Thursday, March 29, 2007

2007: The First Quarter In Review. Part Two - February

So, it's now time to look at the month of February in our three-part mini-review of the year's album releases thus far.

After an understandably slow start to the year in January, February was the month that things started to really pick up in the BIG album release schedules. The most notable release this month was the 'difficult' second album from Bloc Party. A Weekend In The City was met with lukewarm reviews that were often a little unfairly harsh in tone. For me, this was the album that really solidified Bloc Party as one of, if not the best young band in Britain. It's ambitious, poignant, crunchy and frequently invigorating.

Most of the reviews tended to focus on the fact that Bloc Party were clearly trying too hard to make a different-sounding album than its predecessor, but who can blame them for wanting to branch out and show a little more initiative than their peers. A Weekend In The City is an excellent record that shows that a little bit of balls goes a long way, especially in the increasingly redundant and apathetic British indie-rock scene.

Bloc Party - Where Is Home? (mp3)

Speaking of which, Kaiser Chiefs chose this month to inflict the flat, listless Yours Truly, Angry Mob on the public. A Kaiser Chiefs fan I am not, but I have to admit that, prior to this record, they'd shown a canny way with pop hooks in singles such as 'Oh My God', 'Everyday I Love You Less And Less' and the ubiquitous 'I Predict A Riot', but it's clear after just one listen to the new album that they've got absolutely nothing to say.

This wouldn't be such a bad thing if they didn't actually purport to be some sort of mouthpiece for the common man. This contradiction is shockingly evident in the song, 'Everything Is Average Nowadays', in which the Kaisers take aim at the sheer level of complacency that we've settled for these days. The fact of the matter is that the song itself is completely indicative of the "Yeah, that's alright" mindset that they're trying to satirise. I'd like to think it's intentional but if there was one band who you can point the finger of blame at for the current state of British guitar music, it's Kaiser Chiefs. They've taken the template of a song that lives or dies on its chorus and made it into a production line ethos. For bands like The Kooks, The View or The Fratellis, it doesn't matter whether the verse is forgettable, as long as the chorus takes up residence in your brain and, for that, I blame Kaiser Chiefs.

Kaiser Chiefs - Everything Is Average Nowadays (mp3)

To call the release of a Deerhoof album a big event is overselling it somewhat, but for the small hardcore base of loyal fans they've built up over the last decade, each album is met with polite fervour. Always a hard band to pin down, Deerhoof often change tack with each record, but their latest, Friend Opportunity, expands on the ideas of its predecessor, The Runners Four and is yet another bracing, challenging play on standard pop form.

Apart from epic closer, 'Look Away', all the songs here clock in under the three-and-a-half minute mark and display the freshness and wonderment that we've come to expect from them. Deerhoof aren't built to write pop songs but that doesn't stop them trying and with songs like '+81', with its brilliant nonsense chorus, or the sweet, borderline twee 'Choco Fight', they've damn near managed it. Long may they struggle.

Deerhoof - Choco Fight (mp3)

February also saw the release of a handful of unexpectedly brilliant albums, either from artists who you'd already written off or those you hadn't heard of before. For instance, I didn't expect Busdriver's album, RoadKillOvercoat to grab me as hard as it did. His most accessible album to date, RoadKillOvercoat also manages to be his most tripped-out and psychedelic. Hooking up with producers Nobody and Boom Bip proved to be a masterstroke as the songs here are certainly the most outlandish the LA rapper has ever committed to tape.

From the lysergic, acid-soul of 'Secret Skin' or the new-wave-y 'Sun Showers' to the head-wrong party cut, 'Kill Your Employer' or slo-mo torch ballad, 'Dream Catcher's Mitt', there's not a bad song here. A record that should reach further than curious backpackers.

Busdriver - Secret Skin (mp3)

Tigersushi mainman, Joakim released his second solo album this month and it most certainly wasn't what people were expecting from him. In a good way, that is. Choosing to mostly eschew the restless dance-punk of lead-off single, 'I Wish You Were Gone', in favour of a dark, goth-y aesthetic for the main part, Monsters And Silly Songs is an album of dark majesty that, while it may take a few listens to get under your skin, rewards persistence in spades. Songs like 'Sleep In Hollow Tree' owe more to the likes of Bauhaus side-project Tones On Tail or Siouxsie & The Banshees' later work than it does to Liquid Liquid or ESG.

There are club tracks though, like the frantic 'Drumtrax' or the downbeat, but funky new romancer, 'Lonely Hearts', but its in the dark corners and shadows that Monsters And Silly Songs really excels.

Joakim - Everything Bright And Still (mp3)

One release that kind of disappeared under the radar for all but a few of us hardened garage rock enthusiasts was Black Lips' Los Valientes Del Mondo Nuevo. Recorded live in Tijuana last year, Los Valientes... perfectly conveys and embellishes on Black Lips' status as one of the most dangerous, exciting bands on the live circuit. Sure, some of the background sounds have been added in post to further dial up the blood-red ferocity of the band's live performances, but it's a trick that they pull off. Refusing to play it safe and always being ones to 'print the legend', Black Lips are to be commended for their commitment to mad, bad and dangerous to know garage punk.

Black Lips - Boone (mp3)



Of Montreal's eighth and arguably best studio album, Hissing Fauna, Are You The Destroyer? finally dropped in February after being leaked in its entirety back in September. By the time it was released, most people who wanted to hear it already had and had been given time to fully let this dense, multi-layered concept record sink in. On the surface, it's all psych-pop sheen, but the lyrics are sometimes intensely bleak (they speak of singer Kevin Barnes' breakdown in Norway after his marriage failed), thus giving the album a bi-polar edge that lends it a poignancy and a level of sonic schizophrenia that keeps bringing you back to it.

Catchy hooks and exotic arrangements aside, this is primarily a heartbreaking record that reaches a peak in the almost unbearably frenzied centrepiece, 'The Past Is A Grotesque Animal' - a twelve-minute drama that repeats its melody throughout, forcing you to listen to Barnes' lyrical meltdown. An astonishing achievement from a band working at the top of their game.

Of Montreal - Bunny Ain't No Kind Of Rider (mp3)

We'll do March over the weekend,


Labels: , , , ,


Hey all you Manchester-based blogsters! We're having one of our occasional blogmeets on Saturday 7th April at The Hare & Hounds on Shudehill, so come one, come all. Hey, you don't need to be someone who writes a blog to show up as we also allow any kind of transient to drink with us. The Manchizzle is also doing her best to drum up support (she was even as kind as to say that I'm 'organising' it, when all I really did was come up with a venue and a time), so come along and we'll all get to know each other, share tips on blogging, glare at each other from across the table and slag each other off in the toilets.

Only kidding! Past blogmeets have been friendly affairs and often devolved into a "No, your blog's the best!"-style backslap. Make mine a Joey Holt's!

See you there!


Labels: , ,

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

2007: The First Quarter In Review. Part One - January

Okay so the title might actually give the intention away somewhat, but let me give you some reasons as to why I'm doing this.

So far, 2007 has been an eventful year for music. If you view the passing of time in discrete yearly chunks that is. The music blogger's prerogative is to view the start of each year as a clean slate; to put the old year to bed with some lists that serve only to denigrate music by measuring it up against itself, therefore turning making music into some kind of contest. This cheapens both the music and the artists, but we do it anyway, because we're sad, lonely and ever so fucking anal. We also figure that if we throw the reader a bone or two in the form of mp3s, then maybe, just maybe, they'll want to know our reasoning behind why we like the new album by Modest Mouse more than we like Arcade Fire's new effort. So we're kidding ourselves and we're underestimating you.

Also, in our roles as bloggers, we subject ourselves to more music than we can compute. The incessant list-making therefore is a tool to help our brains remember which of those many records we actually liked and which ones we thought sucked. This helps absolutely no-one, but I guess they make for some kind of entertainment. I know I enjoy making them, as some of you would have guessed. Really though, if I hadn't done lists of my favourite songs and albums of the year in December, would anyone have been disappointed? The answer is that I don't know. I know that it gives me enjoyment and, I guess that, due to the response I got from them, quite a few of you guys enjoyed them too.

It's with this in mind that I present to you a brief rundown of albums I've liked, albums I haven't liked and albums I've listened to once and have no desire to ever hear again from the first three months of the year, with added commentary and, of course, free mp3s. It's more of an overview than a crummy old list though. I'm starting with January because that's as good a place to start as any.

Slow to start as always, January offered very little in the way of jaw-dropping releases. One thing we did get though, were a few high-profile (for the indie world, at least) disappointments. Probably the biggest of these was Clap Your Hands Say Yeah's second album, Some Loud Thunder. Before I begin to pick at its faults, let me make it clear that I don't think it's a bad album, far from it, it just wasn't anywhere near as good as the first. First of all, the opening title track, buried under a morass of fuzz and red-lining harder than Raw Power, seemed a strange move. It alienated people from the word go and also, it just didn't seem right to ugly up such a pretty, sweet melody with all that harshness. The more you listen to 'Some Loud Thunder', the more you 'get' it, but CYHSY really shouldn't have bothered trying to make it so hard for people to like.

The bloody-minded awkwardness didn't stop there either. Two songs that have been doing the rounds for a while in their live sets were conspicuous by their absence. The omission of 'Cigarettes' and 'Me & You Watson' threw the ineffectuality and inassuming nature of songs like 'Arm & Hammer' and 'Five Easy Pieces' into stark relief. Also, if someone can explain the point of the short instrumental interludes here, there's a fiver in it for you.

Like I said though, Some Loud Thunder is far from a huge disaster. 'Satan Said Dance' is a funky, nervy delight that David Byrne would have been proud of, while 'Underwater (You And Me)' is quite possibly the sweetest thing they've recorded in their short career. However, with repeated listens, the problems with Some Loud Thunder become harder to gloss over. I guess that's what the skip button's for, but I'd rather not have to resort to that.

Clap Your Hands Say Yeah - Underwater (You And Me) (mp3)

Damon Albarn's new side-project, The Good, The Bad & The Queen released an album in January to a pretty favourable critical reaction. This surprised me because, personally, it bored me to tears. A dreary, beige dirge-fest which served only to highlight Albarn's ever-growing ego, it was a complete missed opportunity. Fancy having a bassist as lithe and rhythmic as Paul Simonon or a percussion god like Tony Allen at your disposal and not using them! Damon's passionless, droney vocals were pushed to the fore on every track, each of them lyrically concerned with how shit Britain is. Well, Damon, maybe you're right, but would it kill you to find some humour or some light in the drudgery? Go back to making decent pop music with Gorillaz, please.

The Good, The Bad & The Queen - '80s Life (mp3)

The Shins finally got around to releasing a follow-up to the peerless Chutes Too Narrow in January. Entitled Wincing The Night Away, it just wasn't the great pop record that we know they're capable of. They occasionally hit the heights of old on the breezy likes of 'Australia', 'Turn On Me' and the single, 'Phantom Limb', but too often the songs tend to meander aimlessly. Some of the band's effervescent zip was gone and thus, Wincing The Night Away was a bit of a disappointment.

The Shins - Australia (mp3)

January wasn't all doom and gloom though. In fact, in the very first week of the month, we were treated to Candylion, the second solo album by Super Furry Animals frontman, Gruff Rhys. Folk-tinged pop music was the order of the day and this is a man who can knock out a good pop song or two in his sleep. There are still traces of the psychedelia he plies in his day job, but Candylion is an altogether softer beast. Even when the percussion is borderline furious, as in 'Lonesome Words', Rhys' lilting voice and finger-plucked acoustic give the whole album a deliciously floaty air. Also, in the twee-but-not-sickeningly-so title track, the driving, in more than one sense, 'Gyrru, Gyrru, Gyrru' and the groovy sprawl of closing track, 'Skylon!' he produced three songs that were better than anything on the last SFA album. Not just a vanity project then.

Gruff Rhys - The Court Of King Arthur (mp3)

Elsewhere, two of Britain's bright young things threw out thoroughly decent debuts. Whether Klaxons's debut Myths Of The Near Future (full review here) was actually any cop was rendered irrelevant by the relentless hype and backlash that surrounded its release. Therefore, most people who wanted to like it did and those who wanted to see them fall on their arse hated it. Personally, I think its a debut that shows more promise than it actually delivers on, but they're definitely a band moving in the right direction and, despite what the band and the press try to tell us, they're not rave, nu or old.

Klaxons - Two Receivers (mp3)

Wimbledon's own Jamie T offered forth his debut in the month of January too and it was a bullish, confident, slightly messy, often brilliant record. Panic Prevention, once you get past Jamie's marble-mouthed delivery is a largely enjoyable listen and one that marks his card both as a shrewd chronicler of everyday British life in the vein of Mike Skinner before he lost it and a canny writer of hummable, joyous pop tunes. Its release kind of came and went without much fanfare but you'll be doing yourself a disservice if you didn't give it at least a cursory listen.

Jamie T - Brand New Bass Guitar (mp3)



Sunderland's Field Music are one of those bands who you think should be bigger and more respected than they actually are. Tones Of Town is their second album of perfectly realised, immaculately constructed pop songs. Taking the stop-start rhythms of the British post-punkers and melding it to beautiful soft-pop melodies, they make music that hits on both an immediate level and a more cerebral, architectural level. The way that Field Music's songs are fashioned is meticulous, not a sound or a note is out of place, but they're never dry or overly tricksy. Above all else, Tones Of Town is eleven catchy songs, but its the intricacy of the arrangements and the care and attention on display that keeps you coming back for more.

Field Music - Working To Work (mp3)

Tomorrow, it's February's turn to be assessed with a cold, methodical eye. Stay tuned.


Labels: , , , ,

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Yer Mam!'s radio rocks!

Not a lot to report today, really. No single of the week as they're a load of shite. Seriously, not one decent song among them. Actually, there are a few, namely the new Kings Of Leon, the Mindless Boogie 12" of re-edits and Chin Chin's 'Toot D'Amore' with added Prins Thomas mikses, but nothing that I thought merited the coveted title.

Anyway, just wanted to let you know that if you want to put a voice to the blog, I recorded a guest spot, via telephone on this week's Blog Fresh Radio show. I'm the one wittering away about The Field around 36 minutes in. Just click through on the link, download the show and listen to my ill-informed chatter. Quite a few other bloggers have contributed and, I must say, that they all, to a man, knock my spot into a hatted cock. Also, I must mention that I adopted the talking style of a roughneck Manc gangster when I recorded it. I don't always sound like I eat gravel for breakfast. Or maybe I do?



P.S. Read some single reviews I did for High Voltage, if you so wish. Calvin Harris and Viking Moses! both get tore a new one, while Brakes get the 'meh' treatment.

Labels: , ,

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Mixtape, sir? IV: Flogging a dead horse.

It's the last one in this series of mixtapes, people. Hope you've enjoyed them!


  1. Afra & Incredible Beatbox Band feat. Takkyu Ishino & Shinco - Mouth Music (Maurice Fulton Remix) (The artist and title alone are a mouthful, but this is the kind of weird, funky stuff that you've never heard before. The first three minutes or so is mostly just cut-up human beatboxing before Fulton cuts in with his percussive late-night funk style. Immense.)
  2. Stereotyp - Keepin' Me (Fauna Flash Remix) (Fauna Flash forgo the d'n'b of old to give us a deeper than deep house rework of Stereotyp's dark soul cut. One of my favourite tunes of the last few months.)
  3. Tomboy - Murky Jerky (Space disco weirdness from the hard-to-pin-down Thomas Barfod. His new album, Serios, on Gomma is equally un-pigeonholeable. It makes you make words up, it's that all-over-the-place!)
  4. El-P - Habeas Corpses (Draconian Love) (feat. Cage) (El-P's new album, I'll Sleep When You're Dead is as deliciously dark as you'd expect from him. This story of El-P's prison ship guard character falling in love with one of the inmates is probably one of the record's more lighter moments, but it's still full of pitch-black humour.)
  5. A Sunny Day In Glasgow - Lists, Plans (My Bloody Valentine may never get around to making that third album, but A Sunny Day In Glasgow have picked up the baton and run with it anyway. 'Lists, Plans' has all the murky majesty of MBV and is subliminally funky with it.)
  6. Panda Bear - Take Pills (A highlight from an album of highlights, 'Take Pills' is also probably Person Pitch's most accessible moment, if you can even call it that without the world inverting in on itself.)
  7. Basia Bulat - I Was A Daughter (Highly energetic folk-rock from this up-and-comer who I'll admit I know very little about. I know I like this though.)
  8. Lavender Diamond - Open Your Heart (Fleet-footed pop rollick from the forthcoming, Imagine Our Love. This is going to soundtrack my summer, I think.)
  9. Maximo Park - By The Monument (Wonderfully dramatic indie-pop from one of the most surprisingly good albums of the year thus far. If they aren't absoutely massive by the end of 2007, there's no justice.)
  10. The Horrors - She Is The New Thing (Unfairly rounded-on by certain critics and fans alike, The Horrors make gloriously pantomimic goth-rock, designed to scare parents and who really does that anymore, really? I, for one, think they should be applauded for this and this only.)
  11. LCD Soundsystem - Time To Get Away (One of Sound Of Silver's more unsung heroes, 'Time To Get Away' is probably the closest LCD have come to a straight-up funk track. Great live, too.)
  12. The Delicate Genius - Tongue Tied (Actually, this is a skewiff, fragile re-edit of Blondie's original demo version of 'Heart Of Glass'. Charmingly under-nourished, but loosely groovy with it.)
  13. Reverso 68 - Especial (More effortlessly great Balearic disco from Pete and Phil. I dare you not to dance to this when it comes on.)
  14. Joe Smooth - Promised Land (Reason to hate Paul Weller #125: The Style Council's bloodless cover of this effectively kyboshed Smooth's chance of making his original a chart hit. What. A. Twat.)
  15. Kotey Extra Band feat. Chas Jankel - Sooner Or Later (Faultless, freewheeling organic disco from the Blockhead and the Bear Entertainment mainman. Leaves Moroder's original in the dust.)
  16. J.J. Cale - After Midnight (The perfect post-club comedown tune. Full stop.)
Yer Mam!'s 10p Mix-Up Volume Four (Disc Two) Ripped, Zipped and Sent Into Space



Labels: ,

Saturday, March 24, 2007

In all you see a woman...

Holy shit! I don't normally do this kind of snap decision blogging, I usually like to let an album sink in first before I write something about it, but after hearing Kathy Diamond's debut, Miss Diamond To You for the first time yesterday, I know, I just know that this is destined to be one of my favourite albums of 2007.

The whole album feels like it was made just for me, in that it takes everything that I like about disco, soul, electronic music and what have you and distils it into a heady, hour-long funk brew that's sexy, multi-textured and deeper than the Marianas Trench. Produced by Maurice Fulton, it may be the best thing he's ever turned his hand to. There was a fair amount of anticipation of this release in certain areas of the underground dance music world, after the two 12"s that Diamond has put out on Permanent Vacation - last year's superb 'All Woman' and the recent funk bomb that is 'Over' - and Diamond and Fulton don't disappoint. On the contrary, with Miss Diamond To You, they've completely surpassed my own expectations and then some.

Opening with 'Between The Lines' - a track that's not unlike Grace Jones' 'Nipple To The Bottle' slowed down and filtered through a thick haze of marijuana smoke - before hitting an early highlight with the aforementioned 'All Woman', Miss Diamond To You sets out its distinctive template on the first couple of tracks. This is top-notch disco-soul with enough of its own idiosyncracies to distinguish itself from other music of its ilk. Every track hits and kicks like a mule and I guarantee that anyone with a pulse who likes their music with a groove is going to find something to like here and most of them will not be able to listen without screwing their face up and grinning from ear-to-ear. Sound Of Silver has some competition for album of the year. You haven't heard the last from me on this one.

Kathy Diamond - The Moment (mp3)

Labels: , ,

Mixtape, sir? III: Don't stop the music.

Another load of great tunes and another of my favourite Achewoods.


  1. James Yorkston - Woozy With Cider (Dusty Cabinets Remix) (Yorkston's mesmerising monologue, now set to Orb-y ambience. Very nice.)
  2. Bebel Gilberto - Bring Back The Love (Prins Thomas Miks) (One for the early hours this one. Dusky, smoky, jazzy disco meltdown from one of the most in-form men in dance music at the moment.)
  3. Roxy Music - The Main Thing (Rub 'n' Tug's Proton Saga) (The Roxy remixes thus far have been a little on the hit and miss side. This one, from the reliably excellent Rub 'n' Tug, thankfully falls into the former camp. Gotta love those big ol' pianos.)
  4. Timmy Regisford - Get Deep (Well, I say that it's Regisford, but because it's a bootleg, he's never actually formally said that it was him. Anyway, it's Roland Clark's classic 'I Get Deep' vocal, set to chunks of 'E2-E4' and Carl Craig's 'Sandstorm'. Totally addictive.)
  5. Basement Jaxx - Make Me Sweat ("R-O-X-A-N-N-E to the S-H-A-N-T-E" on the vocals as the Jaxx return to the sex-electro-funk that they used to do so well. CSS and Spank Rock, this is how you do it! Why was this not on the album though?)
  6. Two Lone Swordsmen - Wrong Meeting (Slinky electro-rockabilly, though nowhere near as ridiculous as that sounds, from Tenniswood and Wetherall's new album of the same name. Spooky, echoey chants in this one too, which is always a good thing.)
  7. Sly Mongoose - Bad Pulse (Padded Cell have just done a pretty neat remix of this but I still prefer the original from Japan's premier disco-funkers.)
  8. The Aliens - Rox (Okay, so it's basically just a slowed-down version of 'Robot Man', but The Aliens bring some welcome Balearic vibes to their overflowing schizo stew here. Think Primal Scream's 'Come Together', performed by sugar-addled mental patients.)
  9. Funkadelic - I'll Stay (I don't think I need to justify this choice. Primo cosmic funk from George Clinton and the gang.)
  10. Kathy Diamond - Over (Vocal) (A masterclass in sweaty anticipation that never quite delivers the release that some may demand of it. This just makes it all the more headily sexy, if you ask me. Wait until you hear the album, too. It'll make your fucking head spin.)
  11. Kongas - Anikana-o (Superlative afro-disco-funk. The sound of two separate carnivals having a big drum-off. Whistles and percussion aplenty.)
Yer Mam!'s 10p Mix-Up Volume Four (Disc One) Ripped, Zipped and Sent Into Space

One more to go too!


Labels: ,

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Solid good times.

Just taking a little break from all this mixtape nonsense...

When you're navigating the blog minefield these days, you tend to come across thousands of different blogs all hyping the same things. Right now, it's all Panda Bear this, Modest Mouse that, LCD Soundsystem the other and while I'm aware that I do this kind of thing myself every now and then (only when the record deserves it though), I'm going to try to make a concerted effort to give blog space to records that haven't been under the blog microscope (blogroscope?) as much as they probably should have.

Swedish duo, Dan Lissvik and Rasmus Haag, aka Studio, have finally got around to releasing an album on CD after five or so years of sporadic 12s and 7s, not forgetting last year's vinyl-only album, West Coast - an album whose omission from my end-of-year top 50 still wakes me up in the night covered in terror sweat. The resulting CD, entitled Yearbook 1 is both an expansion on the ideas laid down on West Coast and a sonic leap forward.

Yearbook 1 is certainly a tough cookie to pin down, in that it leaps between genres with youthful abandon and touches on some very of-the-moment, fashionable sounds whilst dipping into musical waters that haven't been traversed in quite some time. For instance, there's 'Life's A Beach!' which bubbles along on a kind of extended space-disco vibe for a languid, but totally justified twelve minutes and forty-seven seconds, but Studio also serve up the likes of 'No Comply' and 'Self Service (Short Version)', both of which, with their combination of laddish vocals and laidback groove could almost be - dare I say it - baggy. In fact, the pan-pipes in the former could be misconstrued as a call-back to Flowered Up's second summer of love wannabe anthem, 'It's On'.

Unwanted mental images of Barry Mooncult aside, Yearbook 1 is a fine album indeed. It's bright, bold, colourful and, crucially, accessible. I know that some purists may find this to be a bit of a crude way of assessing an album's worth, but its been a mainstay on my mp3 player since January, while other, more hyped but less fulfilling albums have come and gone (I'm talking to you, Neon Bible!). One thing I won't be doing though, is forgetting about this one come December.

Studio - No Comply (mp3)

The kind of music that Alex Delivery make is not the sort meant for widespread consumption, but after hearing their debut album, Star Destroyer I'm glad that there are still bands out there that are wholeheartedly committed to being adventurous. While the album isn't exactly groundbreaking or thoroughly new, it's certainly a bit of a diversion from the usual fare and also quite different from anything else released on Jagjaguwar lately.

Equally in thrall to pioneers such as Can or The Boredoms as they are to harmonious, multi-layered modern indie rock acts such as Broken Social Scene, they pile layer on layer of backwash and noise atop a solid foundation of melodic, almost-pop arrangement. Then they jam the fuck out of it until it reaches breaking point.

This is most evident on Star Destroyer's two most audacious pieces. Both clocking in at over ten minutes, the opening 'Komad' and late-album wig-out, 'Sheath-Wet' are blistering pieces of aurally-exciting, yet emotionally engaging noise-pop. Monoliths that threaten to overshadow the rest of the album, but to say that they do would be unfair to the other five songs assembled here, as Star Destroyer ultimately hangs together as a wonderfully cogent, pleasingly obfuscated whole that rewards more and more with repeat listens. If you like your music a little left-of-centre, only not too out-there, then don't sleep on this one.

Alex Delivery - Sheath-Wet (mp3)

Have I ever steered you wrong before? Actually, don't answer that.


Labels: , ,

Mixtape, sir? II: This time, it's personal!


Time for more of the same. Still not installed Photoshop, so you'll have to make do with my favourite Achewood.


  1. Studio - Out There (The dictionary definition of epic. This lasts fifteen minutes, starting out like a hyperactive dance-pop instrumental before swerving off the road into Lindstrom-esque cosmic disco territory and taking a turn down reggae-lite lane on the way to its blissed-out climax. That the energy levels never drop for the whole duration is a feat that demands you take your hat off to them. Go on! At least tip it, then!)
  2. Kraak & Smaak - No Sun In The Sky (Henrik Schwarz Remix) (The Dutch trio with one of the worst names in dance music history get royally done over by the venerable Mr Schwarz. He takes the track on a deep, acid-y trip that'll make your brain turn itself inside out and cave your chest in. For reals!)
  3. Josh One - Contemplation (King Britt Funke Remix) (Hypnotic old groover that used to be an Electric Chair standard back in the day. You don't hear enough from King Britt these days. Maybe he's trying to get Digable Planets back together?)
  4. Gabriel Ananda - Egge (So Ananda finally gets around to releasing a proper artist album and it's as lush as you'd expect it to be, but with just as much an ear for the dancefloor as some of his remix work. Think Ananda's remix of Marco Bailey's 'Bollocks' and you're on the right track with this tasty little builder.)
  5. Paperclip People - Throw (In honour of LCD Soundsystem's blistering set at the Manchester Academy 1 the other week and also of Carl Craig's services to techno music. We salute you both!)
  6. The Field - The Little Heart Beats So Fast (One of the more driving, danceable tracks from From Here We Go Sublime, 'The Little Heart Beats So Fast' is a thrilling, insistent rush of a tune. Fun, fun stuff.)
  7. David Bowie - Fascination (Didn't see this one coming did you? The reissue of Young Americans gives us a chance to reassess this much-overlooked Bowie mid-period classic for the blue-eyed soul blinder that it is. 'Fascination' is pure sex-funk, dripping in sweat and guaranteed to make you feel more suggestible.)
  8. Chaka Khan - Fate (Tynneterje Edit) (A.K.A. the song that Bangalter ripped for 'Music Sounds Better With You', here stretched and bent into shape for optimum dancefloor efficiency by the man named Todd.)
  9. Justus Kohncke - Elan (Prins Thomas Version) (Those strings! OH MY GOD, THOSE STRINGS!!!)
Yer Mam!'s 10p Mix-Up Volume Three (Disc Two) Ripped, Zipped and Sent Into Space

More over the weekend, chaps and chapettes,


Labels: ,

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Mixtape, sir?

It's been a while since the last one, but you can look forward to a few more over the course of the week. Christ, I'm good to you! Anyways, tip-top stuff for you this time around, so get your d/l on.

N.B.: I've got a new laptop and haven't got around to installing Photoshop yet, so you'll have to make do with this pic that you've all probably already seen.


  1. Trusme - Nard's (Addictive re-edit from Manchester via Chicago's Still Music label, this has been slaying all the right dancefloors for the last couple of months now and it's easy to see why. Starting out all deliberate and menacing before transforming into an ecstatic groove just before the three minute mark, it's utterly orgasmic.)
  2. Jimmy 'Bo' Horne - Is It In? (Oo-er missus! Pure disco double entendre from the T.K. stable, this is all handclaps, driving bass and a barnstorming vocal from Mr. Horne.)
  3. Freda Payne - You Brought The Joy (And now for a Northern Soul bomb. Payne sings the fuck out of the song as usual while the clipped funk guitar, insistent drums and dramatic strings provide a more than suitable backing. Excellent stuff.)
  4. Mary Weiss With The Reigning Sound - Stop & Think It Over (The ex-Shangri-Las singer is sounding a little more grizzled these days than she did in 1964, but that means that her gruff, tough delivery is perfect for this cover of the Compulsive Gamblers' lost classic.)
  5. Feist - Sea Lion Woman (One of the highlights of Feist's patchy new album, The Reminder, 'Sea Lion Woman' is one big happy-clappy slice of gospel-funk. If anyone else in the indie world tried this, it would sound awful, but Leslie's gorgeous voice is what makes it fly.)
  6. Kings Of Leon - My Party (Kings Of Leon continue on their learning curve with new album, Because Of The Times and while it isn't as good as Aha Shake Heartbreak, it definitely cements their status as one of the most interesting and talented bands to come out of the garage rock boom of the early 00s. 'My Party' is one of many fine cuts from the newie and it's a rugged, slyly groovy nugget.)
  7. Voxtrot - Kid Gloves ("Cheer me up, cheer me up, I'm a miserable fuck" - an early contender for couplet of the year.)
  8. Grinderman - Love Bomb (Played this at work the other day and it visibly offended some people. That's enough for me to like a song.)
  9. My Sister Klaus - Electric Hindu (Brilliant ersatz acid-rock from Guillaume Teyssier. The Chateau Rouge album, as I've already said on these pages, is the first real big surprise of 2007.)
  10. Electrelane - Tram 21 (Chugging, farfisa-led instrumental (if you discount the "ah-ah"'s that is) from the excellent new album, No Shouts, No Calls. You've got to love an album where one of the instrumentals is a highlight.)
  11. Kalabrese - Not The Same Shoes (feat. Kate Wax) (Sizzling minimal tech-funk that's about as sexy as this sort of music gets. The devil is in the details though; a cowbell rap here, a conga slap there, bursts of horns. Stirs my manhood anyway.)
  12. Tracey Thorn - Get Around To It (Thorn's new solo record, Out Of The Woods is a little like Lindsay Bluth's "hot ham water", in that you know there's nutrition to be had somewhere, you just have to wade through the slop to get to it. This Ewan Pearson-produced cover of the Arthur Russell gem is one of the more nutritious cuts. Good to hear The Rapture's Gabe Andruzzi on the sax too.)
  13. Cortney Tidwell - Don't Let The Stars Keep Us Tangled (Ewan Pearson Objects In Space Remix) (More from the tousle-headed uber-producer here as he takes on Tidwell's bewitching roots and turns it into a spectral electro-house workout. One for the end of the night.)
  14. Ost & Kjex - Milano Model (A Thrilling Mungophony In Two Parts) (Mungolian Jet Set turn in one of the most hilarious and surprising remixes I've heard in a long while here. It really is in two parts too, the first being a kind of head-wrong gypsy-funk/mouth music mash-up, while the second takes on a more conventional disco-funk edge. Has to be heard to be believed.)
Yer Mam!'s 10p Mix-Up Volume Three (Disc One) Ripped, Zipped and Sent Into Space

More tomorrow, cowboys and cowgirls,


Labels: ,

Monday, March 19, 2007

I'm not a man, I am a machine.

Hey gang!

Let's rush this post through before the Man United V Middlesborough FA Cup quarter-final replay, shall we? First up, it's single of the week time. Bit of a dry week for singles (good one for albums though, with newies from Modest Mouse, Ted Leo, The Aliens and Panda Bear) and it was a toss-up between the new Bebel Gilberto remix 12" - with two re-works each from Prins Thomas and Mungolian Jet Set - and the winner. Which is...


Maximo Park - Our Velocity (Warp)

It's the return of everyone's second favourite geordie rockers (after Lindisfarne), Maximo Park, and what a return it is. Refreshingly energised, but without feeling anywhere near as artificially artful as anything off the first album, it's a good taster for the surprisingly excellent Our Earthly Pleasures album. It's not the best though, just wait until you hear 'By The Monument' and 'Karaoke Plays'. About as good as commercially-skewed britrock gets these days.

Elsewhere, Fran Donnelly has written an intriguing live review of Friendly Fires for The Console. Haven't really heard much about them before this, but the embedded video of their cover of 'Your Love' is fantastic. Not as good as the original though...

Frankie Knuckles & Jamie Principle - Your Love (mp3)

Talking In Stereo have an excellent Beppe Loda video for all the beardies out there and The Ledge from The Indie Credential doesn't like R.E.M.'s New Adventures In Hi-Fi and he's not afraid to tell everyone about it.

And, um, that's about it for now.



Labels: , , , , ,

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Your fingers in the cookie jar

Just a couple of things to go over tonight really, so I won't keep you long.

First up, apologies for not updating much lately. That's something that I don't say a lot so feel privileged. I guess there hasn't been much I've heard lately that's made me think, "I've got to write something about this right now". Pretty much all the new stuff that I've heard lately has brought forth a resigned "meh". Except for that Stooges album but that was for all the wrong reasons. Christ, it's bad! How the hell did they manage to shit on such a fine legacy from such a huge height in one fell swoop? It's been on the cards for best part of a couple of decades but Iggy has now, officially, lost it completely.

Also, as some of you will know, I've got a few other irons in the fire as of late, with my new blog and writing bits and bobs for other people, yada yada yada. My dog ate it. I can't do P.E. today because I've forgot my kit. It's not you, it's me.

Anyway, I'd like to take some time to revisit an old obsession, one that will be very familiar to regular readers...

Yep, it's been a while since I've had an excuse to write about Robyn on these pages, but with the pending UK release of her eponymous album (originally released just about everywhere else in 2005), complete with some new-ish bells and whistles, I thought it might have been time to re-appraise THE best pop album of the 21st century thus far.

First of all, what's different? Well, Robyn's seen fit to inject new life into the album by mucking about with the sequencing, re-recording a few tracks and throwing in some tracks that weren't on the original, but won't be new to hardened Robyn obsessives. So we get the inclusion of the superb, 'With Every Heartbeat' and her cover of Teddybears STHLM's 'Cobrastyle', new, digitised versions of 'Bum Like You' and 'Robotboy' and 'Konichiwa Bitches' coming charging like a bull out the gate as the first track proper.

The changes don't take any of the shine of the album, but they're not always totally successful. For instance, 'Cobrastyle', as fun as it is to hear Robyn spitting patois, feels a little incongruous and a little too much like a b-side (which it was originally anyway). The inclusion of 'With Every Heartbeat' is welcome though, especially coming as it does hard on the heels of the superlative, 'Be Mine!'. By the end of 'With Every Heartbeat' you feel like you've really been put through it. I know it's just pop music, but those two songs, one after the other is pretty much as heartbreaking as it gets.

On the newly beat-driven versions of 'Bum Like You' and 'Robotboy', I agree with Perpetua. 'Robotboy' is actually improved by its digital makeover but 'Bum Like You' loses a little in transition. Sure, you could probably slip it into a DJ set now, but the original was a masterclass in stripped-down pop balladry, all vulnerable/tough and witty with it. The new mix seems a little too glossy in comparison.

Also, my main gripe is that 'Konichiwa Bitches' is not as good an opener as 'Who's That Girl?'. Both are brilliant statements of intent, but 'Who's That Girl?' better sums up the album's main themes of contradiction, desperation and strength of will in a way that 'Konichiwa Bitches' just doesn't. That song is great, don't get me wrong, but it feels a touch clownish when compared to the rest of the assembled tracks here. It's basically Robyn's attempt at writing an outrageously braggadocious hip-hop track. She nails it, no doubt, but it feels a little too much like a pastiche next to the stark honesty and candour found elsewhere.

Maybe I'm over-analysing things (someone has to) and, essentially, it's still the same album I fell in love with eighteen months ago, but the maxim of if it ain't broke, don't fix it, most definitely rings true with this one.

Compare and contrast:- Robyn - Bum Like You (original) (mp3)
Robyn - Bum Like You (new version) (mp3)

In other news...

OMG! New DFA radio mixes! Go git 'em!

Perpetua again, the bastard has only gone and nailed everything that I was thinking about LCD Soundsystem's 'Someone Great' before I had a chance to. Swine! Although, isn't the lyric, "There shouldn't be this reign of silence"? That's what I hear anyway.

Not music-related, but I've been really getting into online comic strip Achewood lately. So should you. Start from the beginning and work your way forward though or you won't have a clue what's going on.



Labels: , , , ,

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Hey now!

Hi all!

Just a quick one tonight. First up, this week's Single Of The Week. And it's a dead heat!


Ost & Kjex - Milano Model Remixes (Dialect)/Justus Kohncke Vs. Prins Thomas EP (Kompakt)

Two superb remix packages this week, the first of which comes from eccentric Norwegians, Ost & Kjex. Their tune, 'Milano Model', from last year's Songs About Cheese And Revolutionary Tarts EP gets a squiggly electro-funk do-over from Rob Mello, but it's the Mungolian Jet Set remix that is the real draw here. Dubbed 'A Thrilling Mungophony In Two Parts', what MJS do is cover the track, first in an indigenous, mouth music style with added klezmers before taking a bouncy, joyfully sloppy discoid excursion. Thrilling it most definitely is.

Tied for the title this week is Prins Thomas' double take on two of Justus' best tunes, 'Elan' and 'Advance'. Both tracks continue the good runs that both Thomas and Kompakt are on at the moment. Excellent stuff.

Anyhoo, I've been busy setting up my new TV blog and it's now up and ready to view...

No Flipping!

A sturdy pat on the back for the first person to get the reference.



Labels: , , , , ,

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Dancing about architecture.

Sometimes you go to a gig that throws the folly of writing about music into stark relief. I got home from LCD Soundsystem's gig at Manchester Academy last night, completely pumped and wanting to get my review down on page, but what do you say? What can you possibly say to convey the purely visceral (shudder - I hate that word but it's totally applicable here) nature of a LCD Soundsystem live show. I went, danced my skinny, whiter-than-white arse off for almost an hour and a half, soaked my clothes through with sweat and thoroughly enjoyed myself, but beyond recommending people who haven't yet witnessed the LCD live to catch them as soon as is humanly possible, what the fuck else do you write?

I was debating with a friend recently about the pointlessness of live reviews. I can understand why people enjoy reading them and, occasionally, I enjoy writing them but, as opposed to a record review where you can actually get the record, listen to it and decide whether you agree with the writer of the review that you read or whether they were full of shit, unless you were actually at the gig that you're reading a review of (or you're some kind of time-travelling pedant), there's little to no interaction between writer and reader. You might as well just piss in the wind. Or post your shopping list.

Anyway, live reviews are inherently impotent. They're the written equivalent of saying, "I guess you had to be there", and that just winds up being a fruitless endeavour. I could say that, as always, LCD Soundsystem completely fucking rocked it, from start to finish and pitch in with the odd little minor detail that was unique to last night's gig, like the power going out onstage before 'New York, I Love You...', or drummer, Pat Mahoney's "mannequin shorts", but what would be the point, other than it being a kind of personal document, something for me to remember the night?

So yeah, I guess this is me saying that I'm done with live reviews. Knowing my tendencies towards hypocrisy, this is something that I'll probably go back on sometime in the future, hoping that you guys forget I ever said it. In fact, I know that there's at least two live reviews I'm going to have to write in the not-too-distant future, so there goes that promise. Felt good to get it off my chest though.

Video of LCD Soundsystem playing 'North American Scum' at Cargo in London last week.

Labels: , , ,

Friday, March 09, 2007

If I take plain rice, I'll pay double price.

The Internet hype machine being what it is these days, it's hard not to approach an album with any preconceived notions of what lies within. As soon as an album is sent out it's leaked. Then come the 'net seekers, spouting forth a mixture of praise, invective and pointed, pointless fence-sitting (no-one cares whether you haven't decided whether you like the new Wilco record yet, douchebag!), dependent on their viewpoint. Opinions becoming more and more like arseholes with every passing day, random, barely-formed thoughts are posted on message boards and blogs about a record before the band have even received their own copies.

It's refreshing then to come to an album with absolutely no idea of what to expect. There's no hype, no hive-mind consensus that you should avoid it like the plague or you need to hear it because it will enrich your life and that's what happened to me with the debut album by My Sister Klaus. So, let me introduce you to them, thus negating everything I've just said. Okay, before this blog eats itself, let the hyperbole begin.

My Sister Klaus is, ostensibly the work of just one man, Parisian Guillaume Teyssier. His debut album, Chateau Rouge, produced by Joakim and due to drop soon on Tigersushi is an excellent record that manages to be both achingly hip and staggeringly unfashionable (as if I know about these kind of things) at the same time. Taking in pretty much every influential rock music subgenre between 1965 and 1985, it's a style-hopping wild ride that ultimately and thankfully holds together as a cohesive entity.

On My Sister Klaus' MySpace, Teyssier lists his influences as including Blind Willie McTell, The Velvet Underground, The Ronettes, The Cramps, Johnny Kidd & The Pirates and Wire and, for once, he makes good on most of them. For instance, 'Stereo Eyes' is pure late period VU, while 'She Shines' has the swing of early rock 'n' roll and could easily pass for The Pirates.

Elsewhere there are touches of the late-70s/early-80s French synth wave movement (check out last year's superb compilation, BIPPP on Born Bad Records) on the title track, flashes of tense, uptight, '77-era Talking Heads new wave on 'Privateer' (a kindred spirit of 'Psycho Killer') and blasts of primal, Stooges-y garage rock on 'Kicks Of Sand'. Teyssier also displays a deft lightness of touch with the spooky torch-blues of 'La Tour De Nesles' and the sprightly Bowie pop of 'China Gun'.

The only real problem with Chateau Rouge is that, in trying on so many outfits, My Sister Klaus never really forge an identity of their own, but the ability to be an expert chameleon is one that Teyssier has in spades. Each genre he inhabits fits him like a glove, even the on the nose James Chance pastiche, 'Off White' and crucially, if given the right amount of exposure, this could be the album that hipster aesthetes and those who like a little more meat on the bone agree on. The substance and the artistry are counterbalanced by a flair for showing off. All mouth and with the trousers to back it up, Chateau Rouge is one of the most consistently surprising and exciting records I've heard in a long time. Let the hysteria commence.

My Sister Klaus - China Gun (mp3)

Labels: , , ,

Risen from the grave.

Reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated. Here's the news...

This just in; I'm back online! It's been hellish for the last month or so not being able to access the net from home. Makes you wonder how we ever survived without it.

I'm going to be branching out into the world of TV blogging pretty soon. More news on that when I have it.

The Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame have compiled a 'definitive' top 200 albums of all time list that's just a front to help line the pockets of Wal-Mart and the like. Idolator has the story.

Also at Idolator, they've taken a much-deserved pop at the increasingly self-congratulatory Stereogum. Not before time in my opinion. Check that out here.

I went to see The Arcade Fire in Manchester last night. I'm not posting a review because I'm writing it for someone else. Rachael from The Console has spouted forth her views on the gig here. You'll find me sounding off in the comments.

If you guys really are thirsting to read something that I wrote, I have some reviews up on the High Voltage site. Find out what I thought of the debut album by The Hours and the new singles from Keith, Leave The Capital and Heron, if you so wish. Just click the links.

Seeing as you've all been so patient with me, here's a tune from the brand spanking new and rather good Electrelane album, No Shouts, No Calls for your enjoyment.

Electrelane - At Sea (mp3)

Catch you all soon.


Labels: , , ,

Monday, March 05, 2007

"Sometime it is what it is."

“How you expect to run with the wolves at night when you spend all day sporting with puppies?” – Omar Little

I know that this is ostensibly a music blog, but regular readers will know that I occasionally write about other things. Other pop culture things that is, nothing highbrow or anything. It’s with this in mind that I’d like to take one of my infrequent dips into the world of television.


I’ve just watched last night’s The 50 Greatest Television Dramas on Channel 4 and while it was a refreshingly insightful list programme, free of input from the usual cavalcade of misinformed z-listers, choosing instead to coax talking heads from the people involved in the making of the shows and other such peripheral players like critics, it struck me that something was missing. The list was an undeniably classy one featuring such telly classics as Cracker, Boys From The Blackstuff, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, State Of Play and such, with the unarguably great The Sopranos sitting pretty at the top. However, considering it was voted for by the same people who the programme-makers were talking to, they missed out the one truly peerless television drama there is. They forgot about The Wire.

The Wire has recently returned to British screens (Tuesday 10pm, FX, Sky Channel 179) for its fourth season which aired to uniformly praising reviews in the States last year and the makers don’t look in danger of losing the plot at any time soon. A dense, morally blurred patchwork of American life dressed up as a cop show, The Wire is the most consistently rewarding, engaging television show of all time that, to its devotees, stands head and shoulders above the rest of the pantheon of modern American dramas such as Six Feet Under, Huff, The West Wing and The Sopranos itself. In fact, the only problem with The Wire is that not enough people watch it.

If it had been picked up by a brave terrestrial channel before now there’s no question that The Wire would have figured in this list, if not topped it. Actually, before watching The 50 Greatest Television Dramas, I thought to myself that The Wire was either going to be number one or it won’t be in the list at all. The fact that it fell into the latter camp is purely down to its limited viewership. In The Wire, creator David Simon has crafted a monumental piece of television that transcends its medium. The Wire is such a brilliant work of art that it feels denigrating to measure it up against other television programmes. It should be viewed as art in the same sense as you would a classic book, beautiful painting or particularly affecting poem. It really is that good.

Maybe I’m laying it on a little thick, but superlatives seem a little superfluous when conveying just how staggering I think The Wire is. Watching television is, largely, a passive activity, unless you’re one of these sociopaths who like to try to second-guess the writers by theorising about where the plot is going to go next (I hate these people. Why can’t they just give themselves up to the mercy of the writers? What kind of enjoyment do they get from finding out that they were right other than being able to say “I told you that was going to happen” and then feeling a little let down by the fact that the writers are no smarter than they are?) or you get particularly involved with quiz shows, so the engrossing, involving nature of The Wire is to be applauded. What other show would make a seasoned junkie and habitual thief (Bubbles, played beautifully by Andre Royo) the only real good guy? Where else would you find yourself sympathising with the plight of a ruinous fuck-up of a detective (Jimmy McNulty, inhabited by Sheffield-born actor, Dominic West) who manages to be both utterly charming and completely self-destructive? NYPD Blue may have had one at the heart of the show for years but how can you be expected to give a shit about Sipowicz when the character is so detestable. Despite the fact that the makers of The Wire ask you to side with people that you would cross the street to avoid in real life, they never rely on the audience having to make any leaps of faith. They just set about making their characters as real and believable as they possibly can and place trust in their cast to help flesh them out.

So does season four so far live up to the three untouchable seasons that preceded it? Of course it does. Once again the makers have broadened the programme’s rich palette of characters by adding four teenage friends to the cast in Randy, Namond, Dukie and Michael. Each of the friends seem to represent different points of view on the young black experience in America. Randy (Maestro Harrell) is the bootstrap capitalist, always out to make a buck by selling stolen sweets and drinks in school. Namond (Julito McCullum) is the spoilt, comparatively rich kid, helped along by his imprisoned father, Wee-Bey Brice’s former position as head soldier in the Avon Barksdale street army. Dukie (Jermaine Crawford) is representative of the abject poverty and broken homes some black American children are subjected to with his crackhead family seeing to it that he is destined to grow up without a strong role model. Michael (Tristan Wilds), however, is the most intriguing of the new characters. Michael is at that crossroads in his life where his future could go either way; a strong-minded, intelligent young man with a fearless heart and a belligerent streak a mile wide, it appears that the choice of whether to be a good citizen and a pillar of the community or be swayed by newly-appointed King of Baltimore, Marlo Stanfield’s imminent grooming will form the crux of the viewer’s emotional investment in the character.

The Wire’s way of introducing new characters with each season and weaving them into the show’s tapestry with consummate ease is what keeps fans coming back. That and the fact that it’s the most smartly-written, multi-faceted drama around anyway. Also, with each season more and more light is shed on the lives and actions of the already-established characters. Superficially the star of the show, although the rich ensemble makes the notion of there being a lead seem ridiculous, West’s Jimmy McNulty is back on the beat and shacked up with season two hangover, Beadie Russell (Amy Ryan). Domesticated to the point of boring, McNulty has finally found happiness. Therefore, it should only be a matter of time before the peace is shattered by his own penchant for kyboshing each and every good thing that ever happens to him. While it’s strange to see him emasculated and house-trained, thus losing the edge that made him so compelling in the first place, it’s also heart-warmingly comforting to see him finally settle down.

The Major Crimes Unit is in the process of being gutted from the inside out by Deputy Commissioner Rawls’ (John Doman) “very own Trojan horse”, Lieutenant Marimow (Boris McGiver), with Lester Freamon (Clarke Peters) and Kima Greggs (Sonja Sohn) defecting to Homicide after having their probing assets investigation subpoenas swept under the carpet due to their targeting of major political figures in the run-up to an election. Oh yes, there’s an election going on, meaning that we are treated to more screen time for incumbent Mayor Clarence Royce (Glynn Turman. He was nearly Lando Calrissian, you know!) and opponent, Councilman Thomas Carcetti (Aidan Gillen, of Queer As Folk fame). The transformation of Carcetti from oily, super-ambitious, self-serving prick to genuine likeable good guy is one that the writers really haven’t had to strain for. Last season, Carcetti was the first character that you felt wasn’t easy to root for. That was until his post-Hamsterdam soliloquy where he indicted the Mayor for his neglectful attitude towards the Baltimore locals. Since then, you really believe that his actions are of an altruistic nature rather than being egotistical. Gillen plays his dead-eyed conviction perfectly too which makes you wonder why he’s not a star by now.

On the other side of the law, Marlo (Jamie Hector) has ascended to the height of ruler of the streets. A ruthless, cold-hearted gangster whose intelligence just makes him all the more frightening, the monosyllabic Marlo lets his actions do the talking. In the first episode of the new season, we see Marlo doling out money to the local kids for new school uniforms, the hidden agenda being that he’s trying to get the next generation in his pocket at an early stage. As a contrast, former police major, Bunny Colvin (Robert Wisdom) is trying to pick his life back up following his dismissal at the end of last season in the wake of the noble, yet doomed legalised drug-dealing fiasco that was the Hamsterdam project, by teaming up with a social worker to try to get youths on the straight and narrow. This, along with Michael’s story arc, throws into stark relief that the running theme this season is to be the choices that young people make and the lack of any kind of infrastructure that’s more likely to push them onto the wrong path than see them right. The people of Baltimore in The Wire are creatures trapped by a harsh environment and it’s the schools, the police and the governors who are to be blamed for their pursuit of a criminal way of life because they’ve been let down time and time again by a system that doesn’t work. Even Carcetti feels the futility of trying to do the right thing when he says about his upcoming televised debate with Mayor Royce, “I’ll kick his ass but tomorrow, I’ll still wake up white in a city that ain’t”, the colours signifying both the racial differences and the conflict between right and wrong, good and evil, straight and crooked.

Dark clouds are also hovering over another series stalwart. After the ritual dissembling of the Barksdale organisation at the end of the last season, Bodie (JD Williams) is now dealing semi-independently, getting his product from Proposition Joe (Robert F. Chew), by way of Slim Charles (Anwan Glover). The first few episodes of season four have seen Bodie turn a dead corner into a thriving spot, leading to a conflict over ‘real estate’ with Marlo. While he acknowledges that this is a fight he can’t possibly win (“I’m stood here like an asshole, holding my Charles Dickens”), his headstrong attitude is leading him to fight anyway. While I stated earlier that I hate when people try to guess what’s coming, you just know that this war will end badly. As in life, there’s nary a happy ending in The Wire. The loss of right-hand man, Lex, due to a “nigger moment” (fans of The Boondocks will get the reference) with one of Marlo’s guys, Fruit (Brandon Fobbs, last seen feuding over money with Cutty last season) and his vain attempts to recruit Michael further add to the sense of dread hanging over Bodie.

Things are going okay for Cutty (Chad L. Coleman) however, with his inner city gym booming and his newfound status as West Baltimore’s most eligible bachelor has put a smile on his face and food in his belly. Cutty, with his puppy-dog eyes and slow, deliberate drawl, has been one of The Wire’s most likeable characters since his introduction last season. His storyline this season should tie in neatly with the new focus on the youth of Baltimore.

As it should with Prez (Jim True-Frost), who has jumped out of the frying pan and into the fire since leaving the force last season due to the accidental murder of another cop, whom he mistook for a suspect. Prez is now a teacher at Tilghman Middle School, which finds him teaching Maths to the four new teenage characters. Possibly the least commanding presence ever to stand in front of a class of children, it’s not long before Prez realises that he’s got a lot of work on his hands if he wants to get his charges to respect him. He spends a whole lesson trying to get his pupils to work out a ‘fun’ maths problem, whilst dealing with a stand-off between two girls (ending in one of The Wire's trademark startling bursts of violence the next school day) and the clowning around of some of the kids. He manages to pose his question just as the bell rings, leaving him to sigh resignedly, “A – Who arrives in Philly first?... And B – By how much time? And C – Who gives a rat’s ass?”.

Another returning character who looks like he’s going to play a big part this season is Herc (Domenick Lombardozzi). His catching of the Mayor in a compromising situation has seen him make Sergeant via the back door and his decision to go to Major Valchek (Al Brown) for advice on what to do with this information could spell huge repercussions down the line for Mayor Royce. Carcetti has the Major’s ear and Valchek’s predisposition for acting in a spiteful manner (He kicked off Frank Sobotka’s downfall in season two, remember) will most likely signal the beginning of the end for the Mayor. Although it’s odd at first to see him separated from his partner, Carver (Seth Gilliam), who’s still a Sergeant in the Western District under Major Daniels (Lance Reddick), it becomes clear that their double-act had run its course and it makes sense to split the two up and let them become compelling creations in their own right.

But what of Omar (Michael K. Williams)? The greatest character in the history of television appears to be losing a little interest in “the game”. After dispatching of his nemesis, Stringer Bell (Idris Elba), with the help of Brother Mouzzone last season, he’s left in a bit of a rut. In the marvellous opening scene of the third episode, Omar heads out onto the streets of Baltimore, unarmed and decked out in a blue silk robe and matching pyjama bottoms to buy a box of Cheerios and a carton of menthol cigarettes. Stopping to light one up in front of one of the many boarded-up row houses on the streets of Baltimore, a big bag of gel caps of heroin is thrown down from the upstairs window. Realising that he can now get by on reputation alone with little actual work, a tussle with Marlo is surely on the cards.

Omar has long since been The Wire's trump card (not every TV drama has a homosexual stick-up artist up its sleeve) and the fact that, four seasons in, there’s never been a point where you thought that he was in danger of becoming a little too broadly sketched is a testament to the writing team that features such literary giants as George P. Pelecanos (Fun trivia fact: Omar’s boyfriend, Ronaldo is seen reading Pelecanos’ Drama City at the breakfast table in the aforementioned scene) and Richard Price. The choice of recruiting writers previously more entrenched in writing for the page rather than the screen has proved to be a masterstroke from David Simon. It has given The Wire the rich, multi-textured feel of a great novel and it’s all done with the detail and slow-burn atmosphere of the best crime fiction. A note to those Hollywood producers sitting on development hell-ensnared books by Pelecanos and Price; make sure you get these guys to adapt their own work, get David Simon in as producer and use the same casting director as The Wire. Oh, and if you’re ever developing King Suckerman, get Michael K. Williams to play Wilton Cooper and Seth Gilliam would be perfect as Marcus Clay.

Anyway, the oversight of leaving The Wire off a list of the greatest television dramas of all time may at first seem like a travesty, but when it’s in a field of its own anyway, pitting it against other, admittedly great television shows just seems unfair to all concerned. As far as 21st century drama goes, The Wire is unequalled.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

An update.


I'm still not back online yet, but I should be rocking and rolling come Wednesday. Just thought I'd let you know.

In the meantime, if you're stuck in Manchester with nowt to do tonight, you could do worse than head down to the Night & Day for Get Girl. Kill Baddies. Save Planet. Go on, you know you want to.