Wednesday, 31 December 2008

Desert Island, All-Time, Top 3 Reasons 2008 Should Be Remembered Twenty Years From Now

1. Let's get the obvious, important, ridiculously brilliant one out of the way first, shall we? Obama. Let's not forget, this time last year we didn't even know who the candidate would be, let alone the president. And now we have Obama. Excellent. That said, I still reckon too much is made of the man's race. Is America ready for a black president? Well, no, clearly not all of them are. But who cares about those folk? Race doesn't have a thing to do with leading a country. Obama's win was important for showing the world America aren't rascists, yes. But for me, more important is the new voice America has here - the youth are involved, and the old ways are getting a right royal screwing up the... well, yes. Though I'm still a little suspicious of a politician who seems to be an all round nice person. It's just not right.

2. The world didn't end. Far more interesting than the Large Hadron Collider itself was the apocolyptic furore surrounding its big switch on. Genuine concern in workplaces worldwide, hour-long documentries telling us we're not buggered, and Stephen Hawkings allegedly betting $100 that the Higgs Boson won't be found. The end of days are far more enjoyable taken with a pinch of salt.

3. Elbow finally got the recognition they deserved. Seven years since their first album, and about fourteen since they formed, and Elbow finally get some public recognition. Let's hope now that it doesn't take long for the new fans to realise that The Seldom Seen Kid isn't even their best album. I'm waiting for Asleep At The Back to get a special ten-year reissue two years early, or Leaders Of The Free World to jump up the iTunes charts. Cast Of Thousands played in full on BBC Radio 6? Here's hoping.

Happy New Year, guys. 2009's the Year Of Stephen (and regular updates). I swear.

Like my old man always used to say...

"Meryl Streep deserves an Oscar for how she sang 'The Winner Takes It All' in 'Mamma Mia'."

Monday, 29 December 2008

The Ten Logical Reasons Why I Haven't Yet Watched Transformers

1. Did you see the logo?

2. Michael Bay, the cinema god behind Pearl Harbour and Armageddon.

3. Shia the Beef. I refuse, by the way, to refer to anyone by their real name when it essentially refers purely to a meat product. Especially when they are one of the least worthwhile things to come to Hollywood since Nicholas Cage.

4. It features robots. That transform.

5. It's a remake of a Japanese cartoon series. That was turned into a TV series.

6. At least Iron Man had Robert Downey Jr. in it.

7. I'm for substance over visual pap.

8. Those robots? That transform? They're at war.

9. I mean, seriously...

10. Why?

And of course, the one overruling reason that explains why I'm watching it right now:
I'm bored, and it was either this or Employee Of The Month.

Sunday, 21 December 2008

A Few Of My Favourite Things: Sexy People

No, I genuinely don't think that the girl above is sexy. Honestly. That'd be wrong in so many ways. No. Hell no. Rather, 'Sexy People' is an excellent little blog posting frankly horrific professional portraits. Young boys in dungarees and huge glasses. Full families straight out of 1970s mail-order catalogues. Teenage lads who quite possibly helped found Microsoft. Young girls from a little house on the prarie with teeth straight from your darkest nightmares, and mullets straight from your dad's worst memories.

Sure as hell makes me feel better about myself, at least.

Friday, 19 December 2008

Best Of '08: Songs Of The Year

I never even managed to get round to this list last year. I wasted my time on cover version lists and frivolities like that. Not this year. Not this year. Here lies my Top 60 Tracks of 2008, in ascending order.

60. 'Lord, I'm Discouraged' - The Hold Steady
59. 'Sax Rohmer
#1' - The Mountain Goats
58. 'Stay Positive' - The Hold Steady
57. '5 Years Time' - Noah and the Whale
56. 'I Thought I Saw Your Face Today' - She & Him
55. 'Low' - Flo Rida feat. T-Pain
54. 'Dance Wiv Me' - Dizzee Rascal feat. Calvin Harris and Chromeo
53. 'Kiss With A Fist' - Florence and the Machine
52. 'American Boy' - Estelle feat. Kanye West
51. 'Atom' - British Sea Power
50. 'Amylase' - Cajun Dance Party
49. 'Fantastic 6' - Alphabeat
48. 'Violet Hill' - Coldplay
47. 'Divine' - Sebastian Tellier
46. 'Old Enough' - The Raconteurs feat. Ricky Skaggs and Ashley Monroe
45. 'Change Is Hard' - She & Him
44. 'Victoria's Secret' - Quiet Village
43. 'Human' - The Killers
42. 'Monster Love' - Goldfrapp
41. 'Up' - The Saturdays
40. 'Another Way To Die' - Jack White and Alicia Keys
39. 'Ain't No Rest For The Wicked' - Cage The Elephant
38. 'Sweet Darlin'' - She & Him
37. 'A&E' - Goldfrapp
36. 'You Really Got A Hold On Me' - She & Him
35. 'Gray Or Blue' - Jaymay
34. 'Keep Her' - The Saturdays
33. 'Some People' - Goldfrapp
32. 'Digital Love' - Alphabeat, Frank Musik and Leon Jean Marie
31. 'Rich Kid Blues' - The Raconteurs
30. 'Beat Control' - Tilly and the Wall
29. 'Stop, Rip and Roll' - J Roddy Walston and the Business
28. 'Grounds For Divorce' - Elbow
27. 'The Most Beautiful Girl (In The Room)' - Flight Of The Conchords
26. 'Spiralling' - Keane
25. 'Lies' - The Saturdays
24. 'Touch Me' - Alphabeat
23. 'I Woke Up Today' - Port O'Brien
22. 'Clowns' - Goldfrapp
21. 'Kids' - MGMT

20. 'Girls' - Sugababes
I've always thought of Sugababes as a lesser competitor to Girls Aloud. Well, not always - Sugababes have been around longer. But still, in recent years no matter how good their singles were, Girls Aloud's were better. This seems to have been the year to change that - 'Girls', heavily sampling Ernie K-Doe's 'Here Come The Girls' is the closest Britain has got this year to the 'Umbrella's, '1Thing's and 'Crazy's of those previous.

19. 'Oliver James' - Fleet Foxes
A band described with words so repetitive one could be excused for thinking that 'ethereal' is an alias of theirs, Fleet Foxes stirred up a hell of a lot of interest this year. Their album hit number five on my chart, though I secretly wish all the albums above weren't released yet, such is my need to put them at the top. This is the closer off of said album - as perfect closer as ever there was one - equal parts stark, beautiful vocals and subtle, elegant music, this song managed sometime around August to gain fifty plays in about ten days on my media player of choice.

18. 'Ghosts' - Laura Marling
Laura Marling is younger than me, prettier than me, more talented than me, and with a better voice. I'm not a horrible person though, and so rather than hate her for it, I in fact love her deeply for it. Though her album was, in all honesty, a bit average as a whole, this track stands out as Beyond Brilliant. I'm a-reckoning for some good things in Ms. Marling's future - especially if she should happen to meet me anytime soon.

17. 'Letter From God To Man' - Dan Le Sac & Scroobius Pip
Technically - techinically - the artist name here should be Dan Le Sac vs Scroobius Pip, but I'm not going to let them get away with that. The two artists work so well together, and so smartly - each bringing out the other's best quality constantly - that there is no 'vs' about it. This particular offering is a stunning effort, and also wins my coveted Best Sample Of The Year Award. Oooo.

16. 'Seattle' - The BPA feat. Emmy the Great
Until Emmy finally gets round to releasing her debut album early 2009, this track will have to tide over those of us wanting to hear her supported by full studio production. Norman Cook's latest project, The Brighton Port Authority, have already produced some great tracks featuring a fair miscellany of unexpected collaborators, but it's this track with England's finest-singer-songwriter-not-to-have-an-album-out-yet that takes the biscuit.

15. 'Handsfree' - Sonny J
The video helps, I'll admit that much. By itself, this explosive piece of soul-sampling dance is a fantastically fun track, but when you factor in the promo video - a fair mix of Tarantino, My Name Is Earl and the Thriller video - Sonny J's best single yet becomes a minor masterpiece in its own right. Shame the rest of the album was so average.

14. 'Carolina Drama' - The Raconteurs
Jack White has never been finer than on The Raconteurs second album, as three entries on the Top Twenty will testify to. Were it not for Fleet Foxes' excellent 'Oliver James', 'Carolina Drama' would be closer of the year. But whilst in the context of final tracks Fleet Foxes win out, when it comes to the song itself 'Carolina Drama' is a hop, skip and a jump ahead. A soulful story told with deep rock roots by the master of modern Americana.

13. 'Salute Your Solution' - The Raconteurs
And oh, look, here the boys are again - this time with a winning urgency that seeps down to the very depths of your being. You know a song is good when you mute the jazz channel on Grand Theft Auto 4 so you can listen to it whilst you drive down the railway tracks in an ice cream truck.

12. 'What Is Happening' - Alphabeat
The four-hundredth single released from Alphabeat's debut album is also the best - starting slow and building into a gloriously fast ending. The peak in quality, however, happens about halfway between the two, and is joyous enough to make you join whatever cult made these Danes so damned happy.

11. 'Two Doors Down' - Mystery Jets
The achingly cheerful 'Two Doors Down' was a far cry from the mood of Mystery Jets' first (and highly overrated) album. Here they leapt into an Eighties-inspired call of unrequited love, with a chorus so catchy you could sing it to your dad even while he played an Abba track at the same time. And nothing's catchier than Abba. Still, if only it had Laura Marling too...

10. 'Many Shades Of Black' - The Raconteurs/Adele with The Raconteurs
And in at number ten... one song, two versions. When 'Consolers Of The Lonely' was rushed out earlier this year the first track that settled itself into my subconscious was this excellent little song - as full of soul as it is with rock, it just leant itself to the deep, luscious voice of Adele - a 60's soul singer, forty years too late. Released recently on the extended edition of her debut album '19', Adele's collaboration with White and co. is quite possibly the best thing she's done yet.

9. 'Starlings' - Elbow
Fanfares are the sort of thing that on the one hand aren't used enough in pop, but on the other hand should barely be used at all. You never want to overdo your fanfare. Elbow heralded in their fourth album with the fanfare-tastic 'Starlings', though, and from the first blast of trumpet it was clear that their time in the shadows was soon to be over. Also features my Lyric Of The Year: 'you are the only thing in any room you're ever in'. One friend of mine has this on a poster in her bedroom - it's the sort of message I'd love to wake up to everyday, too.

8. 'Sentimental Heart' - She & Him
Achingly opening her debut album with M. Ward, Miss Zooey Deschanel breaks a legion of sentimental hearts herself with just the first few words. This is a song of longing, the sort of song that you can curl up to under a quilt, whilst nursing a warm mug of tea and a broken pride.

7. 'March Of The Dawn' - The Mummers
Bold, triumphant and not unlike Bjork singing a Rufus Wainwright track, 'March Of The Dawn' is the grandest way I've found to start a day this year. It blasts around whole-heartedly, stomping back and forth like a child playing soldiers. I always loved to play soldiers.

6. 'Issues' - The Saturdays
Arguably the best pop ballad since the era of B*Witched - or, at the very least, since S Club 7's 'Never Had A Dream Come True'. The whole of The Saturdays album sounds like the best bits of a billion other artist's songs - 'Issues' is a Rihanna ballad sung softly by the talented members of Sugababes with the sexiest members of Girls Aloud.

5. 'Weather To Fly' - Elbow
A high whisper from Guy Garvey opens one of his band's most heartfelt songs - a great feat for a group as open as Elbow. Once more the lyrics win over the listener, Garvey unfurling words like a man inspired. He is, I suppose, and he always has been.

4. 'Why Do You Let Me Stay Here?' - She & Him
By the time the second track finishes on 'Volume One', you know for sure whether or not you should bother with the rest of the album - jaunty and fun, 'Why Do You Let Me Stay Here?' is a far jump from 'Sentimental Heart'. It marks an album that could change direction at any moment (though, it turns out it doesn't tend to overall - and is all the better for that). Best bit? Zooey Deschanel's cheerful 'do-doo-do-do-doo's at the end.

3. 'One Day Like This' - Elbow
As glorious as anything else on 'The Seldom Seen Kid', the penultimate track is perhaps just a wee bit more commercial. That isn't by any means the reason for its high entry, however - that honour comes with thanks to the band's marvellous performance at Glastonbury this year. Closing with 'One Day Like This', the band (and their rushed-together string orchestra) left the stage, only for the song to continue without them. In fact, once the band had gone, the crowd kept on singing until they'd doubled the length of the original track. It was one of the most exciting moments of my musical life, and I was left tired with joy once it was over.

2. 'Young Love' - Mystery Jets feat. Laura Marling
If we were to take just the first half of this song, there'd be a fair chance that it wouldn't even make the top twenty on this list. The second half stirs things up a little, though - the delightful Laura Marling kicks in, all sultry and sexular, very listenable, very enjoyable and damn near perfect.

1. 'Sleepyhead' - Passion Pit
Entirely forgettable the first time I listened to it, Sleepyhead somehow slipped into my subconscious over a period of several months. I've used the phrase several times since, but in a recent issue of The Mic magazine I claimed this song to be both 'timely and timeless', and that remains exactly the case right up to this moment. 'Sleepyhead' is the opening track to the film of Passion Pit's lives - when you hear this song, you know it is the start of something special, something grand, a band who have the ability to own 2009, should they wish. A truly perfect song.

Thursday, 18 December 2008


Too often these days the studio is the artist's biggest downfall. When a band is live, or recording out of the second cousin's bedroom, then the music is raw, alive and energetic. They perform live, they gather a few hundred fans, they record their EP in their auntie's nephew's garage and they give it out free at gigs - then they get a record deal, and they get to the studio, and they have all this expensive musical equipment they've never heard of before, and they get all excited, and the next thing you know, the album is out and it's all over-produced and a far cry from the grated demos of a few months before. When I first heard Arctic Monkeys whenever it was, 2005 perhaps, I had fifty odd demos and love recordings of them that I've since, regrettably lost. It's regrettable on two fronts - first, they were all lively, energetic affairs that were each worthy of their own record deal (which, of course, they got). Second, each and every track was far better than the album equivalent. It was a huge disappointment, even if I did still adore the album for a good month or two after it came out.

Today I found the studio version of one of my favourite tracks of 2008 - the excellent 'We've Got Obsessions' by Marina and the Diamonds. I'm glad to say that whilst it has indeed gained much production value, it has lost nothing more than the 'We've Got' of the title. It's still an excellent track, and whilst it's going to take some getting used to, it's not quite the same as changing 'Scummy Man' to 'When The Sun Goes Down' - this song is still as good, of not better than, the original.

mp3: 'We've Got Our Obsessions' - Marina and the Diamonds
mp3: 'Obsessions' - Marina and the Diamonds

Glen Hansard tackles the great pop saga of our generation.

A while ago - a fair while ago, as it happens - Ireland's greatest non-female export covered a couple of rather okay modern pop songs, thus making them rather marvellous. Everyone knows the rumoured story - Cry Me A River is about Britney, Everytime is her (superior) reply. But screw that. The best thing about these tracks is the smarmy violin at the end of the Britney cover. Name that tune, so they say.

mp3: 'Cry Me A River' - Glen Hansard
mp3: 'Everytime' - Glen Hansard

Friday, 12 December 2008

'Blonde on Blonde', translated from English to Japanese and then back to English again.

Woman #12 of day of rain and 35
Pledge of my time
The range of vision of Johanna
Our one has known necessity without fail, (sooner or later)
I think that we want,
It is for the second time attached in movable device the Memphis blue having been attached
Hat of pill box of [hiyou] skin
Exactly, like the woman
Perhaps, your method it goes, I go my ones
The achilles corp way temporary
Absolutely sweet Marie
4th time
Clearly 5 believers
The woman who Of Lowlands is sad and is observed

Wednesday, 10 December 2008

A Few Of My Favourite Things: Unexpected Collaborations

There are few treats in the world sweeter than an unexpected musical collaboration that really, truly works. Of course, by this law David Bowie and Mick Jagger certainly are no treat - though Bowie and Queen are a perfect example. It's all about grabbing the opportunity, and being willing to shake things up a little.

Recently I've stumbled across two excellent tracks by The Raconteurs - both are originally off their fantastic 'Consolers Of The Lonely' album - my second favourite of the year, as you can see below. But more importantly, both are reimagined with the help of musicians of completely different musical worlds. The first is Adele - a wonderful singer who zealously covers Many Shades Of Black with all the emotion and soul of any great Motown diva. And then there is Ricky Skaggs and Ashley Monroe, who add their piece to Old Enough, expanding it into a beautiful bluegrass piece that, frankly, outdoes the original with ease.

mp3: 'Many Shades Of Black' - Adele with The Raconteurs
mp3: 'Old Enough (with Ricky Skaggs and Ashley Monroe)' - The Raconteurs

Tuesday, 9 December 2008

Best Of '08: Top Ten Albums

The best year for albums so far this decade? It seems likely - when I first heard Alphabeat's debut late last year I thought that when it was released mid-spring 2008 it would be by far the best pop record in my end-of-year charts. When I first heard Goldfrapp's album three months before it's February release I reckoned it would easily top the Best Album category. That now, a mere eight months after the latest of those two releases, neither make my top five speaks volumes about the quality in album releases for 2008. So, without any further ado, my Top Ten:

10: 'Stay Positive' - The Hold Steady
There's no doubt in my mind that The Hold Steady are the best live band in the world today. On top of that, Boys And Girls Of America still maintains my number two spot for Album Of The Decade (or, as the calendar allows, Century). But whilst Stay Positive in an excellent listening experience it lacked the perfect flow that made its predecessor so excellent an album - the tracks were all there, but they didn't always work together.
Key track: 'Lord, I'm Discouraged'

9: 'Silent Movie' - Quiet Village
Don't underestimate for a second the power of an instrumental album - there are two on this list alone. Quiet Village came through as this year's Air, a band who knew how to manufacture a perfect afternoon in musical form. 'Silent Movie' could well be the soundtrack to your summer, as long as your summer only lasted one hour and the most activity you got up to was a gentle game of frisbee.
Key track: 'Victoria's Secret'

8: 'Seventh Tree' - Goldfrapp
Once a competitor for album of the year, Goldfrapp's excellent re-invention as folk-queen defined the Spring on many an mp3 player. The album was a luscious environment of aural swoons and swirls, and there wasn't a weak track from beginning to end. I reckon it was their set at Glastonbury that marked the peak in my love for 'Seventh Tree' - from that moment on I knew the album would never top itself.
Key track: 'Clowns'

7: 'Knee-Deep In The North Sea' - Portico Quartet
Introduced to me by its nomination in this year's Mercury Prize, this album technically was released at the end of 2007. Still, it received the acknowledgement it deserved during the summer of '08, and thus finds a place on my list. Jazz has never been so accessible to the everyday layman, and 'Knee-Deep...' also has the honour of being my 'Best Album To Walk To' award winner.
Key track: 'News From Verona'

6: 'This Is Alphabeat' - Alphabeat
Once a high-runner for album of the year Alphabeat have perhaps suffered from excessive airplay in recent months - that said, the album is still a necessary purchase for anyone wanting a full overview of the year. It taught the English people to have fun again, something we've not really been doing since The Spice Girls first started. Thank you, Denmark.
Key track: 'What Is Happening?'

5. 'Fleet Foxes' - Fleet Foxes
A surprise entry high up on many magazines' lists, Fleet Foxes deserve every compliment they receive - their self-titled album is arguably the best debut folk album of the last twenty years. Mixing harmonies, stunning music and magnificent facial hair, I only wish there was room for them higher on the list. Fleet Foxes are the band that I am most excited about with regard to their future prospects.
Key track: 'Oliver James'

4. 'Chasing Lights' - The Saturdays
I feel a little guilty having such a shamelessly manufactured pop band in my top five - but ultimately this just goes to prove my much-stated opinion that British girl bands are creating the best pop music in the world today. The Saturdays may not write their own songs, but whoever does write them should be lined up for some sort of Pop-based OBE. Just wait til my Songs of the Year lists - you'll see what I mean. By far the biggest surprise of the year, musically.
Key track: 'Issues'

3. 'The Seldom Seen Kid' - Elbow
2008, above all else, will be remembered by me as the year Elbow finally got what was coming to them. And that is a well deserved public following. After aeons of standing in the shadows whilst far inferior bands rocketed past them (Snow Patrol, I'm looking at you...), Elbow's Mercury win set them up for life. And the biggest irony? It's not even their best album! Still, 'The Seldom Seen Kid' is another excellent effort by the Mancunian Sigur Ros - there's not only not a dud track on the album, but better than that, every track is terrific!
Key track: 'One Day Like This'

2. 'Consolers Of The Lonely' - The Raconteurs
A shock release, 'Consolers' took the world by surprise - not only that it's possible to just release an album at will in this day and age, but also that Jack White still had untold amounts of original ideas to play with. The album is ridiculously long, almost twice the length of their debut - and quite possibly twice as good. Every track seeps blues, rock and the sweat and blood of every band member, and it's nigh impossible to choose a single best track - I could have chosen epic-closer 'Carolina Drama', or the unbelievable riffs of 'Rich Kid Blues'. 'Salute Your Solution' got a look in, but in the end I had to settle on the track they recently re-recorded with Adele for her extended album release.
Key track (mp3): 'Many Shades Of Black'

1. 'Volume One' - She & Him
Not necessarily the hardest-hitting album of the year, or the one that most strikes you as excellent on first listen, but M. Ward and Zooey Deschanel's debut collaboration is a slow-burning jazz-vocal classic. When I look up at the list above, 'Volume One' is the album I can most see myself playing on a regular basis ten, twenty years from now. It is effortlessly both timeless and timely, and like all the best albums I cannot possibly recommend one single track, in lieu of recommending the album as a whole, as an experience, as the best album of 2008.
Key track (mp3): 'Why Do You Let Me Stay Here?'

Saturday, 6 December 2008

A Few Of My Favourite Things: Hand Drawn Map Association

I can't tell you how I first discovered the Hand Drawn Map Association - I simply do not remember. But now I have found it, HDMA is a vital part of my internet life. The premise is simple - readers of the site send in maps of their own, or someone else's, creation - all the map has to be is created by human hand. No computer generation here. Most of the maps are simple line drawings, but occasionally the map will be an exquisite piece of art in its most functional form, such as the one above, Map 113. Like many of the other maps on the site, Map 113 captures a moment, has a story to tell. In this case, the site states the following:

Marcin, a historical cartographer from Poland, sent us this amazing map he made as a child (around 12-14 years old). It's a fantasy composition with non existent places. Marcin describes the shape of the country as similar to the southern Chile coast or the coast of Norway. The place names are all imaginary (a'la French) and the descriptions are written in Polish.

This is why HDMA is so lovely - it captures a moment and shares it with you and everyone else. Check out the site, especially Maps 111, 64 and 52.

The Good, The Bad and the Cinematic: Changeling

Angelina Jolie is far from my favourite actress - she seems, generally, to pick roles based upon how well they'll financially support her ever-growing family rather than how good they actually are. Wanted was one of the worst films of the year. I didn't even realise she was in Kung-Fu Panda til the credits ran. Sometimes I think Jolie should just become a stay-at-home mother whilst Brad goes out and does all the hard work on his generally fantastic films.

And then comes Changeling - a film that can remind why Jolie is in the business; Jolie plays a devastated mother, well, devastatingly. She her son goes missing whilst she works late one Saturday, and when the LAPD retrieve a boy for her she tells them firmly that the boy is not hers. It's all very grim, and things only get worse once her 'son' has been returned. But Eastwood is a master, and much like his other films of recent years Changeling is relentlessly watchable.

I could wax lyrical about this film - the acting (no less than four of the cast deserve Oscar nominations), the directing (another nomination certainly in order, arguably a win), the cinematography and so much more. Not necessarily the greatest film of the year, but certainly a front-runner.


Friday, 28 November 2008

The Five Most Vital People In Hollywood Today

Before we get listing, I thought I'd just mention Blender's End of Year Album List. Now, I've never been a big follower of Blender, and read through their list and you'll see why. First, look at the lay-out: that's no way to write a list! Everyone knows that number one is the last number you want to see! Also, and probably slightly more important - the list features some truly average albums. Right up to, and including the number one spot. Where are Fleet Foxes, Q magazine's number two? Where are Elbow, Kings Of Leon, Goldfrapp, The Raconteurs? I give up. I really do. But... vital people in Hollywood? There are plenty around, but these five are the cream of the crop by my count...

5. Seth Rogen
The freshest comedy talent in years, even after a ridiculously prolific two years (ten films since 2007, seven of which were this year alone), he still remains a key force in the revitalisation of American comedy. Throwing himself around the kids films too, he's appeared in both Kung-Fu Panda and Horton Hears A Who, as well as adding his name to the best-voiced kids film in a long while - the curious Monsters vs. Aliens. My goodness, I'm sorted for a year in the cinema based of Rogen's releases alone in 2009.

4. Casey Affleck
I watched The Usual Suspects the other day, and it was so exciting to watch a fantastic actor like Kevin Spacey in the prime of his acting career - though consistently excellent I don't place any Spacey performance higher than that one. It seemed that his natural successor would be the sublime Edward Norton, who shines in every role he plays. But now it would seem the tides have shifted again, and a put forward a new name for the title of Best Actor In The World Right Now, and that name is Casey Affleck's. Have you
seen The Assassination of Jesse James? Have you seen Gone Baby Gone? In the last two years or so he's launched himself from so-so roles in Ocean 11 and sequels to the most vital actor around. His next to roles, directed by Ridley Scott and Michael Winterbottom respectively, look equally exciting: an amnesiac who falls for his mobster boss' girlfriend and a deputy sheriff unmasked as a 'psychotic killer'. Don't watch his face, just watch his movies.

3. Judd Apatow
It'd be cheating to have both Rogen and Apatow on this list were it not for the surprisingly large catologue of releases Apatow always seems to have up his sleeve - many of which at great odds with Rogen's brand of comedy. Par example: Apatow is behind the production of Ghostbusters 3 - a film Rogen's quoted as being a stupid idea. Still, the two are working on Funny People together, which could prove to be the first great Adam Sandler film. Could be.

2. Clint Eastwood
Even after quitting acting Eastwood holds a high position on the list. Why? Well, first of all there's Changeling, which, though I am yet to see it, has had nothing but great reviews. Then there's Gran Torino - Clint's last role, and a fantastic looking one at that... Even if he's quit acting, we still have directing. Three of his films hold Top 250 spots on IMDB, and Changeling may soon add to that.

1. John Lasseter
The King of Animation, John Lasseter represents all that is great about animation today. Wall-E was a landmark in film as a whole, not least in animation. So vital to animation is Lasseter that since Meet The Robinsons the producer/director has been involved in all of Disney's modern 'animated classics'. This means that the excellent-looking Bolt and the 2D animation The Princess and the Frog are both influenced by him. And, while all this is going on, he's still producing Pixar's first two 3D films - 'Up', which looks to be the most beautiful Pixar film yet, and Toy Story 3, which frankly just makes me excited in disturbing ways. Ahem.

Tuesday, 25 November 2008

The Five Least Vital People In Hollywood Today

I was chatting with my housemate the other day, and we found ourselves in a conversation, listing our 'Five Most Vital People In Hollywood'. His involved Guillermo Del Toro, I believe - an excellent choice. You'll see mine soon enough. But it all led me to the other list - the furthest opposite possibility, the 'Five Least Vital People In Hollywood'. I've given it great thought, and I present to you now my list. It's technically six, seeing as I'm counting two people as one. But seeing as their joint worth summates to little more than that, I think I can be forgiven.

5. George Lucas
Once upon a time this man was a titan. He brought us two of Harrison Ford's finest characters in Han and Indiana. He created Star Wars, the Indiana Jones films, and so many more... oh, wait. No. The problem is, Lucas ran out of original ideas by the late 1980s. And that's if we're being generous. Since the third Indiana Jones film his entire career seems to have been seeping the last creative juices out of his previous ventures. The Star Wars legacy is in danger now, thanks in part to Lucas' endless churning out of spin-offs, sequels and prequels. And, you know, I liked the new Indy film. I genuinely did. But I'll be the first to admit there were issues. The same issues that disappointed so many others. Do I blame Lucas for the aliens? No. But I blame him for the shoddy way with which they were dealt. Both Spielberg and Ford had liked Mr. Frank Darabont's script. It was Lucas who vetoed it. Just sayin'...

4. Eddie Murphy
I watched Coming To America for the first time last night. Unsurprisingly, it was rather good. Probably because it was back in the day, when Eddie Murphy was, well funny. It saddens me that he's made such awful choices in the last few years. Two of the worst films of the century so far - Norbit and Meet Dave, both Murphy choices. By my count, the last great film he made was Shrek. And even that is losing it's footing with the increasingly poor sequels.

3. Shia LaBeouf
Another flaw with Indiana's fourth outing? LaBeouf. The man who took the lead role in Disturbia, the biggest tarnishing of Hitchcock's name since that Vince Vaughn version of Psycho. The annoying little twat in the otherwise fairly enjoyable I, Robot. The man most likely to piss me off in a film without being Nicholas Cage. Talking of which...

2. Nicholas Cage
Is there any reason for Cage to continue making films? Bangkok Dangerous is easily the worst film I've seen this year. Ghost Rider may well have taken the title last year. National Treasure, and it's poor sequel, is an even more painful rip-off of Indiana Jones than The Mummy, which at least remains enjoyable in it's utter shitness. The fact is that not only can Cage not act to save his life, but he also looks like a cross between Eastern European terrorist and dodgy car salesman. Next up, Kick-Ass and Astro Boy. Oh very dear. Still, it could be worse...

1. Aaron Seltzer and Jason Friedberg
These two are barely worth enough to warrant one human, let alone two. Seltzer and Friedberg are one of two things: Either they are two eight year-old boys who woke up one morning in the bodies of screenwriters, or they hate the cinematic form and wish to destroy it. Not familiar with their work? Think of a film that has a title ending in 'Movie' and they made it. Disaster Movie. Epic Movie. Date Movie. Oh, and Meet The Spartans. The bad news? People still seem to enjoy these films? The good news? According to IMDB there are currently no more of these vapid, unfunny and viciously shit films on the way at the moment. Maybe the studios finally got their act together and realised that these two genuinely are the least vital people in Hollywood.

Monday, 10 November 2008

My Desert Island, All-Time, Top 5 Bob Dylan Tracks

I was brought up in a Dylan-free house. My parents weren't against him, per se. They agreed he was an excellent lyricist, but they just couldn't stand his voice. As a good little kid I believed my parents were right about everything, both musically and otherwise. It was only somewhere between hearing them praise Alison Moyet and having John Miles 'Music' played to me under the impression that it was worthy of being my first and last love that I started to realise they could, on occasion, be wrong.

Eventually I came round to Dylan. Or, more accurately, as soon as I gave him a chance I came round to him. He is, as my parents always said, a masterful lyricist. But he is also, and I don't need to tell you this, a wonderful singer. In chronological order, my top five Dylan tracks:

1. The Times They Are A'Changin'
Simple, and perhaps a little obvious. But then I've never shyed away from the obvious just because it is so - usually they are deservedly cliched, and here we have a perfect example. I was given a DVD earlier this year of Dylan at the Newport Folk Festival between '63 and '65 and though this song never features on the film, the whole time I was watching I couldn't get it out of my head. It's a time captured, but it's also very much timeless. The other day I read about Obama planning to close Guantamano Bay, and again this song came to mind. It's been doing that a lot recently.

2. Rainy Day Women #12 and 35
Two of the songs on my list come from the fantastic 1966 album Blonde on Blonde - my favourite of Dylan's. There's something about the rompy rhythm and the less-than-sober cheers throughout the song that throws you into a moment. You feel like you're in a very modern cowboy saloon, or a non-traditional Irish pub. It's swaggering excellence, and all the more lovable for it.

3. I Want You
Again, Blonde on Blonde strikes. I don't know where I'd heard this song before I discovered Dylan, but something about it brought back a plethora of memories when I first head it. It still does, gladly, in the same way that the taste of passion fruit does - oddly, unexpectedly, but most welcome.

4. Handle With Care (w/The Traveling Wilburys)
Whilst at first Dylan's influence is not as obvious on the opening track to super-group The Traveling Wilburys' debut album - or at least not as obvious as that of his fellow bandmates, it is ultimately Dylan that makes the song so listenable. Sometimes it's hard to place who is who in the track - Harrison opens vocally, I think, with Orbison taking over for the chorus. Who does the bridge? I'm not sure. Who does the brilliant harmonica that sets the tone for the whole song? Oh, that I can help you with...

5. Most Of The Time
The most recent of my top five is, incidentally, the track that I first got into amongst Dylan's back catalogue. The reference in the title to Nick Hornby's 'High Fidelity' was done entirely because of my love for the book, though is fitting, considering the soundtrack to the film introduced me to this track. It's slow, heartfelt, and everything I couldn't say about love and the resulting moods. High Fidelity's soundtrack was a revelation to me when I first heard it - a change in the way I saw music. It introduced me to so many artists: The Beta Band, Love, The Velvet Underground, John Wesley Harding and - though I already was a firm fan of the artist - the genius of Stevie Wonder's 'I Believe (When I Fall In Love It Will Be Forever)'. But the artist who got the most out of that album was Dylan. So thanks Nick Hornby, and thanks people behind that soundtrack. You did good. You did real good.

Tuesday, 4 November 2008

Obama Won!

Is that gonna jinx it? I hope not.

Saturday, 1 November 2008

The Definition of 'Pop'

I have determined how, with almost 100% accuracy every time, one can determine whether or not a band is 'pop' or not. Whether a band is aimed at ten-to-thirteen year-olds or not. And, rather surprisingly, it's ever so simple. All these years, all these millions of dollars spent attempting to define what is and is not pop, and all along it came down to one thing:

Linear notes.

I know, right? How did everyone miss this for so long? A band is clearly and very determinedly 'pop' if each individual artist gets their own 'Thank You' section in the linear notes. I finally realised this when reviewing The Saturdays' debut album* for The Mic magazine. The linear notes were a hark back to simpler days - each band member, irresistably beautiful in the eyes of any man (and also just teetering on the edge of the legal age limit for leering), has their own 'thank you' section. They flick between loving mentions of people we shall never know, loving mentions of their own band members, loving mentions of all their fans and passing mentions of the dozens of people involved in the making of the album.

They all do it, they really do. Sugababes, Girls Aloud, B*Witched did back in the day... everyone. And here we stumble across McFly's issue. They want to move on and be a big boy's band - a rock group, if you will. They keep playing the same old music though - in fact, it's a little worse of late if anything (a shame, seeing as they actually have the ability to be terrific). That said, this isn't an issue ultimately - it isn't the music that defines you, is it? No! McFly are still very much a pop band because even on their recent 'adult' release they each had individual 'thank yous'. God forbid the fan girls can't get an individual thank you from Dougie! God forbid Harry can't thank the other three for the best years of his life. God forbid. You never saw Queen with individual thanks, did you McFly? No. Pink Floyd? I think not. The Killers? Never. I think that is, as they say in the television, case closed.

* P.S. The Saturdays' album, entitled 'Chasing Lights' after that what stupid people do, is actually literally excellent. If you've ever lied to someone about how great you really think Girls Aloud are, or still feel guilty for claiming not to like Sugababes, then here is your chance to redeem yourself. Buy it. I'd post a track for you here ('Keep Her' or 'Lies' would be my recommendations) but bearing in mind Bloggergate and all that is going on there, I think I better not...

Friday, 31 October 2008

'The Bends', translated from English to Japanese and then back to English again.

The Planetary Telex
It Was Stranded To The Bank
False Plastic Wood
Splendid Dream
My Iron Lung
Evidence… Of Bullet I Desire The Fact That It Is I
Black Star
Ill Humour
Mind Of Sort (Atrophy)

Thursday, 30 October 2008

A Wasted Youth Is Better By Far Than Knowing You Can Drink Premium Juice.

Sometimes I buy the newspaper every day. Sometimes I don't buy it for weeks on end. Usually, though, I get it when there is a nice chunky section on music, or film, or because something particularly exciting is going on in the world, like a squirrel is learning how to water-ski, or some girl named Keeley has lost her top... I kid, I kid. I only read tabloids when I'm in a staff room or on a train. The Times all the way for me, baby! Ahem.

Anyway, recently I've found myself buying newspapers more sporadically. Like most people, I don't like bad news. Unlike most people, I simply take the logical step of eliminating as much bad news from my life as I can. If I see miserable headlines, ones that I know will disturb and depress me, I do not buy the paper that day. What with the looming economic apocalypse, this has left me cutting back substantially in recent times on my news reading.

There are downsides, yes. The most obvious being that I miss out on a lot of news. I know, for instance, that there is a so-called economical crisis. I probably won't know when it finishes though, and as a result will leave doomed to Tesco's Value long-life juice. For life. On top of this, I end up with more spare time, having nothing to read in that area after lunch, before lectures, which I have set aside. To anyone else this could only be a positive thing - perhaps there's time to read a short story? Sort out my life? Search for a job?

Not Stephen. No way. You give Stephen free time and he's positively, 100% guaranteed to waste it. It emerged today that in the last week - since I last bought a newspaper - I have listened to over a day's worth of music. A day! That's one-seventh of my week spent listening to music! I could be learning about world affairs, and what am I doing? I'm systematically working through the music of 1970's Cohen! I'm breaking down to the dulcet tones of Hercules and Love Affair! I'm not working.

Maybe someday all this time wasting will turn out to be worthwhile. I don't know. Maybe I'll get to become a music journalist, or present a radio show. Maybe I'll find renown as the world's greatest music quiz compiler. Perhaps, somewhere down the line, a troll will stop me on the way to work and threaten to kill me unless I can name all of the tracks, in order, from Billy Joel's debut 'Cold Spring Harbor'. I do hope not, I always have a tendency to forget which way round Turn Around and You Look So Good To Me go.

More likely than not, it'll be five years from now and I'm in a pub with my mates from work. We've just won the weekly music quiz for the eighth time in a row, mostly down to me. One of my friends turns to the group and, starting a new conversation states: 'Well, looks like we're finally coming out of that recession, then.' And all I'll know to do is buy premium juice again.

Wednesday, 29 October 2008

The Hallowe'en I Would Like To See

As Hallowe'en approaches there will always be the inevitable 'what do I go as?' fear. It strikes every year, and only those blessed with ADHD of the imagination don't get it. I myself had a fancy dress event the other week for which I dressed as Noel Edmonds. At the beginning of May I dressed up for one event as Luigi of the Mario brothers. I have to admit that I've been tempted to repeat either of those costumes, with a bit of grey make-up. Nothing says 'originality' more than Zombie Luigi.

Still, I've been thinking about the wealth of opportunities in our consistently terrifying modern world, and the effect that this could have on Hallowe'en. Frankly, there is never an excuse for a shit costume, and so I've been compiling a list of possible costumes I've been considering.

Zombie Luigi
Zombie Noel Edmonds
The State Of The Economy
Sarah Palin*
The puppet from Saw

Up until just now I had the Saw puppet as my front runner - I have a digital voice recorder that I've used to interview bands for our Uni music mag before, and was going to pre-record judgemental messages that put a little bit of a tongue-in-cheek twist on the recorded messages in the films:

'For too long now you have returned each day from lectures only to ignore your housemates... instead you lock yourself in your room and casually play with yourself until dinner.'

'For years you have blamed your farts on the dog, tonight you will learn that only your diet is to blame...'

And so on. But then I remembered last year's ideas over at HollywoodFlakes and am now torn. Do I go as a brain donor? Hospital gowns aren't easy to procure, and neither would a jar big enough to hold a cauliflour. But the response would be great. Or, do I go as an iPod advert? It's a tough choice, and I'll probably either remain with Saw or go as a brain donor - the iPod advert seems impractical for sitting, doorways and generally being inside.

Still, I may just return to last year's costume - put on a Venetian mask and everytime I'm asked who I am I change my answer: 'the personification of fear in a world desensitized by television', 'the looming dread over the upcoming US elections', 'Zombie Noel Edmonds in a Venetian Mask.' We shall see...

*If I don't see a single Sarah Palin this year I will lose my faith in the creativity of mankind.

Tuesday, 28 October 2008

Solving Politics With Jambalaya

I wouldn't describe myself as a politically aware person. I mean, I'm not ignorant by any means - I tend to know when there's an election going on (in England, at least), and I have a firm concept of who I think is wrong and who I think is slightly less wrong. And just once in a while I stumble across a politician whom I genuinely admire - someone who could really make a difference to the lives of their people.

Twice in the last year have I been struck by political figures who fall firmly into this category. Neither, rather unhelpfully, are British. The first, even more unfortunately, isn't even real. Still, I can't think of a better president for America than '24's David Palmer. Well, maybe James Marshall from 'Air Force One'. Though really, think about how risky he could be - we don't even know his policies. Just that he can beat the shit out of the Russkies.

The other guy, funnily enough, is Obama. Frankly, I can see only one flaw with the guy, and that's that his name rather lends itself to being the other way round. 'Obama Barack' is so much easier to say than 'Barack Obama'. But really, when the worst thing about a politician is the order of his name then you must be in a pretty good place.

It's really interesting watching the American election from over here in England. I don't think I've met a single person over here who wants McCain in. I was told the other day that whilst in America the split between parties still seems fairly 50/50 the Europeans are four-to-one for Obama. Just give us the vote, America! The way your foreign policy seems to work we'll all be citizens within twenty years anyway!

Alternatively, I've come up with an easier and less argumentative way to sort out the American presidency. Jambalaya.

Now, hear me out here before you throw me aside and go back to your Barack-baiting and McCain-mauling. If 24 has taught me anything (apart from 83 different ways to torture people), then it is this: to be a great president one needs to have a firm control of affairs, be strong under pressure, efficient to a fault and unswayed by those with their own agendas. Where else do you find all of these challenges but in the kitchen?

So my proposal is this: the two presidential candidates each get given one top of the range kitchen, a party-specific apron (you know, an American flag design with pachyderm or mule) a free range of ingredients and sixty minutes in order to make the greatest jambalaya the oval office has ever seen. In just one hour they will:
- Demonstrate strength under pressure, as they make the most important rice-based dish of their lives.
- Show a firm control of affairs, jumping between preparation, cooking and occasional stirring.
- Present immense efficiency, most likely as they elegantly chop up the jambalaya trinity.
- And finally, they will show that they can not be swayed each deals with a New Orleans grandmother who has been told specifically to pick out every flaw in their technique and choices, whether it be with regards to the cooking time or the decision between making a Creole jambalaya or a Cajun jambalaya.

After an hour both will serve their finished meal to a panel of experts comprised of said New Orleans grandmothers, Gordon Ramsey, an old French man who has never left his tiny village in the Alps and as a result has absolutely no political agenda, and myself. The panel shall feast on the jambalaya, and award the winning chef with a top of the range 1994 Daewoo or a family holiday courtesy of Mauritius Airlines. And the US Presidency for four years, at which point the Great Jambalaya Cook-Off would take place again with the year's candidates.

I'll be submitting this in writing to the US Senate post-haste.

Saturday, 12 July 2008

"a thing to do" Part II

In continuation from my favourite albums from each year that I'd been alive (lots of Elbow, no?), here lieth my favourite films from each year of my life.

1987: Lethal Weapon
1988: Die Hard
1989: Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade
1990: Die Hard 2: Die Harder
1991: Terminator 2: Judgement Day
1992: Aladdin
1993: Schindler's List
1994: Pulp Fiction
1995: Die Hard With A Vengeance
1996: From Dusk Til Dawn
1997: Hercules
1998: The Truman Show
1999: Dogma
2000: High Fidelity
2001: Moulin Rouge!
2002: Hero
2003: Lost In Translation
2004: Garden State
2005: Walk The Line
2006: Little Miss Sunshine
2007: No Country For Old Men
2008: Wall-E

I cannot express how glad I am that due to the wonderful America-gets-it-first system of cinema, No Country For Old Men counts as a 2007 film. It's a shame that the ruling stops Superbad and Death Proof getting a chance to fight it out. But it allows Wall-E an uncontended top spot for 2008 so far.

Of note: 1996's favourite film is listed as From Dusk Til Dawn - a fantastically fun film, but probably not even in my Top 50 list. How did this get to number one in 1996 then? Well, blasphemous as it sounds, I've seen neither Fargo nor Trainspotting yet. I want to, I truly do - and some day I shall. I'd hazard a guess that if I'd seen it, Fargo would be win 1996. On a similar note: Die Hard With A Vengeance is 1995's winner for two reasons. First, I truly love it. Second, 1995 was a shite year for cinema.

On the other end of the scale, you will never know the pain I suffered choosing one favourite from 2004. Natalie Portman's presence may have helped, but despite all the tiresome indie kid love-ins for it, I do still hold Garden State close to my heart. Still, commiserations to Eternal Sunshine, The Life Aquatic and Shaun Of The Dead - all of which are considered amongst my favourite films of all-time.

"a thing to do"

Stolen from here, which stole from here, which in turn stole from here, this is my list of my favourite albums from each year I've been alive. Next up, the same thing for films!

1987: 'Bad' - Michael Jackson
1988: 'I'm Your Man' - Leonard Cohen
1989: 'Storm Front' - Billy Joel
1990: 'Choke' - The Beautiful South
1991: 'Achtung Baby' - U2
1992: 'Rage Against The Machine' -Rage Against The Machine
1993: 'River Of Dreams' - Billy Joel
1994: 'Grace' - Jeff Buckley
1995: 'The Bends' - Radiohead
1996: 'Travelling Without Moving' - Jamiroquai
1997: 'OK Computer' - Radiohead
1998: 'I've Been Expecting You' - Robbie Williams
1999: 'Performance and Cocktails' - Stereophonics
2000: 'Parachutes' - Coldplay
2001: 'Asleep At The Back' - Elbow
2002: 'A Rush Of Blood To The Head' - Coldplay
2003: 'Cast Of Thousands' - Elbow
2004: 'Funeral' - Arcade Fire
2005: 'Leaders Of The Free World' - Elbow
2006: 'Boys And Girls In America' - The Hold Steady
2007: 'Magic' - Bruce Springsteen
2008: 'The Seldom Seen Kid' - Elbow

mp3: 'Stuck Between Stations (Acoustic)' by The Hold Steady

Sunday, 6 July 2008

Facebook Band Group Analysis: Avril Lavigne

I wish I could say I have no fondness for Avril Lavigne at all. She's put out at least two awful albums, both made worse by my sister's former fondness for them, and married a member of one of my All-Time Bottom Twenty Bands. Her song 'Mobile' was one of the least sensical and most musically frustrating I knew as a sixteen year-old. 'I'm With You' just reminded me of prostitutes ("I'm standing on a bridge/I'm waiting in the dark/I thought that you'd be here by now", or "I don't know who you are but I... I'm with you").

But then she had to go and release 'Girlfriend', one of the most ridiculously immoral, fantastically fun songs of the new millenium. And then, ever so occasionally she looks like she does above. It's cruelty, it truly is. And so, it is with these mixed emotions that I approach Avril with my second Facebook Band Group Analysis: an experiment for which there has to be a better name. I'll judge Avril based upon Facebook Groups made about her in support, or in detriment to her.

Exhibit A: '♥ iF y0U l0VE AVRil lAViGNE <3'

A masterclass in how to make a bad first impression without even meeting someone, this group mixes unusual use of upper and lowercase fonts, symbols and text speak in order to let you know that everyone inside the group is an idiot. All 4,578 of them. Also features deep subjects on the discussion board along the lines of 'Avril Lavigne or Hillary Duff?' Is that a question that even needs an answer? And if so, can the answer be 'neither'?

Exhibit B: 'avril lavigne p*u*n*k princess'
Like the Sex Pistols and Stiff Little Fingers before her, Avril Lavigne is the modern embodiment of punk. She also like pink things and tiaras. And not spelling her name with capital letters (which is a claim wildly at odds with the title of the last group). This group is full of punk factoids about Lavigne. For instance, where Lydon was intolerant of the government, Lavinge is lactose intolerant. And has asthma. Take that, establishment!

Exhibit C: '<<...Legend of Avril Lavigne...>>'
One could be forgiven for thinking that because this is the first group to correctly write Lavigne's name it must also be the most intelligent of said groups. But then one reads the group description: "This goup for avril lavigne fans only that we will say one word that 'We love Avril Lavigne'. So. Many. Flaws. First, what is a 'goup'? It sounds like sloppy gout. Second, since when is 'We love Avril Lavigne' one word? It isn't even hyphenated! And really, since when is Avril Lavigne a legend? She certainly robs from the rich world of music and adds to the poor, but to call her a legend suggests that when my sister saw her live in Wembley Arena she was actually watching a near mythical-character.

Exhibit D: 'If this group reaches 100,000 members, Avril Lavigne must cum to A.D. (AbuDhabi)'
With current group membership at a phenomenal 325 people, Ms. Lavigne should probably book her flights now...

Exhibit E: 'avril lavigne can't sing, but by god i'd pork her!'
Agreed, Pamela Popp of Chicago. Agreed.

mp3: 'Knocking On Heaven's Door' by Avril Lavigne

Glastonbury Review: Volume Three

Last year Glastonbury was, as visible above, the year of the mud. It was nasty. Wet, squidgy, everywhere. This year, with the sun out in the sky, the mud relatively non-existent and sunburns a frequent issue there was a need for another definition. Perhaps we could accurately call Glastonbury 2008 the Year of the Old Man. Which brings on nicely to today's Glastonbury Top Ten man:

9. Neil Diamond

By Sunday afternoon the sun had been shining for a solid two days and festival spirits were higher than the population of the Stone Circle at dawn that morning. I squeezed my way down the side of the Pyramid stage and watched Neil Diamond walk out in front of tens of thousands of sunkissed people.

I was front row, but so far over that I could have been fiftieth row in the centre and I still would have been closer. Still, when a man overflows with joie de vie as much as Diamond does, you could be keeping your kids busy at the back of the field and still have the time of your life.

Skipping through every song your regular Glastonbury punter is likely to know, Diamond led treats such as Red Red Wine and I'm A Believer with more enthusiasm than a vampire at a bloodbank, though perhaps a little less sinisterly. Of course, by the time Neil Diamond finished America, the crowd were putty in his hands. Even a three-minute loss of sound hadn't slowed down a man who has gathered every ounce of his experience together to make one of the greatest shows of his generation. When he started Sweet Caroline, there was no real question over how the crowd would react.

There must be some feeling of satisfaction in getting the biggest crowd singalong of Glastonbury 2008, but if there was, Neil Diamond remainded humble nonetheless, leaving everyone who saw him beaming at his fantastic and modest approach to putting on a great set.

mp3: 'Sweet Caroline' by Neil Diamond

Saturday, 5 July 2008

The Good, The Bad and The Cinematic: Kung Fu Panda

Before Dreamwork's latest feature film last night was shown the trailer for Wall-E, the new Pixar effort that I wrote up earlier this week as, well, effortless. It was an unfortunate moment for Kung Fu Panda, because even though I was probably the only one in the screen to have seen the film, the trailer alone got more laughs than the first ten minutes of the film we had paid to see.

Is Kung Fu Panda a bad film? Not at all. In fact, especially not in comparison to the recent dire efforts of its studio. Is it fair to compare Kung-Fu Panda to Wall-E? Hell no. Will it be compared nonetheless? Of course. It wouldn't be right to compare the plot to Wall-E (though if I were, I would point out despite the relative simplicity of both, Wall-E remains the film that feels least laboured of the two on that front). There is one thing that can be compared, one must suppose, and that is the quality of the animation.

On this front, Kung Fu Panda is certainly not flawed. In fact, it is so smooth and fluid - especially in action scenes - that it feels just like watching Tony Jaa and Jet Li dukeing it out in animal form. The scenery itself is pleasent enough, and would defeat the Wuxi finger hold of any previous Dreamworks film.

The problem is though, as it always seems to be with Dreamworks films, that not enough money is spent on making the film watchable - both visually and in the manner of script and plot. Instead, it seems at least 60% of the budget is wasted on big name actors - many of whom are either totally out of place or completely wasted.

Why is Jackie Chan in a role dependent entirely on his voice? No matter how kind and funny a man he is on the red carpet, Chan's English talking has never been a strong point. And here, his inability to both speak and act with just his voice completely sinks his character. As a result, we barely here a peep out of the character in question.

The same goes for Lucy Liu, who for no obvious reason is shafted from almost every conversation in the film, leaving a smattering of lines for which she will have been paid more money than most of us will make in our lives. There is also, as far as I can tell, no added benefit from Angelina Jolie's prescence in the film. That said, I don't think there ever is in her films.

The only characters of mention are those played by Dustin Hoffman, who deserves some sort of Hollywood Knighthood by now, Seth Rogen, a superb David Cross, and Jack Black, who escapes lightly, gliding through a role that was far too easy for a man of his talents.

The whole film is dragged down by unnecessary big names, an issue that is common in Dreamworks. In Pixar's latest the studio sacrifice almost all celebrities, giving instead roles to R2D2 and the MacInTalk program. As a result, more care, time and money was spent on plot, characters and animation. For both films, the priorities shine through.

Is Kung Fu Panda a bad film? By no means, in fact it is most definitely a good film. It just isn't good cinema.


Friday, 4 July 2008

Soundtrack Staples: The Kinks

Another new feature over here at TFSS, I thought I'd look at those artists who are so common in modern soundtracks that a film is missing something without them. The first band in question have been on pretty much every soundtrack made since they formed, and as result are a perfect band to start with.

I'm still not sure at what point The Kinks became vital to my musical life. I remember being made to play Waterloo Sunset on the recorder in year seven music class, and not realising it was actually a pop song. I thought it was something from Victorian times back then, but that was probably just the recorders ruining it for me.

When the 25th anniversary edition of The Village Preservation Society came out, something compelled me to buy it. I'm pretty sure it was the fantastic packaging, but the title track appearing on a free Q magazine CD around that time certainly helped. I paid extra for the three disc edition, featuring the album in both stereo and mono, and a bonus songs disc. Why a sixteen year old boy required not one but two versions of a quarter-century old album is still a question I cannot answer, but regardless the album led me into a deep pit of fantastic music.

In recent years it really has seemed that every respectable film - or respectable indie film, at least - features at least one Davies-penned song. Hot Fuzz, Britain's non-too-serious answer to Bad Boys featured a duo of songs from the aforementioned Village Green LP, with possibly the best utilisation of The Kinks in modern cinema. The nature of the songs fitted perfectly with the film's small-town (read: village) action, and further cemented the ridiculously British nature that made Hot Fuzz so great.

This year's uber-indie Juno featured the wonderful A Well Respected Man, a 1966 single that also featured over the end credits of The Life And Death of Peter Sellers in 2004. One of my favourite films, High Fidelity, featured 'Everybody's Gonna Be Happy', another fantastic track from the mid-sixties.

Perhaps the best recent example of The Kinks in modern film was in last year's The Darjeeling Limited, a film by long-time Kinks fan Wes Anderson. The soundtrack featured three Kinks songs, all from 1970's 'Lola vs Powerman and the Moneygoround, Part One', and helped give the film it's distinct character. Enjoy 'Strangers' from said soundtrack...

mp3: 'Strangers' by The Kinks

The Good, The Bad and The Cinematic: Hancock

It's been a good week for new cinema in my books. First, Wall-E turned out to be the most groundbreaking experiment in animation since, perhaps Snow White - or, at the very least since Beauty and the Beast. Now Will Smith stirs up the superhero genre with his best film in over a decade.

This summer, as usual, we're being swamped with superhero films. We have the sequels, and plenty of them - The Dark Knight, The Incredible Hulk, Hellboy II... We have the first time outing, from Iron Man. We even have the inevitably awful 'Superhero Movie' spoof. Where Hancock immediately holds the high ground is that of all the superhero movies, this is the only truly original one - no comic books or graphic novels on which to base it. Even the references to other comics are sparse - one villian refers to his costume as 'tight-ass Wolverine', but that's about it, really...

Thus far reviews have been far from awful, but never entirely complimentary about the film. Empire, who are without a doubt the most reputable review source I give credit to, gave the film a distinctly average three stars. The main flaw has been suggested many times that Hancock doesn't know what it is - a comedy, a straight superhero film, a parody... in truth, the film does dance flitteringly around all three - though this is far from a flaw.

In the titular John Hancock we see the superhero equivalent of Bad Santa - a techy, bad-tempered and oft drunken man of steel, with a distaste for the name 'asshole' and a tendency to react a little to harshly to those who deny his will - even if they are just ten year-old boys. Without a doubt, the film is funniest when Hancock is an undeniable bastard, and when Hancock is placed into jail the film undoubtably lags for ten minutes or so. But once the second act starts, the film continues along, having a whale of a time as it does.

Scenes where Hancock plays the hero - either as a bastard or not - are delights, and thanks to a strong production would not seem at all out of place in any other of this summer's blockbusters. Perhaps the best scenes of the second act though are those where we can see the chemistry between the three lead actors. Smith and Jason Bateman, who plays struggling PR man Jay, are fantastic together - the naive and cynical mismatch floundering around fantastically. Similarly, scenes with Smith and Bateman's onscreen wife Charlize Theron are some of the most fun in the entire film - one scene in the family kitchen mixes Desperate Housewives with Tom and Jerry. It is also perhaps no surprise that Bateman and Theron play such a convincing couple - after all, they have worked together in similar perameters before on the much-missed Arrested Development.

And so to the final act, which has gathered much scorn from the press, for changing the mood and becoming generic with any other superhero film. And it's true that the mood becomes distinctly more serious, the whole act much more 'generic', if you must. But fortunately the scenes that could be interchanged with the final act of similarly superhero-based films are done so well that they themselves are a treat to watch. Compared with the final fights of, say Iron Man, the scenes are infinitely better looking, infinitely more believable and as a result, a great deal more enjoyable. Compared with the final battles of Batman Begins, the film which remains my favourite of the genre, Hancock's are much more tangible, memorable and condensed, all of which make for an incredible finale to a superb film. To quote the hero himself: 'Good job.'


Thursday, 3 July 2008

The Good, The Bad and The Cinematic: Wall-E

I have this thing in life, that sounds as cheesy as hell, and really is. If I have an opportunity that I am unlikely to ever have again, I take it. Unless it is, say, the opportunity to jump off of a bridge. That'd be silly. But it's the same reason I went to Paris last year, saw Springsteen in May, and have gone to Glastonbury the last two years running.

So when I was at Glastonbury last weekend and saw they organisers were showing a preview of new Pixar film Wall-E, I thought I'd grab a chance to see it - three weeks before the UK release. It meant sacrificing the Sunday night headline slots. But The Verve are boring, Groove Armada tired, and Manu Chao - well, that was a shame to miss. But to see Wall-E... well, it was worth it.

You see, there is little in Cinema that excites me more than a new Pixar film. Another Die Hard would, perhaps. A film in which Natalie Portman portrays, well, anyone... the resurrection of Hitchcock would no doubt garner some interest from me. But other than that, very little excites me more than a new Pixar output.

Wonderfully, Wall-E does not disappoint. In fact, it is certainly their best film since the groundbreaking Finding Nemo, and very possibly the best in the catologue so far. First of all, we have the title character, rendered in the most ridiculously loveable way, an innocent robot with a heart - the sort of description one might expect from a film on par with The Care Bears Movie. But here we see so much more than your average cliched children's cartoon character - we find depth and emotion and... and why is this worth even mentioning? The fact of the matter is that in every Pixar film - bar, perhaps Cars - we are introduced to solid story-telling, wonderful animation, and above all fantastic and well-loved characters. Whilst these are all factors that add to the phemonal rating this film will receive, it is not what raises it above its predecessors.

No, Wall-E succeeds because of the influences Pixar explores in it for the first time. The films screams Chaplin, Keaton and the names of so many other heroes of silent comedy. In a film where dialogue is at a bare minimum, everything balances on portraying voiceless characters and making them lovable. Where better to look first than Chaplin? Wall-E, as a character, owes more to Chaplin's tramp than, say, Short Circuit's Number 5.

All in all, Wall-E stuns. Visually, it is the most beautiful computer-animated film yet to grace cinema. The characters are wonderful, lovable and forever indebted to the silent comedies that have never even been seen by most of those who will see the film. Everything - everything - is wonderful, and never before have I felt so impressed, so in awe of an animated film. Miss this film at your peril.


Wednesday, 2 July 2008

Glastonbury Review: Volume Two

My Top Ten 'Glastonbury Moments' From Glastonbury 2008. By me.

10. Sunday night, about midnight, my mate Rob and I are sitting waiting for other friends in an old cockpit by a bar in Shangri-La. Man in thick-knitted sweater, worn jeans and wellies sits next to me. Looks at me. Raises hand and starts talking to me through tiny wool finger puppet mouse. I find this perfectly normal behaviour.

9. Friday evening, front row of The Holloways set in the Queen's Head tent. Crowd euphoric as the band plays through their old and new tracks with typical energy. I turn to my right. Sixty-year old black man rests on barrier, looking more miserable than anyone who has ever lived before. He is wearing a colourful furry lion hat.

8. Friday night, Park Stage, I am crushed down at the front of a secret gig being put on by Franz Ferdinand. I look ahead to the front row, just two people ahead of me. A small boy, no older than ten is standing watching the band as his father is slowly pulverised whilst attempting to keep his son from mosh-related injuries.

7. Saturday night, by the Cider Bus. I buy a pint of cider and watch on as a giant wicker turtle, the size of a van, is wheeled through the rabble. Costumed men and women are sitting on top, on a matress inside, whilst a few push it along. People stop and watch, everyone laughs. Until it parks in front of about fifty of them at the Pyramid Stage. No one argues. Who's to say what these people are capable of?

6. Saturday afternoon, Other Stage. Elbow finish their set spectacularly, leading the crowd in an epic singalong to 'One Day Like This'. After they leave the stage the crowd forgo the traditional cheering for more, simply choosing not to stop the singalong. The lines 'Throw those curtains wide/One day like this a year would see me right!' are sung in unity by thirty thousand people for a further four minutes.

5. Wednesday evening, Jazz World Stage. A woman shins her way up one of the many flags that pepper the arena. Crowd watches on, calling out encouragement. When the woman reaches fifteen feet or so, the flag simply snaps in half and the woman falls to the ground, lies for a few seconds, gets up and walks off.

4. Sunday afternoon, Pyramid Stage, Neil Diamond leads seventy to eighty thousand people in a sing along to Sweet Caroline. That's all.

3. Sunday night, about 2am. Rob and I have found his friends and are dancing in a group to jive music in a fifties diner in Shangri-La. One friend points to the side of the dancefloor. Mark Ronson pashes with his girlfriend. We all privately consider going over. No-one does.

2. Wednesday evening, Jazz World Stage. I buy a pint of pear cider, and walking away from the bar hear a huge cheer - the sort you hear leading up to a penalty. A rising 'oohhhhHHHHH' followed by a 'Whay!'. I go over to examine. Amongst a circle of thirty sit three people and their mate, who lies passed out on the floor, cardboard cup of cider held loosely in hand. Between his legs, where they meet the crotch, an empty cider cup has been placed. Towering up from this is a lopsided stack of these cups, at least eighty of them, gathered and piled to create a spontaneous alcoholic's idea of Jenga. Every 'oohhhhHHHHHWhay!' comes from the crowd as they watch another contestant approach the tower and carefully place their empty cup in. The tower topples at approximately ninety cups, but the bloke remains unconscious. He is roused by his friends, and a little surprsied to be covered in cardboard cups and cheered by three dozen people. It is Glastonbury.

1. Walking through the Green Fields on Thursday afternoon I stop to join a small group watching a tranny teach a ten-year old boy how to weld. That is all, but it is all I will ever need.

Glastonbury Review: Volume One

Monday was a little slice of tiresome. I had to make the trek back from Glastonbury to Nottingham, which would be a stressful trip in itself, without considering the 175,000 people making similar plans (though fortunately not all to Nottingham), and the fact that I was on my now annual Glasto come-down. Like a musical cold turkey, if you will.

Anyway, after last year's mess of a trip home, the fact that I missed a train, and had to travel home in a cattle-truck of a train carriage - well, they just seemed relatively pleasant. Such is life, I suppose, when you spent most of last year carrying a six-person tent on your back in the pouring rain at four o'clock in the morning. Feeling empathy for a sardine loses it's stress factor after that.

So, to Glastonbury '08. Well, the weather was frankly beautiful for the majority of the time - it's left me with the most British tan ever. My arms and face are a lovely dark shade of man-tan, but if you pull down on my collar, or fold back my sleeve, you risk snow-blindness. It's truly that horrific.

So, for my top ten artists I saw at Glastonbury (because the Top Ten Preview never quite found time to finish itself, did it?). This time I'll do it one artist at a time, and share with you my beautiful pictures from 2007's quagmire - for I have not yet ventured to have this year's developed.

10. John Cale

In at number ten we have one of my unplanned artists of the weekend. John Cale appeared before my third favourite set, and knowing that it would be a busy gig I had arrived early and managed to catch the last half of the former Velvet Underground man's set. I was hit immediately by two things. Firstly, just how similar John Cale looks to my grandfather. It's a tad disturbing. And secondly, just how lively and fun an old man can make a set. This second point was reiterated to me twice over the weekend, once by Neil Diamond and once by ex-Squeeze man Glenn Tilbrook, who included in his set a rapping granny and finale so embrassingly cringe-worthy that it actually turned out to be one of the most fun close to a set all weekend.

But John Cale knows how to work a crowd, how to have fun himself, and above all how to make good music.

Sunday, 22 June 2008

Ten Artists Not To Miss At Glastonbury: Volumes 5 & 6

I'm leaving for Glastonbury in a mere 50-odd hours. Just sayin'. Let's continue the Top Ten, shall we?

5. St. Vincent
Today we're keeping a strict Park Stage On Saturday theme, where both artists are performing for my aural pleasure. It should be good, seeing as last year my friend and I ventured to the Park area only once, in order to buy her a limited edition Stella McCartney top. She's worn it maybe four times since. But this year The Park has been allowed to develop further, and is overflowing with some of my favourite artists of the last year or so. The first of which is my old favourite St. Vincent, who made one of my favourite albums of 2007 in 'Marry Me'.

I'm really interested to see how Annie Clark performs live - her previous credentials in The Polyphonic Spree will have shown her how to have fun (in fact, my favourite live performance is still held by the Spree), whereas working with Sufjan Stevens will have taught her how to capture the audience and stun them with music. Her album perhaps lends itself more to the latter, but I'm not gonna miss the opportunity to find out for myself...
See her: Saturday, on The Park Stage

6. Alphabeat
I really shouldn't have to explain this choice by now, so I'll sum up the reasons briefly and succinctly for you and leave it at that. Firstly, Alphabeat are the best pop band currently making music in the British pop industry. Secondly, they are Scandinavian, and therefore awesome. Thirdly, their album is the most consistantly satisfying debut since 'Parachutes'. Fourth of all, they are the best live band I have seen this year.
See them: Saturday, on The Park Stage

mp3: 'Marry Me' by St. Vincent
mp3: 'Touch Me, Touching You' by Alphabeat

Saturday, 21 June 2008

The Good, The Bad and The Cinematic: The Bone Collector

Actually, this isn't about The Bone Collector at all - though that would have made a suitable enough alternative title for 'Teeth', I think. I tried that joke out with my friends as we left the cinema post-film. There were less than impressed, which fortunately was not similar to the response the film received.

You see, for a film that is essentially about a girl with a vagina that bites back, Teeth is fun, witty and overall far more intelligent than it has any right to be. Mitchell Lichtenstein (son of that other famous one) directs with a typically indie-film flair. Some shots are a treat to watch, the bath scene being one, many of the power station shots also catching the eye. The script is witty without veering into smarmy, and the lead character (wonderfully set up as Chastity Champion of her school) becomes more and more likeable throughout the film.

But the key is that Teeth never takes itself to seriously. Or even that seriously at all. It's fun, foolish and occasionally squelchy, which ironically sort of sums up sex without the teeth, so Lichtenstein did a fine job there.