Tuesday, December 31, 2013

End of Year Review 2013

Yes, it's that much-unloved feature once again, a budget version of Charlie Brooker's Screenwipe, only not as good. Or funny.  On with the show...


Ronald Shannon Jackson, Nelson Mandela, Lou Reed, Al Goldstein, Joan Fontaine, Paul Walker, James Gandolfini, Peter O'Toole, Cory Monteith, Elmore Leonard, Karen Black, Dennis Farina, Ray Manzarek, Trevor Bolder, Ray Harryhausen,  Marcia Wallace, George Jones, Roger Ebert, David Frost, Mel Smith, Alan Whicker, Richard Briers, Michael Winner, Cecil Womack, Reg Presley, Richard Griffiths, Iain Banks, Mick McManus, Bill Pertwee, Jeff Hanneman, Bernie Nolan, George Duke, Jon Brookes,  Seamus Heaney, John Fortune, Donald Byrd, Junior Murvin, Mick Farren, JJ Cale

Most Bastardised Word in the Media

A close-run thing this year. "Selfie" was certainly in the running, not only because it transmuted into "belfie" over the course of 8 months (thanks, Daily Mail), but also because it now seems to mean any hastily-captured portrait of a person taken on a smartphone and then uploaded to a social networking site, and not just a self-portrait.  Note the recent pictures of Nigella Lawson holding a roasted Christmas turkey on a platter up to the camera.  Most tabloids rose to the bait and printed the pic and many of them used the word "selfie", despite the fact that both of Ms. Lawson's Hands were clearly visible in the picture, holding the damn bird.  Unless Lawson has a third hand we haven't heard about (and I think, given her recent court appearances, the Grillo sisters' lawyers would have introduced it
in evidence), I can only assume that the pic was taken by one of the members of #teamcupcake.  In
which case, it's not a selfie, but an old-fashioned photograph. But boring old photos aren't sexy and can't be used as clickbait by newspapers, and so any old photo of a person is henceforward a selfie.  Cheers.

But no, "selfie" isn't the most egregious example of meaning-changing this year.  The accolade goes to "troll", once a very specific term meaning someone who lurks on Internet fora and posts messages to draw the ire of other forum users, and who then sits back and enjoys the results (for example, the poster who might visit a Death Metal forum and mention how much they're enjoying the new Justin Bieber single, to predictable howls of outrage from regular forum users.).  While I'm not going to argue that these trolls were on a par with the emergency services, charity volunteers or school crossing guards, they DID perform a valuable service, namely pricking pomposity and exposing the monocultural mindset of many internet boards.  A troll was NOT someone who simply gratuitously insulted others, or was merely obnoxious.  There are already numerous terms for such people. "Dickheads" is one. Unfortunately, the newspapers have decreed in the last few years that anyone with unpalatable opinions is a "troll".  Thus xenophobe Godfrey Bloom is a troll.  As is the homophobic James Arthur.  As is Katie Hopkins, who was recently declared 2013's troll of the year
by the Guardian (who should know better), for her inflammatory pronouncements.  Katie and the others besmirch the good name of real trolls in two ways; first, the opinions they hold are, as far as I can tell, real and genuine rather than simply voiced for effect (though I suspect Ms. Hopkins is prone to exaggeration with an eye to newspaper sales). Second, Godfrey Bloom and Katie Hopkins (and many others in the Guardian list) choose not to promulgate their bile online, but in rather more traditional media.  All therefore are not trolls (a sobriquet that flatters them, and makes them seem seem slightly less unpleasant and more cartoonish). Rather, they're old-fashioned cunts.

Most annoying auto-correct tic on a tablet

The way that "selfie" keeps auto-correcting to "selfish". 

Biggest stramash over a slightly-above average song

I refrained from mentioning "twerking" above, just as I've refrained from mentioning Robin Thicke's Blurred Lines this year (the acres of press coverage this far have been sufficient without me weighing in).  But what a lot of fuss over what, essentially, is a mash-up of Marvin Gaye's Got To Give It Up, and the theme tune to Only Fools and Horses.  The banning of the song by a number of student unions, too (a mere three months late) was a gross over-reaction. I'm not going to argue that there's no link between culture and morality and behaviour, but if they're going to ban Thicke because there are some slightly off-colour and sexist attitudes in Blurred Lines, they'd better ban a whole slew of other songs too. God forbid, for example, that these drones should ever hear Rolling Stones' Under My Thumb. Or Daft Punk's Get Lucky (which seems to be about keeping a girl up way past her bedtime
till she's too exhausted and drunk to say no).  Or whole chunks of the oeuvre of Led Zeppelin. Or R Kelly.  I could go on.  Have they forgotten what rock 'n' roll is a euphemism for?

Most over-rated artist

Kanye West.  What is the continuing appeal of this blowhard? His recent release has appeared on quite a few best-of lists. I really can't hear it. Mediocre rapping, rudimentary beats, an overweening, out-of-control ego that thinks that fighter jets at a wedding are a good idea... The guy is a cast-iron idiot.

Best compilation

I mentioned The Clash below, and despite strong competition from a couple of Strut compilations
(Trevor Jackson's second stab at Metal Dance, and the Celluloid retrospective), the Clash's box set edges it, because it reminds you of what a great and diverse group they were, and how far they travelled sonically over 5 years, and also because it includes a number of tracks from Mick Jones' first pass at Combat Rock, Rat Patrol from Fort Bragg.  Yet again, Cut The Crap has been airbrushed from history, but as I've said once before about the same group, you can't have everything.

Best single

I've been listening a lot to Justin Timberlake's Take Back The Night, the greatest single Michael Jackson never made, but the best thing I heard this year was Eminem's Berzerk, an insanely catchy slice of old-school hip hop, produced by a returned-to-form Rick Rubin.  Like the best rock 'n' roll, and like the Def Jam singles of 1984 that seemingly inspired it, it makes you want to kick over a dustbin. Much of its energy comes courtesy of that buzz-saw guitar chord (from Billy Squier's The Stroke), but deft sampling and Mathers' wordplay make this the must-hear track of 2013.

Best album

Valiant efforts from Chvrches, James Blake, Vampire Weekend (a bit of a grower, that one), Savages, Jon Hopkins and Steve Mason, but I particularly enjoyed Jessy Lanza's debut. As long-term readers will know, I'm a sucker for females doing things with sequencers, and if you like Ladytron, Roisin Murphy or Marsheaux, there's a good chance you'll like Pull My Hair Back, Ms. Lanza's 2013 release.  On the mighty Hyperdub label, it's got enough going on to satisfy twitchy dub step-addicted short attention-span teens, but is smooth enough not to scare the horses and to ensure occasional mainstream radio play. You can even play it at dinner parties.  Recommended.

Most surprising TV

The trouble with American series, as I've told anyone who'll listen, is that they so rarely know when to bow out. Most writers pitch a story idea, with little sense of how the story is going to end, and as long as people are watching, and advertisers are paying money, they will usually keep churning out episodes. And so most long-running comedies and dramas end in the ignominy of cancellation, a shadow of their former glories, or tie up multiple loose ends in a wholly unsatisfying fashion (Lost, anyone?).  Breaking Bad, one of the few exceptions to this rulewas absolutely excellent, and we devoured the whole series at Irk Towers in just a few weeks. But Homeland, which I initially championed for its nuanced take on terrorism and patriotism, and then like many grew disillusioned with in its second series as it seemed to descend into one-dimensional US boosterism, returned to something close to its original form at the climax of its third series.  I wish they'd gone out on this high, but a fourth series is planned.  Whether they can maintain the standard of the final episodes without one of the series' major characters remains to be seen.

Over and out. See you in 2014.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Two Sevens' Clash

While we're wallowing in nostalgia for 1977, and generally acting like the fictional letter-writer in Not The Nine O'Clock News who would gladly sell his house and all its contents to help the BBC, a quick plug for a great show I enjoyed on Boxing Day, This Is Radio Clash, presented by the three surviving members of the group.  No one will be surprised by their inclusion of tracks by Junior Murvin or Grandmaster Flash, but I, for one, was taken aback by Mick's selection of a very recent Prefab Sprout tune.  The stories were good, the banter flowed and their imitation of Bernie Rhodes was welcome.  It's a shame there wasn't five minutes given over to celebrity osteopath Terry Chimes, but you can't have everything.  You can listen here for a limited time.  

Temple's Run

More churlish souls would probably be irritated at the way Julien Temple continually churns out Sex Pistols documentaries.  However, when the documentaries are as good as Never Mind the Baubles, the improbable tale of (what turned out to be) the Sex Pistols' final British gigs on Xmas Day in Huddersfield, the churls should pipe down.  The footage of the gigs themselves (one in the afternoon for the families of striking firemen, at which a gleeful Johnny Rotten cavorted with children to Boney M's Daddy Cool before handing out cake, followed by one in the evening) was limited, but it was given context by interviews with the surviving band members, and by contemporaneous footage of Britain in 1977, from Top of The Pops to TV ads for Smash, and from vox pops to political footage.  While this has all been done before (seemingly, no punk documentary is complete without image of overflowing bins in Leicester Square), it was the sheer diversity of the contextual material that really set Never Mind the Baubles apart, and which really does credit to the researchers and director. The rights-clearances alone must have taken an age.  The additional material showed Britain in the 1970s to be even stranger, even more brown and grey than I remember- the short clip of the man in the pub proudly placing a red hot poker into his pint of cloudy cider before noisily and messily slurping it down is now etched on my retinas.  You've got four more days to watch it on the iPlayer, though with luck, like most of these BBC4 docs, it'll come around again.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Frank in a Sense

And just in case you think the Stepkids (below) aren't festive enough, here's the late Chris Sievey aka Frank Sidebottom to get the party started. And please, this film can't come soon enough.

Gilles' Play

I may not have mentioned this, but chez Irk we have a Gilles-ometer, a device that we can hold next to the stereogram to ascertain the exact Gilles Peterson-ness of any given tune. Constructed using some oscillators and VU meters we found in a skip, connected to the finest plastic tubing, some 13 amp fuses, a metal colander and a stock of bargain-bin Young Disciples CDs, it's not pretty but it performs its job with considerable aplomb.  Holding it next to the speakers when, say, Metallica's Enter Sandman is playing, elicits nary a flicker.  Some gangster rap by the Geto Boys produces a little more movement on the needle, but not much. Not smooth enough, too many rough edges.  The more polished tones of French rapper MC Solaar finally brings the Gilles-ometer into life, as does anything on the Acid Jazz label, early dubstep and Fela Kuti.

Anyway, I mention this because earlier this year, we nearly broke the damn thing when we exposed it to James Blake's Retrograde.  The needles on the meters were pushing into the red, the device started to smoke and we thought with some satisfaction that we'd discovered the most Gilles Peterson-esque record ever, the one that took our homemade contraption up to 11.  That was until earlier this month, when a record we'd never heard before came out of our radio. Sounding like a mash-up of Prince, Everything Everything and Steely Dan, it was smooth, quirky, instantly catchy, and we held up the Gilles-ometer expectantly.  Sure enough, it immediately started peaking, its needles oscillating wildly*, and smoke began to pour from its roughly-hewn innards. Finally it combusted, and the pile of smoking ash and acrid burned plastic bears testament to what is definitively, officially the most Gilles Peterson-esque tune ever.  Here it is:

And just in case you think I'm merely being facetious, I happen to agree with the Gilles-ometer. It's ace. The video less so, but there's no arguing with the tune.

*apologies to Smiths fans.

Saturday, December 07, 2013

Beyond our Ken

On the occasion of the demise of Brit jazz legend Stan Tracey, here's a bizarre and revealing (at least in parts) interview he did a few years ago with the Right Hon Ken Clarke MP.