low angle to hide the irremovable
 stains on the wall and ceiling.
Once again it looks like I'll be moving. It's no real surprise to anybody I know, as I've built up a bit of a reputation. Like an exceptionally poor nude model at a life drawing class who refuses to stop waving his willy about, or a certain football anthem by New Order, I'm constantly in motion. My belongings are spread out over five locations throughout Scotland.

Maybe more considering the occasional t-shirt/sock/pint of blood that seems to go missing during my sofa surfing adventures. But I've got just over a week to move my shit out for some French chap that wants this horrible room. There are still dead flies on the wall that the previous owner left for me, as well as a very big Starbucks mug that more or less made up for that. And instead of cleaning out the room and sorting out my belongings for easy moving, I'm sitting here giving you this nutritious blog entry. Apart from the employment front which has been shite for the past few months, everything is going pretty well. At the moment me and a group from my course have to produce a magazine for our coursework. I'm the features editor, and I feel as if I've done a good job so far. So well, in fact, that I've allowed myself to get drunk and aggressively delete chunks of people's articles through a hazy cloud of pot smoke and seventies electronica. It's not going to end well, but life is pretty groovy at the moment.

Do you ever have a rehearsed speech for anything? You know. The sort of thing you have to explain to people around fifty times a day after getting smacked in the eye with a fucking shinty stick. I sort of have one ready if someone says
Shinty - providing psychotic Scotsmen with weapons
and calling it 'sport' for centuries
"You do hospital radio?" The problem is, I have a particularly bad memory. So I forget the rehearsed speech and I have to come up with a different explanation every time for 'why I do it', and 'what I do'. So in the future, I'll point them to this blog and take a shit in their favourite hat if they ask me again. Because today, I will be explaining the goings on in the Grampian Hospital Radio request show every Sunday night between 8.30pm and 10pm (sometimes Fridays as well).

I first joined hospital radio sometime in October last year. I desperately needed some sort of experience to do with radio/magazines/newspapers, and after seeing an advert in my local record shop I decided to phone them up and volunteer. I started off taking requests in the hospital wards with Nick. Nick is a pretty cool guy. Together, we are a fantastic team - we know our shit. Many volunteers come and go, but a lot aren't up to going through the wards. I'm not being an arrogant dick - it's the truth. Many people have volunteered for the radio as a request collector and left the next week. Although some clearly can't be bothered committing, most people just seem to shit their pants at the idea of approaching people by themselves and asking what they'd like to hear on the hospital radio. But after going around a few times, you quickly realise that everyone is lovely. It's a sad fact that a lot of the patients don't get visitors, and they really appreciate it when you have a chat with them. It can be particularly interesting if they are tripping balls on morphine. For people that are dying, most seem awfully optimistic, which can be incredibly inspiring.

I got offered to be an actual DJ after about 3 weeks of request collecting. It took me by surprise, but I thought 'fuck it'. My first show wasn't that great.
The studio I present in. The man on the calendar is Irish
country singer Daniel O' Donnell who makes sure that I don't
bring food into the studio.
Some of the requests had bumpy starts and I stuttered a fair bit. But by now, my confidence has sky-rocketed. I kick start with a song of my own choice, dig straight into the requests, and play a few of my own things if there is time at the end. And of course, I spout a little drivel between the songs. Sometimes it's just the name and the artist, maybe the position it hit in the charts. Sometimes I talk about Bryan Ferry and his escapades (he recently married his son's ex), and more often than not I end up stupidly dancing around the studio and singing along to a song, which leaves me out of breath for when the song finishes. 90% of the time I have the studio to myself, and turning up a little bit drunk or high hasn't really made a difference (well, I didn't think it did). I don't get paid anything, and I'm probably not that great at it either. But it's incredibly fun and I can't see myself stopping any time soon.

Oh look, the internet is down. Looks like I'm going to have to post this at somebody else's place. One of the fridges doesn't work, the cooker doesn't work, the internet often goes down for no reason, my flatmates are constantly changing and I get lucky if any of them can speak English competently. There are always contact lens cases and nasal hairs filling the sink, not matter how many times I hoover the floor, it never cleans properly, I can't dry my clothes, the gas meter goes down far too quickly and it smells. Why do I miss you already. Goodbye flat, you were a shithole, but we had fun.

What I'm currently listening to > \Modest Mouse - Good News for People Who Love Bad News/

Thanks for reading!

P.S - The internet fixed itself before I finished. Clever girl.
P.P.S - To come up with inspiration for a title I searched my music library for 'DJ'. For whatever reason, a song called 'Moroccan Handjob' was one of the results.

Tuesday, 28 February 2012

La Ciel Chromatique part 2

Although I'm not the sort of person that likes to reminisce, I am am unable to stop the fact the fact that I miss some things. I miss my other half. I miss having money. I miss having a working oven. I miss being five years old, having no idea what a paedophile was, building a machine that would kill santa and making thrones out of mud. But most of all, I miss this blog. No. Really. I miss the days where I updated this every single day. After a while I updated it every two days. Two days became four days. Four days became a week. I haven't updated this in almost a month as most of you are probably aware. Which is sad. Ah well. Here's to the 50th attempt at consistency. Updates in my life: Got an interview on Thursday, struggling a little with a massive report due in a couple of weeks, and I'm still a reclusive alcoholic. Going to crack on and discuss my favourite albums from last year, continuing from part 1 a few weeks back.

5.Battles - Gloss Drop
When Tinkerbell takes a dump
In my humble opinion, no 'top albums of 2011' list should be complete without Battles' Gloss Drop. After their solid debut, Mirrored, the band have since shed their lead singer and replaced him with a number of guest vocalists (including Gary Numan, oddly enough) on this release. Battles pretty much do experimental music for people that hate experimental music. The sounds are unique, but the melodies have a playful, childish quality, bursting with energy. The fact that John Stanier (one of my favourite drummers) happens to be on this album also made this an incredibly joyous listen.

4.The Beach Boys - Smile
This is a bit of a weird one. Smile was originally recorded in 1966/1967, but if you know much about the Beach Boys, you'll know that front man Brian Wilson flipped his shit and hid in his room for a few years smoking weed before the recording process was complete. Since then, the mythical album was released in various forms - Smiley Smile was released in 1967, further Smile bootlegs were leaked in the early nineties, and Brian Wilson re-recorded and released the album under his own name in 2004. But is this just the band/record label completely milking the public for the naive fools we are? Probably. Regardless, this version is known as 'The Smile sessions' and it's probably the closest we're ever going to get to hearing the original album as it was intended. Gritty and hard-hitting it ain't. But the group's voice harmonisations and melodic psychedelia touch on a exciting part in musical history, which stands out as a fantastic album even today.

3.Oneohtrix Point Never - Replica
A journey through an endless, industrial jungle from the 1980s with with all of humanity wiped out. Filmed by Stanley Kubrick. On acid. I'm not quite sure how else I can describe this album. It has the most exciting and unique sounds to come out of any experimental ambient album I've heard in my life. The synthesizers chop and change; they buzz angrily, they provide a heartbeat, they softly sigh as if they were featuring on the Blade Runner soundtrack. The samples used on the album are mostly from adverts from the 1980s, funnily enough, but rather than lazily giving the album cheesy excerpts, the sounds are extremely well crafted into intricate, emotional pieces.

2. Colin Stetson - New History Warfare 2: Judges
Try playing 'Careless Whisper' on that beast
Before this album, I'd never heard of a bass saxophone in my life. I suppose I just assumed everyone was playing an elaborate prank on me for a while. But 'Judges' has turned out to be my favourite album of 2011 along with the next entry. Although labelled as avant-garde, Stetson's playing is anything but. Wild, skilful, and completely unpredictable, the sax is completely transformed as an instrument, into something dark and shadowy. Having mastered the art of circular breathing, Stetson achieves fast, uninterrupted playing which will stomp all over any ideas you had of the saxophone being nothing but a platform for cheesy pop or jazz.

1. Fleet Foxes - Helplessness Blues
Giving absolutely no thanks to the generic garbage that is Mumford & Sons, I acquired an opinion that was pretty much "Once you've heard one acoustic-indie sort of band, you've heard them all because they are generic pieces of shit" last year. That was until I gave Helplessness Blues a listen. Fleet Foxes aren't terribly unique with their formula (well crafted acoustic playing with a vocalist that sounds like a bleating lamb), but they manage to execute it amazingly well. The Shrine/An Argument touches my soul in a way not a lot of music does, and the album flows exceptionally well. The tracks aren't cluttered in any way,  each instrument is arranged so that it could be argued that any one of them is the centrepiece of the track. There are inspired appearances from a number of instruments and the lyrics are a beautiful compliment to the entire album.

Changed my mind this time, and I'm linking to the songs on youtube instead of making them available for download. It's probably easier for both of us that way. So here's a little selection of some of my favourite tracks from 2011. They come with the usual warning of the music varying heavily. I was going to put them in some sort of order depending on how weird or experimental I thought each track was, but it became a fruitless exercise. Enjoy -

Oneohtrix Point Never - Up
The Vaccines - Norgaard
Fleet Foxes - The Shrine/An Argument
Colin Stetson - A Dream of Water
Primus  - Tragedy's a Comin'
Battles - Ice Cream
Protest the Hero - Hair Trigger
The Beach Boys - Surf's Up

I'm suddenly becoming annoyed at really stupid things. One of my dickhead flatmates tied up a full bin bag and just left it in the kitchen, and they think it's a good idea to keep opening the windows in this freezing cold shithole of a flat. So I better end the blog now.

Thanks for reading!