Unpopular Advent 2018 – Day 2

Daphne and Celeste Save The World

There’s a sneaky (and admittedly tenuous) connection to First Aid Kit’s ‘Fireworks’ slipped sweetly into one of the standout tracks on ‘Daphne and Celeste Save The World’ and I’m not fully convinced it is accidental. “Silverlake is shimmerin’ and summer is a-comin’ in” sing the women who once so stoically confronted cans of piss on a Reading stage and as the tale unfolds you can’t help but wonder if there’s a mild dig at the Söderberg sisters and their ilk as they proceed to catalogue the depressing conformity of the “basic busker on the radio” even though actually you are also convinced that this is Daphne and Celeste’s equivalency of Everett’s never-Truer proclamation that ‘Ed Sheeran Is Shit’.

Perhaps what has been most hilarious/depressing about the reception to ’Save The World’ is the way in which critics have noted how it is so surprisingly good after their initial incarnation as manufactured bubblegum Pop tarts (if you are too old or young or disinterested to remember, go and listen to/watch their marvellous ‘U.G.L.Y.’ and ‘Ooh, Stick You’). The clear inference of this (actually most critics I have read are openly explicit) is that ‘Save The World’ is only actually any good because it’s largely (in their eyes) the product of A Man. No doubt Max Tundra (whose work I have always found intriguing if never just quite in my spotlight) has found such suggestions equally risible and one rather imagines that he also revelled unapologetically in the greatness of ‘We Didn’t Say That’ back at the turn of the Century (and yes, I have dredged my archives – ooh-er missus – to find Proof that I Loved Daphne and Celeste before You Loved Daphne and Celeste). ‘Save The World’ then is certainly a record that belongs to Daphne and Celeste every bit as much as it does to Max Tundra and it is their (excuse the kind of pun here) daffy dumbness that appeals every bit as much as Tundra’s playful production and sonic salaciousness.

Is it a surprise then that when listening to ‘Save The World’ I am also put in mind of The Gentle People, whose ‘Soundtracks For Living’ set lit up 1997 with a sugary sweet bubblegum pink lightness? Perhaps there are threads of connectedness that float from Tundra’s Warped work of more or less the same period? Certainly there is something of that, and if we wanted to bring in more up to date connections and relevances then what about the magical TV Girl (whose ‘Death Of A Party Girl’ set this year was another sweet Pop confection and would surely have made this advent series if I had not already written about them in 2012 and in 2014). Surely there is something here of the artists making Pop about Pop in the way conceptual artists make Art about Art, where the most distinct pleasure is how Pop about Pop by its very nature celebrates the dumbness, the surface, the sheer pleasure of the moment.

Maybe this is why ‘BB’ is my favourite track on the record, being very explicitly Pop about Pop, Pop as commentary about its own meaningless importance, Pop as invaluable value judgement. Like a dog gleefully consuming its own vomit on the beach, Pop has eaten the regurgitated remains of itself many times over and still comes back for more. And this, essentially, is how Daphne and Celeste Save the World.

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 167

unpop167 november 2018 1

So much music to share this month, which means we are breaking the unwritten, non-existent rule and making Unpop 167 into a double-disc spectacular.

Disc 1

Sunset Drive – Deerful (from ‘Tell Me I Can Fix This On My Own’ LP. Bandcamp)
Glimpses Across Thunder – AMOR (from ‘Sinking Into A Miracle’ LP. Bandcamp)
State Of The Art – The Necessaries (from ‘Event Horizon’ LP)
I Got a Feeling – Chris Spedding (from ‘I’m Not Like Everybody Else’ LP)
Starry Eyes – The Records (7″ single)
Rock-n-Roll Band – The Go-Karts (from ‘Korda 4 Komp’ LP. Bandcamp)
Yeah Bones – Kurt Vile (from ‘Bottle It In’ LP)
Of Their Bones – Oskar’s Drum (from ‘Degenerate Art’ LP. Bandcamp)
Love Canal – Vee VV (digital single. Bandcamp)
While I Appreciate Your Concern (live) – Astro Children (digital single. Bandcamp)
The 2nd Most Beautiful Girl In The World – Snail Mail (Amazon Prime single)
What You Gonna Do Now? – CARLA DAL FORNO (from ‘You Know What It’s Like’ LP. Bandcamp)
Man Up, Man Down – Malcolm Middleton (from ‘Bananas’ LP. Bandcamp)
Skip to the Good Part – Friendship (from ‘Gentle Weirdos: Orindal Records Sampler Vol. 2’. Bandcamp)
Hillside ’86 – epic45 and July Skies (From ‘Through Broken Summer’ LP. Bandcamp)
Time Song (Monitor Mix) – The Kinks (from Village Green Preservation Society boxset)
Sad and Blue (The Original Memphis Recordings) – Primal Scream (from ‘Give Out But Don’t Give Up (The Original Memphis Recordings)’ LP)
Hold On – Kath Bloom & Loren Connors (from ‘Restless Faithful Desperate’ LP. Bandcamp)
White Horses – Paul Weller (from ‘True Meanings’ LP)

unpop167 november 2018 2

Disc 2

Are You Numb? (Replicant) – The Luxembourg Signal (from ‘Robert Hampson remixes EP’. Bandcamp)
How To Quit Smoking – Papercuts (from ‘Parallel Universe Blues’ LP. Bandcamp)
I’ll Tell You Later – Swiss Alps (digital single. Bandcamp)
Rain On Tin – The Ocean Party (from ‘ The Oddfellows’ Hall’ LP. Bandcamp)
Goodguy Sun – Karla Kane & The Corner Laughers (digital single. Bandcamp)
Circles – The Ace Of Cups (from ‘Ace Of Cups’ LP)
Hey Gyp – Gloria (from ‘Hey Gyp‘ digital EP)
Walls Come Tumbling Down – Boyracer (digital single. Bandcamp)
Get Bramah – Blue Orchids (from ‘Righteous Harmony Fist’ LP. Bandcamp)
Poppy Fields – Section 25 (from ‘Part-Primitiv’ LP)
The Feeling – John Zealous & L. Valerie (digital single. Bandcamp)
Hot Air – Cyanide Thornton (from ‘Cyanide Thornton’ LP. Bandcamp)
Out Of The Blue – Molly Nilsson (from 20/20 LP. Bandcamp)
First Kiss – Pregnancy (from ‘Urgency’ LP. Bandcamp)
Guilty (‘Cos I Say You Are) – Soft Cell (from ‘Keychains and Snowstorms’ LP)
I Let The Sun Go Down – Elvis Costello & The Imposters (from ‘Look Now’ LP)
We Will Get There – Ray Davies (from ‘Americana Pt 2’ LP)
Within Each Day – Dave Davies (from ‘Decades’ LP)
(I Know) I’m Losing You – Rod Stewart (from ‘Every Picture Tells A Story’ LP)
The Train – Frank Sinatra (from ‘Watertown’ LP and ‘Bob Stanley & Pete Wiggs present State of the Union – The American Dream in Crisis 1967-1973’ LP)

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.