Thursday, 31 December 2009
Top 5 Albums of 2009
#5 Horrors - Primary Colours
(People are talking about this as, yay, Horros reinvent themselves as good. But I actually quite like Horrors mk.1. Still haven't given this the time it deserves, but enough to recognise, if I do give it what it deserves, it will be probably one of the most long-lasting likes on here. So ludicrously tasty and thick sounding: thanks new sound system!)
#4 Karen O - Where The Wild Things Are
(Still a little unsure about the film- more on that later - and haven't listened to this since seeing it. Beautiful, but probably the most likely record to get kicked off the list, retrospectively. Realise now I never linked to my Redbrick review.)
#3 Emmy the Great - First Love
(This year's largest sufferer of 'love-the-band-but-I've-heard-the-songs-enough-by-the-time-the-album-comes-out' syndrome. Will, no doubt, rediscover at some point, like I did this year with Dan Le Sac/Scroobius Pip's Angles.)
#2 Patrick Wolf - The Bachelor
(I'm probably wrong but, my favourite Wolf. It is, as I learnt this summer, great runnning material, really determined stuff; though, thanks to my limited stamina I'm not that familiar past the first half an hour.)
#1 Yeah Yeah Yeahs - It's Blitz
(I'll write something huge on this at some point, no doubt. YYYs have been by far my biggest band this year- in both gig and album, but I haven't had a proper Think about them since 2007ish.)
Top 5 Games of 2009
#5 Wii Sports Resort
(Screw you, Borderlands! A more pop choice, for the sheer family-uniting powers it has brought to bear this holiday. And I'm still interested in exploring its single player modes...)
#4 Batman: Arkham Asylum
(Was tight. Did tights right.)
#3 Time Gentlemen Please
(For making me laugh more than anything else this year. A perfect year would've provided me with Brutal Legend, to make a pure comedy Top 5; drop Batman and everything on here has provided more laughs than your average Apatow film, in one way or another. Oh well, no year is perfect, right?)
#2 Red Faction: Guerilla
(Second-biggest laughs provider. A game about revolutionary freedom-fighters/terrorists blowing up builds not funny? Wrong.)
(This one has definitely got more coming. Not that there has been a lack of writing already. Haven't touched it much since Autumn, but it's left its mark. No doubt I'll buy the upcoming 360 version too.)
Top 5 Films of 2009
#5 Let The Right One In
(Beautiful, creepy, Swedish. Still annoyed I missed this in the cinema, but it's possibly the film that's held my mind for the longest
#4 Inglourious Basterds
(Provided I'm actually right about it. Recently found Tarantino's introductory speech for it, and am a bit concerned about my reading. Although, death of the author and all that, does it really matter?*)
#3 The Wrestler
(As my girlfriend put it last night: "Why are all the films you like the ones that make me cry?")
(More than any other, this is the one that made me realise how are hard, and rubbish, lists are. I forgot this until a quick Google. It's the only film I've seen twice this year, and it genuinely held up. I think pretty much everything has been said by now- it's surprisingly heartbreaking at the start, loses it a bit here and there, but still has a lot of the year's best moments. Even the action-hero bit at the end doesn't feel forced, and genuinely worked. Wouldn't bother with 3D though.)
This one was, surprisingly, the hardest to cut down. So much extra stuff that I really loved this year- I guess it's easier to give yourself to something once. Pending a second viewing, Where The Wild Things Are might have a shot at knocking, I dunno, Inglourious Basterds off the list.All in all, it hasn't been a year where I've cared much for the contemporary. I do love the YYYs album, but haven't visited it as much as I would've had it come out in, say, 2006. And I have, as usual, struggled to keep up with the cinema, while discovering stuff like the Coens' back catalogue. Probably played more TF2 than any other (non-Spelunky) game this year. In the case of gaming, money's probably an issue. One free game, one that cost me £1.99, two I had on rental and a Christmas present. Hey, I started the Moneyless Gamer for a reason.
Musically, new was even harder than contemporary. My favourite albums are almost all by bands I already knew and liked before. Even though, when I've got my Music Editor hat on, we get a constant stream of new into our inbox, and people are raving about this and that, I'm falling behind. Looking at Top Album lists for inspiration, I feel passed-by. Such band names! Crystal Stilts? Neon Indian? They sound like futuristic versions of bands I like. Can these really have come out without my noticing?. And bands I remember hearing about a few years back, when I couldn't keep my nose out of the NME/blogs. Wild Beasts. Future of the Left. Bands I've tried with, and nothing's happened. Bands I like who I didn't even know had new stuff out. Sonic Youth. Gallows.
Perhaps I'm just getting old.
Wednesday, 30 December 2009
On touringAlso, turns out the Lips cover album of Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon has been released on iTunes (along with also-interviewed Stardeath & White Dwarfs, as well as mHenry Rollins and Peaches.) My timing almost looks intentional, doesn't it?Let's call it a celebration of that! I'm actually quite excited to hear the album, strikes me as a typically Flaming-Lips kind of idea; i.e. the kind of stuff they excel at. Unfortunately, it appears to be iTunes only, which I don't (and refuse to) use. So we'll see...
We’ve been playing since last April. We’ve not played that many shows, but we’re always sorta doing something. So, y’know, it’s a lot. There’s a point I think where you get, like, oh we’re really good at this, and there’s a point where it’s, wow, we’re just playing all the time. But it’s been good.
People seem to really love the new stuff, and we get to do our trip. But today’s the very last day. I mean, I say last day, we’re gonna play a New Year show and then spring… We never really just tour for a year and then take 3 years off. We’re always just kinda playing and recording.On playing live
For me, I’m not a very good musician so I always feel a bit scared getting up in front of people. ‘Cus I’m just a weirdo doing weirdo things, y’know? I don’t really know if it’s any good. I think people like that junk, and I’m glad they do. But I never feel like it’s really a skill. Anyone could get in that space bubble. And maybe that’s why people like it- anyone could do it, but I’m the one who does it.The stage vs. the studio
When we’re doing music and stuff- I mean recording- I guess to me that just feels like you’re doing art. I’m more comfortable doing that because people aren’t paying a bunch of money. You know, all these things have to go right when you’re doing a show. There’s a lot of things that have to go right. And when you’re doing your art in your own space and time, that doesn’t all have to go right. There’s no-one paying money, there’s no-one waiting in the cold. I really care about the people that are coming to the show and I want it to be as good as it can be but there’s a lot of things about it you can’t control. So I stress out about those things. Whereas when I’m doing art it’s just me doing shit, I don’t care- it’s just me and the guys and it is what it is.Keeping interested
When we’re in the studio: the beginning of that, to me, seems like, oh, this is exciting. But if you’re there for months it’s just uhhh. It just beats you down.
So I’m lucky, I think- I get to do a bunch of different things. I get to record. That doesn’t get too boring, or too much the same and then, y’know, touring and I don’t have to do that too much and then I make movies and videos and all kinds of art. I get to do a lot of things so none of it’s too much of a beatdown.Audience participation
Well, I mean, if you’re a fan of the Flaming Lips, usually… At festivals, obviously, not everyone’s there to see us. But they’re there ‘cause they’re ready to rock. And they’re usually drunk or on acid or something like that. We do a lot of stuff to get them to react. We shoot confetti and we throw balloons and I’m saying ‘c’mon motherfuckers, let’s do this’. I think, if you’ve seen us do a show you kinda know a little bit of what the routine is, or the way our shows go. If you had never seen us play and you’re there with everyone else, I guess it’s kind of like going to someone else’s church or something. At first you don’t know what to do but you just join in with all the stupid shit they do.The rock concert as artform
We played some stadium shows with Coldplay at the end of the summer. And 80,000 people in this giant stadium- and I think U2 does this as well- but Chris Martin had everybody get out their cellphones and they would do the wave up and down the lengths of the stadium, and they turn off all the lights so all you can see is 80,000 cellphones… And that’s not music and I don’t know if that’s art but it’s some kind of extraordinary experience that you can’t get unless you have 80,000 people there all willing to participate.The rock concert as mystical force
There’s a lot of groups will simply- y’know they come on stage, they play their music, you listen, that’s the way it goes. But a lot of groups will get the audience involved so the thing just becomes a bigger collaboration of the two energies or whatever. And I think there are probably some groups that don’t feed off of that energy but I know we do. I mean, when the audience gives you that love and enthusiasm it just makes us play better. It has more meaning to it.The rock concert and the ego
Even though, less than 24 hours ago we played a show where all that happened, when that happens tonight it’ll be fucking amazing again. I never feel really like, ah, fuck this. It’s not a thing that you would get jaded to- ‘cause it really is authentic. To me- I know it’s a dumb analogy- but it would kinda be like having sex. You could have sex last night, have it again tonight, it’d be pretty good. Maybe even better. These things, they rejuvenate themselves and we like it and we want it. I think the audience wants it. We all leave the house ‘cause we want some intense experience that you cant’ just get from being on the internet or watching TV. Being with a bunch of people who all want the same thing to happen at the same time.Music is magic
Music is some sort of mysterious emotional thing. I’m not a scientist but I know that your experiences enter into your mind or your consciousness through your eyes and your ears and your senses or whatever. And there’s a moment there where you do really get to say, ooh that’s cool I like it and I’m tasting it and I’m feeling it. But then it goes further into your mind and it becomes part of your experiences and mixes with everything else. Y’know, you sing songs and even though the song is the same song, it means different things to everybody in the audience and they bring that with them. They bring their own reason why they love this moment. So, yeah, it’s cool.What keeps you going?
I sometimes wonder about that– it’s like, do people ever get to a point where they’re just not interested any more? But I don’t think I would be, or I would be, unless I lose my mind or something. I mean, the more I find out about the ways you can make music and the ways you can make art and the people around me helping me do it- I think it just opens up more possibilities of what I can do. And to not be so, I don’t know, self aware- everybody struggles with that, but I think I’m lucky that sometimes I get so obsessed with something, I don’t really care, I just fuckin’ do it and then before I wake up and worry too much it’s already done.Christmas on Mars
I made this movie Christmas on Mars simply because I was around a bunch of people that were making movies and I started to see- oh, well, I see how you could do this. And it gives you ideas and it inspires you and it makes you think of new possibilities.
And so, y’know, I say things like, anything is possible! Which is kind of a silly idea. But in art, it really is true.All artforms as one
To me art is… it’s really all the same. I don’t look at music, or painting, or movies… to me it’s all the same trip. I just look at it as, it’s all just dumb art. If you’re an architect or if you’re a fashion designer or if you’re a tattooist, y’know, there’s elements of all that being exactly the same thing. I’m not gonna drop names, but Damien Hirst came to our show the other night. And when I meet people, whether they’re musicians or painters or whatever, everybody’s relating to the same thing. You get some fuckin’ idea in your mind or some idea gets a hold of you and … you just feel like you have to do it. The torture of doing it- which is a lot of torture- is not as bad as the torture of not doing it. So you do it.Why is art important?
It’s the desire to kind of see the world your way- hear the world your way, to design the world the way you wish it was. It really is a powerful thing to see people not worry about being embarrassed or not worrying about failing. Everybody struggles with that- everything in your life is a struggle, even if you’re not doing art. But when you see artists who just boldly say, fuck it, I’m gonna do this thing, it lets us all think, this thing I wanna be or do with my life, maybe I should just do it. And so there is definitely some value to it. But I know a lot of it is just like masturbation, you’re just doing it cus you like it. Fuck it, I like it. What can you say?The conception of Embryonic
I guess it’s really all connected- we’d be working on Christmas, these big dense arrangements, we’d spend a lot of time working on them, and at the very end of that, something would trigger something and we’d just throw away all that shit we’d worked on for a year and go with this other thing. And I think that’s really what we’ve learned as we go- that you don’t really know why you like something or how you’re gonna like something. You just know when you do.
The growth of Embryonic
We’d be doing these jams where I’d be paying bass and Kliph [Scurlock] and Steven [Drozd] would be playing drums and we wouldn’t really know what we’re doing.
We would have no preconception of exactly what kind of music we were going to make; we’d jam for ten minutes and collectively think, eh, that kinda ran its course. But, we’d go in the next day, without a lot of awareness of what we’d done and then listen to it. And we’d hear maybe a couple of minutes where we thought, ooh, that’s a cool groove. And none of us would really remember what we intended. We weren’t making music from some other sphere of music in our minds. A lot of times you make music and you’re kinda subconsciously playing music that you’ve already played or that you’ve heard. And we’d hear these things and think, oh that’s cool, and we couldn’t really identify it as being us or somebody else. And that would be enough of a spark.Working with David Fridmann
He’s intense and he pushes you to do more stuff and he has a lot of ideas and he’s the sonic master in a whole other way. We thought, well, if we like this stuff, we take it up there and he likes it as well, we’ll see if we can really make it something and believe in it. And the best of the stuff that we took up there, he did like it, and he didn’t know what to think of it and he knew it was sloppy and he knew some of it was out of tune. But those are all elements that he likes in music. He knows a lot of musicians will play in time and in tune and there’s times when he doesn’t feel like it matters, he’s just like you should be expressive. So when we took this stuff up there and he thought it’s not played very well but it’s very expressive. And there were things he thought he could do to make it feel more intentional or just more like this is a piece of music rather than this is just a jam And he was right- he made us turn them into songs. So there was just a lot of unknown, I don’t think we had an idea what we were gonna do and as each little piece turned out good we thought fuck it, let’s just do that.
The birth of Embryonic
We write songs all the time cus we think we’re stupid songwriters, you know, but the songs don’t always turn into anything. We had one song we tried to do 5 different times and it always turned into another song- which is great! You have to have confidence that what you’re doing is gonna work and you have to have some fucking reason to do it and a lot of times with us we think we have a great song let’s go and record it.
Even though we don’t really end up with that song it gets us in there and we start doing things. It’s not what you think that happens, it’s what you do that matters. And a lot of times people think it’s just the opposite
Y’know, they’ll say I had this great idea. Too bad it turned out like shit. As if ideas are hard- I mean, ideas are easy. I’m sure everybody has fuckin’ great ideas of how to do things all the time. But doing it is really all that matters.
We don’t like that but it’s the truth. Sometimes you think you’ve got the greatest song ever and you go in to record it and, it’s not very good. But you don’t know that until you get in there, but it turns into something else and using your eyes and your ears and your senses you can do that thing and I think that’s all we are trying to do.
Sunday, 27 December 2009
"When we’re doing music and stuff, I mean recording, that just feels like you’re doing art. I’m more comfortable doing that. You know, when you’re doing a show, there’s a lot of things that have to go right. And when you’re doing your art in your own space and time, that doesn’t all have to go right. There’s no-one paying money, there’s no-one waiting in the cold. I really care about the people that are coming to the show and I want it to be as good as it can be but there’s a lot of things about it you can’t control. So I stress out about those things. Whereas when I’m doing art, it’s just me doing shit, I don’t care. It’s just me and the guys and it is what it is."
I really can't believe it took me this long to put this up on here. Probably my top Look-Daddy-I'm-A-Real-Journalist! moment of this year was successfully negotiating an interview with the Flaming Lips. Me and the ever-lovely Erica A Vernon shootin' the breeze with Wayne Coyne about art, live performance vs recordings and their new album, Embryonic produced, unsurprisingly, one of the best interviews I've done. Turns out that Mr Coyne's a very talkative, polite and wise gentleman (though, it must be said, with quite a mouth on him. My gran had a copy of Redbrick the other day and I could see her being pointed in the direction of my article. A lot of F-bombs in this one. Those rockstars, eh?)
"We feel like we’re a separate band. We know why we’re associated. But we don’t mind, it doesn’t really bother us. We’re doing exactly what we wanna do, making the kind of music and doing the kind of shows we wanna do. As long as we’re doing that, it doesn’t matter to us who we get associated with.And we love the Flaming Lips, we don’t mind people comparing us to them. It’s cool."I also met and interviewed the Lips' support band, Stardeath & White Dwarfs. Again, Dennis Coyne (Wayne's nephew) was a lovely bloke. It was something of a case of seeing how far I could push a journalistic angle- in this case, being in the Lips' shadow- without infuriating the interviewee. Decide yourself whether I succeeded.
Oh, and bringing together a fair few threads in one neat I-didn't-write-it package, here's an interesting Dave Eggers rant on 'selling out', taken from some quite scary-sounding interview, and framed largely around the Flaming Lips' recent appearance on 90210. He's an eloquent man, is that Dave.
Tuesday, 22 December 2009
Sunday, 20 December 2009
Meanwhile, my lower functions scream at the accursed social life.
MUST. PLAY. MORE. TEE. EFF. TOO!
I'm hooked. I'm hooked bad, in a way I haven't been since my first experience with TF2 two Christmasses ago.* Is it the sweet, satisfyingly lumpy sensation of every successful kill? Well, yes. The giggle-inducing, pun-loving presentation? Definitely. The beautiful Pixar-cartoon design? Even though my non-gaming-friendly laptop appears to have knifed up the graphics in a back-alley, yes.
It's very much all of that. But why now?
It's the fault of... and, okay, appreciate this is a multiplayer deathmatch game about two teams called BLU and RED, killing each other, respawning, killing each other, with a cast of characters entirely made up of red/blue versions of various unbending stereotypes - German mad-scientist doctors, Australian huntsmen snipers, French gentlemen spies... it was the fault of Narrative.
It all began with a mystifying comic put up online at the TF blog, which peeled back the curtain of the game, to show the (fictional) workings under each fight. TF2 has always done mini-narratives well: the basic premise puts your own small story (clocking up kills) in front of a backdrop of a larger story (capturing the control point). Simple but effective- the basis of most multiplayer shooters.
More unique stuff like the game's Domination feature- announcing a character who has killed you multiple times as your rival - and the natural class rivalries/symbioses that develop (the love between a hit-point-endowed Heavy and his Medic) build on that effectively, allowing you to sketch your own story on top of everything happening (and exploding) around you.I reckon, perhaps controversially,** that Achievements, flawed and artificial though they are, extend that. Team Fortress is probably as close to playing an MMO I'm ever going to come. It means a certain level of grinding for the newer, exciting-er weapons but, allowing you to put progress bars and reminders for achievements on the screen, there's a constant sense of varied aims and slow improvement. In traditional narrative terms, character development.
But this week was the first time it's ever imposed such a big meta-narrative over the gameplay. First, making the narrative explicit with (admittedly nonsensical) backstory for the fight, and then setting up a direct war- between the rocket-jumping Soldier and explosive-wielding Scottish cyclops Demoman, all done in traditionally well-written, genuinely funny style over the Team Fortress blog. The winner would receive a special unlockable weapon.And that was it. I had to represent for my chosen side (the Soldiers, obv) so I re-installed TF2, fired up a game and jumped straight into the Soldier's boots, where I loyally stayed for the duration. The thing being, while I probably would have started playing TF2 again this Christmas, nothing else would have got me this instantly attached.
Watching my 'War Contribution' kill-counter slowly tick up, immediately booing at any Demomen I saw, furrowing my brow and making a mental note to throw as many rockets their way as possible (those damned Scots!) and striving to get better at that, TF2 temporarily took over my brain. I was logging on every chance I got, checking the War results like a football fan.
There are some stats floating around on the internet somewhere*** tht show the spike TF2 sales take after each update, and it's well deserved. There was a large internet backlash when Valve announced a Left4Dead2, rather than merely updating the first game for free, and TF2 is the reason. But I can't see L4D updates pushing up the number of interested gamers the way these do- a lot of that is probably due to the more finite nature of level add-ons in an essentially linear game, and a lot to do with the clever way TF2 is marketed- take the Meet The... videos, individual works of genius.
With every update, the attention to detail and sheer amount of jokes (under which a mythos is starting to quietly creep in) are astounding. The value-for-money feeling is as much reading the fake newspapers and comics and watching the videos, as it is the addition of weapons and maps. And it's testament to Valve's investment in new ways of storytelling. This is a game which doesn't feature a single cutscene, but which has managed to build an atmosphere, if not a particularly necessary fiction.
For all people talked about L4D telling a story in a new way with its graffiti and posters (and it did that reasonably well, but in a too-limited way), this is the ultimate showing-off of Valve's confidence. Because they're ace, and they understand gamers of all types- the whole spectrum of nerd- and they make computer games I buy 2 or 3 times.
If you're reading this and it's still Sunday, then the game is still free and you can get it from Steam here. I leave you with the latest promo video, Meet The Spy.
*In many ways, TF2 is as much a Christmas tradition as over-eating and kids' films for me. First got the 360 Orange Box in the boxing-day sales and lost the rest of my Christmas holidays to it. I bought it again for some mystifying reason on PC, where it entirely failed to run until I received a new laptop last Christmas, and kissed farewell to any chances of leaving the house till New Year. And... well, here we are again. A lot of free time, a lot more work to do, and the temptation. Oh, the temptation.
**Controversially because I know a lot of people- PC people especially, and me includedly- look down a bit on achievements as a cheap play-me-look-play-me grinding mechanic. Which they can certainly be, and I'm in no way endorsing the fact that sale page up there including "326 Steam Achievements!" amongst the game's features.
***Just not within reach of my Google-stick.
"DIZZEE RASCAL – DIRTEE CASH
Yeah, it's not Bonkers (overplayed) or Holiday (failed single pushed until people believed they must like it). There's a little something more to Dirtee Cash; the playful Rascal of old striking out at the world at a speed that mean you don't notice. And that title can be only be a dig at the haters."
Sunday, 6 December 2009
So I used it as a Kate Bush listening-machine.
After a while, I discovered playlists. I could allow other people to whittle down this impossible amount of music. With this confidence, I discovered Spotify as a request-granting immediate-gratification social DJing tool.ut, finally, its true purpose has been revealed: Spotify is the replacement for the role the NME; MTV2; MySpace and various blogs have served throughout my life. The discovery feed. Without much commitment, I can hear pretty much anything- all I need to know is the name. (Which remains, of course, the big difficulty in discovering music.)
There's a much longer post in me on the nature of discovering music, and the drive behind that so, with no further ado, I recommend the accompanying playlist to Pitchfork's Top 500 songs of the 21st Century list. And three songs, two that I've listened to on repeat and one that inspired me enough to write this post.
El-P - Stepfather Factory
I am constantly torn by my love of hip-hop. It's very limited, to certain acts and specific song and then, I know it all feeds one emotion- this male, chest-beating aggression thing. I know it can be a pretty harmful genre, socially. It's irresponsible.
Then I hear this and it's genuinely terrifying in the way some of OK Computer was when I first heard it. The nearest comparison I can draw, soundwise, is I Can Ride A Bike With No Handlebars, if you remember that. The ultimate disenfranchised attack on American values, corporations, the family unit... It'd be mockably, teenage-ly, broad if not for its genius idea- the titular Stepfather Factory. And then it bends some of the sounds just right and it's threatening and depressing and a call to arms.
The Honeydrips - (Lack of) Love Will Tear Us Apart
I haven't actually listened to this much yet, but I can spot an obsession when it's coming. Distant, airy female vocals, clever-clever title, and a beat that sounds like a stretched-out combination of '90s dance and Christmas jingles. It's a bit of a pity there has to be a male (pseudo-rapping) voice on the track at all, but it only lasts about 10 seconds.
Antony & The Johnsons - Hope There's Someone
This is the big one, the most obsessed I've been with a song in months, possibly longer. When he won the Mercury prize from pretty much nowhere in 2005? and got hit by the NME hype-train, I made the mistake of scoffing. I was young and didn't know better. A musing on loneliness? Sexuality? Death? All of the above? It really doesn't matter- the strange wavering voice is genuinely touching and actually oddly catchy... I'm trying hard not to fall into my normal journalistic mode of description here. Suffice to say, if you like any kind of emotion in your music, you owe it to yourself to listen to this song. Three listens should give it the time to embed itself in your soul.
Sometimes, it's enough to just be the guy that tells people about nice songs.