Just for Laughs

I saw this recently and still can’t help but chuckle.

Whether I tolerate an Oasis song all the way through tends to depend on the day etc. I’d take em over Blur any day. Not so long ago I was driving with my son (3) in the car when Liam’s new song came on and he asked what it’s called. When I told him I didn’t know he said, matter of factly, “It’s called bollocks, that’s what it’s called.” He was spot on but this still makes me laugh, I don’t think anybody gives an interview as good as Liam.

 

Page Turning – Another Three

Crikey, here we are already with September under way and autumn barrelling down on us with the onset of cold mornings and the tug of breezes forgotten.

I’m currently 26 books down on my 40 Books challenge for 2017 and the 27th underway. As has become the norm, here’s a few of those that have been read of late – a couple of which took a little longer than the usual week / week and a half that I can usually pace for reasons that will be discussed.

The Black Dahlia by James Ellroy

There is no way of reading Ellroy without fully immersing yourself in his rich, enveloping and truly unique prose. I finally discovered the wonder of Ellroy’s writing in 2015 with Perfidia and it formed part of the first of these Turning Pages posts. Knowing that Perfidia was a prequel of sorts to Ellroy’s ‘LA Quartet’ I was keen to read more but read them in order and The Black Dahlia did not disappoint. As CB over at Cincinnati Babyhead points out; Ellroy “nails the whole under belly L.A. thing” and there’s nothing like wallowing in his world. My habit of sticking my nose in charity bookshops has borne fruit and I now have a copy of The Big Nowhere sat on the TBR list so I can continue walking those mean LA streets.

The Leopard by Jo Nesbo

A Christmas or two ago my wife gave me Jo Nesbø’s The Snowman to feed my growing appetite for Nordic Noir. I found it insanely addictive and chilling (I have zero faith the upcoming film will do it any justice) and have sought out other Harry Hole (pronounced: HOO-LEH so not quite one letter away from a real cultural hiccup) novels since though – as I was going back in the timeline and Nesbø’s career I didn’t find them quite as rewarding.

So I was happy to grab a copy of The Leopard at good second-hand price as it’s the next instalment in the series. I get the impression that it’s around this time in his writing career that Nesbø perfected his style. The earlier novels are bloody good, mind, but all the elements really seem to have come together; the writing is tight and focused, the plot is intricate and well weaved and the suspense and mystery are genuinely gripping.

The back-story of police corruption that was found in novels leading up to Nemesis has faded more into the background and the focus – aside from the murders – is firmly on Harry as he tries to overcome his own scars and wounds from the events of both a long and hard career and those of The Snowman – in this instance I’d say that readers would be at a loss if they hadn’t read that novel first. With both Phantom and Police sitting on my TBR pile I very much look forward to reading more of Harry Hole’s adventures.

A Gentleman In Moscow by Amor Towles

For all the hype that surrounds it I found, in my first year of membership, Amazon’s PrimeDay to be something of a disappointment. While my son occasionally (as is the whim of toddlers) takes delight in his LED flashing shoes, precious little else interested me. With the exception, that is, of the cover of A Gentleman in Moscow. I mean, I know you’re not supposed to judge a book by such things but… it’s a hell of a great looking book jacket. Not only that but the description:

“On 21 June 1922 Count Alexander Rostov – recipient of the Order of Saint Andrew, member of the Jockey Club, Master of the Hunt – is escorted out of the Kremlin, across Red Square and through the elegant revolving doors of the Hotel Metropol.

But instead of being taken to his usual suite, he is led to an attic room with a window the size of a chessboard. Deemed an unrepentant aristocrat by a Bolshevik tribunal, the Count has been sentenced to house arrest indefinitely.

While Russia undergoes decades of tumultuous upheaval, the Count, stripped of the trappings that defined his life, is forced to question what makes us who we are. And with the assistance of a glamorous actress, a cantankerous chef and a very serious child, Rostov unexpectedly discovers a new understanding of both pleasure and purpose.”

It was practically begging me to read it! Well, turns out it’s one of the best things I’ve read all year. Ridiculously well written, every single page was a delight to read and a lesson in craft and style. Rostov is a character for real literature lovers and the level of storytelling and sub plots are surprisingly complex given the initial premise and form a deliciously rich and vital background, giving real weight, humanity and warmth to a novel that could so easily have been the slightest of things.

A Gentleman in Moscow works as both a fantastic novel full of humour, charm and heart as well as a deviously funny allegorical take on Russia’s not too distant past. Reading this novel I had to keep reminding myself that it was published just this year – with its classic style, insightful observations and supporting cast of characters and the impact of historical occurrence, it genuinely felt at times as though discovering a well-loved classic and the ending…. is just sublime. Much in the same vein as Antony Doerr’s All the Light We Cannot See (another novel I picked up based on the cover and hook of the blurb), A Gentleman in Moscow is easily one of the best novels published in recent years and much deserving of a place on a discerning bookshelf.

Currently Listening

Tuesdays after a Bank Holiday Weekend are the new Monday. Nobody likes them.

Outside of Pimsleur’s Basic Romanian, here’s the skinny on what’s going into my ears lately:

The War on Drugs – Up All Night

The new album A Deeper Understanding is the thing of beauty that expectations had it as. Adam Granduciel’s nasal voice is akin to a softer, more tuneful Dylan with tasteful restrain over bleating, the guitars shimmer and shred and the whole thing is polished off with a sun-kissed production right out the Tunnel of Love playbook. As one review states, it’s not just that it’s “one of the best rock albums in years, but that the music itself is so expansive and enveloping that it feels like it should be everywhere.” It’s bliss.

Rebekah Del Rio- No Stars

I can’t tell you anything about Rebekah Del Rio as I know nothing about her. All I know is that this song, well her voice and delivery more to the point, has held me hypnotised since I heard / saw it on an episode of the current revival of Twin Peaks.

Biffy Clyro- Living Is A Problem Because Everything Dies

Since they popped up in that Shuffle The Music thing I’ve been listening to this one a lot, partly also because my wife listens to it a fair bit too.

Death Cab For Cutie- We Looked Like Giants

Following another “Top Five” text convo I’ve been listening to Transatlicism in the car recently in between my Romanian lessons.

Hold Steady- The Swish

The Hold Steady are a new discovery for me having read about them everywhere else I took a while to tune in. I’m starting at the first album Almost Killed Me and like what I’m hearing thus far. I was finally swayed by the review for it that said “The Hold Steady are one of the most convincing rock bands to emerge in recent years, a can-crushing throwdown of unadulterated aggression and ear-splitting amps.”

Out of Europe: An Irish Top Five

Of all the stupidity and upheaval that the colossal butt-fuck of an idea called ‘Brexit’ that so many fools were goaded and misled into voting for is likely to cause, one of the biggest potential quagmires is the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, thrown into even greater murk by that soulless banshee May’s desperate tactic of clinging to power by giving a massive bung to the D.U.P in utter disregard to the issues it throws up with the Good Friday Agreement.

As such I thought it fitting for this Out of Europe series to draw up a quick Top Five from Ireland who, while we continue to be lead blindfolded into a dead end, will remain in the blissful embrace of Europe. And, as we’ll be tearing Northern Ireland down with us, acts from that island’s north east tip don’t qualify.

My Bloody Valentine – Only Shallow

Formed in Dublin in 1983(!), My Bloody Valentine’s opus Loveless took two years to record (that’s nothing, it would be 27 years before they followed it up) and its extensive production costs got them dropped from their label but, fuck me, it’s amazing.

God Is An Astronaut – Forever Lost

A post-rock band who’s sound, according to that fabled source Wikipedia, “employs elements of electronic music, krautrock, and space rock.” I cannot for the life of me remember how I found them but I’d often listen to their second album – which this is from – at the gym.

Damien Rice – Rootless Tree

Success is often a real fucker. Look at what it did to Kurt Cobain. Damien Rice seems similarly unimpressed by it. When songs like ‘Canonball’ and ‘Blower’s Daughter’ pushed his solo debut O into so many peoples’ cd collections he withdrew and pushed against the tide. He’d only wanted to make the one album but his label pressed him into releasing 9 (from which this is taken) which leaned a little darker and met massively mixed reviews. It would be another 8 years before he dropped anything else. I like the line “fuck you, fuck you, love you and all we’ve been through.”

The Frames – Revelate

Dublin’s Glen Hansard is a busy chap. Aside from a solid solo career and frequent touring supporting and playing with Eddie Vedder he’s part of the folk-rock duo The Swell Season and continues to front the Irish rock band The Frames which he started in 1990. Oh, and he acts too – he starred in the film ‘Once’ and some other film called ‘The Commitments‘.

U2 – Until The End of the World

This band is certainly more of a cult act, probably little-known outside of Ireland. Despite what I can only assume are poor-to-middling sales they’ve been around a while now occasionally flirting with some good write-ups in the local press, bad haircuts and have even played a few venues outside of their native Dublin despite their singer’s clearly shy and introverted demeanour.

Honourable mentions to the blues of Rory Gallager and The Cranberries’ Dreams

The Shuffle the Music Thing

So I’ve seen this one floating about on a couple of blogs in my feed and thought it would prove an easy way to get back into posting after a couple of weeks out. Thought…

THE RULES
• Mention the creator of the tag and link to their blog (created by https://stuffonablogblog.wordpress.com/about/)
• Thank the person that nominated you for this tag and link to their blog as well – I saw this over on Aphoristic Album Reviews and he left it open to all so I’ll do the same
• Shuffle your entire music library (no matter how old songs the songs are) and talk about the FIRST FIFTEEN songs that come up (anything like why they are there, if they signify something, any story, why you like them etc.)
• Mention the songs as well as the artists.
• You’re supposed to tag people – but if you’re following this blog, and want to make your own list, go for it!

It’s worth pointing out that it’s impossible to “shuffle your entire music library”. This is the result of hitting shuffle on my iPod instead, an iPod which – following a recent purge – doesn’t contain anything I’ll have on cd so is fairly far from ‘entire’. However…

Man of War  – Radiohead: Kind of obvious why this one is on here – it’s from the OKNOTOK OK Computer re-release. It’s one of the three ‘new’ tracks and it’s really fucking good.

There She Goes – The La’s: Oddly I hadn’t listened to this in age. It’s one of those things you learn to play when you first pick up a guitar, was in risk of being over-played on radio but is an undeniable classic.

 

Alive (Salt Lake City, 1995) – Pearl Jam: Pearl Jam is easily the most featured artist in my iTunes if only for all the concert (official and otherwise) bootlegs on there. This one is distinctly non-official so no chance of a vid or a spotify link. Pretty good quality and features a good setlist and the début of one of my favourite PJ songs, ‘Red Mosquito’.

The Captain – Biffy Clyro: I’m quite partial to a bit of Biff, good straight-ahead rock with plenty of twists and the occasional change-up thrown in. I’m fairly sure I saw them live early into their career but that may be a false memory…. this one is from their fifth album. Need to listen to their newer stuff more I think.

Hung My Head – Johnny Cash:  What can I possibly say about Johnny Cash that hasn’t been said? Fuck all. This one is from American IV, which is where I stopped with the series – the whole posthumous scaps thing not really doing it for me. I couldn’t believe this is actually a Sting song, Johnny and his dark gravelly voice pisses all over Mr Sumner’s muzak version.

Where Do You Think You’re Going  – Dire Straits: It’s on here because Dire Straits are one of those bands that I slip on for a bit of comfort listening and always evoke memories. I also love the build up to Knopfler’s solo on this cut from their second album.

Not You Again – Dinosaur Jr: A quick little blast of a tune from 1991’s EP Whatever’s Cool With Me

Peer Gynt Suite #1, Op. 46 – Morning Mood – Edvard Grieg: There’s a fair bit of classical music on my iPod and I’m surprised that this is the only one that came up (I’m also surprised I didn’t get an ‘encore break’ or a marketing podcast). Thanks to the nature of classical music and different recordings of the same peice it’s an impossible mission searching for the same album – swiped from my Dad’s collection  – as the one on my iTunes but this is easily Grieg’s most well known piece.

Oats In The Water – Ben Howard: This is the song that got me listening to Ben Howard. I’d heard and not paid attention to the stuff from this first album but this dark, broody one with it’s rumbling finger picking and moodiness got my attention and served as a good bridge to the stuff on his, superior, second album which gets many a listen.

Gagarin – Public Service Broadcasting: Public Service Broadcasting seem to have a Marmite effect on listeners and reviewers. I heard ‘The Other Side’ on the radio and was hooked. I’ve got a thing for the space race and so enjoy the album. That being said, this one is probably one of my least favourite tracks but that’s the nature of shuffle.

Mineral – Buffalo Tom: I’ve expressed my love for Buffalo Tom plenty of times on this blog. This great tune is from their brilliant third album Let Me Come Over which has just received a 25th Anniversary style re-release which I’ve been enjoying of late.

Teenage Angst – Placebo: I was, just the other day, voicing aloud the question of ‘what happened to Placebo?’. They went from producing awesome songs like this to fetid dumps with lyrics like ‘my computer thinks I’m gay’. A real shame because with their first two albums they made a shitload of good music.

At A Glance – Message to Bears: I can’t recall how I got into Message To Bears. It’s the work of one chap from Sheffield, Jerome Alexander, who describes his music as “interweaving acoustic guitar, piano, electronics, ethereal samples, strings and hushed vocals.” It’s perfect, blissful stuff for slipping on and chilling out to.

Head First – Junip: So… Junip is the band of José González that he got back together after achieving solo success on the back of that Sony Brava TV ad (you know the one with all the bouncing balls). Junip I found via the Walter Mitty film and I think I prefer the band stuff to his solo work.

That’s All Right – Arthur Crudup: While my wife was still living in Paris she went to see an exhibition called “Rock’n’Roll 39-59” which was ‘an exhibition on the genesis and launch of rock’n’roll in the United States’. I wish I’d seen it but I do have the CD she got from it on our iTunes library which includes this, Arthur Crudup’s original song that some kid from Tupelo, Mississippi would record a few years later and make a few quid from.

 

Blog Tour; The Other Twin by L V Hay

From the PR: “When India falls to her death from a bridge over a railway, her sister Poppy returns home to Brighton for the first time in years. Unconvinced by official explanations, Poppy begins her own investigation into India’s death. But the deeper she digs, the closer she comes to uncovering deeply buried secrets. Could Matthew Temple, the boyfriend she abandoned, be involved? And what of his powerful and wealthy parents, and his twin sister, Ana?

Enter the mysterious and ethereal Jenny: the girl Poppy discovers after hacking into India’s laptop. What exactly is she hiding, and what did India find out about her?

Taking the reader on a breathless ride through the winding lanes of Brighton, into its vibrant party scene and inside the homes of its well-heeled families, The Other Twin is a startling and up-to-the-minute thriller about the social-media world, where resentments and accusations are played out online, where identities
are made and remade, and where there is no such thing as the truth…”

Returning to a hometown after years away is always a strange thing – sights are familiar but somehow the subtle differences can make the entire place feel different and you a stranger in the environs you grew up in.  If you add the further sense of detachment and changed reality that comes with the death of a loved one and grief it’s not likely to make for a pleasant homecoming. A very real sense of disorientation, an unease with the familiar. Here we are, then, with The Other Twin by L V Hay and published by Orenda Books in which Poppy finds herself called back to Brighton after nearly five years of living in London after her sister is found dead from an apparent suicide and where the sense of unease with the familiar drips from each page.

Unable to believe her sister committed suicide, Poppy digs into the life of the sister that she hadn’t spoken to for over four years and uncovers a lot more besides when she begins trying to discover the meaning behind India’s blog posts. I think it’s fair to say that – as would likely be true of most of us – Poppy isn’t a great detective. Both she and the reader alike are in the dark and scrabbling for pieces and clues and looking for a foothold in the increasingly disturbing world of secrets she inadvertently seems to have stumbled into. It’s an interesting and effective technique and makes a welcome change from those too-slick-to-be-real detectives and further adds to the sense of reality. The reader is very much along for the ride.

The vivid and detailed descriptions of Brighton make for an equally disorientating sensation as picturesque, seaside tourist postcards rub shoulders with some very murky and disturbing actions as the differences between perception and reality blur. Whether it’s the relatonship with her mother, that of her mother and Tim, Poppy’s relationship with Matthew and even India’s own life vs her online life… the sense of something unpleasant lurking behind the familiar, that feeling that all is ‘not quite right’, is omnipresent making for a very gripping read.

L V Hay writes with a confidence atypical of many a debut novel and for all the twists and turns that Poppy’s determined digging throws out, the final reveal is very much a real surprise that had me going back through the book and wondering how I’d missed it.

A very strong debut and I look forward to more from L V Hay. Thanks to Karen at Orenda for my copy and the invitation to take part in The Other Twin’s blog tour.

Great Compilations: Anthology: Through The Years, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers

In keeping with the general sense of procrastination that pervades my attempts at a series of posts, it’s been a while since I first chewed over kicking off this one, looking at those great compilations in my collection. Those that are as close to perfect and essential as you can get. That do that rare thing of providing as solid, all-encompassing an overview as is possible in a dozen or so tracks in a manner that will provide a great entry-point for the uninitiated and give the already-converted a good career-spanner to listen to when they don’t feel like going through whole-albums.

These are inevitably some of the most well played volumes on my shelves and have served as starting points that have introduced me to many a loved band.  That’s certainly the case with Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers’ Anthology: Through The Years.

Back in 2000 I didn’t really know much of Mr Petty’s back catalogue and was looking for a suitable entry point. It’s worth pointing out that while the chaps from Gainesville, Florida have certainly enjoyed some success in Europe and the UK specifically, they’re a much more American proposition than, say, Springsteen, so it’s understandable that at the tail-end of my teens I was unaware of the bulk of their songs. Fortunately I was still in the habit of reading a monthly music magazine* and just as Uncut had turned me on to other bands, it was the stuffed-with-praise review for the upcoming Anthology: Through The Years compilation that meant I parted with cash.

It’s also worth pointing out that there was already a pretty serviceable Greatest Hits album available but, for some reason, that 1993 release never appealed. Perhaps it was the cover, perhaps it was the inclusion of ‘Something In The Air’** .. who knows but Anthology: Through The Years was my introduction to the music of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers beyond the ubiquitous ‘Free Fallin’.

Now, here’s the thing with the songs on here; I didn’t know the vast majority of them and yet after one listen they felt like old friends. Like songs I’d known for years. Petty has a way of crafting instantly memorable and catchy-as-a-cold tunes that’s very rare and highly addictive. Yeah, everyone and his dog knows ‘Free Fallin’ but to hear ‘The Waiting‘ or ‘Mary Jane’s Last Dance’ for the first time is to know them as the classics they are; once they’re in your system they stay there.

The track listing is as perfect as you can get without a nitpicking committee. Despite it’s being released in 2000, there’s nothing here really newer than ’95 so the discs are divided up to cover the two ten-year periods from their ’76 début, the format better serving the band’s impressive catalogue than a single disc ever could.

The first disc, spanning ‘Breakdown’ to ‘Change of Heart’ pulled my attention first and probably still gets more plays. This one was the discovery for me, classics like ‘American Girl’ (I’d not watched ‘Silence of the Lambs’), ‘Even the Losers‘, ‘Refugee’ all tearing into my ears and the beautiful ache of ‘The Wild One, Forever’.

The second disc is stuffed to burst with FM classics – five from Full Moon Fever and a handful from Into The Great Wide Open that are always going to sound good whether they’re being played to a stadium or via a car stereo in traffic. For me, though, the real draw are songs like ‘Mary Jane’s Last Dance’, ‘Waitin’ For Tonight‘, ‘It’ll All Work Out’ or ‘The Best of Everything’ from the sublime Southern Accents.

Looking at the track listing for this is almost like picking out an ideal set list and there’s not much more you could look for in a compilation.

It was an odd time for release, one year on from the under-appreciated Echo*** and not featuring a single track from that release. I’m sure ‘Room At The Top‘ could’ve fitted nicely on here.  They even dusted off a previously unrecorded tune from 1977 to add something for the completests with ‘Surrender’ but couldn’t find room for anything from that one. In hindsight the eight year gap between the lacklustre The Last DJ and return-to-form Mojo would’ve been the ideal place for such a retrospective. In fact they did release a four-disc live compilation that served just that purpose.

I’ve gone on to stock my shelves with a fair amount from Tom Petty both solo and with the Heartbreakers. If I’m being picky I’d wonder – as Cameron Crowe’s linear notes do – whether there could be space for a track from Wildflowers or even from She’s The One but then it’s hard to imagine a better summary of the Heartbreakers’ then 25-year career than this one.

Instead of copying and pasting the tracklisting, I’ll drop the whole thing via Spotify.

I’ll end this one with the tune I think is the real glaring omission, the perfect title track from Southern Accents:

*A habit long-since abandoned.

**Overplayed and I’m still not that much of a fan of it. Though the remastered version in 2008 swapped it out for ‘Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around’ so I can’t be alone in that.

***Petty’s divorce album.