Friday, 30 April 2010

30 Days of Music is Over!

That's it then folks ... Show's over. Wait, what's that? There's a bit more yet? Because Alex is too lazy to produce new content?

Welcome to the afterparty. Tomorrow, I'll be throwing up a guest-blog by one of my eloquent comrades every couple of hours. And, no doubt, mercilessly promoting it. Facebook, be ready.

I also thought I'd just throw up a complete song-choices and links post, for completeness' sake. I'm aware that no-one ever comments, but I implore you (not just for my ego, mostly for my ego) to give some feedback. Favourite post? Worst choice? Best type of post (I worked out the other day they split into about the song / mini-essay on related topic / autobiographical)? You don't have to sign up or nuthin' and it would help me know my strengths.

Without further ado, the countdown....
day 30 - your favorite song at this time last year Kate Bush - Wuthering Heights
day 29 - a song from your childhood Frankie Valli & The Four Seasons - December, 1963
day 28 - a song that makes you feel guilty The Long Blondes - Only Lovers Left Alive
day 27 - a song that you wish you could play Tenacious D - Hug Her Gently*
day 26 - a song that you can play on an instrument John Cage - 4'33"
day 25 - a song that makes you laugh Ludacris - Cry Babies (Oh No)
day 24 - a song that you want to play at your funeral Radiohead - Videotape
day 23 - a song that you want to play at your wedding Pulp - Common People
day 22 - a song that you listen to when you’re sad The Smiths - I Know It's Over
day 21 - a song that you listen to when you’re happy Kenickie - Classy
day 20 - a song that you listen to when you’re angry Los Campesinos! - We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed
day 19 - a song from your favorite album Radiohead - Idioteque
day 18 - a song that you wish you heard on the radio Emmy the Great - Canopies & Grapes
day 17 - a song that you hear often on the radio Big Boi - Shutterbugg**
day 16 - a song that you used to love but now hate Maximo Park - Apply Some Pressure
day 15 - a song that describes you Britney Spears - Circus
day 14 - a song that no one would expect you to love Gallows - Orchestra of Wolves
day 13 - a song that is a guilty pleasure My Chemical Romance - Welcome To The Black Parade
day 12 - a song from a band you hate Death in Vegas - Scorpio Rising (feat. Liam Gallagher)
day 11 - a song from your favorite band Pixies - Gigantic
day 10 - a song that makes you fall asleep The Postal Service - Sleeping In
day 09 - a song that you can dance to The Libertines - What Became of The Likely Lads
day 08 - a song that you know all the words to The Streets - The Irony of it All
day 07 - a song that reminds you of a certain event Hole - Celebrity Skin
day 06 - a song that reminds you of somewhere Radiohead - Fitter Happier
day 05 - a song that reminds you of someone Kate Bush - Wuthering Heights (by Imogen Dale)
day 04 - a song that makes you sad REM - Nightswimming
day 03 - a song that makes you happy Patrick Wolf - The Magic Position
day 02 - your least favourite song The Fratellis - Chelsea Dagger
day 01 - your favourite song Bang Bang Machine - Geek Love

*Which, Imi has since pointed out, should have actually been Tenacious D's Double Team.
**I haven't actually heard this on the radio since. My hit-predicting skills are spot on as ever...

30 Days of Music: #001

day 01 - your favourite song

The big one. The reason I did this whole 30 Days fiasco backwards in the first place. What we've been counting down to...

Bang Bang Machine - Geek Love

...And you're probably thinking: what?

I don't normally go in for obscurity for obscurity's sake. But my favourite song is one I've never heard, anywhere, except through my own speakers and headphones. It's not on Spotify, I didn't know there was a video until today (and even that's half the full length), the self-proclaimed "only site dedicated to Bang Bang Machine" on the internet is a relic, a hangover from the pre-56k days.... Geek Love could almost not exist outside of this lone mp3 on my hard-drive.

Some days, I can almost believe it doesn't.

And, despite the song sounding like a broken half-transmission from an alternative reality (in which, perhaps, Geek Love was a #1 hit) that's silly, really. Apart from the obvious fact that my mind has the musical creativity and ability of a beached manatee mid-labour, it was a #1. Sort of. It topped John Peel's annual Festive 50, in 1992. Which, incidentally, is where my copy was ripped from: for a year or so, before I discovered Audacity, the song was bookended by Peel talking, every single time I listened to it.

Which added to the feel of it being a broken transmission, from a time and place that could have been. Where post-rock took over and became, merely, rock. Where instead of Britpop, something entirely different was built out of Saint Etienne's legacy as eyes were lifted from shoes (and navels), guitars and alternative dance music holding hands and walking into the 20th Century's sunset, burning brighter than in our own world...

I'm getting carried away, but it's that kind of song. The kind that carries you away with it. A looping 9 minute monster of a song, with barely-decipherable vocals. I've sang along to the lyrics dozens of times, but I couldn't for the life of me tell you a single line from it, even as I'm listening to it now.

It could be about first contact with the other gender, or living alone with only a set of headphones for company... it's actually, according to Wikipedia, about a travelling family of circus freaks. It even incorporates noises from controversial film-classic Freaks. That simultaenously surprises me and explains everything.

You might notice I'm using italics a lot. It's that kind of song, written in the elegant looping language of italics. The kind of song that wraps thick arms around you and whispers: calm. safe. shhhhhh. The kind of song that inspires in me what could, no doubt, be labelled pretentiousness.

Except, obviously, I mean it. I mean all of it.

Thursday, 29 April 2010

30 Days of Music: #02

day 02 - your least favourite song

It'd be easy to just name the name, refuse to link to the video and leave it there. But, instead, I'm going to brave my least favourite song and pick it apart: all for your benefit. I'm selfless that way.

Fratellis - Chelsea Dagger

Well, duh.

I've walked out of innumerable clubs to this particular soundtrack. My hatred is well-known enough that people will play it just to get a rise out of me. I will actually put my hands over my ears and shout LALALALALALAAAA to block it out. But the truth is...

Once upon a time, I sort of liked the Fratellis. Once upon a time, I was your average NME-reading teenager: with, I like to think, a better record collection than most, but still clueless to new stuff, and so I read the NME and they'd tell me this or that was worth a look, and a lot of the time I would, and sometimes it would be worthwhile, and sometimes it wouldn't. For all that people bash the NME, myself included, it was a good system.

One coverdisc, I think, came with a Fratellis song on. Creeping Up The Backstairs, I think. It was jaunty enough, and when the band came on MTV2 I wouldn't turn the channel over. I can still stand to listen to it, even, though I'd never choose to. It's an alright song. So it's possible - I don't ever remember it, but it's possible - that I once liked this song, too.

And it is at this point in the blog which I start exposing myself to Chelsea Dagger. The here-it-comes drums. Those opening jabs at my spine. The yell, expressing nothing. And we're into come-on-lads-chant-along territory. It's so ... obvious. At this point, I'd normally be on my way out the door.

Lyrically, the opening gambit says it all.
Well you must be a girl with shoes like that,
She said you know me well.
I'm genuinely unsure if the lyrics are intentionally banal. It's possible, just possible, that The Fratellis might be geniuses. This song could not be better designed to irritate me. It's weaponised Oasis, more toxic than their worst and more, at least here in the 21st Century, widely played.

The real kicker, the thing that makes it so evil, is that it's an earworm. Fragments of the song will be stuck in my brain for hours now. As its half-life ticks down, my brain, still shell-shocked, won't be able to work out quite what it's dealing with, won't realise what chemical waste it is dealing with, won't be able to stop itself. It might, even, start humming along...

Chelsea Dagger is a musical Chernobyl. And I was born, stunted, into the world after its release. What's done is done. And that inescapable fact, and the inescapibility of the song itself, is why it is my least favourite song. Now excuse me while I throw everything on Spotify at it in an attempt at decontamination.

Wednesday, 28 April 2010

30 Days of Music: #003

day 03 - a song that makes you happy
Yesterday I talked about how little music makes me sad. Joyful, though? Oh, I can do joyful. Right now I'm hungover without having touched alcohol for days, had a half-hour fight with a printer to produce a contents page... And then, I put this song on and I'm bobbing and ...oh, a little smile there.

Patrick Wolf - The Magic Position

My attachment to art, of any kind, is pretty simple. I'm looking for one of two things: either an intellectual tickling of my lobes, or involuntary smiling. You could probably distil my primary-colours attitude to my entire life into this simple philosophy.

The Magic Position is just the song I have the most memories of smiling to, at immediate mental reach. Parties where the music is controlled by people I trust**, going a bit mental at Latitude festival, looking out over the entirety of my Uni laid out below me as the sun went down and the climactic "it's you" kicks in.

The song is simple enough*, just love-fuelled happiness stripped down to its core: I like you, and it makes me happy. I'm a simple man: Hi, I'm Alex. I like you and it makes me happy.


*i.e., me.

**Pending anything like yesterday's AIDS debacle

Tuesday, 27 April 2010

30 Days of Music: #004

day 04 - a song that makes you sad

And we're inside the last 5, and hopefully tonight's is the last one that'll sneak in right before that 00:00 deadline, as I wave goodbye to the deadlines of academia.

R.E.M. - Nightswimming

It seems weird, given how attached I am to pop music, but there's very little that can make me sad, that can bring that lump to the throat like, say, cinema. I might use music when I'm sad, but it's unusual that an emotion will just hit me out of nowhere.

I think that's an immersion thing. I talked, with Fitter Happier, about an experience that led to the purist values where I think music should be dipped into, in isolation. But I rarely do it, and when an album holds you for 40 minutes, the end is rarely suddenly an emotional kicker. There's something more like release, for me, at the end of most albums.

I've been writing a lot, in my academic career, about narrative recently, but I think I really do need that for the emotional kick. If I hadn't already written about them, this could have easily been about The Libertines: I find the narrative of Carl and Pete heart-rending, and it was always central to my enjoyment of their work.

The lyrical meaning I grab onto in Nightswimming* isn't anything particularly sad. I'm a simple man, and I just get: it's about skinny-dipping. But then it pulls that trick that pop music does so well, and in just its presentation, through the sounds of the instruments and the way Michael Stipe's voice strains**, it sounds nostalgic and tired and scared, and it makes me go ... if not throat-lumpy, then just quiet.

Like most music that's considered sad, it's also beautiful (see: The Arcade Fire, who this post was very nearly about). I find it incredibly calming, which I know sadness rarely is. My memories of the song - in bed with Imi, drunkenly trying to sleep in a friend's too-small car - are happy.

But, if it hits me just right, Nightswimming can manages to do this thing, that music so rarely does for me. Why, after a day of banging my head against my choices, I came up with this, is one of the mysteries of music. And that just starts making me joyful again...

*Though Miles informs me it might actually be about AIDS. That is quite sad, isn't it? Oops.

Monday, 26 April 2010

30 Days of Music: #005

day 05 - a song that reminds you of someone

TODAY: A guest blog from Imogen 'lovely girlfriend' Dale.

Kate Bush - Wuthering Heights

Alex is addicted to this song*. It's been sung, listened to, and craved for by him more times than I can count. I think (my embarassing lack of music knowledge exposed) this was the first time I'd even heard of Kate Bush, and the first time I heard it was indeed sung by the lovely Alex Spencer. As his singing doesn't quite compare to hers**, I wasn't sure I was going to enjoy this seemingly screechy and dull song. But I did! And I have continued to enjoy it every time I have heard it.

In fact, I think I've even been known to sing it to him myself, and to myself, on my own, while procrastinating.

What can I say, it's catchy!

*It has, after all, already been a star in this 30 Days of Music extravaganza!
**The opinions expressed by Imogen Dale do not necessarily reflect those of Alex-Spencer.co.uk.

Thankyou, Imogen! This short entry (costing me only £17.53) courtesy of Imogen having an exam tomorrow, and Alex having somewhere in the region of 15,000 words due over the next couple of days, and Alex pansying about when he writes anything.

Sunday, 25 April 2010

30 Days Of Music: #006

day 06 - a song that reminds you of somewhere

I have to admit: I've been agonising over these 'reminds you' song choices. It's no coincidence they've both been written uncharacteristically late. But once I'd thought of this one, it seemed obvious.

Radiohead - Fitter Happier*

See, I've probably mentioned it before, but I have this totally pretentious formative moment from when I was like 16. I'd recently bought The Bends and OK Computer, slapped the two CDs, a walkman, and a load of batteries in a coat pocket, and went-a-walking.

I ended up climbing to one of the higher points on Cannock Chase in search of a radio mast I'd been able to see on the horizon, and looking down over my hometown. I've never been one for sights: touristed to a load of famous things, not impressed. But it was a bit breathtaking.

It was all about the atmosphere, of course. Back to back, on your own, two albums of Radiohead throws an inevitable ... fog over you. The stuff I'd seen helped: it had briefly snowed, and some deer darted out in front of me while I was walking through the forest. It was one of those experiences that was almost self-consciously defining. It was the start of thinking in albums as the primary unit of music; it led to my habit of chasing big filmic Moments; I'd gone out with the aim to write a short story, and came back with one in my head, which I knocked out to more Radiohead**. It was so neat I could've planned it, almost. But, no, I was just standing there, kicking big old rocks around and looking out over my hometown to these weird, alien noises.

...Almost immediately afterwards, my batteries died and I was left to walk home, as it got darker, in silence.

*Amusingly, listening to this song on Spotify, it came immediately and inexplicably followed by Would I Lie To You? by Charles & Eddie. A slight shift in tone there...
**For a few years, I wrote exclusively to
OK Computer. I tried it the other day and it didn't work.

Saturday, 24 April 2010

30 Days Of Music: #007

day 7 - a song that reminds you of a certain event

It's pathetic, but I can't think of many pivotal events that are worthy of having songs attached to them. Sonic Youth's Goo reminds of me of two or three bus journeys to school, but that doesn't really count, does it?

Hole - Celebrity Skin

So I end up defined by my lovely girlfriend again. And I'd bet she doesn't even remember this...

It could have been my smug realisation of what Hot Chip's Over and Over was about, with all its joy of repetition, and monkeys playing miniature cymbals. It could have been Weezer, from the exact same night. But, what I remember is dancing with her to this. And thinking: yeah, this could work.

Imi at 15 was probably my exact match.* Sadly, we met at 19, but a girl I could dance with to silly 90s girl-grunge? Hell, that was good enough.

And that's the event that this reminds me of. Dancing together in the undefined early days, without the in-jokes and the keeping each other happy. One day, perhaps it will be a bitter memory. I really hope not, because I quite like Celebrity Skin and I definitely like being quietly nostalgic about it...

You need some excuse to listen to Hole, right?

*For my 15-year-old self, to be clear for legal reasons.

Friday, 23 April 2010

30 Days of Music: #008

day 8 - a song that you know all the words to

Which, I think, is a lot of songs. I've never been the greatest at lyric-memorising (well, it's not the point, is it?) but there's a lot of songs I know all the way through. Admittedly, these are often songs with 6 or 7 words in them. The question is what song is worth knowing all the words to?

The Streets - The Irony Of It All

Streets songs are quotable, is the thing.

I don't mean in that sixth-form Facebook status way that Los Campesinos! lyrics excite me in, or the way I occasionally pull out a bit of Morrissey, one eyebrow arched. I mean, around-the-house, casual-conversation, trying-to-express-myself-properly stealing. Original pirate material, if you will.

...

And I could leave it there (and I probably should, that's a good finishing line). But, if we're talking words, you'd best believe there's going to be a lot of them.

I'd heard some Streets stuff before, and liked it well enough. This was in the era between Has It Come To This? and Fit But You Know It. Then, it happened: Dry Your Eyes. Dead-eyed emotional obviousness. Yawn. My interest was killed. A little later, a friend was talking about The Irony of It All. The Streets? I wasn't interested. But he talked about the song, a split-down-the-middle two-character-driven pre/anti-drugs debate, and convinced me to slip in that one headphone and listen to the mp3.

And I've still got my reservations (Original Pirate Material is the only album worth bothering with, Fit But You Know It tops my list of songs that will cause me to turn the radio off) but, y'know, I really like The Streets. And it's the words, really.

They sneak, unavoidably, into my speech. The other day, in an attempt to express myself, I wrote a note - "the washing up bowl in my crown" - in a story, and forgot to remove it, thoroughly confusing everyone who I showed it to. It's just that kind of vocabulary, that sneaks into your forebrain and burrows, biding its time...

Yes, yes, oh yay.

Thursday, 22 April 2010

30 Days of Music: #009

day 9 - a song that you can dance to

Many people would argue that there is no such thing. These are sensible people, of the type that have seen my dancing.

The Libertines - What Became Of The Likely Lads

This is an example of a song that I can't not dance to.

My love of the Libertines, these days, is extremely circumstantial. As is natural, after years of post-band rubbish, Doherty in the press, and just growing up.* I can't even bring myself to be that excited for the Reading reunion.

But, place me and several units of alcohol in a public place that plays a Libertines song - any Libertines song - and I will dance. If you have the ill fortune of being with me, you will lose me to the press of the crowd, where I will alternately knock drinks out of hands and hug uncomfortable strangers. If I'm not in a club ... well, it doesn't matter, I'll still shout the lyrics and dance to myself.

I don't know what it is about their music - it's hardly designed with dancing in mind - but there's a certain energy there that summons that particular shambolic beast within me. If I was going to Reading this year, I know exactly how I'd behave during their set. Shamefully.

That much of the Libertines Magic remains.

*Phonogram was, as usual, extremely prescient on this. The Libertines were a key band - "my training bra, intellectually speaking. Supportive to start with, but rapidly outgrown. Soon traded in for something sexier", to quote the delightful Ms. Aster - to who I became, but ultimately they were fuel. They burnt.

Wednesday, 21 April 2010

30 Days of Music: #010

day 10 - a song that makes you fall asleep

NOTE: I did not choose this song for its title. This is vastly important. I remembered the sounds and some of the words before I worked out what it was called. It is, perhaps, appropriately named.

The Postal Service - Sleeping In

Unlike, to pick a pointedly relevant example, the music of Owl City, which makes me want to sleep (preferably forever) The Postal Service's music isn't boring. It's soothing. It's the kind of music that curls your foetal self up in its arms and coo: I know, I know, it's all alright really.

I've always had trouble sleeping on my own. I'm sure you know the feeling - my brain, given space to wander, starts overheating. I used to sleep with the TV on, then graduated to podcasts and music. (Nowadays, I use a white noise generator.) The Postal Service's Give Up was the perfect choice: arresting and enjoyable while I wound down, and then faded into a static layer of snow over my brain. I recently gave it a session of relistening, to discover that I had no recollection of the album's final two tracks.

Which, if nothing else, proves that it did its job perfectly.

Tuesday, 20 April 2010

30 Days of Music: #011

day 11 - a song from your favorite band

We've had a little mini-hate week, today it's all about the love. Except for the bit where I um and ah about my favourite band and arbitrarily pick and then get caught up on it later...

Pixies - Gigantic

Yeah, so I'm a Gigantic kind of Pixies fan. (And there's a pun in there, about also being a kind of gigantic Pixies fan. But I'm bigger than that, at least, if not better.) It's Kim Deal's projects I've followed rather than Frank Black's. And while the Pixies were, at their best, about the clash of those two personalities, it was with the Pixies that I started to realise: oh, I kind of like the music more when the girl's singing.

Gigantic
works in a lot of ways. It comes on all innocent seductress, with those smooth throbbings hidden beneath everything else. Kim Deal's voice is, as ever, smoky and dirty. But, for the Pixies, it seems pretty restrained and well-behaved. Until you notice the pull-push nature of the chorus, and some of the lyrics start to seem a bit suspect:
Gigantic, gigantic, gigantic
A big big love

Lovely legs, they are
What a big black mess
What a hunk of love
Walk her every day into a shady place
He's like the dark, but I'd want him.
Still, I guess it is restrained, relatively speaking. But that's relative to a band who chronicled to my early mind the dark folds of sexuality: keeping underwear for sniffing and their beloved incest. For Pixies, a song about fancying a black guy 'cus he's probably well-endowed is, well, girl's stuff.

And that's why they're my favourite band.

Monday, 19 April 2010

30 Days of Music: #012

day 12 - a song from a band you hate

The last few days have been a real hate-fest. GRR! ARGH!

Death In Vegas - Scorpio Rising

There should have a perfect one, for this. A band whose entire output I dislike, but for one song. And on that song, all the elements I normally dislike - the singer's irritating voice, the derivative guitar stuff, the muddled production - came together and, just for that three-and-a-half-minutes, made sense. Like the band had been designed, like those statues that only look right from one angle, for this one song, and at all other angles were ugly, and vulgar.

Instead, there's this. And it's kind of cheating.

See, now, I have nothing against Death In Vegas. But Scorpio Rising has a guest star, a monkey-man marking his territory all over the record. One Liam Gallagher. Now, Oasis...

Oasis were the proto-band-I-hate, the model for everything that's come since. Swaggering, empty masculinity. Based on the antagonistic relationship between two brothers who, to me, have never seemed to have the slightest bit of charisma. A vocal style I find boring singing lyrics that mean nothing. Picking on all the right bands in the NME. Completely misunderstanding what the Pop Music is for.

But Scorpio Rising feels so right. It's an intelligent use of Liam Gallagher's voice, setting it against a whipping electro-noise that cuts right against the grain of his rough Northern flatness. All that stuff I said about a band coming together perfectly for one song? In an alternative universe, where the Gallaghers sacked everyone in the band including themselves, leaving a couple of tapes of their vocals in a dusty recording studio and hiring some dance-savvy electro-types to do what they wilt with what remained of the band, yes, this would be that song.

Sunday, 18 April 2010

30 Days of Music: #013

day 13 - a song that is a guilty pleasure

Frankly, I don't think anything I've ever done is wrong...

My Chemical Romance - Welcome To The Black Parade

...You might disagree.

Of all the music I like, this is probably the most incomprehensible. Of all the songs, it's the one I've been genuinely a bit wincey about putting up. It's just ... not very good.

But, oh, it is. I disliked MCR from the start, on principle. I loved indie, and they were silly emo, like Fallout Boy and Panic! At The Disco. Their videos were ...pretty cool, actually, in a silly, gothy way.

Then, something magical happened: I stopped taking My Chemical Romance - that band of obsessive followers, literary pretension and theatrical ambition - seriously. I don't know how I'd never seen it before: The costumes. The Queen-grave-robbing guitar solos. The face-paint. Gerard freakin' Way. They were just pure, stupid Pop. They were silly, and on the other side of the looking glass, there was something brilliant about them that way.

I don't love Black Parade, really. I rarely listen to it on my own, more commonly using it as an irritant at parties, or when I find it on the iPod of someone who I know thinks they should know better. But it is a pleasure, even on repeat as I write this. And I feel a little guilty. With lyrics like
A world that sends you reeling from decimated dreams
You're misery and hate will kill us all
So paint it black and take it back
Lets shout it loud and clear
Defiant to the end we hear the call
To carry on
it's almost definitely for the best that I do. But, in the words of that guy falling off a bridge in the Simpsons: I regret nothing!

(...Oop. I think my housemates might've heard me listening to this. Best scarper!)

Saturday, 17 April 2010

30 Days of Music: #014

day 14 - a song that no one would expect you to love

If I'd like this blog-o-journey to have shown anything, it's that my tastes are rather varied. I'm as comfortable talking about processed girl-pop as I am indie boys whinging with guitars. Which makes this a difficult choice. I'd hope that my friends wouldn't be surprised by anything I pulled out of this particular bag, especially given that the songs you wouldn't expect me to like are the ones I'm most likely to covet and push in everyones' faces. How much you wouldn't expect me to love this depends on whether you've ever been to one of my house's parties.

Gallows - Orchestra of Wolves

There's a tradition: 1am. Alcohol levels at their very premium, just before they start to make you lag. Party in a kind of transitional stage. Familiar guitars make a couple of ears twig, and it's all AVENGERS ASSEMBLE to the living room/dancefloor.

Where the same four or five boys proceed to try and kill each other for 8 minutes (the playtime, generally, of a Gallows track paired with a Rage Against The Machine track.) Shirts are removed, sweaty bodies collide, people are thrown headfirst at sofas...

It's a formula. Always the same two bands, around the same time with more or less the same people. And, for honesty's sake, it tends to be Gallow's Abandon Ship rather than . But I prefer Orchestra of Wolves. Okay?

Largely because frontman Frank Carter gets to say far more horrible things. Due to the family-friendly rules of this blog, I struggle to even paraphrase the contents of Orchestra of Wolves. Let's just say that Frank is interested in getting to know girls better. A lot better.

Why might people not expect me to like Gallows? Because, genre-wise, it's hardly in my comfort zone. I don't like anything particularly similar: it's telling that Rage get the other spot in our thrashy double-bill, and I don't particularly like Rage. And, given that I tend music's more feminine side, the song seems like chest-beating alpha-male material. And yes, that's exactly why I like it.

But there's a sense that underneath it all is a really pleasant, polite guy (after all, he's refusing to get girls drunk so he can have sex with them ... even if the reasoning for this is, ahem, a little colouful.) It's as theatrical as Bowie, or Lady Gaga.

Also, once, a couple of years ago, it made me jump high enough that I was actually able to get my legs around a housemate's shoulders before collapsing us both to a sofa. As a frail and clumsy individual, that's about as powerful as I've felt.

...Sorry, Ben.

Friday, 16 April 2010

30 Days of Music: #015

day 15 - a song that describes you

We're over the halfway point. To get all Oscars speech, it's you guys that have made this happen! That's right, the little people! I'm sorry, there might be tears, especially with the distinctly emo-teen-MySpace to today's theme.

Britney Spears - Circus

I'm a put-on-a-show kinda girl.

Circus the album is Britney at her most meta. A lot of the tracks are just about bein' Britney. About not even Britney Spears, real slightly-messed-up-by-showbiz girl, but the public's perception of BRITNEY, name-in-sparkling-lights icon.

And so, mostly, what they're about is the spotlight, grabbing attention, and putting on a show. I'm no Britney, but can appreciate that.

As a 'song that describes me', it's more about the alcohol-fuelled Mr Hyde that is Drunk Alex, dancing, stripping and generally striving for the spotlight. It was standing on a chair one night, gyrating to this song that it all clicked. But I've got to admit, it applies to me too. After all, here I am writing this.

It's not that I'm starved of love or histrionic* or anything: sometimes, the attention just feels good.

*Though, thanks for that diagnosis Dr Cowley. If you're reading this... this one's for you!

Thursday, 15 April 2010

30 Days of Music: #016

day 16 - a song that you used to love but now hate

Today: A journey back into my generic-indie-kid past.

Maximo Park - Apply Some Pressure

An initial disclaimer: both 'love' and 'hate' are used loosely here.

Apply Some Pressure was never my favourite Maximo Park song. To be clear, there were some of their songs I really loved. I haven't listened to Maximo Park for ages, but I'm not ashamed of liking them, the way I might be with other bands I liked around the period: y'know, the likes of ___, ____ and even The ____s! Cringe!

I once saw frontman Paul Smith cry at a gig*, which is enough guarantee of authenticity for me. They had enough of The Smiths' stainless-steal melancholy/wit combo about them (and some of the tortured vocab-testing t
Publish Post
hat I'd come to treasure as 'density' in bands like Los Campesinos!) that means their lyrics hold up. I don't have to cringe at remembering my teenaged self earnestly emoting to them.

Not that I don't have some embarrassing memories of myself soundtracked to this song, you understand. But that's my fault, not Maximo Park's.

I realise I've spent the majority of this 'hate' post defending the song. That's because I don't have anything against the song, and I don't want to deny the music that helped form me, cool or not. The truth is, though, that now the song just doesn't really do much for me. I can listen to it without thinking or feeling one way or the other. Overexposure, I suppose. Years of clubs and parties and radios playing this song and its lasting legacy is this:

I was never very good at it on Singstar. It was always harder to sing than I expected.


*An anecdote which, when told to any girls I foolishly thought it might impress, inevitably became heard as 'I cried at a Maximo Park gig'. This was immediately hastily denied. I'm afraid, readers, that I was once not the sex machine you see before you today.

Wednesday, 14 April 2010

30 Days of Music: #017

day 17 - a song that you hear often on the radio

I'm giving up on my weather commentary. By the time I've taken all the typos out and got the video working, it tends to have completely changed. So make your own snappy intro to this (or don't bother, just turn up the volume, hit play, and marvel at how it's still not loud enough):

Big Boi - Shutterbugg

One of those songs I'm surprised by, for no good reason at all, every time I hear it on the radio. Having seen the video to Shutterbugg's (perhaps superior) predecessor Fo Yo Sorrows through the hipster-paradise Pitchfork, I think I might've forgot just how famous Outkast are.

And of course, that ignores the true litmus test: as mentioned yesterday, my target-demographic of a sister. I exposed her to these two songs not expecting much. Within a half-hour, I could hear it blasting under her door.

And here we are, and it's getting pretty wide play on Radio 1. You might not have heard it yet, and the song's radioplay is admittedly in its infancy, and might not go any further. But I'd be surprised if none of the songs of Big Boi's forthcoming Sir Luscious Left Foot explode this summer. I admit, this entry is me taking the opportunity to be-there-first on something. And it could explode gloriously in my face.

The irony of this choice is: Shutterbugg doesn't sound that good on the radio. The song is carved out of pure sound, with shattering and stuttering while Big Boi works the bass of whatever you're playing the music through. A shower radio just ain't going to cut it. I haven't tried it in a car yet*, but the couple of radios I've heard it on seems like the version being broadcast is missing the bottom layer. This terrible affliction struck Rude Boy too (and Big Boi's similarly-carved-out-of-pure-sound Outkast song Ghetto Musick), though not as badly, and means that the song is currently being carried by waves of 'Ooh, they're playing this?'

I suggest hooking this laptop up to your best available soundsystem, wandering over to your reputable music source of choice, and getting lost. You won't be able to avoid it in a month, so get your enjoyment in while you can.

*This is the exact kind of thing that the Parsonsmobile was created for.

Tuesday, 13 April 2010

30 Days of Music: #018

day 18 - a song that you wish you heard on the radio

And summer is back! On the grass with only a barbecue and a radio for company time. And in an alternative universe where I am in charge, this is what would be playing...

Emmy The Great - Canopies & Grapes

I've just never understood why Emmy isn't bigger. One of the few acts-that-I-think-everyone-would-like that actually tends to pan out that way*, she's the harder-edged glassy-stare don't-mess-with-her older cousin of Noah & The Whale and Laura Marling. When she sings about misery - and Emmy the Great being Emmy the Great, all the songs are about misery - you really believe that this small, quite sweet-looking girl**'s been there.

It helps that the lyrics are incredibly, edge-of-a-broken-off-bottle sharp. Every simile ever recorded in song form is skewered by Canopies & Grapes' beautifully evocative "I feel worse/Than when S Club 7 broke up". The song meanders from its central them to consider if Friends is what it means to be American, before getting back on-point: she's dealing with this badly. Could he please get back to me?

Given that she doesn't seem too fond of doing this live, and it's not included on the album, I can't escape the feeling that this single could've been her albatross. It could've been her Creep, her Sex on Fire, with the added bonus of being infinitely better than either...

I say that people who've heard Emmy tend to love her (and I wonder if you, the reader, will too.) She's one of the few artists the majority of my house agree on enough for us to have her poster in our living room. She's one of the few things me and the lovely girlfriend like evenly. My mom and dad, even, have nodded appreciatively when I put the CD on in the car. The why of Emmy's not being fabulously famous and wealthy comes down to the one person I know who hates it... my sister.

Female, mid-teens, with a suspicion of anything with a violin in it... She's Radio1's target demographic. It's not that she has bad taste, it's just that her prejudices are the prejudices of the nation's youth, and so what the radio will play, and so are the prejudices of the next generation of teens with disposable income. It'd be easier to curse the damn kids but while we might see that Emmy should've been a pop phenomenon, really it's all a bit Stephen-King's-Misery ... We want to keep Emmy for ourselves. She's ours, and she will be forever...

*See: Kenickie.
**And I'm aware that Emmy The Great are a band, but for whatever reason - probably the name - it's impossible not talk about it as Emmy, the Great.

Monday, 12 April 2010

30 Days of Music: #019

day 19 - a song from your favourite album

Ahh, the complex question that is what's your favourite album...

Radiohead - Idioteque

I've touched on my relationship with Radiohead already in the list, and promised I'd get onto it properly later. They're a band who made me, as far as my attitude to music is concerned: the walk I took climbing to Cannock's highest point while listening to The Bends followed by OK Computer is a good summation of certain parts of my approach to music in general, for all its quirks.

Kid A's the one, though. The story of Radiohead's metamorphosis from mopey guitarband to mopey sound-manipulators is what cemented my love for them, and started a teenaged me looking for similar patterns in other bands, valuing 'change' and 'growth' above all in a discography.

This is probably best summed up in Idioteque, which is why I picked it. Everything done for a reason, here.

It just sounds ... alien. The lyrics don't make much sense, except giving the sound something to weave round, and the odd nuclei of sense helping better evoke the mood. It's dance music (listen to this in a dark room and marvel at those limbs as they involuntarily jerk, commanded by the song) but it's not dance music. Not for colourful dance floors but for darkened living rooms. Not dancing to attract mates, but twitching because you can't help it.

The song is an ode to the human body as a failing clockwork machine, slowly winding down. What makes it work where Radiohead v1.0 might've seemed adolescent and miserable is that v2.0 make it so your body is a conspirator, nodding along to the song with every jerk and twitch as you dance yourself down to the knees.

* * *

Checking last.fm for my most-listened-to albums according to their scrobblings provided a baffling picture of my 'favourite albums', Kid A being distantly beaten out as my favourite Radiohead album by OK Computer, apparently my second most listened-to album. In fact, Kid A comes in at a pathetic 76th, somewhere behind The Ramones' Ramones and a Manic Street Preachers greatest hits collection. Last.fm's weird, and I probably need to write about it at some point...

Sunday, 11 April 2010

30 Days of Music: #020

day 20 - a song that you listen to when you’re angry

And the bottom has, inevitably, started to fall out of British summer, making today an even more perfect Kenickie day than yesterday...

Los Campesinos! - We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed

It should be pointed out that I don't really listen to music as an anger-reliever or -enhancer. This is largely because I'm not very good at getting angry, certainly not for an extended period of time. Put it down to a testosterone deficiency or whatever.

However, the stuff I do like that would usually be considered 'angry' (Rage Against Machine, Gallows, most good hip-hop) is used for having a good time with. I nearly slipped Orchestra of Wolves into yesterday's position for making this point.

Even WABWAD doesn't make me angry, per se, but I can't help, no doubt to the bemusements of other pedestrians, but shout along:

"I cannot emphasise enough that my body
Is a badly designed, poorly put together vessel
Harbouring these diminishing, so called vital organs

HOPE MY HEART GOES FIRST
I HOPE MY HEART GOES FIRST"

This loses some of its power written down (like almost all LC! lyrics, for reasons we'll get into/have gotten into another time) but those capitals are well earned. These sorts of carve-them-into-your-arm bits are dotted across the song ("We kid ourselves there's future in the hugging/But there is no hugging future"*) and it's easy to see how, if I ever actually learn to get angry, they might come in useful.

*Why does almost every choice I make try its hardest to contravene the site's (arbitrary, but fun) family-friendly rules? Naughty, naughty. As my mom once bemoaned... those rockstars, they like the f-word, don't they?

Saturday, 10 April 2010

A Kick To The Balls

So, if you haven't heard yet, Kick Ass is a pretty good film. It's probably not going to Dark Knight your socks off, but it's a solid Iron Man. It takes the ideas and ambition of Millar's good-but-flawed comic and it runs with it. Superbad + Spider-Man? The stories about studios turning Matthew Vaughan and Mark Millar away are astounding: how the dollar signs in their eyes weren't spinning I don't know.
KickAss3
And here's what Kick Ass does: it deconstructs the superhero genre better than Watchmen.

To be clear, we're taking the 2009 film, not the 1987 comic. And here's the point: nothing is ever going to be able blow apart expectations like Alan Moore in the '80s ever again. Thing about expectations is, once you've destroyed them once, that trick doesn't work any more.

And by the time our current Golden Age of Cinematic Supers rolled around, the geeks were in charge, and they'd all read Watchmen. Look at the first wave: Blade, Spider-Man and the single film responsible for the last decade of capes and sound effects on the big screen: Bryan Singer's X-Men.

No colourful costumes. Opening in Nazi Germany. That bit where Wolverine uses one of his claws to give Cyclops the finger.

And Kick Ass is essentially that, writ large. It's at its best when it melds mundane reality (which rings true more regularly than Millar's original sweartastic dialogue) with low-key superheroics. We've seen all this before - Raimi did the early failures when Peter Parker hit that billboard learning to web swing; the 'scuba suit as superhero suit' practicality was a hallmark of Nolan's realist approach to Batman Begins; hell, even the unexpected 'getting hit with a bus' was in Mean Girls - but it's still loveable here, as long as it doesn't expect us to gasp, they can't do that!

Kick-Ass telling us that if we think he's sure to survive just 'cause he's narrating this, stop being such a smart-ass works and, obviously, the breakaway hit of the film is the foul-mouthed, uncomfortably sexualised Hit Girl. Making it so the infamous C-word line isn't her entrance seems a waste, but her character is largely pitch-perfect in delivering little subversive shocks throughout. The scene where she asks for a puppy for her birthday is a brilliant example.
KickAss2
Unfortunately, though, Kick Ass has a tendency to get too close to the clichés it's playing with, and develop Stockholm Syndrome for them. The general plot structure is very reminiscient of the first Spider-Man film, if cleverly obscured and (I should point out that minor spoilers will follow, but given that they're examples of Kick Ass playing it safe to action movie conventions, they're probably not going to ruin it for you) relies on the sort of 'friend comes to the rescue at the last minute' and 'apparently dead character is in fact only mildly injured ... and comes to the rescue at the last minute' clichés with such regularity that, far from building tension, they undermine any sense of danger.

Which brings us to the inevitable portion of our review entitled 'But, it's not like the comic!'
KickAss1
Letting Kick-Ass get the girl probably shouldn't work, but it's cute and satisfying enough (and the love interest is fleshed out in a way not only beyond the comic's two-dimensional but beyond the likes of Spider-man et al themselves) that it's easily forgiven. Taking away the big reveal that Big Daddy's cool Punisher-style origin story is just a story, however, means that the movie loses the message that made the comic worthwhile: that, perhaps, obsessing over the revenge fantasy of superhero vigilantism isn't really very healthy.

Like the superhero films it is playing on, it can't resist turning the last half hour into a big righteous action setpiece, as Hit Girl stays resolutely bad-ass and seeks her revenge. The comic kept the characters passive, their focus on escaping and surviving rather than vengeance and killing every last motherlover in the building. Ultimately, Kick Ass succeeds in raising the stakes better than most superhero stories, it wreaks minor havoc with the formula in a way that far outstrips Snyder's bombastic efforts in Watchmen, but it doesn't quite have the balls to go as far as it promises.

Friday, 9 April 2010

30 Days of Music: #021

day 21 - a song that you listen to when you’re happy

Our first song without a video is also the hardest one so far to write about...


I frickin' love this song.

Right now, with a rare burst of sunniness overtaking Britain, is a perfect time for Kenickie. The wide-eyed thrashy optimism half of Kenickie, anyway, not the abyss-black self-loathing half of Kenickie. Classy is all staring-up-at-the-sky dizziness and late night park drinking. Slip it on your headphones as you walk home and marvel at the shouting and handclaps and weaving guitars that sort of sparkle. Lauren Laverne claiming she's the Fastest Man Alive. 'Cause, y'know, she is. "Break yr heart, break yr face / Not that much to look at anyway."

...You'll probably hate it. But, then, you're empty and soulless and probably hate being happy. Don't you? Don't you???

30 Days of Music: #022

day 22 - a song that you listen to when you’re sad

Easy...

The Smiths - I Know It's Over

Okay, the other day I mentioned how people sometimes misunderstand The Smiths. It's about how you use them. Mostly, anyway.

Listening to I Know It's Over is wonderfully self-indulgent. It amplifies all those teenage angsty feelings you might be ashamed of.* It's full of woe-is-me melodrama: "I can feel the soil falling over my head" is the kind of lyric that gets Smiths fans pinned down as miserabilists. But then it cuts through all that, with a knowing monologue.
"If you're so funny,
Then why are you on your own tonight ?
And if you're so clever,
Then why are you on your own tonight ?
If you're so very entertaining,
Then why are you on your own tonight ?
If you're so very good-looking,
Why do you sleep alone tonight ?
I know:
'Cause tonight is just like any other night
That's why you're on your own tonight
With your triumphs and your charms
While they're in each other's arms..."
And with that, my teenage self was pinned down like a butterfly in a collector's case while a scalpel-wielding Morrissey picked away those grandious self-delusions one by one. Morrissey was probably attacking himself here, but it seems almost designed as a surgical strike on the type of people who've always gravitated towards The Smiths.

As such, it's probably the most devastating bit of lyrics-as-weapon I've ever experienced in pop music. It's why I used to lie facedown on my bed and listen to I Know It's Over on repeat every time I had a teenage melodrama to get teenagedly depressed about. It's probably why I ended up the way I am, in a few ways. It might just be the reason I'm here, writing things like this, obsessed with pop music.

Lucky for you.

*Unless you're Helen Shepherd, of course.

Thursday, 8 April 2010

30 Days of Music: #023

day 23 - a song that you want to play at your wedding

Fact: The Police's Every Breath You Take is well known as being a very popular (and stupid) choice for weddings. Weirdly, it's also high up on the list of songs played at funerals. This seems a clash of interests. Thus, I made a far better choice...

Pulp - Common People

Because, at a wedding, you have to dance. (This could've easily been something Arcade Fire - Tunnels, probably - as could yesterday's. Album's called Funeral for a reason.) Common People isn't my favourite Pulp song by a long way but, my God, I've had some good dances to it.

(In reverse chronological order, the four that come to mind: with Miss Frankie Ward at the Victoria a few weeks ago; at my cousin's wedding* with the lovely girlfriend; at Subway City's 90s night with selfsame girlfriend, which I suspect is actually a lot of times mushed into one; clearing a dancefloor with it in France on a school trip.)

It's a teasing, taunting song. Two people who have a good grasp on the words dancing it is like all that Strictly Come rubbish about a dance being full of tension. It's basically license to verbally attack the other person for four minutes. You're both playing at being the controlling, clever, witty snipey one.** The two of you get to take over the dancefloor, or at least so as you'd notice for the duration of the song.

And, hey, what do the bride and groom deserve more than the dancefloor and the complete attention of all the attendees as they play at bickering?

*See, this is a genius choice. Clever, me.
**If anyone who has danced to this song with me disagrees about this analysis of what we were doing, please let me know.

Wednesday, 7 April 2010

30 Days of Music: #024

day 24 - a song that you want to play at your funeral

Hmm. Pick-'em-up cheeriness or out-and-out heartbreaker?

Radiohead - Videotape

Heartbreak it is, then.

More on my relationship with Radiohead later in our scheduled programme of events... Videotape's one of the few Radiohead songs I can listen to out of its album context. Partially because I got my hands on the beautiful Thom Yorke version seen above while I impatiently waited for In Rainbows to happen.

I was frustrated with myself when, looking across the 30 posts I'd have to make, I saw the funeral song day. I know I have an answer to it, possibly one truer and better than this, but it never came to mind.

Nevertheless, Videotape is an almost perfect choice: it's reverent enough, all pianos and strained vocals, that I can't imagine too much vicar-wincing. It projects into the future well enough: the kind of music that'll hold up, both in the world and my tastes. And, bonus marks, it's actually about death, Thom Yorke communicating from beyond the dead in words in scraped-thin vocals. It's never going to start a mass break-out of singing (good, I'm bloody dead, you can save your merriment till you're drinking my booze at the wake).

Hey, it's such a good choice I almost want to be there...

For bonus morbidity, check out Radiohead's New Years Eve 2007 podcast Scotch Mist version of Videotape, which comes accompanied by a poem about a graveyeard.

Tuesday, 6 April 2010

30 Days of Music: #025

day 25 - a song that makes you laugh

This is probably the most open category yet. I considered Los Campesinos!, Amanda Palmer's Oasis, Richard Cheese, The Smiths*, Funky Dee**, Dre and a load of other hip-hop before settling on...

Ludacris - Cry Babies (Oh No)

Some sample lyrics (edited to fit the family-friendly remit):

"I got people scared as funk like when condoms break."

"Todger to mouth recisitation/A tight squeeze but it stops the lengthy conversations."

And my personal favourite:

"I'm Doctor Love, I close curtains and hug patients."

It is, frankly, a ridiculous song. Ludicrous, if you will. This is a song which features a grown man making chicken noises to taunt his (imagined) opponent. It's adolescent through and through (see: "Catch me in Rome, macking some broads and stickin' 'em/And you'll be at home picking yo' boogers and flickin' 'em" which elegantly sums up the whole song's tone pretty well). I really should be looking down my nose at this...

But those lines, they get me every time.

"You frosted like a flake and Ludacris feels GRRRREAT!"

See, I don't know that much about Christopher Brian 'Ludacris' Bridges, and I think that's for the best. I'm not sure if, deep down, I want this to be a self-conscious slice of ironic genius or if I'd rather he was genuinely trying his hardest on lines like "Y'see I'm ambidextrious, I slap ass with both hands."

And that's always my problem, with hip-hop that makes me laugh. Should Dre's Dee-Barnes-pushing record hurt my enjoyment of his more misogynist lyrics?

I don't want to be the hipster scum sitting there ironically snickering. But I don't exactly suppot ridiculous boasts of violence ("Bullseye, I stunt growth and stop lives.") materialism ("My cars got big TVs and satellites") and hyper-machismo ("I got big balls, I'mma sack king"), if they're genuine***. And regardless of intent I know, somewhere, right now, there's a boy listeing to this and nodding his head and thinking, yeah, that's right, tell 'em.

Nevertheless, I know I have a tendency to get a bit moral and over-analytical with comedy - ask me about how The Office and Nathan Barley ruined my life sometime - and, frankly, Cry Babies strikes that perfect line between naff and brilliant that means that, either way, I'll always find it funny. You can't argue with a man who can smell puss from fifty yards.

*Who are funny, though I don't think that's at the expense of being sad. There are, as I understand it, three schools of thought on The Smiths: that they're depressing, that they were just having a laugh (with overtones of irony to their melodrama) or that they're one of the best bands of all time, which is to say both.
**You might disagree...But are you gonna bang doe?
***See my reaction to 50 Cent's lyrics, for example.

Monday, 5 April 2010

30 Days of Music: #026

day 26 - a song that you can play on an instrument

(See yesterday.)


John Cage - 4'33

...

Sunday, 4 April 2010

30 Days of Music: #027

day 27 - a song that you wish you could play

A tough one this, given that I have no musical talent*, and I'm happy being the passive observer...

Tenacious D - Fudge** Her Gently

So I have no interest in playing an instrument, what other reasons are there for wanting to play something? Plain and simple...

Seduction.

And this was genuinely the only song I could think of. Anyone wondering how exactly I ensnared the delightful Imogen? Fellas, listen closely. Ladies: imagine this being whispered passionately into your ear, with actions and everything... What's that, you'll be dropping by this blog a lot more frequently now? I thought so.

And it's easy to mock and say, Alex, this is a song by two fat blokes! Alex! It only lasts two minutes. I say, so what? Sometimes ... you got to give her some smoochies too.

(Happy Easter, y'all!)

*Scientific fact.
**I made the (somewhat arbitrary) decision a while back that this was a family-friendly website and by golly I'll stick to it!

Saturday, 3 April 2010

30 Days of Music: #028

day 28 - a song that makes you feel guilty

Ouch. The one thing I hadn't considered, doing this backward, is it gets right to the personal...

Long Blondes - Only Lovers Left Alive

Of course, it was always going to come from the year I became me. 2006*. End of school proper, then a gap year. Turning 18. The mixture of scared confusion and get-what-I-want arrogance that galvanised into the Alex Spencer of today. Almost all of this based on what I was listening to.**

It's probably the year I look back most on and wince. It was also the year when music mattered most to me, I reckon. (A lot of which, yes, makes me wince.) My obsession, though, was the Long Blondes. Literate, retro-stylish, girl-fronted Sheffield indie-pop. Kate Jackson plays the female lead in every possible permutation of twisted love/lust drama my teenaged mind could imagine (and suggested a few new ones to me). The ones that stick are her in charge, the dominating hyper-confident seductress I was waiting for/wanted to be.

Of course, I followed them religiously. I can imagine a universe where I discovered Belle & Sebastian's 2006 album The Life Pursuit rather than Someone to Drive You Home... but that's a story for a different day. There's a lot of stuff on that album that's relevant to the theme (it's no coincidence the follow-up, "Couples", featured a song called Guilt), but it's the memorable opening salvo of Only Lovers Left Alive that got it picked out as today's song:
"I wouldn't bother to look if I was sure that you were happy together
But I've seen the way she covers her chest up as if it was a national treasure
Looks are the first weapon
Charm is the second
I reckon that she doesn't have much of either
You don't need her."
And that's just plain mean, but it's stylish, and I can't help singing it myself. And in my mind, I am the seductress, and the seduced, and I'm dancing in a way that expressed horizontal desires, and wondering...

*Worth noting at this point, that I think of that whole school year before University, technically 2006/2007, as the year 2006. I call it 2006 for simplicity (and for people who don't want to read footnotes.)
**Hey, there's a reason I found Phonogram (also a product of 2006/07) so attractive.

Friday, 2 April 2010

Cider: A Lament

I sit here drinking a bottle of Westons Vintage, and considering - for the fourth or fifth time - the budget. For those of you who don't know, cider was recently picked out for a 10% increase in tax. Cue national uproar, stretching from the Wurzels to Facebook. I have no political qualm with this decision, so far it hasn't affected me (though the vast majority of alcoholic beverages I've consumed since it came into effect are in fact cider).

My issue is the feeling of being targeted, picked out. I'm hardly a loyal cider drinker: I've wandered far, into the wild torrents of Wine, the soft embrace of lager... cocktail's shameful puddles. But nevertheless, I've stayed true to cider, in various forms, since that first underage taste of Strongbow.

And that's the thing: it comes in a variety of forms. I can't help but feel grouped in with the drinkers of ... shudder ... White Lightning and Frosty Jack's. The difference is not just one of snobbishness or taste (though that's in the mix), it's of entirely different uses.

Cider can be luxuriated in - I instantly think of my Westons (sadly emptied now). This is the mid-range red wine of ciders. The taste takes a little getting used to: thin and appley if I was being unkind; sharp and refreshing to the trained tongue. Okay, I concede, it has an ABV of 8.2%, putting it above Frosty's level, even. I'd even accept a tax that specifically targeted your high-alcohol-level beverages...

I just think this increase shows a fundamental misunderstanding of how broad a category 'cider' is - your fine Thatchers and Westons are a mile away from Frosty Jack's, but they're equally as far away from your flavoured Kopparbergs sweet syrup, or the Magners and Bulmers pretenders to the throne, as all revolve around Strongbow in the public imagination. All types are acceptable, in the right situation; it's just nice to give them some recognition, and recognise that they're separate. Cider is a loose word, let's not see it become a dirty one.

(For Liv.)

Thursday, 1 April 2010

30 Days of Music: #029

day 29 - a song from your childhood

This is one of the hard ones. Melancholy, really... The prevailing David Inkpen theory that having Meningitis ruins your memory rings true with me, as I don't really have many specific childhood reminisces to fall back on. The story behind my choice is pretty sad, too. With no further ado, I give you the entirely fitting...

Frankie Valli & The Four Seasons - December, 1963

I don't really have the vocabulary to talk about this song - it could've easily fell into one of the "song people wouldn't expect you to like" categories if I didn't break it out at every house party. But that's just as well, as I think it's fair to assume you've heard it and you don't need my analysis of why the fuzzy/floaty combo works so well, or why such a basically-told generic story makes for a compelling sing-a-long.

As for why it reminds me of childhood: well, it's older than me. I was thinking of picking some Britpop, but most of the stuff I heard on the radio then, and discovered for myself a few years later (it's worth noting that until the start of my teens, I wasn't really interested in music), but those are too overlaid with all the memories since, and all the surrogate memories of the 90s. It was on a CD my family inherited in the glove-compartment of a car we inherited. It reminds me of a sad time, but without making me sad.

But, enough of that: Blank emotional expressionism isn't my thing, I'm not good enough at it. Just listen to this song, preferably with as many people as possible in the room.

30 Days of Music: #030

I committed to this yesterday, and if you have a blog, I implore you to join in. If not, I implore you to read. Keep up with me, and see if I can keep up with the list.

day 30 - your favorite song at this time last year


Kate Bush - Wuthering Heights

I wish I could pinpoint exactly when I first got Spotify. I was in love with this song and, not owning any of Kate Bush's stuff, it became my Bush-listening device. And ridiculous as it is to suggest that a song two decades old that I'd heard hundreds of times before changed my outlook... it did. Yeah, I lost my poptimism virginity to Kate Bush. What of it?

This is particularly apt because it's been almost exactly a year since I turned this into an active blog and eventually bought alex-spencer.co.uk. The turning point, in my mind, will always be the Britney post. It was here, with Kate Bush holding my hand, that I was led into the defend-Pop-to-the-death mindset that is now, I think, my final mode. It was around the same time that I discovered Freakytrigger (the Wuthering Heights entry of Popular being the first thing I read) and started reading Paul Morley's Words & Music, an very serious ode to silly pop. It was here that I realised I love pop, as long as it's by a woman...

Ridiculous, operatic melodrama about a 19th Century novel I've never read. An instantly-recognisable, Gothic ghost-story in song. #1. Top Of The Pops. Emily Brontë! Top of the Pops! How could I not fall in love?

Looking the (April) Fool: 30 Days Of Music

Stolen from Kieron Gillen* who stole it from Sarah Jaffe who stole it from love & zombies. I've never got involved in one of these blogger memes before, felt like the time. (New month, battling dissertation insanity, fighting a bad habit of long-long-long-form writing.) A daily song on a set theme, with accompanying writing. As follows:
day 01 - your favorite song
day 02 - your least favorite song
day 03 - a song that makes you happy
day 04 - a song that makes you sad
day 05 - a song that reminds you of someone
day 06 - a song that reminds of you of somewhere
day 07 - a song that reminds you of a certain event
day 08 - a song that you know all the words to
day 09 - a song that you can dance to
day 10 - a song that makes you fall asleep
day 11 - a song from your favorite band
day 12 - a song from a band you hate
day 13 - a song that is a guilty pleasure
day 14 - a song that no one would expect you to love
day 15 - a song that describes you
day 16 - a song that you used to love but now hate
day 17 - a song that you hear often on the radio
day 18 - a song that you wish you heard on the radio
day 19 - a song from your favorite album
day 20 - a song that you listen to when you’re angry
day 21 - a song that you listen to when you’re happy
day 22 - a song that you listen to when you’re sad
day 23 - a song that you want to play at your wedding
day 24 - a song that you want to play at your funeral
day 25 - a song that makes you laugh
day 26 - a song that you can play on an instrument
day 27 - a song that you wish you could play
day 28 - a song that makes you feel guilty
day 29 - a song from your childhood
day 30 - your favorite song at this time last year
In a sparkling bit of originality, I shall be doing them... backwards!
Day One struck me as the big one, so I thought I'd build up to it. I look forward to the challenge of posting something (however small) every day, and to seeing what I choose. Some of them, I have no clue. If you would like to join in, please, go nuts.

*As we say round these parts: Standard.

About Me

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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.