Monday, September 27, 2004

on hunting

it is, of course, already illegal for a normal person (i.e. you or me) to do anything the intent of which is to inflict unnecessary suffering on any wild mammal - legislation introduced by the outgoing conservative goverment, to give them some credit. unfortunately (he says, wresting back that credit tout de suite), it is not illegal for such acts - whether mutilation, kicking, beating, nailing, impaling, stabbing, burning, stoning, crushing, drowning, dragging or asphyxiation - to be perpetrated on such an animal if it is done through "lawful hunting". and that is effectively the anomaly that the new bill removes, approx 100 years or so too late, so that those who by historical accident have had and kept the right to set dogs on hares and foxes are to lose that right, as they must always have known they would and should.

the democratic argument is one that it is a little difficult to lose sight of here when the likes of the countryside alliance are seriously proclaiming arguments of "liberty and livelihood" in an attempt to defeat perhaps the biggest acknowledgment yet that the country no longer lords it over the cities and towns we increasingly swarm to, rightly or wrongly. all i can really say is that for the last two general elections i have voted for a party which had a manifesto commitment whilst in government to sort this issue out, and that i feel disenfranchised to the effect that they have allowed themselves to be cowed and bullied since 1997 into bottling out of it, and, indeed, there are still suggestions that they might wimp out of the law despite the overwhelming majority vote by our elected representatives. the house of lords, which has supinely allowed all sorts of truly despicable legislation through on the nod, particularly in those thatcher years, still persists in doing everything it can to stall the wild mammal legislation.

although now, inevitably, hunt protestors are at least starting to learn that they should not be immune from the methods of er, police control that are applied to those from all other walks of life (the thuggishness of hunt supporters when practiced in their "home" territory against saboteurs is more brutal, and of course famously ignored by the forces of law and order). the real problem with the foxhunting defenders is not the beliefs they may quite legitimately hold, nor their wholly laudable desire to state their case (although rather less praiseworthy is their attempt to pretend that rural dwellers or farmers all support the hunt - many farmers have choice words for the redcoats that trample their fields routinely, while others accept that there are plenty of decent products on the market for better protecting chickens from foxes, rather than leaving coops unguarded. and the figures from scotland where the hunt has already been outlawed do not suggest that the fox population has suddenly run rampant) um, but the fact that they don't seem to accept that nowadays, it is one person, one vote, regardless of class or colour (& it is not, as one hunt supporter said on radio, a case of them "taking back this country for the natives"!!), and they, like the rest of us, now have to be subject to the same law.

and yes foxhunting - like most crimes - creates employment and wealth and yes job losses in any case are always difficult - ask not just miners and shipbuilders who are most oft-quoted but any recently relocated or restructured industries in our downsizing-obsessed business environment - but they are commonplace and all of us face them and have to retrain or move to secure employment. at least the hunters have had the distinct advantage of having 20 years' notice that their "profession" would be outlawed - only thatcher's indecently long reign really gave them the luxury of seeing through the last quarter of the century unscathed. indeed, ever since attlee's government in the late 1940s took up cudgels on the fox's (and others!) behalf, that community will have been well aware that their time for the thrill of the chase would be finite. again, it is a reminder to them that they too live in our one multifaith multifaceted nation, albeit with its attendant insecure modern employment environment, subject to all the vagaries and idiosyncrasies of both the free market and the legal constraints that regulate it.

i struggle with the foxhunting issue only to the extent i can't decide whether it is the animal cruelty, or the affront to modern democracy in the countryside alliance's posturing and threatening, that appals me most - in terms of morality, on the other hand, all is supremely black and white. human cruelty, child cruelty, animal cruelty: these are very real issues (and with very real overlaps, as the NSPCC and RSPCA's joint co-operation would testify). we have to take them all seriously in order to build a society which actually does value the liberty and livelihood of all, not just those whose barbarous practices are finally being curtailed.

Sunday, September 26, 2004

and the winner is....

um, i hadn't forgotten about the mmmp or mock-mercury prize (see various disjointed earlier posts), which we'd inaugurated as a hopeless protest against the dreariness of the "proper" prize. it's just that i have been on holiday, which rather destroys the inclination. anyway, the best british album of the last 12 months or so.... (now rather longer than that), is sportique's "communique no.9". for reasons i will come on to. but first, some thoughts.

firstly, who else came close to nomination ? not many. bearsuit and taz and pipas, albeit that i am well aware they are kind of more an international pop duo, i think the branding goes ... oh, and klashnekoff would have been a shoe-in, had his "sagas" album not really been more of a compilation.

secondly, who were the real runners and who the outsiders of the twelve ?

well, empress's work is the most beautiful, but is so restrained as to be most enjoyable at a distance - mood music, if you like. while blade's record is probably the most earnest, but not always shot through with the quality that a whole album of material demands. cappo's is the most urgent and at times energetic, but perhaps a little rough - the joy with him is the fact that he clearly is going to make a near-perfect album, and probably not too far from now. taskforce continue in their vein of excellent albums, but again i can accept that their observations are an acquired taste. randomnumber is an occasional genius, whose album only really suffers, as so many do these days, from its length. and the windmills - well, brilliant as much as "now is then" is - have done better (if scarcely ever better than individual songs on that album such as the title track and single "walking around the world"). and paragon welcomely gave us a real local flavour (down here in southwest eleven-ish) with a record that really had been such a long time coming.

that left five albums that we were really torn between. both wiley and morrissey produced fantastic albums, both with a few duff tracks but both of which should have walked onto the "legit" mercury shortlist. morrissey has had more than enough love (inamongst all the usual sniping) and two fine top ten singles from "you are the quarry", so i am sure he will not object to missing out here. wiley is not hated, but is not nearly venerated enough - apart from as a producer - when "treddin on thin ice" is so much more rewarding - listen after listen, as the months go by - than the dizzee rascal album which he will never seem to be able to step out of the shadow of.

the dark horse, on the other hand, all along, was picture center's extraordinarily desolate "our true intent is all for your delight". why are there no decent-sized indie labels prepared to release this sort of stuff ? with three vocalists taking it in turn to elucidate songwriter mark dobson's feverish thoughts, this album builds on everything that their debut had promised, but as far as we can tell has disappeared without trace. anyway, "our true intent" came close, but found itself edged out by a more straightforward battle of the bands.

the fall and sportique have both been around for a long time, at least in terms of their respective personnel. but what their two albums have in common is that there is hardly a duff note, moment, chord or lyric on either - indeed, there is not a misplaced bar on the whole of "communique no 9", while "country on the click" only very rarely flickers into the less-than-ace, most conspicuously on the sole cover version of its 12 tracks. both the fall and sportique albums are masterpieces of fractured, witty, intelligent, angular, art-rock post-punk pop noise - no, really - and could have been made at any time in the last 25 years without sounding anything other than fresh and illuminating. we have been guilty so often, especially in the last couple of years, of assuming that guitar rock is no longer of relevance, because of both the malign meaninglessness of keane and travis and coldplay and the posing and haircuts of their more "edgy" clotheshorse contemporaries, but both these records demonstrated that you can still do worthwhile things with drums, bass, guitars, shouting and um, keyboards. and that however ok franz ferdinand (who inevitably landed the 20 grand from mercury) may be, they have less energy and style than people twice their age. which is an indictment more of the record buying public and fickle fashionistas than franz ferdinand, but anyway.

so why did sportique pip mark e. smith and his merry men ? i think, mainly, it is because their fantastic, creative album, albeit nodding heavily to wire, alternative tv and some other band called um, the fall, crams all its ideas into 18 minutes or so. brevity is such a good thing for records - it is a crying shame that the takeover of the compact disc has meant that people are upping album lengths from 40 minutes to 60 or more when they should SO be going the other way, cutting out all extraneous material and letting us just enjoy the thing as a palatable whole rather than having to listen to it in pieces or without concentration. and to hop from punk to dub and everywhere in between in such a short time makes sportique's album, frankly, such a joy.

so - if you get hold of one album from 2003/4, make it "communique no 9".

that is all.


many many congratulations to jimmy and mary on their new arrival. more exciting even than a hatful of matinee recordings fine releases.

Monday, September 06, 2004

feeling generous -so just2say i'll give a prize to the first uk rapper who comes up with an "amir khan" rhyme in a 2004 release... odds on it won't be long... must be inevitable!

Friday, September 03, 2004

ok the mmmp winner will be revealed. soon. hope u r suitably excited.

until then, please note that i have bought two new records which i wish to draw to the attention of all right-minded internet bores.

napalm death "leaders not followers part 2" (century media)

german label releases a 19-track 43 minute whirlwind of britain's best rock band pillaging various death, thrash and hardcore classics, including slaying sacred cows such as discharge's "war's no fairytale", siege's "conform" (a billowing attack that destroys intense degree's version!) and something by sepultura. other highlights including their covers of cryptic slaughter, anti-cimex ("victim of a bomb raid" being the song that sore throat turned in to "victim of a stagedive", unless my ears truly deceive me) and die kreuzen. while lacking the brutal focus of "leaders not followers" part 1 - its eleven minutes virtually compelled you to listen to the whole thing in one blast - there is more than enough here to throw on your next napalm death mixtape. blisterama.

"cappo presents resilience " (main rock records)

and this is fantastic. it has been a fine year for singles - the best i can remember since 1986 / 87 - and while this 12" of 500 copies goes out in its overlord and producer cappo's name, it is of merit chiefly for allowing his nottingham compatriots lee ramsay and mr 45 to step out of his and scor-zay-zee's considerable shadows and produce their best ever works, with ramsay's "verbal latitude" and 45's "freedom" cuts (there are also a couple of cappo-based tunes that enthrall but seem slightly lonely without the usual p brothers block-shaking beats). both songs, like skinnyman's feted "i'll be surprised", are superbly produced, clean, and would sustain serious radio rotation if anyone out there could be bothered to take one step further beyond the - admittedly superb - new dizzee and fulham's equally deserving chart postergirl estelle... ramsay is the more exuberant, repping freely and cutting it up nice with some dizzying stuttering in the chorus, while 45 leans back to give us the gen on his upbringing and some free contraception tips. what makes both these songs so fiiine is not so much the flows of either rapper, but the quality of the arrangement and production: if cappo was truly responsible for orchestrating the mix, rather than just some "executive production" assignment, then he has major talent in that direction too. anyway, this is just ace.

i am waiting with much anticipation for the harper lee album. and then (only) slightly less so the tinchy stryder and universal soldiers. other tunes being listened to now: cocteau twins best of, the fairways "this is farewell" (some ace tracks, some less so), klashnekoff again... and, for reasons that are unclear to me but it is nonetheless welcome, "no threat" by extreme noise terror. in a crossover chart garage/ukhh-fest, i also forced L. to listen to: "stand up tall" (highest chart position: 10), "wot do u call it ?" (highest chart position: 31) and "1980" (highest chart position: 14).

Wednesday, September 01, 2004

nominee number twelve.

the windmills "now is then" (matinee recordings)

"while the 'feel' of "now is then" remains inspired by the great, mellifluous guitar bands of the ages - like brisbane's go-betweens or glasgow's the orchids - many of the songs also remind us of the morrissey band around the times of "sunny" or "boxers" - unassuming but carefully tempered reminders of a great english tradition, atop which roy thirlwall's deep voice drips semicircles of detached irony. we thrill to the wondrous breakwaters of "beach girls 1918" ("the smell of white musk on her skin"), which syphons pale saints' "colours and shapes" into a kaleidoscope chorus, "ever to exist" which spins out adjectives of praise, presumably to a baby, across the softest backdrop of pastels guitars, and "something spring" that delightfully allows the lush tones of labelmates slipslide to commingle with prime orchids for a heartstoppingly sweet popsong. on the other hand, there are a couple of indications of new progression that might even perplex the more conservative of the fanbase. one of these is "summer snow", a guest star on matinée's "autumn assortment" sampler, which finds thirlwall's writing visiting a darker place as he struggles to find expression and wrestles with "feelings filled with hatred" - musically, we are reminded of those vastly underrated mid-80s new order songs like "sunrise" and "broken promise", especially by the time the fantastic swirling guitar instrumentals arrive to offset the despairing sentiment. the other obvious departure is the peerless title track, a three minute guitar frisson that somehow combines the wedding present (the wedding present at their very best, mind) covering "soul inside" with brisk, shuffled drums and an enigmatic, impenetrable lyric that is determined to give nothing away... "