Friday, December 30, 2011

End of Year Round-Up 2011

Borag thung, earthlets. For the sixth consecutive year, we present the Irk The Purists look at the highlights and lowlights of the last 12 months. Zarjaz!

Best gig

Well, a narrow field this year, seeing as I hardly attended any gigs. Rock 'n' roll, eh?  (Though I did see a mesmerising performance of classical Indian music in an Edinburgh church a couple of weeks ago.)

Despite encroaching middle age, Mrs. Irk and I did manage one day of live performances, at London's Wireless Festival in July, and the acts ranged from passable to stellar. The former included Chromeo (who would have been great at 10.30 at night- unfortunately they were on in broad daylight, battling the wind and drizzle at 4pm) and Katy B (on a mission, yes, but only towards mediocrity). Slightly better was Ke$ha, who I'd mentally written off as the poor man's Lady Gaga, but who actually won me over with her sheer abandon, ripped tights and largely female band. At 6pm The Streets were (was?) their (his?) usual self, a self I'd got to know well after accompanying Mrs. Irk to various concert appearances over the years, and the crowd moshed accordingly. (How long did he manage to drag out that farewell tour, by the way? It seemed to last all year.) So, Mike Skinner would have got a qualified thumbs-up, were it not for the theft of my wife's mobile phone from her bag during the performance, a theft that only became apparent as The Streets left the stage, and which put something of a damper on the rest of the day. The Aphex Twin performed admirably at 7pm , but we sat outside the tent unable to summon up much enthusiasm for the proceedings. When the headliners, The Chemical Brothers, came on stage at about 8.30pm, we wandered over but my wife's mind was clearly elsewhere. I determined this at about 9.15pm, when she declared "We'll just stay until the Chemical Brothers come on, then we'll go, eh?" It was with a heavy heart that I informed her that we'd actually been sitting watching the aforementioned act for the last 45 minutes. I have to admit my mind was elsewhere too (though I at least was cognisant of who we were watching); I was wondering what would have happened if we'd gone to see Battles in a smaller tent rather than The Streets on the main stage. No doubt we'd have seen a slightly less exciting gig (and subsequent reviews confirmed this. But Battles attract a slightly less thuggish audience than The Streets, and I'd wager that Mrs Irk would at least have kept her phone, and we'd have enjoyed our day out slightly more.

Luckily, the best act by far appeared before the phone theft put the kibosh on proceedings. and that act was Janelle Monae, who had stormed it at Glastonbury a few days previously. Despite appearing at the distinctly un-funky time of 1pm (she was the first act on the bill, incredibly, below Chromeo and Katy B-- I predict she'll be headlining in 2013), Ms. Monae tore the roof off, as the youngsters of today would have it. Actually there wasn't a roof, just grey Hyde Park skies, but I gather this "roof" they speak of is only a metaphor anyway.  And within five minutes she made you forget you were outside on a dull July day with a few hundred early-risers; instead you were transported into her black and white Wondaland.  Seeing Janelle Monae live is like seeing Prince, Morris Day, Stevie Wonder, Cab Calloway, Trouble Funk (the extended, ellided 15-minute sets) or Little Richard at the height of their powers, and at various times she resembles all of these. I didn't really see many acts this year, but even if I'd been out every night, I don't think I'd have seen a better gig than this one. You can get a good idea of what I saw below:


Cesaria Evoria, Bert Schneider, Jeff Conaway, Bobby Robinson, Amy Winegums, Richard Hamilton, Pete Postlethwaite, Heavy D, Saddam Hussein, Christopher Hitchens, Gerry Rafferty, Andrea True, DJ Mehdi, Ken Russell, Loleatta Holloway, Billie Jo Spears, Russell Hoban, Sidney Lumet, Osama Bin Laden, Basil D’Oliveira, Jane Russell, Vaclav Havel, Harry Morgan, Nick Ashford, Bert Jansch, Liz Taylor, Mick Karn, Joe Frazier, Steve Jobs, Peter Falk, Clarence Clemons, Gil Scott-Heron, Elisabeth Sladen, Sylvia Robinson, Kim Jong-Il, Martin Rushent, Poly Styrene, Jackie Leven, John Barry, Jimmy Savile, Jet Harris, Smiley Culture, Jerry Lieber, David Croft, Len Ganley

Best TV

In the absence of Mad Men, I enjoyed Hugo Blick's bleak The Shadow Line, with its who's who of British acting talent, and of course The Apprentice and Strictly continued to provide vicarious thrills (and just how big was Mohammed's "David Byrne" suit in Junior Apprentice? Are we sure he was 16? Did anyone check his birth certificate? He looked and acted about 12).  The Killing was alright, but I'm not sure it justified the 20 hours of my life it took to get to its conclusion. And am I the only person who thinks the Danish police methods (albeit fictional) leave a lot to be desired?  I got the feeling that once Lund had placed everyone in Copenhagen under arrest (and she'd certainly arrested a fair few suspects before releasing them uncharged in the first 18 weeks of the show), she'd get the right one eventually. If British police arrested and released a dozen suspects for a crime before eventually, by a process of elimination, settling on the right one, I rather thank they'd be facing a public enquiry rather than awards and acclaim in the broadsheets' arts pages.

The best TV show, though, snuck right in under the wire at the close of the year. Charlie Brooker's Black Mirror was thought-provoking, well-made telly with high production values and nuanced acting, and in a TV landscape littered with police procedurals, cookery shows and structured reality (TOWIE, Desperate Scousewives), it stuck out like a diamond in a slurry pit. Three separate, unrelated peeks into the lives of people in parallel universes, their connecting thread seemed to be our reliance on technology and its propensity to hurl us all towards dystopia (more cynical readers may see the ongoing existence of this blog as further evidence). He's acknowledged his debt to The Twilight Zone, and  I hope this latter-day Rod Serling gets a recommission, because there are precious few stand-alone TV dramas being made right now, and even fewer as stylish and clever as Black Mirror.

Best TV-related mash-up 

Best music documentary

Nice effort by Martin Scorsese, I thought, but sorry Martin, you've been pipped to the post by Sheffield documentary maker Eve Wood. Her The Beat Is The Law followed up her earlier Made In Sheffield (which took in The Human League, Artery, ABC, Heaven 17 and Cabaret Voltaire) and looked at the years after the miners' strike, when industry declined and Chakk took advantage of the city's empty spaces (and MCA's generous advance) to kickstart Fon studios, without which there'd have been no Krush, no Funky Worm, no Age of Chance, no Warp Records, no Pulp in the charts (possibly), nada. A great documentary, and a lovely 2-disc set with extended interviews and never-before seen Pulp footage; the story of the how the latter came to be discovered is worth the price of the DVDs alone.

See more and buy it here.

Best Album

A strong field this year, with the return of The Beastie Boys, great dubstep-inflected albums from King Midas Sound, Zomby and Jamie Woon (as well as the good but not great debut from James Blake), blissed-out wonky pop from Washed Out (though I thought it was not quite as good as his debut 2010 mini-album) and an interesting debut from Rustie- more please.

Whitehouse's William Bennett managed to unite the critics in universal acclaim (whereas Whitehouse had divided the music press into those who derided them and those who loathed them) with his Afro Noise album (released under the Cut hands moniker), and deservedly so.  In swapping the faux-menace of grown men shrieking about rape and serial killing over synth drones, for genuinely menacing wordless voodoo electronics, Bennett has grown closer to his stated aim of producing a visceral, bodily reaction in the listener. Recommended.

Long-time readers will know that I'm a sucker for female voices combined with electronics (cf. Alison Goldfrapp, Roisin Murphy, Ladytron), and so it shouldn't be a surprise that Class Actress's Rapprocher was very nearly my best of the year. It certainly contained some of the best songs of the year, and the album's first three tracks are terrific. But unfortunately after a cracking start, the album flags a little in the middle, though it rallies for a strong finish. So 4 stars, but not the full enchilada.

Variable quality of tunage kept Class Actress off the top spot, which this year is occupied by Destroyer's ninth (!) album Kaputt.  Who hell they?  Apparently, one Dan Bejar of Canadian band The New Pornographers, plus various mates.  After enjoying Kaputt, I went back and explored the band's previous oeuvre (thank you, Spotify) and was underwhelmed. It was well-made indie pop but somehow unengaging. Kaputt, though, is a different kettle of fish altogether; lush, romantic, a little like Avalon-era Roxy Music, as others have pointed out in reference to the reverbed brass arrangements. To my mind, though, the sax, flugelhorn and trumpet on the album (probably synthesised- the sleeve notes refer merely to "instrumentation") resemble most of all the plaintive work of the great John Gatchell, the trumpet player on Soft Cell's Torch.  If you like any or all of the Pet Shop Boys, Moose (and I will get around to giving them their due, I promise), The Aluminum Group (ditto), or any of the artists on Le Grand Magistery records, you'll like Kaputt.

Best single

Do we have to? When any song ever recorded and digitised is eligible for the charts (and I notice that Merry Christmas Everybody by Slade made it to no. 37 this year with no promotional push whatsoever)? See my comments from last year.  Well if you insist, let's plump for, ooooooooh [covers eyes, puts pin in hand], this one! Ah yes, Tog by Colourmusic. Gets straight to the point, repeats for 4 minutes, doesn't outstay its welcome and exits swiftly. Job done!

Thanks for keeping the faith. See yous in 2012.

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