Friday, 26 July 2013

Top 5 Novels by Iain (M) Banks

I've been muddling over this topic since Iain Banks announced that he had terminal cancer. I love his books, both contemporary & science-fiction, but I'm a long way from having read all of them and wasn't sure I'd be doing the topic justice. Since Iain passed away on 9th June I realised it probably doesn't matter that I've not read everything. These top fives are rarely definitive and I wanted a way to celebrate his work.

They say you should never judge a book by it's cover. That's very true when used as an analogy for life but I'd contend it's not actually true about books. In my experience book covers are a pretty good indication of what's on the pages. Sometime in the mid-nineties, perhaps a little early, I was in a slump with my reading and looking for something new and exciting. I was doing a day-release course at college and often spent my lunch break browsing the shelves of Waterstones. I stumbled across Iain Banks' contemporary collection and was struck by the simple but effective black & white designs. The covers made me want to read the books.

1. The Wasp Factory (1984) - As is right and proper I started in chronological order with Iain's debut novel of any type. The Wasp Factory is pretty dark in places, exploring the effects of organised religion and parental deception. It's a quick read with an unexpected twist and an excellent introduction to Banks' style of writing.

2. Player Of Games (1988) - The second of The Culture series helped everything fall into place for me with Iain's science fiction. It's a shorter book than Consider Phlebas or Use Of Weapons and I found it an easier read but just as compelling. A famously skilful player of games is coerced by The Culture's Special Circumstances to travel to a far away world and play the complex game of Azad, unwittingly playing a role in The Culture's broader intentions.

3. The Crow Road (1992) - A more traditional coming of age story but one told with Banks' typical wit and dark humour. The BBC did a great job adapting this for television in 1996. Contains one of the best opening sentences you're likely to find - "It was the day my grandmother exploded"

4. Consider Phlebas (1987) - The first of The Culture series and therefore the first bit of Banks SF I read. It's a weighty tome and took me a while to get to grips with (amongst other challenges there are a lot of tricky names to remember) but it's well told and was truly different to any other Sci-Fi I'd read up to that point.

5. Walking On Glass (1985) - Brain scramblingly complex in places, but very satisfying once you get there. Walking On Glass features three parallel storylines that don't initially appear to be linked but eventually reveal subtle connections.


Friday, 12 July 2013

Top 5 Albums released in 1981

I promise not to swamp you with year based musical lists but this could definitely be a recurring thing for a while. Another Twitter influenced top five based on the excellent @LPGrp monthly theme. A communal record listen which is a great way to discover new music. This weeks' theme was albums released in 1981 for which we were asked to vote for our favourite five.

I figured that was a quick route to a new top five but it turned out 1981 was not a great year for music! I struggled to find five albums I really liked but in the end I was pretty happy with my list. The great and the good of the @LPGrp also showed me there were other interesting albums released that year. The winner was Faith, by The Cure, which I thoroughly enjoyed and has kicked off a bit of a Cure renaissance for me.

Having done 1981 as well as all of the 1990s I can feel the urge to fill the gaps. I'll do my best to space these out if I do.

1. The Gun Club "Fire of Love" - Debut album from Jeffrey Lee Pierce fronted original Garage Punks. The Gun Club are one of those bands I was aware of for some time and left me kicking myself when I eventually found out how good they were. A nod to Japandroids who, thanks to their fantastic cover of For The Love Of Ivy, were the catalyst for me finally making the effort to get hold of this album.

2. Minutemen "The Punch Line" - This is the Minutemen's "full length" debut, though it rattles through all 18 songs in 15 minutes. Originally a trio the band disbanded following the death of D. Boon (guitar & vocals) in a van accident. I saw Mike Watt (bass & vocals) and George Hurley (drums) play as a duo in support of Shellac and was blown away by their intensity. Watt has become one of my favourite bassists too and is currently a member of Iggy & The Stooges touring band.

3. Motörhead "No Sleep Til Hammersmith" - If you only buy one Motörhead album it should probably be this. They're a band who built their reputation on live performance and this comes as close to capturing the experience in your own home.

4. Iron Maiden "Killers" - Have I done top five Maiden albums yet? I don't think I have but I'm pretty sure Killers would do well. It was the second of two albums to feature original vocalist Paul Di'Anno, who has a deeper tone and punkier edge to his voice than Bruce Dickinson. I've a bit of a soft spot for it.

5. The Cramps "Psychedelic Jungle" - It's taken me some time to warm to The Cramps, I blame this largely on being forced to listen to Lux Interior's Purple Knif Show when I wasn't quite ready. However, I recently made the effort, partly due to the Gun Club connection, I found I really liked this debut album.


Friday, 5 July 2013

Top 5(0) Albums of the Nineties

Don't worry, this won't be a regular thing. Some people I follow on Twitter decided to do their Top 50 Albums of the Nineties and I thought it would be fun to join in. It certainly proved to me it's easier to do top fives than lists this big. I spent weeks listening to old albums and trying to place them in an acceptable semblance of order. Typically the top 5 proved pretty easy and with only one slight change (Godspeed usurped Cornershop) remained in the same positions from my original rough list to the final article. Organising the rest was like trying to complete a Chinese puzzle. It has also provided me with an extra ten top fives, which I suspect you'll be seeing here sooner rather than later. I had a lot of fun doing it, even if it did start to take over my life, and it was an excellent way to listen to some old albums I'd not played in ages. Here's the full fifty then, in reverse order, with my top five at the bottom.

50. Inspiral Carpets "Life" (90)
49. The Flaming Lips "Transmissions From The Satellite Heart" (93)
48. Portishead "Dummy" (94)
47. Slint "Spiderland" (91)
46. Mercury Rev "Deserters Songs" (98)
45. Elastica "Elastica" (95)
44. Faith No More "Angel Dust" (92)
43. Blur "Parklife" (94)
42. Fugazi "In On The Kill Taker" (93)
41. PJ Harvey "To Bring You My Love" (95)
40. Sparklehorse "Good Morning Spider" (98)
39. Massive Attack "Blue Lines" (91)
38. Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds "The Boatman's Call" (97)
37. Bjork "Debut" (93)
36. Pearl Jam "Vitalogy" (94)
35. Cat Power "Moon Pix" (98)
34. Sonic Youth "Goo" (90)
33. Tom Waits "Mule Variations" (99)
32. The Breeders "Pod" (90)
31. Palace Music "Viva Last Blues" (95)
30. Les Savy Fav "3/5" (97)
29. Lucinda Williams "Car Wheels On A Gravel Road" (98)
28. Spiritualized "Ladies & Gentlemen We Are Floating In Space" (97)
27. The Flaming Lips "The Soft Bulletin" (99)
26. Sugar "Copper Blue" (92)
25. Nirvana "In Utero" (93)
24. dEUS "The Ideal Crash" (99)
23. PJ Harvey "Rid Of Me" (93)
22. Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds "Murder Ballads" (96)
21. PJ Harvey "Dry" (92)
20. Sleater Kinney "Dig Me Out" (97)
19. Mogwai "Come On Die Young" (99)
18. Jane's Addiction "Ritual De Lo Habitual" (90)
17. Calexico "The Black Light" (98)
16. R.E.M. "Out Of Time" (91)
15. The Black Crowes "The Southern Musical Companion" (92)
14. Mark Lanegan "Whiskey For The Holy Ghost" (94)
13. Bonnie Prince Billy "I See A Darkness" (99)
12. Smog "Knock Knock" (99)
11. Lambchop "What Another Man Spills" (98)
10. The Breeders "Last Splash" (93)
9. Radiohead "The Bends" (95)
8. Johnny Cash "Unchained" (97)
7. Cornershop "When I Was Born For The 7th Time" (97)
6. Pixies "Bossanova" (92)

5. Godspeed You Black Emperor! "F♯ A♯ ∞" (98) - Debut album from when they were still a shadowy collective and the ! was still at the end of their name. The mystery was certainly part of the draw for ages all I had to go on was a blurry photo of the band by a rail track. It took ages to find out all their names and even longer to put faces to the names. This was the one album I didn't have in my original draft top 5 but replaying it confirmed how much I still love it.

4. Jeff Buckley "Grace" (94) - Jeff Buckley's greatest moment, sad he didn't stick around for more. An album I've played so often I don't expect to enjoy it anymore but always find I do. Bizarrely I discovered Grace via a recommendation from the Jethro Tull fanzine editor.

3. Fugazi "Repeater" (90) - Got into them late but they're now one of my favourite bands and this is their best album. Wish I'd bought an album sooner than I did. Known as much for their self-sufficient DIY ethic and dislike of the commercial music business, they're currently on an indefinite hiatus. The band I would most like to see reform.

2. Radiohead "OK Computer" (97) - 1997 was the year my faith in new music was revitalised and this album was the main reason for that. I think this album took ideas from Prog Rock but delivered them in a way the cool kids could enjoy.

1. Nirvana "Nevermind" (91) - I think I first heard it on a trip to the wilds of Scotland to see Fish (out of Marillion). Whispering Bob Harris played several tracks during a late night drive on a very dark road. I bought the album as soon as I got home. It marked the end of my METAL days and the start of new musical adventures.