Unpop 168

resistance is the joy of holding your breath

Quiet, The Winter Harbor – Mazzy Star (from ‘Still’ EP)
24 Hour Drugstore – Marlaena Moore (from ‘Gaze’ LP. Bandcamp)
Feel Like Going Home – Alpaca Sports (from ‘From Paris With Love’ LP. Bandcamp)
Say You’ll Be Home For Christmas – White Town (from WIAIWYA ‘Stars’ LP (Bandcamp)
The Christmas Stick – Bubble and Squeak (digital single)
Respect The Labourers – Princess Chelsea (from ‘The Loneliest Girl’ LP. Bandcamp)
Radio Kids – Strand of Oaks (from ‘Hard Love’ LP. Bandcamp)
Tom Petty Karaoke – Amy Rigby (digital single. Bandcamp)
Say No – Oskar’s Drum (from ‘Degenerate Art’ LP. Bandcamp)
Poll – The Monkees (from ‘Head’ LP)
Lamplight – Bee Gees (from ‘Odessa’ LP)
Mars (Won’t Save Us) – The Room in the Wood (from ‘ The Mars EP’. Bandcamp)
100 Years From Now – Last of the Easy Riders (digital single. Bandcamp)
Videograms – The Twilight Sad (10″ single)
Sucking in the Sun – Flo & Spicey (from Flo & Spicey’s Tea Set’ LP. Bandcamp)
Flying – Hairband (from ‘Hairband’ EP. Bandcamp)
Playing as Punks – Free Love (from ‘Luxury Hits‘ LP)
October – NICHOLAS KRGOVICH (from ‘Ouch’ LP. Bandcamp)
This Is the Love – Norma Jean Wright (from ‘Norma Jean’ LP)
Heaven, Almost – Ralegh Long (digital single. Bandcamp)
A Hard Rain (Live At SPOC) – Chris T-T (from ‘In the Church With A Cold’. Bandcamp)

fumbling to press record



Unpopular Advent 2018 – Day 10

Chaos Chaos – Chaos Chaos

Let’s get this straight from the start: I find it close to impossible to be objective about Chaos Chaos, for Chaos Chaos have emerged from the chrysalis of (pre)teen sensations Smoosh whose debut piece of 7” vinyl was released on my little Unpopular label far too many years ago to bear thinking about. Ditto that cover piece in Plan B that sparked our interest and I’m sure that Jerry will appreciate the Dexy’s nod to start this piece. Our jigsaw puzzles may have slightly different pieces but they all fit, right? Right.

Oddly then (or not), the one area where I can be objective about Chaos Chaos is in saying that I have no idea where they are at or are coming from. This is a compliment, reflecting the fact that for some years now I have been delighted to find myself in that place where Contemporary Youth Culture(s) are now completely and utterly beyond the scope of, if not my understanding, certainly my interest. And whilst my day job ostensibly keeps me in touch with whatever The Young People are consuming in reality it merely serves to highlight the chasm that has emerged. Certainly though there is something of the importance of gender/identity politics at play in Chaos Chaos (heck, it’s implicit in their very name isn’t it?) and if this plays out most obviously in ‘Pink Politics’ it is also hinted at in the cover photograph which will forever put me in mind of Lee Miller’s iconic shot of young women in fire masks during WW2, and there can be few more valid feminist touchstones than Miller (frustratingly, they have since replaced that cover with a colour shot which, whilst it may be more fitting for the record is a disappointment to any photography nerd). As we said, our jigsaw puzzles may have slightly different pieces but they all fit, right? Right. Yet it strikes me from listening to ‘Chaos Chaos’ and from glimpsing snapshots of Asya and Chloe’s Instagram lives that it is entirely possible that they themselves are inhabiting the fringes of their own contemporary culture, that they are searching for those corners where they feel most comfortable. Looking for where they fit, at least in part and at least for a while. Such is the curse/pleasure of Youth, after all.

‘Berlin’ certainly captures this sense of longing for belonging and the tension of enforced separation from the emotional connections we make to place, time and (almost incidentally) to people. I have listened to ‘Berlin’ many times this year and each time I cannot decide if this is a song that yearns for a return to a city of recent personal memory or if it is rather a song that sets its nostalgic sights on a mythic, mediated place and time (a Berlin of perhaps Isherwood, Lou Reed, Iggy and Bowie or any number of artists inhabiting any particular past). Sonically it feels like the later, in that it is the song on the album that perhaps most obviously and explicitly references a 1980s demi-monde of clashing and crashing synths desperately seeking redemption. It is by turns anxious, exuberant, hesitant, frustrated and euphoric. It is four minutes of darkness and light, of past, present and future. Chaos, Chaos. There is too a notion of division/separation, and if my reading of this is coloured by my own recent consumption of ‘The Spy Who Came In From The Cold’ and ‘Berlin 84’ then so be it. Yet there is certainly something of the ‘New Gold Dream’ about this ‘Berlin’ and that, again, is a compliment. Remember, our jigsaw puzzles may have slightly different pieces but they all fit, right? Right.

Unpopular Advent 2018 – Day 1

First Aid Kit – Ruins

January is the cruelest month and all that, at least in the northern hemisphere. True, the days are getting longer but the changes seem so subtle as to be non-existent and the month always feels rather like an unending stretch of darkness and cold. There is always too a dearth of new records in January which doesn’t help much and which means that the appearance of First Aid Kit’s third LP came as something of a delight to lighten the days, if not particularly the mood. ‘Ruins’ is not a particularly cheery record.

Sleeved in high contrast black and white with the Söderberg sisters looking suitably moody, the songs within come across as More Of The Same which, if you are a fan of First Aid Kit is certainly something to celebrate. If, on the other hand, you are the kind of person who thinks that each release by an artist needs to show Stylistic Shifts to reflect notions of Progress then no doubt you will listen to ‘Ruins’ and find it somewhat lacking. You would also, I might aver, be Missing The Point about art and artistic development in general but that is an argument to be carried out in a different realm, preferably over a glass of something strong.

All of which means that for me ‘Ruins’ is really rather charming and lovely, particularly on what on vinyl we would call Side 1. Front-loaded with singles (three of the first four tracks), it’s clear that when First Aid Kit have great songs to work with they are a very class act indeed. Their voices are delicious of course, and the sibling harmonies fit charmingly into the International folk-infused Country context that they so comfortably inhabit. For me it’s best framed in the marvellous ‘Fireworks’ which is as fine a break-up song as you are likely to hear. It is a song of peaks and troughs, aches, pains and steely-eyed soaring redemption; a song of here, now, then and tomorrow. Remember to forget to remember.

That Side 2 of ‘Ruins’ falls away and drifts into mediocrity is a shame. It’s not that I particularly object to the fact that the mood, pace or flavour of the side never seems to vary much (see aforementioned argument about Stylistic Shifts) it’s more that the quality of the songs just doesn’t seem all that great. They lack those hooks, pauses, shimmies and glints of highlights illuminating the darkness that make the best of Side 1 (and ‘Fireworks’ in particular) so splendid and it all rather feels as though the record is sputtering out like a candle burnt to its end, exhausted. As a metaphor for January it is all but perfect, as we eagerly make our proclamations of intent to magnificence only for our Good Intentions to be erased by the immutable, unending bleakness of the landscapes around us.

Correcting

I am currently reading John Le Carré’s second George Smiley novel ‘A Murder of Quality’ and have been struck by the language of teaching used by some of the characters. The book was written (and by assumption set) in 1962 but it is suffused very much with a pre-(second World)war feel. This is partly because the book is very much in the spirit of a Golden Age detective story and partly because it helps reinforce the notion of the private school in question being Terribly Old Fashioned and desperate to hang on to pre-(Great)war class structures and sentiments. As an aside, this resonates strongly with two other novels I have just finished, ‘The Village’ and ‘Tory Heaven’, both by Marghanita Laski and both of which I cannot recommend highly enough.

As an ageing teacher however the main point from Le Carré’s story that strikes me as interesting is when the teachers at the Old Fashioned Private School refer to doing “exam corrections” and to “correcting work”. Immediately I read those words I am myself transported back to own childhood and vividly recall teachers talking in same language (this despite own school hardly being an Illustrious or Celebrated Private School but a Bog Standard Secondary in Scotland).

It strikes me that many teachers of the Traditionalist Persuasion might appreciate a subtle shift back to using the term ‘corrections’ when perusing students’ books and work. Indeed, on reflection I am somewhat startled to think that Mr Gove did not propose this when he was Ultimate Leader of Education in England and Wales. What is our role as teachers, after all, if not to correct misconceptions and to highlight Where It’s Gone Wrong?

And on that bombshell…

unpop 166

unpop166 october 2018

I’m cruel but I’m not cold

Weight – Cyanide Thornton (from ‘Cyanide Thornton’ LP. Bandcamp)
She’s A Runaway – The Coral (from ‘Move Through The Dawn‘ LP)
Here It Comes (The Road) Let’s Go – Spiritualized (from ‘And Nothing Hurt‘ LP)
Wastelands – Suede (from ‘The Blue Hour‘ LP)
Working Class Jacket – My Favorite (on ‘Love At Absolute Zero​/​Death In Suburbia’ LP. Bandcamp)
Suburbia – Pet Shop Boys (from ‘Please‘ LP)
The Seaside Town – Deerful (from ‘Tell Me I Can Fix This On My Own’ LP. Bandcamp)
Growing Older – Princess Chelsea (from ‘The Loneliest Girl’ LP. Bandcamp)
Seven – Men I Trust (digital single. Bandcamp)
Days Of Dust – Molly Nilsson (from ‘Twenty Twenty’ LP. Bandcamp)
This Heat – Gregor (from ‘Silver Drop’ LP. Bandcamp)
Space Cowboy – Life Pass Filter (digital single. Bandcamp)
Double Denim – Cornershop (digital single)
Jewels Are Set in Crowns – Felt (from ‘The Pictorial Jackson Review: Remastered Edition’)
Sleep Easy – The Goon Sax (from ‘We’re Not Talking’ LP). Bandcamp)
Fortress – Terry (from ‘I’m Terry’ LP. Bandcamp)
The Man – Goat Girl (from ‘Goat Girl‘ LP)
Hotel – Oskar’s Drum (from ‘Degenerate Art’ LP. Bandcamp)
Many Clouds – Tim Burgess (from ‘As I Was Now‘ LP)
Hens Teeth – Bad Sav (from ‘Bad Sav’ LP. Bandcamp)

make a chain of flowers

Love and Hate with Bryant and May

IMG_2244Are you familiar with the Bryant and May series of books by Christopher Fowler? I admit that I have come very late to the series which has been running since the publication in 2004 of ‘Full Dark House’ and I admit too that, five novels in, I find myself in something of a love/hate relationship with the books.

Many of the cover quotes tell us that these are ‘page turners’ and this is true. Through book 4 (‘Ten Second Staircase’) and 5 (‘White Corridor’) I have found myself rapidly flicking and skimming the opening chapters, increasingly infuriated by the numerous references to the previous instalments and what I can only describe as tiresomely smug rolling out of historical trivia the author bets we don’t know. And yet, I find myself inexorably drawn in despite these erratic entries and despite the fact that I find myself rolling eyes as yet again the plucky team of outsider detectives fight to keep their Peculiar Crimes Unit open in spite of dark forces, usually emanating from the greasy environs of the Civil Service or their own senior leadership.

It has been suggested that all crime novels fit into one of just a handful of recognisable forms and I largely go along with this theory. As such, Fowler’s Bryant and May stories are clearly rooted in Poe’s Dupin and into the Grand Guignol tradition of early 20th Century French school of crime fiction. Indeed, in ‘White Corridor’ Fowler himself cheekily makes this nod, explicitly referencing the ‘Murders in The Rue Morgue’. Being 21st Century novels, however, Fowler plays with traditions and expectations (‘White Corridor’ also contains a Locked Room mystery a-la-Gaston Laroux’s ‘Yellow Room’ as one of the narrative arcs). And whilst Fowler doesn’t quite break the fourth wall in the way that Edmund Crispin did within some of his Gervase Fen novels (his final novel, ‘The Glimpses Of The Moon’, from 1977, is generally regarded as Not One Of His Best but I admit I love its bonkers post-modern take on country living in the 70s) Fowler very much takes the nascent post-modern roots of Crispin and lets them run wild. And there’s the rub. For to me, the wildness feels just that little too contrived. Too often it feels excessively exuberant and I find myself inwardly groaning and shouting “yeah, yeah, let’s just crack on with the story shall we?”

Striking the right balance of sharing prior information about characters and contexts in individual novels within an extended series is of course a tricky challenge, but for me Fowler over-eggs the pudding. Christie is adept at weaving the threads of character and context through her Poirot and Marple tales for example, whilst Sayers does it exquisitely within the Wimsey books (the counter argument I know is that Christie isn’t really a CHARACTER writer and Sayers is… well, Sayers is Sayers). I’m now five books into the Bryant and May series and I’m already frustrated at so much of the books being taken up with telling me things I already know. This is doubly frustrating because at their core these five novels have fast paced and thrilling narratives. For me however they just take too long to get going and even when they do they are too often derailed by extended and extraneous meanderings into any number of tangential asides (and don’t get me started on the Steampunk wet dream of ‘the device’ in ‘Seventy Seven Clocks’). The novels are hardly weighty but I’d argue they could do with a brutally efficient editor unafraid to put a blue line through extended sections, trimming them to something of a Campion-like length. Hardened fans of the series would no doubt balk at this and suggest this would be to remove exactly the things that they enjoy about the books, and whilst I understand such a stance it is, of course, wrong.

All of these frustrations are exacerbated perhaps because Bryant and May ARE such intriguing characters, not least because there is something endearing about them being so dashed OLD in most of these first five novels. Are they caricatures? Well, yes of course they are, but this is hardly a criticism, for Fowler plays up to this with all of his characters (certainly the recurring ones), illuminating them mostly in a light of common expectation with the occasional punctuation of darkness or a burst of hard-edged grittiness to give lie to preconceptions. And of course Fowler does a fine job of drawing threads from the past and weaving them into the contemporary present (and vice-versa). In doing so he establishes notions of motive (and by implication human nature) as being essentially timeless, with just contextual colouring being rendered by any particular point in time.

Intriguingly of course, my frustrations themselves are almost exactly those with which Fowler sketches the relationship between Bryant and May. Their relationship is fired by an undertow of exactly this exasperation and perhaps it is to Fowler’s credit that he understands his readers will approach the books from the perspective of one or other of the main characters. If this is the case then I am most assuredly a May (a tendency to minimalism organisation and logic, though without the looks and the appeal to women) and the books themselves the Bryant (endlessly frustrating; prone to disappearing down rabbit holes of obscure detail; occasionally rambling; too ‘smart’ for their own good; prone to obscuring the obvious with personal obsessions). Ultimately, although the relationship may be built on a tension of opposites it nevertheless brings a strange kind of pleasure and fulfilment.

So will I continue to explore further in the series? Almost certainly, yes, although I think I may need a break of a few months filled with something more focused and perfectly perfunctory, a purpose for which Simenon’s ‘Maigret’ strikes me as perfectly suited (Simenon’s spare brush strokes describe Maigret with a deftness of touch any author would do well to study). But that, as they say, is another story for another time.

Shakubuku

Are you familiar with the movie ‘Grosse Pointe Blank’? Of course you are. And because you are familiar with that movie you are naturally also familiar with the concept of Shakubuku: “a swift, spiritual kick to the head that alters your reality forever.”

Well, every so often we all need a bit of that. I need it now.

I glanced/scrolled through this blog and found myself mildly depressed by a couple of things.

  1. There’s been no writing on it for an eternity. Well, not since the end of 2017 when the ever-unpopular Advent series kicked in during December. Before that, another year back to the Advent series of 2016 and the conclusion of the ’50/50′ project.
  2. There’s been nothing except Mix Tapes since the start of June when the 2018 version of the Double Negative photography series petered out in a befuddled pfffft of inertia.

So come on, kick me. Kick me. KICK ME.

I kick myself. I kick this blog. The blog kicks back. Just write. Right.

Right.

Just write.