The Boxed Set #4: ‘Jazzy Jungle Memorial Hall’

March 22, 2011

So another month, another EP. I was recently asked by a Brainlove colleague whether I had finished ‘this week’s album’. I always remind people that Hunky Dory, Ziggy Stardust, and Aladdin Sane all came out within a two year period. Less than an album a year is just plain lazy. It’s only with hindsight that the PWL ‘back catalogue’ looks hugely prolific, mostly I was doing one EP of six or seven tracks, including some instrumentals, each year. It was only in around 2004 that I began banging them out like Robert Pollard collaborating with Jandek.

That period began with this month’s reissue ‘Jazzy Jungle Memorial Hall‘.

It’s somewhat of a favourite of mine, if I was going to recommend only two of the reissues to bother with it would be this one and ‘Build Library Here (or else!)‘.

Written and recorded entirely from scratch in May-July 2004, immediately after I finished my first album. Most of the songs would have been done in a few hours. Mixed ‘live’ and mastered at the same time. I wasn’t one for going back and editing in those days. The only one I remember making any changes to at all is ‘My Victor’ where I re-did a piano part.

The title comes from a children’s centre in Llandaff. My then girlfriend (now wife) discovered it whilst out for a walk and I liked the incongruity of the two phrases together. ‘Memorial Hall’ the song would come the following year, after seeing lots of them on the west Wales coast. Already having an EP with that name meant it stuck in my head. At the time it was just a name.

Musically it’s still relatively light on electronics, apart from the beats and a keyboard or two. Ramshackle but starting to get to grips with the technology I was using at the time, limited to eight tracks and no ability to slice & dice takes. Lyrically it marks the start of a more literal approach to writing about Politics And That.

Picture used on the back cover - the famous protest house in Riverside, Cardiff.

Our New Hospital Sucks
The song that got me signed to Brainlove Records when I made it part of my demo in 2006. John Brainlove still prefers this mumbly rough version to the later ones. I’ve told this story many times, but here goes again… The song was inspired by Captive State by George Monbiot. A book which describes the immense idiocy and wastefulness of the Private Finance scheme in public services. In the epilogue he acknowledges how boring the book is, despite being on an important subject. So ONHS was my attempt to re-write his boring ideas into a more accessible format of a 3 minute pop song.

Kofi Annan TV
Another song in a similar vein. The title clearly a pun on ‘Coffee and TV’ by Blur which had been wibbling in my head since I was in school. Inspired by my experiences working in a government office at the time, and the clear difference between that and the ideological wonderland I was simultaneously watching in the West Wing DVD boxed sets. Could update it if anyone can think of a pun on ‘Ban Ki-moon’….?

My Victor
This is part two of a three part kitchen sink drama of songs. I actually won’t say what they’re about as I think they unfold nicely on their own. Part one is ‘Molly’s Lips’, and part three is ‘At the hairdressers…’. All of these songs were written and released about a year apart which tallies fairly nicely with the events in question. Musically this is straight guitar pop. I had vague aspirations that it would sound like ‘Buttons and Zips’ by Elbow, but it really doesn’t at all.

Teach Yourself Patience
This took a very short bus journey to write and probably half an hour to record. Done spontaneously one day after work. It’s sort of like an old gospel blues thing. Written from the point of view of someone in a developing world giving their opinion on the effectiveness of ‘trickle down’ economics. When you put it like that it doesn’t sound as much fun….

Don’t Hang Up
My attempt to be a bit Tom Waitsy, a reasonable success. Thankfully I didn’t attempt the voice, instead opting for a slightly pitch shifted croon. It’s long and rhythmic and yes it has bongos on it. Sorry. Lyrically it concerns the anxieties of manning a Samaritans-style listening line, which I have some experience of.

Knight -> King 4
Like ONHS this was re-recorded two years later with Napoleon IIIrd for ‘The Independent Scrutineer’ and despite not really removing anything from the structure we managed to chop about 4 minutes off the running times, not entirely sure how. This version is looooong and features me drumming somewhat ineptly on a child’s toy drumkit. The song itself pretty much came to me out of nowhere as I descended the cliffs of an isolated south Wales beach. Perhaps someone was trying to tell me something from the beyond?

Another Ghost
One of many many many songs about death. The one most specifically about my own. One day I’ll do a nice re-recording of it that can be played at my funeral. It’s all churchy organ and slowness. Not much more to add.

You all know the drill by now. I’m doing these as pay what you like. Plenty of you are paying and I appreciate it. You’re helping to fund the mixing of a new record.

Shark Employment

March 9, 2011

Here is the tracklist of my new EP ‘Shark Employment’.

1. They Come Here
2. They Take Our Jobs
3. We Realise We Never Liked Our Jobs Anyway
4. We Go Deep Sea Diving
5. We Get Eaten By Sharks
6. What Have We Learned?

I have no plans to write or record any songs to accompany this tracklist. It is to be the world’s first tracklist-only EP.

x

The Boxed Set #3: ‘The Monkeys of the Shitty Island’

February 22, 2011

Slightly earlier than originally planned I’ve decided to upload another EP into the ‘Boxed Set’. Because this was the companion EP to the previous reissue it makes sense to have them both together. This also then concludes the reissuing of the material from the final ‘academic year’ of PWL 2004-2005. Ladies and gentlemen… The Monkeys of the Shitty Island!

This was the ‘electronic’ EP, but with hindsight it’s not as electronic as I originally intended it to be. One track features mostly acoustic instruments. I also had a ‘no guitars’ policy which I broke on three of the songs. It’s an oddball collection. Not much in the way of pop hits.

The title came from Haruki Murakami’s ‘The Wind Up Bird Chronicle’ – I seem to recall it’s a fable like tale where some Monkeys gradually fill up their entire island with poop until they all die or something.

A bit about each song:

Ten Cities is not a European tour

This arose in an evening in a kind of ‘automatic writing’ way. The lyrics were partly improvised and recorded immediately on being written. It’s one of a number of songs I’ve done in this way that get under my skin later and I grow very attached to them. So much so that I re-recorded it on FMBFM. This version is longer and probably more abrasive, it features me drumming on a child’s toy drumkit.

Punctuation

A song that started life as a different song called ‘Third and Final’. A strangely aggressive techno-ish track the adopts a persona of a grammar fascist to decry all society’s ills. Possibly in response to those ridiculous ‘Eats, Shoots, and Leaves’ books.

Cutting Corners

A groovebox instrumental. Not much else to say. Mildly irritating perhaps. This is the last instrumental to appear on a PWL record. There’d been quite a few up to this point. I played this live a few times back in 2006/7 to end shows.

England Expects

The only conventional verse/chorus/verse song on the EP. Some of the lyrics were scribbled hastily down on waking from a dream. Some were taken from labels on my MIDI keyboard. It all added up to being a reaction to nationalist paranoia about terrorism. Or something. This also appeared on FMFBFM in a version that was a bit richer than this, but the best version of this song is the live version we did at Dreamtrak.

I’ve never played it since.

Brecon Beacons

The refrain to this came to me at the second ever Green Man festival, surrounded by grassy hills and mountains. Most of the rest was then ad-libbed over the top. Strangely haunting and relentless I think. Not particularly electronic, I think there’s a synth pad in there. Other than that it’s guitars and drums.

The Boxed Set #2: ‘Siop Enoc Huges’

February 8, 2011

Recorded mostly around the same time as last month’s reissue, this was sort of conceived as the acoustic companion EP to the electronic ‘The Monkeys of the Shitty Island’ – which will be next month.

This one is more successful in that it does in fact only feature acoustic guitars and vocals – albeit slightly out of tune ones. ‘Monkeys’ managed to break all the rules I’d imposed on it, but this EP sticks to its remit of only using one instrument. As such it’s hard to find a lot to say about it! It’s the most traditional singer-songwriter record in the PWL discography, everything else mixed it up a little with other instruments and experiments and such.

The title is the name of a little heritage site in Aberystwyth. A shop has been preserved as it would have been during the 1930s, with items that would have been on sale at the time in the window. There’s a hand sewn sign explaining its presence saying it hopes to ‘delight’ you as you pass – which is incredibly cute. I’m not sure who Enoc Hughes was.

Here it is on Google Streetview, as far as I know it’s still there….

Here’s a little about each song:

J.L.B. Smith

This song was inspired by reading the book ‘A Fish Caught in Time’ about the rediscovery of the Coelacanth, a pre-historic fish which was thought to be extinct for 65 million years before being found alive in reasonable abudance. They’re very rarely seen because they live so deep in the water that low pressure kills them, hence they don’t get kept in aquariums etc. They have legs and are an example of a still-living evolutionary ‘missing link’.

Kittens and the Sea

No particular thoughts on this one. Some nice fingerpicking and pretty self explanatory lyrics. I think I wrote this just so I had a song with ‘kittens’ in it for Mrs Lu.

———-

Later re-recorded for ‘The Independent Scrutineer’.

A song for when yr just tired

This song is quite a bit older than the others. Having been recorded live and very quickly in Cardiff the previous year. Another straightforward song. Unusual in that it names three real life people. I remember being very worried they might be offended at the time.

An Easter Island statue in my bed

Probably my favourite on this CD. Another finger picky one but running through some more complex and abstract lyrics that I favoured for a while. Some of the imagery came from a dream. Some of the lines will strike a chord with anyone who took their English GCSE from the same workbook as me in 1998.

Again the EP’s up for ‘pay what you want’, and everything you pay gets put back into future PWL music (of which more soon…).

The Boxed Set #1: ‘Build Library Here (or else!)’

January 11, 2011

Part of my plan for this tenth anniversary inspired ‘break’ I’m currently enjoying was to make the pre-Brainlove PWL stuff available again. I released two(ish) albums and eight(ish) EP’s whilst I was at university and in my post-uni wilderness years, and I always thought of them as ‘stuff for the boxed set’ that would come out once I was mega famous and rich – like I am now.

So here comes the ‘boxed set’, albeit a digital one via bandcamp. The plan is to do one release a month for the next ten months. Having considered other options I’m going to start with the most recent and work backwards, mostly for quality reasons. I think this way they’ll start off as records I genuinely think people will enjoy owning, and end up with things that people who are interested will find interesting (and no one else need concern themselves with).

The first release in the series is one that’s already had a minor re-release a few years back. It’s my second album ‘Build Library Here (or else!)’.

This album was recorded in Aberystwyth on a digital 8-track during 2004-2005. I also recorded two EPs at the same time, which were ‘released’ first. Songs were split off as I went along, acoustic songs going onto the ‘Siop Enoc Hughes’ EP, electronic ones going onto ‘The Monkeys of the Shitty Island’ and ones which were sort of in-between or just plain better went onto the album.

I think it’s as good, in terms of quality of songwriting, as pretty much everything I’ve done since. It would sit nicely in a trilogy with European Monsoon and Fight My Battles For Me. John Brainlove once described it as ‘the album Blur should have made after Parklife’, and whilst I’m not sure exactly what he meant by that I do take it as a compliment.

There’s a spontaneity and simplicity to this record that I miss a little. Most of the recordings were done from start to finish in a few hours, sometimes after a few months of writing and arranging in my head, sometimes they were written that day. I can’t imagine putting something as ‘knocked out’ sounding as ‘Yr On My Shoulder’ on an album now, but then there clearly wasn’t the same ‘pressure’ on me then… ‘Build Library Here’ was handmade in the low double figures and not released or promoted in any way other than copies given to friends.

Most of ‘European Monsoon’ took months to write, then months to record. I’m trying with some success to get back to a quicker approach where I get the basic song done and mostly finished in one go then tweak it later – which is something I definitely didn’t do in 2005. I think there’s a satisfaction in throwing something together quickly without much thought, then getting to know its quirks and qualities later. It’s a very different feeling to slowly putting something together and already knowing every part of it inside out before it’s complete.

Where it was recorded.

Maybe I’m rose-tinting a bit here? Certainly ‘European Monsoon’ sounds better and has more consistently good lyrics (imho) and that’s a result of the time I took on it. Great British Public took over a year, but Self-Doubt Gun was written and recorded in a day. Version 5 probably sounds like it took a while but actually it was made in a few quick sessions with little pre-planning. The pleasure I got from that song was similar, in that the results were a surprise. So the spontaneity is still there.

Anyway…. I commented to a friend at the time this came out that I felt like Build Library Here was the end of something, thinking that perhaps it might be the last PWL record. He said not to be daft. But in many ways it was the end of phase one. Everything since has been on Brainlove. When this came out I think I’d only played about four gigs outside Aberystwyth, I’ve now been all over the UK and beyond. I occasionally wonder if I’d have got there a bit sooner if I’d made any effort whatsoever to get this record heard.

This appeared on the back cover

The press release for the ‘boxed set’ is doing the rounds, it has a Q&A which tells you a bit more.

Pagan Wanderer Lu (2000 – 2010)

December 13, 2010

Ten years ago today, at about half past nine, I took to the stage at the Outback Bar in Llanbadarn, Aberystwyth and nervously played some songs to a room full of my fellow students for the first time.

Through a quirk of fate I set up a PWL website not long afterward and, through lack of content, did a section where I wrote about gigs I’d played. So there is still a record of what I wrote at the time:

“Bottom of a bill also featuring deflour and The Jonny Narcissist songs played were:

1.The Cynical Little Train
2.Life’s too good (for other fkers and not for me)
3.New Fountains
4.The Mystery
5.Defence Mechanism
6.Fragile Thing.

Some teething troubles with an absent P.A. led to me singing through deflour’s guitar amps, thanks to them for that. No thanks to The Jonny Narcissist for sitting on the stage with their girlfriends/groupies and talking all through my fucking set, being generally arrogant, slagging deflour off before they’d even come on, and being one of the shittest bands i’ve ever had the misfortune to sit through twice.”

Between then and now I’ve played a further one hundred and ninety eight gigs, and every single one is documented with setlists and notes here.

I’ve also made four albums, about twelve EP’s, and written more songs than I could feasibly remember. I’ve played at festivals, been on Radio One and Xfm, met countless fellow musicians and music enthusiasts, some of whom have become firm friends, some of whom have been utter tools (you know who you are).

As I look back across the records I’ve made I can see them almost as a diary of the past ten years. Starting out as fumbling, slightly inept chronicles of love and longing, later starting to look outside myself to the world around me and let a little bit of politics trickle in, as I reached the end of student life some angst about the future starts to creep in, the songs are suddenly questioning whether I’ll still be the person I am in 2003 when I’m all grown up and have a mortgage etc… I think I’m still asking that question today.

Then I think there’s a sudden lurch forward around 2004 where suddenly I find some confidence, kind of a voice of my own. We’re entering territory where you, gentle reader, will have heard some of these songs. After writing a few songs like ‘Our New Hospital Sucks’, ‘Winston Churchill’, ‘Good Christian/Bad Christian’ and above all ‘The Memorial Hall’, playing a few gigs back in Aberystwyth to, for the first time, genuinely positive response I started to feel that I might actually have something people want to listen to.

I mark the transition from hobbyist to ‘taking it seriously’ as occurring on the 13th August 2005. I played at Night & Day Café in Manchester. This wasn’t my first gig outside Aberystwyth – I’d played open mic’s in Cardiff, and a bizarrely well attended headline slot in Brighton when I lived there which went down a treat. But the Manchester one stands as a milestone. It was done on the legendary ‘flyer deal’ which I’ve since concluded is a slightly less iniquitous form of pay to play. On this occasion pretty much everyone I had known or cared about made the trek from whichever bit of the world they’d landed in after uni and turned up to support me at ‘my first big gig’, I made about £50 from flyers. Clearly I was destined for greatness.

As someone frequently (and somewhat fairly) described as ‘cynical’ it’s notable how naive I was back then about the music business worked. I really thought that there were people out there who just picked bands they liked and pushed them hard until they became successful. I thought ‘word of mouth’ actually existed, and that news of my greatness would thereby spread. Everyone involved in music knows the reality it a little more depressing, and I shall not labour the point.

Thankfully for me, I have been fortunate to work with John ‘Brainlove’ Rogers since 2006. A man whose passion for music and attitude to the place it should have in the world is comfortably close to my own. But he’s less hard line, and more pragmatic about what needs to be done to make a record successful. Which is good for me, because I’m not particularly adept at it myself. He often has to patiently deal with my telling him that I plan to release three EP’s and an album this year, and does he have time to promote them all in between everyone else’s records?

John has turned a CD-R label releasing 50 copies of everything into a well respected independent purveyor of consistently excellent records – pretty much through sheer enthusiasm alone – and it’s been pretty exciting to be part of it for all this time. Even if a massive wodge of cash from some alien source to back up the enthusiasm wouldn’t go amiss.

I occasionally grumble to my dear wife, Sian, about the fact that I don’t sell more records. A while ago she pointed out ‘well you don’t exactly make it easy for yourself, do you?’. Or words to that effect. The point being that if you make obscure, wordy, ostensibly brainy pop songs, full of swearing and odd transitions, slightly provocative turns of phrase, and lots of songs that go on about how stupid the public are, people aren’t exactly going to queue up in droves.

But on the other hand I got ‘the Tree of Knowledge’ – a song about religion and sexual repression in private schools, which begins with an incantation of mercilessly obscure references for 70 seconds, and contains about twenty uses of the word ‘fuck’ – played on national Radio One (by Huw Stephens – thanks Huw). So I count that as a small victory.

And despite the slightly waffly preamble, this is what this post is supposed to be about. The last ten years have been a succession of small victories. My, Andy Regan’s, life cannot be separated from Pagan Wanderer Lu – everyone I know in Cardiff I know because of doing music (except my wife). I once ‘bumped into someone I know’ walking down the street in Stockholm – music has made the world a smaller and friendlier place for me. I’ve had incredible amounts of fun, met amazing people, and been inspired and frustrated in equal measure. God alone knows what I would be doing with myself if I’d never picked up a guitar.

For a while there was a message on my website that said ‘Pagan Wanderer Lu activity will cease on 13/12/2010’. I don’t recall exactly when I put that message up there, but it came at a time when I felt I was putting a lot of myself into something that was, because I wasn’t becoming ‘successful’, mostly making me unhappy, so I gave myself an end date.

That date has now arrived, and….?

Well, the message disappeared earlier this year because I wasn’t sure I could go through with it.

2010 has been particularly successful and fun. The album I did this year got the best reviews I’ve had. I’ve done two very different tours with great sets of people, I got to play in Iceland (Iceland!) – more small victories. I’ve also kind of made peace with the level of success at which I appear to have plateaued (though I wouldn’t say no to a bit more). So why stop now?

The main thing is that the ideas haven’t dried up. I have around twenty new songs written since ‘European Monsoon’ and ideas come through as thick and fast as they ever did. I still idly scribble endless tracklists for albums that will never be released. I still write the lyrics with care, just in case anyone is listening with care. Just going through the process of writing new songs has always been the best bit. The idea that I would stop is just… well I don’t think I would know how. What would I do instead?

What I am going to do is take a break.

I need to recharge batteries a little. Refocus on life a bit more to help me write. I’m not going to attempt to pre-decide how long this ‘break’ is going to be. It could be a few months, a year… who knows? I plan a little celebration to mark the PWLiversary and of course I’ll let you all know about it.

I feel, if I’m honest, pretty fucking proud of the stuff I’ve written over the last ten years. For someone who can’t really play an instrument or sing I think I’ve done pretty well. I think I’ve earned a celebration (and an over-long slightly self-indulgent blog post).

Above all, I want to thank the people who read this, and the people who’ve supported me over the years in various ways. If you’ve ever booked me a gig, said hello after a show, played in my band, helped me make something, bought a record, or just hung out with me before the gig starts (yeah especially all of you) then thank you.

See you soon.

PWL.x

Pervert Oven

December 9, 2010

I am pleased to announce one last release for 2010.

This is a four-and-a-bit song EP of nominally lo-fi punk. Kind of a curio release. Rather than a full on ‘new direction’ statement thing.

I’m also experimenting with a pay-what-you-want release via Bandcamp only. If it succeeds then I’ll probably do quite a few more things like this in future alongside the full-blown albums with Brainlove.

So what is this record? Well, it just sort of happened. ‘Straw Donkey’ was written to go on European Monsoon but it didn’t really fit the rest of the record. Then I was listening to a lot of Guided by Voices for a while and I did a few songs like ‘Crustaceans As Castanets’ that were in that vein, and when I was writing ‘The Great British Public…’ I was considering doing away with the dark funky version from the album and doing it as the straight guitar pop one that’s on the EP. I called that version ‘GBP/GbV’ because it’s done in Guided by Voices style. Then once I’d had the idea of a lo-fi EP I picked out some old songs that fit with that sound.

It’s named after the artwork. It looked like a suitable scrappy picture for the cover of a rough and ready EP. I drew the picture one day after I burned my hand on my oven at home. I wanted to get my revenge on the oven so I drew a picture of it wearing a raincoat and exposing itself like a pervert. As anyone would.

Two of the songs require a modicum of explanation:

Big Eggo

Big Eggo was the original cover star of the Beano. He was a male ostrich who had adventures invariably revolving around having his eggs stolen (no one ever seemed to question how ‘he’ laid the eggs). Then he was replaced by Dennis the Menace. In the song he’s looking at how Britain has changed and he blames Dennis because he was the original ASBO teen. Eggo feels that if he were to return to the cover of the Beano it would return Britain to a more innocent age. Secretly of course he’s just jealous that he’s out of the limelight.

Jhavishna is a much older song that was done around 2007. That’s why it sounds even worse than the others! It’s not based on anyone in particular. I had a dream that I was watching the Fall and they were playing this song where the chorus was ‘Go back to Jhavishna for help!’ exactly as in the song. That’s why it sounds quite like early Fall, and why the backing vocals are me doing a quite blatant impression of Mark E Smith. Jhavishna doesn’t mean anything – I just googled it now and there are no results – but it sounded like a name so I envisaged this cynical fake new age guy who just manipulates people into doing stuff for him.

So there you go. This is the last batch of ‘European Monsoon’ era stuff*. I think it’s kind of fun.

Listen/buy links should appear below.

*You may not be surprised to learn that this isn’t actually true.

Albums of the year 2010

December 6, 2010

For no particular reason, here are my albums of the year.

1. Sam Amidon – I see the sign

This is without at doubt the album I’ve listened to most this year so I think by default that makes it the first choice. Nothing stellar or earth shattering about it. Just a man with a wonderful voice singing songs written a very long time ago (and one by R Kelly), and giving them a contemporary feel without resorting to piling on superfluous beeps and whistles. Sublime arrangements by Nico Muhly, pristine warm production by Valgeir Sigurdson. See also: everything released on Bedroom Community.

2. Napoleon IIIrd – Christiania

I always feel kind of a dick listing Brainlove releases in my albums of the year, and to be honest I’m not sure if I’m not deliberately bumping this one down a notch solely to avoid the embarrassment of butt-kissing my friend and colleague Mr IIIrd. Still this is an incredible record which sounds like nothing else. Plus it’s funny if you sing ‘You’re going home in a fucking ambulance’ to the tune of ‘Let’s all go to Christiania’.

3. The National – High Violet

The National have a novel approach to making great albums. They simply make sure that the music is excellent, the lyrics are excellent, and the production is excellent. Matt Berninger makes abstract, borderline nonsensical couplets sound like the most profound meditations on 21st Century ennui and despair imaginable, and croons them gently and warmly over the shifting, subtly original progressions and rhythms of his band. The music goes to a place which is entirely its own, and whilst there’s nothing to knock the socks off in terms of the attention starved ‘hot new sound’ brigade they just continue being quietly devastating for album after album. Swoon.

4. Joanna Newsom – Have One On Me

A triple CD album? Well, were we surprised? ‘Ys’ was my album of the year in whatever year it came out, as was ‘The Milk Eyed Mender’, and she’s almost done it again this year (I’m sure she’s devastated at missing out). There are quite definitely two CD’s of beautiful transcendent music on here, and a few tracks that are okay on their own but do make the thing drag a little. What’s most striking, listening back to TMEM this year, is how much her voice has come on. The scratchy, witchy vocals of yore are replaced with a much more controlled approach here, and the tweeness and aren’t-I-clever moments are toned down in favour of some genuinely heart stopping expressions of sorrow. At risk of patronising someone I don’t know, I think you can tell that she’s now actually lived through some shit, rather than just drawing all her inspiration from books and fantasy. Is it wrong to pair this up against her ex-BF Bill Callahan’s ‘Sometimes I Wish We Were An Eagle’? View each record as one side of an argument? Perhaps I’ll get a slapped wrist from the literal interpretation squad. Whatever, this is a great record – even if it is definitely a bit too long.

5. Beach House – Teen Dream

Can’t make out a word she’s saying. Can you? Even when you can I’ve no idea what she’s on about. But she makes it sound good. I can’t be bothered to google Beach House and find out who they are or what the deal is. I went to watch them in Cardiff and couldn’t even see the stage, so I don’t even know how many people are in the band. Kind of prefer it that way. Anyway, like Broadcast they seem to make a virtue of just doing the same thing over and over again. Having initially found them dull as ditchwater at ATP two years ago they’ve now either improved immeasurably or I’ve had my ears waxed because this album has a bizarre grandeur to it, sort of like if someone on X-factor tried to do the Cocteau Twins, only somehow managed to not make it utterly utterly shit, but great.

6. Four Tet – There is love in you

At a loss to describe this. Everything Ecstatic kind of left me cold, a bit too much random percussion fluttering around some not very interesting melodies. This time he’s gone straight for a more clubbier structure and allowed everything time to breathe. Still sounds like Four Tet. Still great. *shrug* #notareviewer

7. Matthew Dear – Black City

This is my first experience of Matthew Dear and I like it. He seems to draw on the same sort of Eno/Talking Heads era stuff that LCD are into but focuses on a different aspect. Much more melancholy. A soundtrack to a slightly drunk and emotional evening, rather than a cocktail sipping, lean on the trendy bar style night that ‘This is Happening’ seemed geared towards. There’s some real 80’s kitsch staples mixed in there too, almost Yello like vocal samples rubbing up against Joy Division balladry and something hard to put my finger on that reminds me of My Bloody Valentine. Apparently the lyrics are quite rude but I haven’t really noticed.

8. Olof Arnalds – Innundir Skinni

On impulse after a wonderful second visit to Iceland to perform at Airwaves I’m once again predisposed to love anything Icelandic, the people, the food, the music, the temperature…. So I bought this based on nationality (and a positive Pitchfork review) alone. It’s really quite beautiful. One or two songs in English reveal an honesty and simple poetry to the lyrics which presumably carries over into the native tongue songs too. But it’s really the voice that carries it all. There are a million records where someone with a pretty voice sings pretty songs. This is the one I love this year.

9. Sufjan Stevens – the Age of Adz

After a deceptive intro that makes you think ‘here comes another Sufjan record’ you suddenly get this massive impolite squelch of synth and off you go on a trip on the mental wagon. After ‘You are the Blood’ from the ‘Dark was the night’ compilation I wasn’t entirely surprised to find that every song on here is half an hour long and features about twelve different solos. This record as a whole rambles incredibly, when it’s good it’s really fucking good. The rest of the time – well maybe sometimes it’s better to just play some nice songs on a banjo.

10. The Books – The Way Out

Perhaps I’m guilty of jumping the gun on this one, having only heard it twice since buying it last week. But for sheer originality it deserves a mention (and do you really need me telling you that ‘The Suburbs’ is pretty good?). The Books create nominally electronic/folktronic music which props up odd found-sound monologues and snatches of dialogue. If you heard their previous record ‘Lost and Safe’ then this one seems to focus more on single sources, rather than snippets from all over. My favourite is ‘Cold Freezin’ Night’ which features a comically aggressive monologue from a very young child detailing exactly how much he hates some unnamed person and how easy he will find it to kill them. Reminds me of (and may in fact be sourced from) that ‘Street Gangland Rhythms Band’ album that came out a few years ago.

Honourable mention: James Blake

James Blake hasn’t released an album yet. But if you compiled the three EP’s and one single he’s done this year onto a single disc it would probably be the album of the year. Showing an envy inducing versatility across tracks which are oh-so nominally dubstep inclined but really span electro-folk, R&B and classical piano – every one is unique and quite brilliant. Klavierwerke in particular does my favourite trick of taking something that definitively should not work on paper and making it brilliant. Half of it isn’t even in time!

Other good records:

The Suburbs, Episode 2 by Spencer McGarry, Valgeir Sigurdson’s ‘Draumalandid’ soundtrack, Crooks & Lovers by Mount Kimbie, Bastardgeist, Oversteps/Move of Ten by Autechre, Darwin Deez, Down There by Avey Tare, Field Music’s new one, and Owen Pallet’s Heartland.

Fail of the year: Gorillaz – Plastic Beach

This record is a fucking chore. All the worse for having two genuinely great songs on it (‘Stylo’ and ‘Superfast Jellyfish’). This is an hour of expensive and disgusting sounding synth dirges with phoned-in cameo after phoned-in cameo. Beyond boring and into the realm of wanting this record to be un-recorded, un-made and started again. Have Gorillaz really managed to become this shit in the space of only three records? Albarn’s got the talent to make a good record with this band on his own. He should do that instead of using cartoon characters as a front for making sub-par collaborations with whoever takes his fancy.

Ten Questions About Science

November 30, 2010

The Guardian has published this article today with ten questions science ‘must answer’.

Some of them are good, a lot of them are quite irritating. So to save science the trouble of answering them, I will.

DISCLAIMER: These answers are my opinion, and are therefore 100% correct.

Kathy Sykes: What is consciousness?

You know when you switch an old style TV off and the picture would dwindle to a little dot in the middle that eventually winked out? Consciousness is like that happening in reverse, only the human brain is the TV. Consciousness isn’t a thing, it’s an emergent property of a set of actions which are undertaken by part of our body, without our express consent.

This emergent property leads us to mistakenly conclude that there is an independent being called ‘me’. That error of perception is consciousness. Change the underlying process and you change the conscious ‘experience’. A meaningful understanding of what consciousness ‘is’ may not actually be possible.

Joan Bakewell: What happened before the big bang?

Ms Bakewell says “To simply declare – as some scientists do – there was no space or time before the big bang and that the question is therefore meaningless is hard to accept”. It’s the ‘simply declare’ bit that gets me. As if scientists are just invoking their own authority without evidence.

I’d suggest anyone interested in question this reads a book or two, the latest Stephen Hawking is very readable on this particular question – also try Marcus Chown. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that just because the English language can be used to formulate a question, that question must be meaningful or valid. I expect most people would have less problem with ‘where was I before I was born?’, or ‘where did fish live before the sea formed?’.

Time, space and matter are the universe. If there was any time and space before the Big Bang then that would have been the universe, and we would still need an explanation. Things can’t pre-exist the conditions necessary for their existence.

This doesn’t explain how the universe was made, just why this is a non-question.

Mark Miodownik: Will science and engineering give us back our individuality?

If science and engineering have taken away your individuality then you need to try harder. Perhaps what science and engineering have done is reduce the opportunities to be ignorant, I guess it’s harder to be creative in a factual framework than one where you can just believe any old shit.

What’s so great about individuality anyway? We need to get away from this idea that every human being is so utterly unique and wonderful. We’re all basically quite similar. What science etc has done is make it easier to have a long, enjoyable life – the real challenge is how to widen that opportunity for people across the world, without utterly depleting our finite resources.

The way to strive for uniqueness (if you want to) is to buy less stuff, spend less time consuming media other people have created, and spend more time simply interacting with other people and creating media of your own.

Tracy Chevalier: How are we going to cope with the world’s burgeoning population?

We’re not. Either the population stops burgeoning or we cease to cope. There is not an infinite amount of stuff in the world, therefore there must come a point where the stuff:people ratio is unsustainable. Either we work out how to balance things and slow down or we reach a point where we have no choice but to have less because there’s not enough to go round. There will then inevitably be a massive war over what’s left and the overpopulation will be sorted out that way.

Marcus du Sautoy: Is there a pattern to the prime numbers?

Probably not. Maths is just something humans made up, after all. The fact it describes and predicts the behaviour of the universe more accurately than language doesn’t mean the universe has hidden exciting, magical clues in it for us.

Brian Cox: Can we make a scientific way of thinking all pervasive?

I hope so. But not so all-pervasive that we lose the spark of creativity that comes from our most deep-rooted inherent flaws.

John Sulston: How do we ensure humanity survives and flourishes?

See question re: population. I don’t think we can do both. If you want ‘flourish’ then we need to lose large chunks of the population and replace them with robots which undertake menial tasks. The remaining people can then make art, fuck, and eat pan fried seabass to their heart’s content. Or we can be less greedy, breed less and have a hope of remaining in existence.

Andrew Motion: Can someone explain adequately the meaning of infinite space?

Motion begins this question by saying “The idea of there being no end to space seems logically impossible”. Well boo hoo, thankfully the universe does not run on logic. Just because something doesn’t make sense to the human mind doesn’t mean it’s not reality. I don’t understand how bats navigate using sound – I doubt a bat would be too bothered by this.

Likewise the universe, having already given us the gift of (albeit illusory) consciousness, does not also owe it to us to be comprehensible. Infinite space means you can theoretically keep going in any direction forever, except you can’t because you’d die after a few hundred thousand miles. So I wouldn’t worry about it.

Lionel Shriver: Will I be able to record my brain like I can record a programme on television?

That book you wrote about a couple who fall in love and play tennis was incredibly fucking boring. Conversely ‘We Need To Talk About Kevin’ is one of the best things I’ve ever read. No you can’t record your brain like a TV show. Have you any idea how much hard disk space that would take? What programming language would the relevant software be written in?

To do this in the level of detail you describe would require an effectively 100% complete understanding of how the human brain works. Which I suspect is impossible, and if it isn’t then it would be absolutely terrifying because it would mean you could recreate anyone who ever lived just by scanning their brain and clone them in a software environment which would, to them, be indistinguishable from reality. Then you could do all sorts of horrible shit to them and it would be indistinguishable from doing it to the ‘real’ them. This is not something you want. Stop trying to come up with kooky philosophical conundrums and write another cool book about a psychotic murderer. Please. Thank you.

Piers Sellers: Can humanity get to the stars?

I don’t reckon the light speed barrier will ever be broken. Of course new science could be invented that changes that. But that assertion alone doesn’t mean that everything we currently know will be overwritten. I reckon light speed is one of those things we’ve just got to deal with.

You can use ‘science doesn’t know everything’ to argue for or against literally anything. Try it. Including every belief you currently hold. Sooner or later you’ve got to go ahead and form opinions based on what is currently known, and risk being proved wrong hundreds of years after you die. So no, I don’t think we will, especially if we go on depleting our resources at the rate we currently do.

Bandcamp

October 26, 2010

So I’ve set myself up a bandcamp account. Not going to bang on about it too much but I am very, very impressed with this site. It’s a clean, easy to navigate interface which does everything you would want it to and no more. It means I can sell downloads directly and provide instant downloads with CD sales.

At the moment just ‘European Monsoon’ and ‘A Neuron Poem Soon’ are available but more will follow. I can highly recommend it to anyone looking for a way to sell yr music.

Preview some tracks from ‘A Neuron Poem Soon’ in this player:

I’ve also done a minor redesign of www.paganwandererlu.co.uk for those who take an interest in such things.