I should probably give it a shout on here.

The latest is that Dan has left the group to concentrate on starting a career in journalism, so we have brought in Tom Mills, who plays keyboards, guitar, sings and I think can generally get a melody out of anything you give him.

The sound will change a bit as a result, cos all combinations are unique, but it’s still me, Phil and Sea, so the change will be subtle rather than seismic, I should think.

The artwork is being handled by Sam Garrett. I’ll stick a sneak preview of the front cover up when it’s finished. It looks fucking ace.

We recorded and mixed it all ourselves and I think we will be releasing it ourselves too. Kramer mastered it for us, otherwise, all our own work.

I think it will be out in April. These things take time.

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Arriving home

December 12, 2008

I opened the gate and Grandad shuffled through it.

“Thanks lad”, he said.

The sun was doing its best to compensate for the heavy silence. We walked at shuffle pace down the hill, towards the remnants of the Roman fort by the river.

Grandad stopped halfway down the hill and touched my arm. “Look”, he said, pointing across the valley. “See that church? That’s where we married. Now, look right from there and back a bit, that’s Abblesden.”

That was the council estate they’d lived on for forty five years, after the war was over and Grandad had demobbed.

“Of course, I was so lucky the war ended when it did, because they were going to post me to Burma.”

“Really?” Of course, I’d heard the story before.

“Oh yes. On the front line. I would have been fighting the Japanese. But then of course, they dropped the bomb and the Japanese surrendered. And I came back home.”

“Thank God for that”, I said.

Ratemydate.com

December 12, 2008

How would you rate his breath, on a scale of 1 (offensive) to 5 (fresh)?

The respondent had answered:

2

James frowned. He still found it hard to believe that it was necessary to include the question in the survey.  But the amount of times men scored 1 or 2 for ‘breath’ made it clear to him that it had to be there. It was such an easy thing, such a simple thing, such a cheap thing to rectify.

This particular guy had taken his date to a city centre pub.  Not a bad first move.  Neutral ground, that was vital.  Nothing too heavy, just a drink, but in a swisher environment than the local.  The Suitability Index for the date was pretty high.  Both parties were humanities graduates, both late twenties.  Both WASPs, so to speak, with similar paths through life to date.

James wanted to help those paths converge.

A natural mathematician, he had followed his subject to uni, but once there, quickly became disillusioned.  Maths simply didn’t assuage his curiosity about people.  It wasn’t exciting.  It wasn’t a conversation starter in bars, unless, of course, he was with other mathematicians.  Still, he stuck it out, found other things to talk about in bars and finally qualified with a 2:1 and an idea.  He would apply his number-crunching ability to dating.

Ratemydate.com was born.

His friends scoffed at the idea, at first.

“You mean to tell me”, said Giles, between convulsive shudder bouts of laughter, “that some poor sod, who’s taken a girl out, then got the old zero back when he texted her the next day, is then going to follow it up with an email?  Dear Lisa – thanks for Friday night.  Please find attached feedback form.  Kind regards, Bellend”.

Everyone had a cheap laugh at James’ expense, but the idea kept growing.

What if you could go onto the website and fill it in anonymously.  You could put the venue, date and the time of your encounter, but you didn’t have to mention the other person’s name.

Nobody would pay for the service, his research persuaded him of that pretty quickly.  But it was an easy pitch to get advertising revenue from dating websites. He told his friends.  Got them to act as online guinea pigs in his ‘sandpit’ development site.  They fed back. They’d enjoyed it.  He went live.

The forms started coming in.  He monitored the traffic on the site.  As the visitor numbers increased, he kept revising his form.  How many were coming back incomplete.  Why.  Were people skipping particular questions.  Why.  Was there any need for comment boxes in particular places.  Trial and error.  He tweaked and honed.  He sought feedback about the site’s visual appeal.  Did it look welcoming and warm.  The golden rule – keep it simple, keep it accessible.

The site appealed to people’s – vanity, he decided.  The date hadn’t gone well.  He hadn’t treated her as she’d expect.  He kept looking in every other direction.  She didn’t know what to talk about.   He laughed at his own jokes.  He was tight about money.  His jokes, which he laughed at, too loudly, weren’t very funny.  She didn’t seem very mature.  Her eyes were funny.  His hair was a mess.  Too neat.  Too polite.  Too formal.  He seemed nervous.  She answered a text when I was in the middle of talking to her.  The list was never-ending.

He found that the majority of respondents – 56 – 44 per cent – were women.  14% of forms had been filled in by gay men and lesbians.  The process was not as attractive to straight guys.  OK. The data was passed onto the advertisers, so that they could target their ads.

The buzz on Facebook was great.  People loved to gossip; it brightened up their lives.  Not everyone was happy with the results, of course, but James figured that if a guy had BO, or was limited in conversational breadth, or couldn’t wrestle his eyes from a woman’s breasts, then it was probably better, long term, that someone had the hard word about it with them.

If you’d never heard back from your date, you could check the site to see if they’d given you the reason why. All you had to do was tap in the venue, the date and the time.

Emails started to arrive from forlorn men. That report card that came in about 16th July, Zizzi’s Bar in Ashford, 9pm.  Can you tell me who it was who sent it?  I need to know if it was about me.

Of course, confidentiality applied.  The anonymity of the reviewer was sacrosanct.  The reviewed had to make their own mind up.
And maybe it wasn’t about them.  Maybe it was the sad story of the couple at the next table, the ones who’d seemed to be having such a good time.  Or the ones over by the bar, who’d looked a little drunk.  Or the two who sat by the window, quiet.  The ones who left with their arms around each other, heading for the nearest taxi rank.

Or maybe it was about the guy with nothing better to do than to email ratemydate.com.

Yes, I know it’s the old record and there’s a new one out now.

Boards of Canada – that last track on the A Beautiful Place in the Country EP
Spiritualized – Pure Phase / Lazer Guided Melodies
Flying Saucer Attack
My Bloody Valentine (obviously)
CAN – Delay
Broken Social Scene – You Forget It In People

These are the reference points I have divined from this album so far.

Occasionally, thrillingly, pop happens, but overall, it’s an ambient record.  The drummer isn’t great and actually, the drum sound isn’t all that.  The snare sounds a bit weak and tinny.  This is compensated for by most everything else sounding as cool as fuck.

All is distant, reverberating.  Not enough to be right over the horizon, though; the shapes are mostly still solid.

The hook in was the song ‘Strange Lights’.  That was the one I heard on Myspace and kept going back for.  I listen to lots of stuff on Myspace, but this was the first time since Younghusband that I was seduced at first listen.  So many bands wash past me in an, ‘oh, that was OK’, kind of way.  Sometimes, three or four nudges from friends or trusted online sources send me back to the same source to unearth a gem.  It wasn’t like that with these guys.  I was made aware that ‘Microcastles’, the new one, is out already, but because I loved ‘Strange Lights’ so much, I just headed straight for its parent album.

What I know about them is that they are fronted by a gent named Bradford Cox and he very generously distributes his Atlas Sound side project material freely via (address here) – but I can’t tell you anything more about him than Pitchfork or Wikipedia could, so why should I.

Actually. I was going to say ‘when has biography ever been important about an indie band?’  Then I remembered avidly reading Our Band Could Be Your Life, with its fascinating, inspiring chapters on Mission of Burma, The Minutemen, Fugazi and Black Flag.

The Deerhunter story is interesting to me, because they appear to have found a way to be a traditional, even retro indie band in the late ‘00s – and yet be right on the zeitgeist.  Check the Atlas Sound Orange Ohms Glow EP (you might as well, he’s giving it away).  ‘Activation’ – Jesus, it’s the new Pavement!  It has the same warm, wonky glow.  Then there’s a cover of an old Joe Meek song.  This isn’t rocket science, yet it’s become extremely important.  The lineage continues.  A friend of mine nailed it when he described Deerhunter as ‘nothing new or radical, yet … so refreshing’.  It’s a conundrum.  It’s a continuum.  Indie prevails.

So the back-story becomes important.  They blog creatively as well as making music and its all part of the same thing, now.  You have to move with the times.

Anyway, Cryptograms.  Hooked in by ‘Strange Lights’.

First track, called ‘Intro’.  Swoons in with a minute or so of ambience, then in comes the title track, which is savvy as fuck.  Dirty, fast bass, distorted, double-tracked vocals (a typical and creatively well-used Deerhunter trick), a hissing nightmare of feedback, drums that battle in vain to keep up with the impending typhoon.  The vocals get sicklier, more slurred and affected – and compelling – as the guitar swathes become more and more overwhelming.  The bass keeps turning around and around.  This is a brilliant statement of intent.  Our old label boss Tom Rose would be proud. ‘Track two has to be the winner’, he always said.

The album then becomes more meditative.  I think they botched the track order a bit, actually.  ‘Strange Lights’ doesn’t appear ‘til track nine, on the heels of the album’s other stonewall beauty, ‘Spring Hall Concerts’.  Those two should have been split up.  If they’d put either ‘Spring Hall’ or ‘Strange Lights’ in at about track five, momentum would have kept up through the album better.

I like the sprawl of the album, though.  And the outstanding ‘Octet’, programmed in at track six, whilst not a first-listen stunner, soon grows in your perception to become an LP peak.  This is the track that gave me that lushed-out, light, gently cosmic early Spiritualized impression.  Those delayed guitars and the skipping bass, the background layers of reverb.  The repetition, the tension that builds, the release of the hook bass change.  It has that formality that I am in love with and want to get to the bottom of.

It isn’t them at their best, though.

This review has been coloured by the fact that I just heard the delicious ‘Agoraphobia’, from Microcastles, which means I now have to buy that album.  ‘Agoraphobia’ is more grist to my ‘they’re the new Pavement’ mill.  But they’re potentially better than Pavement, because they’re better musicians.  Pavement were so fucking sloppy.  Deerhunter are far from sloppy.  They work hard to mask their deficiencies with production technique.  This is not a ‘warts and all’ endeavour, far from it.   And the more records they make, the better they get.

Is there a bell curve when it comes to creativity?  If there is, I don’t think they have reached the peak of it yet.  I hope not, anyhow.

I feel absolutely ecstatic, wired, that ecstasy that is too much – I’m moving too fast to enjoy the moment, know that I must crash at some point.  This is why alcohol happens.

I was thinking, would anyone read this if it didn’t say MIRANDA JULY – No One Belongs Here More Than You at the top?  Is this why I review?

Many thoughts are leaping into my mind at once – I think part of it is the sheer exuberance generated by not having touched alcohol for over a week.  But another part of it is that I have been chewing over Miranda July’s stories of late.

She writes about people I don’t usually come across in first person narrative – strippers, losers, fat secretaries, lonely old factory workers, lonely people generally.  Throughout, there’s this yearning for connection, for meaning.  Relationships are usually disastrous and destructive, weird and restricting, non-sexual, or sexually unsatisfactory for at least one party.  Psychologically abusive, at times.  People do not live happily ever after, but they do live on, like it or not.  Have to.

I’ve always been fascinated by life’s failures – the red-faced dissolute standing outside the Royal Oak smoking at half one in the afternoon; inside the pub, you can see the racing on the TV and a few heads, not moving, not speaking.  I sometimes pathetically wish I could be there, just dissolving myself, pickling myself gradually to death.  But I know that if I tried to do it, it wouldn’t work.  I would end up getting other people involved and it would fuck up.

Those people in that pub don’t look like they have any private pain.  They don’t look capable of much thought, or much else.  They’re not, anymore.  But they did, once.  They could, once.  They don’t want to anymore.  They just want to die.

Miranda July doesn’t write a story about an alcoholic in this collection, but I can’t help feeling there’s a connection, somewhere.  Maybe I’m wrong.  What I’m driving at is that some of the people she writes about, I walk past on the street daily, without giving them a second thought.  Maybe I think, oh, she’s ugly, or, god, what a mess that guy is, or I just don’t even register them.  She writes about them.  Not much happens, externally – they drift around a very limited, circumscribed universe – but inside, they still have ambitions, dreams, fantasies, drives.  Coping mechanisms.

A secretary obsesses about little things, because there isn’t anything big in her life.  A woman daydreams about everybody she’s ever met holding a party for her, because they love her.  An older guy, who regularly fantasises about teenage girls, takes ecstasy and has a sexual experience with a male work colleague.  A lesbian couple scour the classified ads in the paper, looking for something for them.

Short story writing should be the art of turning a moment into infinity.  Some people start writing and it seems as though they can do anything with anything, never stop producing.  Use the mundane as their clay.

Once I had finished this book, my instinct was to go back to the start straight away.  That doesn’t happen very often.

I haven’t done the book justice with this review – one read wasn’t enough to really take it in, somehow.  I just want to urge anybody who reads this post to check out the book.

I live with Stereolab in my heart. It feels almost like I know them personally, so fond am I of their music. Even when they’re being shit, I love them. On some of the tracks on Chemical Chords, they are being a bit shit, but I forgive them for that, because I love them.

‘The Ecstatic Static’ is an interesting song title and almost sums up what’s going on here. I understand that this record was made very quickly – and it sounds that way. Stereolab fans will find loads of gems, but those who aren’t already indoctrinated will probably find themselves slightly nonplussed. I’ve hammered the album now and still find certain songs drifting past me, but I remember my first listen left me feeling a bit short-changed, to say the least.

Virtually none of the songs had a proper ending. They all seemed to either fade out or stop dead at the end of a cycle in a totally unsatisfactory way. The silence at the end of certain songs seemed almost embarrassing. Is that it? I wondered.

I started to consider the record as something of a sketchpad, or, more precisely, a working record. By which I mean, a record made whilst going from one place to another. A curate’s egg, something they were capable of doing at the time, without really surpassing themselves – Tim Gane, off the top of his head, set up some tracks, let them flow, got Laetitia Sadier to shake her not inconsiderable thang on top and that was kind of it. Move fast, keep the tracks short.

Some of the structures are, of course, brilliant, but one of the album highlights, ‘Valley Hi’, features one of the laziest musical changes I’ve ever heard. It sounds like they had two parts and simply couldn’t be arsed to bridge them, so welded them together- voila! A cut and shut. It is only the extreme quality of the second part – a delicious coda powered along by luscious, lovely smooth roto bass thrum – that allows them to get away with it. I’m so thrilled by it that I kind of forget what came before. Which is actually a really nice part.

The first two songs, ‘Neon Beanbag’ and ‘Three Women’ are absolutely brilliant. ‘Neon’ has a superb shimmy to it, which Sadier replicates with her warm ‘doo-wop’, which has been treated to make it sound kind of translucent. It sits in with the track so organically. ‘Three Women’ follows up with a shit-hot groove, two note bass repeating, adroit, across the slave drums, then the bass turns round and trips in the chorus, while a sheet of trebly organ descends and brass suaves in to lift the whole thing into quite magnificent propulsion.

Then song after song comes in with a promising idea and disappears off leaving nary a waft of an impression.

Track 8 ‘Pop Molecule’ is basically their repetition song, ‘Kyberneticka Babicka’, redux. I remember being really thrilled with that when I bought it on 7”. Then I played it to my friend Yuri, who just laughed and said, “they can release anything, can’t they?” I was rather stung by that. Am I a sucker?

Yeah, I’m a sucker.

But a sucker who is REWARDED by the beautiful ‘Daisy Click Clack’, which follows a bunch of so-so numbers, stretching from track 7, ‘Silver Sands’, which actually just isn’t very good, to track 12, ‘Fractal Dream of a Thing’, which is the most interesting of the lot and certainly one of the better things on Chemical Chords. It has a great, rhythmic, rapped vocal moment and a swooning ‘chorus’, which terminates in a lovely one-note solo. With development, it could have been a classic.

All hail the one-note solo! Neil Young knows it and Tim Gane knows it too, in a very different way. ‘Daisy Click Clack’, which is utterly fantastic, has one too. It’s clean and simple, skipping across the more complex and layered backing track, which is a whimsical, formal, off-kilter piano-led woozy sway, with lots of vibes. Subtle, clever, hits you in the heart. This is why I love them.

The version I bought has bonus tracks, so I’m not sure where the regular album finishes. I would imagine track 14, ‘Vortica Phonetique’, is on the album – and dashed good it is too. Simon Johns gets his bass working, the structure develops with a pleasingly natural complexity. It’s a builder, with nice drop downs and ‘ba ba bas’. Weirdly, there’s a triptych of some of the best stuff on the LP clustered right at the end.

In the end, this album feels like something Tim Gane toyed with for a week, before sauntering off to forget it over a decent lunch.

I’m glad he did it.

At Manchester Piccadilly, there’s an upstairs retail court, with a sports bar, an M&S food shop and various other outlets.

Queuing for food, a woman barged past me – “Can I go in front of you. My train goes in five minutes. I’d do the same.”

I say nothing, the guy stood in front of me in the line says nothing. The woman takes her bag of products up to the kid who is serving at till number 8.

I am served soon enough at till number 9. Walking out of the shop, I see two white men sitting on a bench. I hear a foreign language being spoken, maybe Polish. Something isn’t right about them. One is talking quietly into the other’s ear. The listener suddenly crumples, doubling up. He tries to cover his face with his jacket. I look over the balcony beyond them and see two policemen below, wearing fluorescent jackets and leading Alsatians.

The guy is obviously terrified of something. Maybe the mob have finally caught up to him. Maybe he owes someone money. Maybe he killed someone. Maybe he knew something.
Whatever, pain and panic had arrived upon him, in the shape of the other man, or the information he was calmly delivering.

The next time I passed that way, I looked at the same bench. This time, a girl was sat there, alone, staring into the corporately-owned space in front of her, an empty page of a notebook in front of her.

This is a public space, of sorts. Anyone can sit there for free and play out whatever needs to be played out in their lives. Next time, I might sit there for five minutes, see what I can see.