I think it’s fair to say that February wasn’t a great month here. But never mind, it’s gone now and what started out as a rather mundane and unremarkable day somewhere in the middle of it was brightened up by an email received from a band whose debut EP I had in these pages a mere few years ago, offering me a listen of their brand new (and second) full album. Such an unintentional birthday present was gratefully received, yet it’s a measure of the craziness of the whole of the last four weeks that it was only last night I was sufficiently Not At Work enough to sit back and take it all in. And what a treat it turned out to be.
It’s all a bit “fits & starts” here at the moment I’m afraid. Blame work. The upshot of all this is that instead of getting to spend time doing this, I’m currently waking up, going to work stupidly early, getting home stupidly late, soup and then bed. For six days a week. Ah well, it’s infinitely better than what I was facing this time last year.
On the plus side, the drive to and from work is incredible fun, as it currently involves driving alone down myriad twisting country lanes, unlit and occasionally foggy. As well as these natural hazards, the journey is now about 40 minutes each way which means that I more often than not get a whole record in while avoiding stuffing my car into yet another hedge/tree/escaped cow. This one’s been getting a lot of play time during the past couple of weeks and it’s an escape well-received.
There’s something rather pleasing about using numbers as something other than passing the time or showing how much there is of something. Tomorrow’s 11/11 is a good example of this as it is with its symmetry and a date that avoids transatlantic confusion, but throw the year into the mix and add the all the digits from 11/11/2014 together and you end up with another eleven. Which is nice. So what better date to usher in the release of a new solo record from one of rock music’s busiest men Alain Johannes (he of Eleven, naturally)?
Usually, and certainly of late, I find it a struggle to find that elusive interesting “in” to a record, that unique moment that allows me to begin a train of thought to wherever. The most difficult thing for me with this particular one is that it was all to easy to do and I remain unsure about if I want to go down that track. But here I am and there I go, and as nobody reads this anymore anyway I can relax a bit more and head off to wherever this is going to take me. It’s that sort of an album, and a fitting end to this brief jaunt around Pennsylvania’s gritty musical output.
Onto the second part of this visit to the State of Pennsylvania, which I now discover is more of a Commonwealth anyway. No idea what that means, but there you go. And after having my hearing and nerves shattered by 4 and 5am fire alarms here, I am in no state (or commonwealth?) to find out properly. Little Big League are a band from Philadelphia, Tropical Jinx is their second album and their debut struck such a chord with me last year (it was a well-deserved favourite) that it feels like they’ve been around for a lot longer, something reinforced by the progression and feel of this new one. October’s been a good month.
At work, I am involved in the office Fantasy Football League. I’m not doing very well if truth be told, but that isn’t the cause of my despair as far as this little competition is concerned. My consternation lies firmly in the fact that I am incessantly finding my team name to an ever-expanding group of people who go “I don’t get it” whenever I extol the etymological origins of the mighty mid-table Half Man Half Busquets. I’m generally happier when explaining who Busquets (Carles or Sergio, it matters not) is. Half Man Half Biscuit shouldn’t really be hidden away just out of sight of the mainstream consciousness, although I suspect that this is where they like to hang out – their fans are loyal and well-rewarded, modern culture provides a well-ordered line of targets for lyrical disdain, and they remain at the forefront of a punk movement casting a disappointed spotlight on life’s many vagaries; mostly by virtue of the fact that nobody else has really bothered to join in.
It’s rare that I do posts of a personal nature these days. Partly because I’ve become a little bit more guarded over the past couple of years anyway due to this & that, but I suppose it’s mostly because I’ve been so busy trying to listen to so much new stuff that I’ve not been looking backwards so often anymore. Which is probably why it came as a genuine shock to me when I read a message from a friend of mine today stating that this record is ten years old today. Conversations that have sprung from this revelation have seemed to have the same effect on several other of my friends today, and then the floodgates opened – a whole decade of memories, communities and even enmities all springing from the collective coming-together over one record. Happy Birthday, Bubblegum.
Somewhere in the lower reaches of my pile of DVDs are a small group of imported Hong Kong editions of films by Miike Takashi, because they were impossible to get over here at the time (and they were also very cheap). The Japanese director is well-known for being a bit multicultural with his cast who generally spoke their own language in conversation with others speaking a different one. An interesting challenge for the Chinese subtitling department, who had to transcribe all of these into their own language and then into English for the benefit of the likes of me. A favourite of mine is Dead Or Alive: Final (brilliant intro, very weird ending, so-so middle bits) as one of the main characters speaks English – which was then translated into Cantonese by one translator and then back into English by another one doing the subs, with rather strange linguistic consequences as what is said and what appears on the bottom of the screen rarely match. There’s method to this laboured intro, as Manchester’s Horsebeach take a sound familiar round these here parts but rather than riff on the original, it’s something partially retranslated from another interpretation.
It always seems a bit strange when a band goes eponymous some way into a career. The usual way about things is to self-titlingly announce yourselves right at the start and then take it from there, wherever “it” takes you. When it does happen though, it’s an eyebrow-raiser. Why now? Why this?
It does all become rather apparent once attention is paid to what the Smoke Fairies have achieved with this record, that both expands their musical palette and brings an intangible feeling of a closer bond, which is rather nicely illustrated by the image on the cover – it takes two wings for one to fly, after all…
I have no idea if it was a collective act or sheer coincidence, but somewhere along the line a switch was closed and we all became earnest, miserable sods. Or at the very least I did and presumed that everyone else did too. Thankfully, we have Sweet Apple here to decide that not only is it perfectly OK to be fun and bright and occasionally silly, but it’s also possible to look over one’s shoulder at the past and mark all the colourful spots without getting all maudlin about it. And of course it’s even better to do so when you get to include Mike Watt in a canoe.