Monday, 29 June 2009

Monday Links

Dunno if this'll actually become an at-all-regular feature, but I've got a few recommended URLs to share, so I might as well stick 'em up.

This is a bit old now, but Kieron Gillen of my adored RockPaperShotgun.com recently wrote a series of reviews for a WHSmiths' 7-in-1 Magnetic Family Board Game set. Both funny and, oddly, genuinely thought-provoking. But more importantly, taught me the Mr Chess joke. The Mr Chess joke now rules my life.

Not his best, but Simon 'chewing pixels' Parkin's latest gaming-themed story is up at GameSetWatch. I can't help but imagine Parkin as a little elfin boy, and he's never less than interesting- in this case, I'd imagine, even to non-gamers. Check it out.

Something I found through my tasty comics affiliates, Comicsnexus.com, this is called 'Neil's A-Z of Awesomeness.' No (well, very little) reading. Awesome. 'Nuff said.

Amanda Palmer writes an open letter explaining how "an Indie musician can make $19,000 in 10 hours using twitter (yet get $0 for a big, somewhat-successful album”. I don't think this horse is flogged quite dead yet, so...the music industry seems a little broken. I got it from Warren Ellis' blog, and it's not (as far as I can see) NSFW. Which is a miracle in and of itself.

Most addictive game of the week goes to the genius concept of Broken Picture Telephone, an online combination of . As massively multiplayer a game as I've ever played, and with a lovely community. It also has a quite brilliant 'Boss Alert' mode. You will play it and it will consume you.

...Narrowly beating out the wonderful Learn To Fly, a game about penguin who just wants to fly, dammit. The caveat that came with it (via, again, chewingpixels) was 'give it till Day 7', and I advise the same.

Apple Trailer of the Week
...obviously goes to the new Studio Ghibli film, Ponyo. Not 100% sold on the concept from just this trailer, but the design on the lead character (and all his tiny mini-versions) are just beautiful.

And, finally, in the spirit of Twitter's Music Mondays, this fine song features both guest vocals from me (try and spot the sneaking Brummie invasion- it's subtle!) and the chorus "You're a bitch, you're a whore." Lovely stuff.

Sunday, 28 June 2009

Redbrick Pt II (La Roux, Patrick Wolf) : Print Still Ain't Dead.

More of my dangerously intimate involvement in the end-of-year issue of Redbrick.
Reviews of Patrick Wolf and La Roux gigs. Click for the much-prettier PDF (also here for my official introduction and mourning of my predecessor, written by my fine and above-all-professional colleague Ms. Erica Vernon) or read on for blog-format, with bonus behind-the-scenes confessions. It's an androgyny special!

First up, most famous hairstyle in the Western World, surprising-chart-success, Ms Ellie Jackson and La Roux:
"Coming on to stage to alternating chants of 'La Roux, La Roux is on fire' and 'Get your bum out'; it's almost immediately a case of audience versus band.
Singer Elly Jackson, who has pretty much taken on (for tonight, at least) the mantle of La Roux herself, timidly tries to play down the attention. The tunes take a while warming up and for a while the atmosphere struggles.
But soon, with the dance-to-me lights and kickin' bass there to back her up, the crowd obey the command to get their groove on.
The gig is a showcase for unheard songs from the forthcoming album, an assurance there's some range and depth still to be seen. By the time they finally play the hit single In For The Kill, any awkwardness is gone and everyone is dancing.
Elly's even got the balls to not make it the last song. That honour goes to the new single, Bulletproof, which proves to be the song of the night, even though I'd never heard it before. It's the song everyone goes out, satisfied, into the cold night air humming."

And the picture-of-Dorian-Gray, costume-stylin' Romantic spaceboy from London himself, Mssr. Patrick Wolf!
"Live, you realise how much of an unabashed pop bitch Patrick Wolf is. Coming on hollering 'Birminghaaam' into a Britney-esque head mic, he jumps straight into the crowd, interacts, making the most of his wirelessness.
Dressed up like a manga character and backed up by an army of synths, it's clear, live, just how much Patrick Wolf is David Bowie's love child by some beautiful alien man-woman, now sent to earth to follow in his fathere's footsteps and save us all.
Patrick Wolf is obviously a fully-fledged rock star. Shouting, working the crowd, the whole band jumping up and down during Accident & Emergency.
He's a self-deprecating, confessional acoustic singer-songwriter (the least interesting personal- the most real, most human.) It's this that struggles to carry him through a couple of slower songs in an otherwise perfectly paced gig.
Somehow, live, the songs lack some of the transcedence of the records. But that's all traded in for Wolf's showmanship. That unavoidable throughline, his unmistakeable voice is hidden somewhat by the endless variety of songs, clothes, personas on show. The climax of the gig began to reconcile all these fragments, and you can see a charmingly vulnerable boy, at his happiest. Live, Patrick Wolf is everything."

Confession: Most of this was written whilst being bullied by the aforementioned oh-so-professional Ms Vernon. She's a tickler, that one.

Redbrick Pt I (Feat. The Chapman Family) : Print Ain't Dead

An extraordinarily busy week at Redbrick for the last issue of term led to a music section half-written by me. Here are the results, in installments. First, an interview with the surprisingly lovely unsigned-band Chapman Family.
"The Chapman Family are, in some ways, a band of contradictions: tonight, they're playing to a young, impressionable, NME-reading audience, here to see La Roux.
The Chapman Family: a self-described 'fuckin' miserable band'. Their set is a whirlwind of smashing guitars, strangulation with microphone leads and aggressively noisy music with some very naughty words in.
The Chapman Family- a band that made a girl in front of me swoon, with her hand to her forehead like a character in a Jane Austen novel. Clearly believe in the legend, the spectacle of rock & roll. But their ferocious maltreatment of the guitars is a 'treat' with a very mundane flipside:
'I need to save one; I can't just break 'em every night 'cus I haven't got enough money... When we've had two days off, I've basically fixed two or three guitars. The ones I've got now are cobbled together from bits 'n' bobs.'
The band are unsigned: 'No one else [on the tour] is unsigned… We're used to playing gigs for free. Being surrounded by crew who carry our stuff in was an absolute revelation.'
A lot of their opposing lead singer Kingsley is a down-to-earth, often self-deprecating gentleman, while bassist Pop (self-proclaimed 'half the talent in the band') is a little more aggressively opinionated.
Kingsley takes comparisons to Maximo Park and Futureheads in his stride. It's unfair and lazy, based on a shared Northern accent:
'No one goes to [wonderfully-named girl-goth band] An Experiment On A Bird In The Air Pump, 'you sound like The Libertines, just 'cus they're from London.'
There's a clear common ground in the distaste for bands of 'local people with fake cockney accents' and Kinglsey admits playing tribute to those bands:
'First year we played, fair enough, we probably ripped off Maximo Park and Futureheads more than anyone else.'
But the band are much dirtier, much louder, more rock & roll than that. And there is an infuriating coincidence with Maximo Park's single Kids Are Sick Again being released close to their similarly-titled Kids (Are Alright).
Meanwhile, Pop's opinion is a little more straight forward: 'They can fuck off back down the hole they came from.'
Pop Chapamn is given to the kind of hyperbolically impassioned statements that make my heart melt. He casually announces Roxy Music's Do the Strand as featuring 'the best lyric ever written by any human being'.
Pop joined the band after they'd been together for a while, bringing to the table 'a lack of musical knowledge... and a box of distortion pedals.'
The two play off each other, debating and squabbling about celebrity adoption and the best beers (the tequila-infused Desperado) as much as selling-out and The Horrors model of 20-minute sets.
It's an odd thought, but they seem a willfully small band, massively DIY. Kingsley 'used to do T-shirts that I'd paint myself. People are still fucking getting in touch with me and going, like, can you do the painted ones? 'Cus I preferred them.'
They've played gigs 'for two people.' Their solution? 'Play as hard as you fucking can... One of those people might really like it.' But now their moment might be coming, and there are already accusations of being 'sell-out bastards... Purely because we managed to get on MTV.'
The Chapman Family are a band whose, in Pop's words, inspirations include 'the size of boobies, a drink of beer'. They're a band waiting for a cult of manic devoted fans. If they get it, it's reassuring to think they probably wouldn't abuse it.
Even if they are sell-out bastards."

You can listen to the Chapman Family (and read some of the quite impassioned rants that inspired the majority of this interview) at their MySpace.

Confession: I'm a bit worried that ending didn't come off quite as ironic as possible. And, rereading, can't believe I couldn't fit the actual Roxy Music lyric in: it's "Rhododendron is a nice flower". Which very possibly actually is the best lyric ever.

Thursday, 25 June 2009

Dark Young Avengers: They're Exactly What You Think!

Just a quick one. Dark Reign: Young Avengers 1 & 2, reviewed like never before. BAMF!

"A quick exercise; let’s do a rundown of the number of teams carrying the Avengers name right now: the Mighty Avengers, New Avengers, Dark Avengers, and Young Avengers (ignoring the Avengers Initiative and Ultimate Avengers).

Now Paul Cornell is throwing, technically, a team of New Dark Young Avengers into the mix. The cover to issue one proudly announces: “They’re Exactly What You Think!”"

But are they exactly what you think (whatever that might be)? Find out after the link, over at the lovely Comicsnexus.(Confession: my stupidity, as usual, has shone through. See the comments section to see how the main hook of my review doesn't actually work.)

Wednesday, 24 June 2009

Transformers 2 - You know, nothing actually rhymes with 'Gaming Room'

The Summer Blockbuster, it seems, lives or dies on aesthetics. There's more: tapping into those primal male reactions to violence, explosions, and the female body, but for that to work the aesthetics have to succeed.

And Transformers is a very very ugly film. Look at that subtitle: "Revenge of the Fallen". The dialogue is painful: the clever one-liners generally consist of using the cliched one-liner voice and swearing; there are trite pop culture references that are already going out of date. The film's main McGuffin is named 'The Matrix of Leadership'. At one point in the film, someone literally announces "I am crying: this sucks!"
Ugly, ugly, ugly.

We are presented, for our delectation, a shot of two dogs having sex. This is echoed later as a small robot humps Megan Fox's leg. There's a point in the film where, for no apparent reason, the camera continues to rotate around the two romantic leads. They chat, on and on, so not only does the camera reveal its presence to the audience but its genuinely, pointlessly dizzying. There's no sense of reason behind any of the decisions; aesthetic ugliness can be a brilliant (and, to use that most hackneyed of film critic phrases, 'brave') move, but here it just seems a result of the way the film was made. Ugly.

I concede that this doesn't apply to everyone, as they're the film's major unique-selling-point, but even the eye-candy robots are aesthetically unappealing and, again, in some cases, plain ugly. The two comic-relief characters in particular are designed in a way I can't believe is unintentional.

These characters are the film's worst excesses personified- they use a black hip-hop-culture stereotype that is not only ephemeral in its appeal (hilarious phrases like "oh snap") but in some cases seems sub-Walt Disney racially sensitive. Most of all, though, they're just painfully unfunny, in that unique way that comes from trying hard to force funniness on the viewer.

But I'm being unfair to the film. It escapes these trappings later into the film (particularly the awful attempts at humour) as it tries to become a more straight-laced action epic and becomes a better film for it. The ugliness of the first half an hour seeps away, and by the end there are even glimpses of lovely cinematography.

The film has many more upsides than I'm giving it credit for (the score has some wonderfully attractive moments, and I'd be hard pressed to suggest Megan Fox is anything less than aesthetically appealing; there's also what appears to be a giant Alan-Moore-bot), just as it has more problems than I've talked about (primarily, the horrible comedy/serious drama clash).

I'll say it again- Transformers II (I'm not giving that awful subtitle the attention it so obviously craves) isn't a bad film. It's just often so very very ugly.

Confession: I was really trying hard to do one a day. But my Tuesday plans went a bit awry. And technically, it's not even Wednesday any more. There will be 7 posts this week, I promise (to myself).

Monday, 22 June 2009

It's Britney, Bitch II: vs. Lady Gaga

Right now, the Q music channel is running a Britney week. Song after song by Britney, the constant video stream only interrupted by adverts. All day.
Last night, I had an argument with my mom (never a pop music aficionado) over the Britney miming scandal, and the relative merits of Take That’s current touring Circus over Britney’s.

Britney exposure is at an all-time-high. It's time for a rethink.

In my last post about our Princess of Pop, now Queen, I talked about Britney’s various, occasionally incongruous, identities. Watching all her videos in sequence, I think this is much more consciously realised by Britney (or, perhaps, Team Britney) than I gave credit for. The video to Womaniser shows her splitting into various aspects of herself (or, to the right pretentious viewer, of Woman). This tradition stretches back as far as Toxic, at least. It’s there in One More Time: Britney playing both schoolgirl and teacher. The fragmentation is within videos, within songs, as much as in the greater body of her work. There’s a forthcoming video (for Kill The Lights) based on “fan fiction”- a pop star who inspires her own fiction.
Britney is brunette, blonde, redhead; cartoon, real, fictive.

Debating the New Princess of Pop (now Britney is officially, definitely Queen- no arguments), Lady Gaga was put forward as Britney's successor (and also superior. This opinion is foolish). She’s certainly modelled herself as such. But my issue with Lady Gaga- and at the same time the reason I like Lady Gaga- is how self-aware she is. Creating image, iconography, a legend for herself to dance into.I like it, because she’s so wonderfully arch-Pop. The costumes, the overblown weirdness, that silly voice- I think it puts a lot of people off, I’ve heard a lot of moaning about her Teacup. But, to my desperately Pop-addicted mind, that silliness is everything I’m looking for.It seems too early for it all, though- the beauty of Britney was that this all came with the reinvention (by my reckoning between In The Zone and Blackout, for those counting at home), working on a ready-made pop empire. She was already hugely popular and reasonably iconic (I’m thinking the videos to ...Baby One More Time and Oops! ...I Did It Again in particular) and has simply crystallised since then. Meanwhile, Lady Gaga is doing the Fame/Paparazzi thing (with, I admit, enough sense of irony/metaphor to save it from vanity) on the back of two big singles. She’s not proven- not yet.

However, by far the most important thing I have learnt from watching all those videos is that Britney has a very lovely stomach. I would like to live on it. If not, opening a restaurant on it where I could eat would be acceptable.

And, on the other hand, my mom points out, Take That have a giant silver elephant.

(Confession: at time of polishing/going to (Word)press, the dates suggested in the opening are actually a good three or four days untrue. Sorry to break the illusion kids, but this one took a few days to hammer out.

Confession II: I’m sorry this post features the B-word 14 times. Typing “her” just seems disrespectful, and frankly it’s a damn fun word to say and type. Britney Britney Britney. Perhaps that figures into why I love her so much… It’s Britney, Bitch III?)

THE RELAUNCH

Welcome to the all-new, all-shiny ALEX-SPENCER.CO.UK
Just by entering that easy-to-remember don't-forget-the-dash address into your browser of choice, you'll end up here, at my wonderful blog. There might be kinks to get out, I'm not sure, it's been surprisingly easy so far. (I've even still got the nicely fitting akadaffs.blogspot.com address as an alias. Clever, huh?)

This wasn't at all a vanity thing, honest guv, just an attempt at respectability.
No man who hides under tables could be vain:So, to celebrate my new prime location, I'm going to try and do a week of articles, something every day. Most of it new, some of it written for elsewhere, possibly even a drawing or two; but all-me, all-exciting. I might even do requests if you ask nicely.

Get excited.

About Me

My photo
London, United Kingdom
Videogames, film, music, comics: feed them into the Alex-Spencer machine and out come neat little articles. Like the ones you're looking at here.