Friday, March 31, 2006

And feminists have a reputation for being aggressive...

Some of the most popular blogs include Bitch PhD, the F-word, Pandagon, AngryBlackBitch, MindtheGapCardiff and Gendergeek.
- The Guardian

Go figure.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

What NME isn't telling us

There's a 'Best New Bands Showcase 2006' cd on the front of NME this week. Quite frankly I'm surprised they bothered. Because what NME isn't telling us, is that new music is weird right now, and kinda sucky. While I'm glad their level of journalism hasn't fallen quite so much that they'd use those exact words, they're not even giving me the feeling that a change is afoot. No, no, they say, this is still the golden age of new alternative music! You know, drainpipes, big hair, art-rock and all that! The Franz-glow remains!

But they're wrong - something has changed. This uber-honest quote from Dev of the skinny jeans-wearing, post-Franz, and most importantly, splitting Test Icicles sums it up:
"I couldn't really see us existing in 2006. We're such a 2005 band. It's kind of cringeworthy in its 2005-ness, really. It's depressing. I'm wearing baggy jeans and shaving my head, it's just tragic."

Dev gets it. The NME do not - despite putting together a cd which displays it quite clearly. The cd is incredibly eclectic - the punk-funk, spiky guitars era is suddenly over - and NME can't cope. There's no unifying sound now, and that scares the crap outta them. So they've just pretended not to notice. Now this should be a good thing for music, god knows we don't need another stripy-top wearing three piece, but the cd's not just eclectic, but also a bit rubbish. There's a few highlights - The Spinto Band and Two Gallants are both pretty good (and both very American) - but mainly its a mess. I'm optimistic though, that this is just a symptom of new music being so 'scene-led' recently - and now that that scene's on its last legs we've got to find our own way. Hopefully a new dominant scene won't emerge at all (unlikely, I realise), but this eclectic nature will remain and just become, you know, better.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Got to be fair

RR has got a picture of David Tennant, and I'm afraid 'Theatren Is...' would feel left out. So here's one in the name of equality and fairness. You know how kids can be.

Not long now!

D For Dreary

There are some programmes which are quiet, unassuming little works of genius. Somehow, A For Andromeda managed to be a quiet, unassuming little work of twaddle. I'm not exactly sure what BBC Four expected to achieve with this 90 minutes of mind-numbing blandness, but assuming it wasn't to create 90 minutes of mind-numbing blandness, they didn't manage it. What was so annoying, was that it wasn't even spectacularly rubbish, just... really dreary. The fact is, it's very hard to successfully update old sci-fi, because us plebs know so much more nowadays - both about really what is out there, and also how the powers that be would deal with it. The greatest scientific discovery for a century was received with a general 'meh' and about three people in the whole world seemed interested. I'm all for suspension of disbelief, but in any sort of fiction, there are still boundaries of belief at work, albeit greatly widened, and it all felt a bit ludicrous.

It was not, however, a complete waste of an hour and a half, because it introduced me to Tom Hardy, whom I've managed to avoid for far too long, seeing as though he has actually been on tv a lot recently (The Virgin Queen, Gideon's Daughter...). He's a massively watchable guy, and acted everyone else off the screen.

Monday, March 27, 2006

He had me at "Dodgeball is a fairly unremarkable film"

Matt has commented on a post I've put up over at RR, and I'm very glad he did, because his Saving The World site/blog is fantastic. Check it!

Friday, March 24, 2006

A wrong righted...

No idea why long time commenter (and one of my first net freinds!) Mellie Bean's blog hasn't been added to the blogroll, so that has been dutifully righted :) Over there, I found a link to Geoffrey Chaucer's blog... enjoy!

Leaving on a jet plane...

All my 'bon voyages' go to Lisa today - hope you have a wonderful time in New Zealand :)

>connecting to server...

I actually gave a little yelp of joy when I saw that Tim Dowling's fantastic 'Permachat' chatroom pastiche had come back for a special guest appearance in G2's 'The Question' column today. I always used to look forward to hearing pearls of wisdom from Pashmina, Bronco, bushwins et al, so today was a rare, if incredibly nerdy (even by my standards) treat.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Readers Recommend

Finally, all the Guardian Readers Recommend lists have been gathered together.

Gotta say, though, that more and more it seems to be 'Dorian Lynskey Recommends', as the write-up now never contains any reader comments, nor does the list bear any relation to the number of nominations. I'm starting to wonder why he asks us at all.

Meanwhile, over at Rullsenberg Rules...

.. I'll be housesitting. Yes, Lisa obviously feels RR is not fulfilling its Ben Folds references quota, so I'll be popping in every now and again to bump up the numbers while she's away in New Zealand. I'll just be keeping it ticking over, bringing vital Dr Who info to the masses!

To stop being flippant for a second, it is actually quite an honour, and big thanks are in order :)

Monday, March 20, 2006

A load of Drivl...

... in a good way. Ben Folds' drummer, England's very own Lindsay Jamieson, and bassist, USA's very own Jared Reynolds have set up a website entitled, you guessed it, Drivl, and being the good little fan that I am, I thought I'd flag it up over here (they're very good people, talk to me on MySun - I'm sorry, MySpace - and stuff, so it's the least I can do). On one level you just submit anything you want, as long as its relevant and irreverent, as they say...
Passionate intercourse on the Web. Get your mind out of the gutter. WeÂ’re talking hot, procreative brain action here, baby, the kind that wins you points, prizes, and maybe even fame. This is your chance to spout, shout and champion the things that you believe in. Likewise, you can also take the piss out of the things that you don't. It's a beautiful thing to know that you can whip ass by using just your mind and a few other weapons such as words and images.

The points and the prizes refer to the other side to the site (the side which seems more intriguing to me) where a theme is set up, and then people compete to write/draw the best piece/poem on it. Everyone who signs up can rate the submissions, so it's all democratic, but I feel that marking down a rival piece would be somewhat frowned upon. If you've no time to write something, go to Picstorm (add a quote to an existing photo) or Quotestorm (add a picture to an existing quote. I did a haiku which is currently in third, not that I'm pushing for votes or anything....
Anyhoo, take a look, see what you think, and if you submit, let me know :)

Coming up..

I know I've been neglecting you, dear readers, but you over the next few weeks you can expect reviews of...
I Got Rhythm, Northern Ballet Theatre - Sheffield Lyceum 23/03 (possibly!)
See How They Run - Sheffield Lyceum 01/04
Completely Hollywood! (Abridged), Reduced Shakespeare Company - Sheffield Lyceum 06/04
Hay Fever (with Dame Judi Dench!) - Haymarket Theatre, London
So plenty to look forward to. Then there's the fact that a certain doctor will be in the house as the lovely Medium Rob speculates/informs us. And all this from the comfort of my own home, my properly heated home, right here in Doncaster. So I'll see you round.

The Clean House - Sheffield Studio: 18/03

I'm afraid I don't have a lot to say about this production - but that in itself says a lot, I suppose. It's a new play by American writer Sarah Ruhl, and I really wonder a) why it has won so many awards and b) why Sam West appears to believe it deserved them. Because the acting was superb, as it should be with a cast as strong as this- Patricia Hodge, Selina Cadell (the nurse sent to help Casanova to you and me) and Eleanor Bron, but everything else about the production was distinctly ordinary. The down-trodden Virginia likes to clean and, hey, would also like to clean up her emotional life; budding comedian Matilde doesn't like to clean and, whaddya know, she thinks jokes should be dirty. Stop me if this is all too deep for you. There were very funny moments, and there were very touching moments, and in between there was.... nothing, really.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Assassins - Crucible Theatre, Sheffield: 11/03

Wow. Just wow. This really was the best production I have seen for a long long time. Quick summary - it's a Sonheim musical written in 1990 which brings together nine of the many men and women who have attempted, or succeded in killing a US president, from the one who started it all - John Wilkes Booth (Lincoln) , through Lee Harvey Oswald (Kennedy) to John Hinkley (Reagan). Obviously then, this is not exactly historically accurate, and the debate about whether Oswald actually did kill Kennedy is alluded to, but really not important in the grand scheme of what Sondheim is trying to get across.

So what exactly is the point of the musical? Well, it gives reasons and explanations for the actions of all the assassins - Samuel Byck (Nixon) had a Willy Loman complex (Death of a Salesman is referenced several times throughout the musical) - feeling that the American Dream had failed, or alluded him. Charles Guiteau (Garfield) wanted to achieve something big, and turned to assassination when he was refused high office. Lynette Fromme (Ford) did it for Charles Manson; Hinkley for Jodie Foster. But you'd be missing something major if you thought that this musical excuses the murders in any way. What it says is that these people had serious problems - some personal, some social - many of which were perfectly valid grievances, but the ludicrous call of 'Why don't you shoot the President?!' which punctuates the play displays what a ridiculous way of trying to solve those problems assassination is. This really is not a radical musical - it portrays many of the assassins as desperate but generally not clear-thinking crusaders against the state. It's not prescriptive, but thoughtful, and takes each case individually, rather than saying all the assassins were aiming for the same thing.

So if the politics of it were spot on, how did it work as a musical? Well, this is Sondheim and as such the songs were really excellent. Not a known tune in sight, and yet every song was enjoyable, darkly funny, and highly intricate, as Sondheim's melodies tend to be. The play is bookended by 'Everybody's Got The Right', which demonstrates a bizarre interpretation of the American Dream, where everyone has a right to be happy, to be heard, and therefore to shoot the president. 'Unworthy Of Your Love' is an unsettling love song sung by Hinkley and Fromme, towards Jodie Foster and Charles Manson respectively. Then there's 'The Ballad of Guiteau', a real Hollywood-style show-stopper performed on the gallows - all were wonderfully twisted highlights.

The politics, the songs, the book - all get thumbs up. The only thing left is the production of it, and I'm afraid I've got to be predictably positive. The production is directed by Nikolai Forster, who was also at the helm of the Crucible's 'A Chorus Line', and if they are anything to go by, he has a very bright future. The word to sum up this production is 'impeccable' - stunning stage set, not a single noticable fluffed line, witty choreography and an ensemble cast of incredible singers. All in all you felt incredibly safe in the hands of the director and cast. I'm raving, I know, but it didn't put a foot wrong - the first truly great production of Sam West's tenure.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Those Desert Island Eight

WARNING: This is the longest blog ever. Ever.

Ben Folds Five - Underground
Ah it all has to start with Benny - his music was the first I ever found that had a real effect on me. I'd heard people say that songs can do this, but I never believed it til I found this guy, this band. Their music cheers me up (especially this song, which I'll come onto specifically), has made me cry (Brick) and laugh out loud (Rock This Bitch, Song For The Dumped). Mainly it makes me smile, and that's where this songs comes in. You have no idea how hard it was to pick from the Ben Folds Five/Ben Folds catalogue - the astonishingly beautiful Missing the War has to get an honourary mentionary - but I just couldn't leave this one out, so here it is. Specifically, I choose the live version from Naked Baby Photos, for the now infamous shout of 'Who the f*ck are you?' during the spoken opening, for Ben's efforts to stop himself from laughing, for the little changes to how lines scan that make it superior to the album version. I'm a Ben Folds geek, don't you know. Ben's critique of counter-culture that you can buy your way into with a nose-ring is hilarious, but above all this song makes me very, very happy, and for that it just has to go in.

The Beatles - For No One
I am so grateful that my parents were hippies and 60s fashionistas (dad and mum respectively) so that I have always been surrounded by good music. Car journeys were made quicker by 'The Best 60s Psychedelic Album in the World... Ever!', the Eagles, ELO. Hell I even look back fondly on journeys soundtracked by Blood Sweat and Tears. There's one band who stand out though, and that's the Beatles - my mum's Ben Folds, which makes her infinitely cooler than me. We had a tape with the singles on, and I remember sitting in my room playing 'The Ballad of John and Yoko'. I especially liked the line 'We're only tryin' to get us some peace' for some reason. That could have gone in, but in the end I've plumped for For No One instead. It's just the perfect little MacCartney ballad which forces you to stop and listen.

Rufus Wainwright - I Don't Know What It Is
After discovering Ben Folds, I experienced the lull I've found isn't uncommon among people who've come across an artist that clicks with them so completely that suddenly listening to other music feels... kinda redundant. Then this beautiful Canadian with a nasally voice and the campest laugh known to man came along and blew that all away. I'd first seen Rufus performing Vibrate on Later... with Jools Holland, but I had my Foldsian glasses on and seeing him play the piano with one hand made me want to shout 'There's 88 keys on that piano - use them!'. I think I probably did. But the guy won me over, first with Cigarettes and Chocolate Milk, then with The Art Teacher, and then with this. 'I Don't Know What It Is' makes me beam from ear to ear - the way it builds throughout is masterly, and I love the way that the backing singers hum the line that later becomes ' to get me over'. It gives me shivers. And he sings the lines "I was hoping the train/Was my big number/Stopping in Santa Fe and the Atchison-Topeka" as if his life depended on it. I've said it before and I'll say it again, Rufus Wainwright is a star, a genius, and one of the best songwriters we've got.

Jimi Hendrix - Hey Joe
Back when I was about 12 (my mum'll correct me, but let's go with this for now) me and my family went to Scotland for our summer holiday, and caught the train to Edinburgh during the Fringe Festival - we didn't go to anything in particular, but it all comes to you out in the street anyway. We stopped to watched this comedy covers band called Bean, and while my bro complained (street theatre was like, so not cool) I'm very glad we did, because I owe my love of Hendrix to them. I'd have discovered him somewhere down the line I'm sure, but this kicked it off. They said they were going to perform a song by the West Country cousin of some guy called Jimi Hendrix. The song was 'Purple Hay' (all in my barn... 'scuse me while I eat this pie etc) and while I didn't get that it was a joke, I did think that it was a damn fine song. Hippy Dad was pretty pleased, I guess, and played me the original when we got back home. Purple Haze, then, could have been in this list, but I love the low down, bluesy dirtiness of Hey Joe, and for that reason it goes in. 'Yes I did, I shot her!' Brilliant.

The Divine Comedy - Our Mutual Friend
In another instance of my mum being cooler than me, she hooked onto the fact The Divine Comedy were great long before I did, but this might be to do with the fact that I used to like things very loud (see next disc) and only relatively recently got the whole subtle thing. Anyway, I always remember mum loving 'Everybody Knows (Except You)' and me really not. Then I got it, and pretended I liked them all along. Anyhoo, I maintain that's because at that point, the album Absent Friends hadn't come out, and I can honestly say it's my favourite DC album, and one of my favourite albums full stop. On that album is this stunner of a track which is Neil Hannon at his absolute best. Our Mutual Friend is funny and heartbreaking, as truly great songs tend to be, but it's the orchestral backing that really gets me. The different beats crossing one another and all building up to the most beautiful sound. Just wonderful. And he's nice guy too (she casually drops in). Haha, I met him at the Cambridge Folk Festival in 2004, just to get the little programme signed and a photo taken. I said it was a pleasure to meet him, and he wrote 'Pleasure's all mine'. How cute is that.... anyway, moving along.

Foo Fighters - Monkey Wrench
Ask me what any of the lyrics to this song are and I couldn't tell you. I'm guessing 'monkey wrench' is involved. But let's face it, where Foo Fighters are concerned, the lyrics are hardly the main thing you concentrate on, are they? What you concentrate on is that wall of perfectly honed RAWK that comes at you full pelt, from guitars, a bass and drums, but mostly just Dave Grohl's mouth. As I mentioned before, I wasn't always a Radio 2 listener, old before my time, finding Belle and Sebastian a bit too loud. (That's a joke). My bro's one-time love of the standard guitar band rubbed off on me, and I used to RAWK. No loud band could come on TV without some member of my family saying 'Anna'll like this' (Family jokes are just the funniest, aren't they??!). I still like to think I RAWK a bit, and this is the proof. The fact that I nearly put in the wonderfully disturbing ballad Walking After You shows that my tastes may have changed a little, but there'll always be space for this slice of no-holds-barred RAWK. I'll start writing 'rock' now, I swear. Grohl is the consummate performer and front man - funny and intense all at the same time - but how he's got a voice at all after 15 years of shouting is beyond me. He does his thing, at his best, on this track.

Tom Lehrer - Oedipus Rex
Now we come to dad's influence again, this time in the shape of satirical comedy songwriter Tom Lehrer. To be honest, Lehrer's a bit of a hero of mine. He did his thing, had a bit of cult success, wrote some kids songs about the Magic Letter E and then went back to Harvard. You don't get much cooler than that. He's just so damn learned and insightful, and not afraid to show it, but also silly and very funny and had (has?) the ability to write songs that, while based on current events in the 60s, still say something about politics today. Take 'So Long Mom, A Song For World War III': "So long, mom/IÂ’m off to drop the bomb/So donÂ’t wait up for me/But while you swelter/Down there in your shelter/You can see me/On your tv." Enter CNN. Admittedly, Oedipus Rex doesn't have the lyrical venom of his That Was The Week That Was stuff, but it's just so funny. Anyone that rhymes 'Oedipus' with 'platypus' - and moreover finds a reason to do so - is a complete genius in my book.

Arcade Fire - Wake Up
My goodness, number 8, I thought we'd never get here. I realise half the stuff I've written is of no interest to anyone but myself, but I've had a lot of fun doing it, not to mention used up a lot of decent blogging material. Expect a hiatus kids. AnywayArcadede Fire. Rufus Wainwright induced another little lull, I guess, and then these guys showed up. What a debut album, I mean really. So full of emotion, so many gorgeous hooks, how they're ever gonna top Funeral, I've no idea. The reason I have this album, though, is that BBC Autumn drama advert that featured Wake Up. Hearing the chugga chugga chugga opening (that's the technical term) was a total 'Beta Band moment' (ie as in High Fidelity when everyone in the shop really get into Dry The Rain...? maybe it's just me that uses that phrase!) and I just have to sing along with the 'ahhhhhs'. This isn't the most eloquent entry, is it? Time to leave off, I think, but just time to say Wake Up grabs my attention every time and won't let go.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Desert Island Discs

Lisa has posted an invitation to post our 8 desert island discs with just two days thinking time. It's an invitation I'll obviously take up, but seeing as though I'm away until Saturday evening, I'll have to start thinking on Sunday. Watch this space :)

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Movies and films.

Over at Paul's Baftas post, I found a link to Mouldy's place, who has responded to the whole Britain vs. American/'films' vs. 'movies' bebate. Mouldy has written a great post in the defence of 'British films', and I can just feel Paul itching to write a response in defence of 'American movies'. Falling, as I do, into the latter camp (though OBVIOUSLY I'm being horribly oversimplistic in dividing films up this way, but the terms work for the purposes of the argument) I left a comment saying
"Leave pointless "movies" to the Americans"

Oh dear - I'm not sure Paul's gonna like this! Pointless movies? A film can blow you away in many ways - sometimes that's with the message, the acting, the cinematography, but sometimes it's with someone shouting 'that's no moon!' or a T-Rex causing a little cup of water to ripple. We Brits make lots of pointless movies, but make them 'gritty' and 'hardhitting' so as to fool the audience into thinking they have a point. An excellent blockbuster is a wonderful but rare thing, and deserves as much credit as Cathy Come Home, I feel.

Just thought I'd highlight Mouldy's post and get some more responses :)