Friday, 27 June 2014

Guest Top 5 by JHO - Songs from Doolittle by the Pixies

It's been a long time since I had a guest post on here and this one is nicked directly from my friend Justin's blog. Over at Station to Station Justin has all sorts of music votes in progress which I've been contributing too (never one to pass up the chance of putting things into some sort of order) and his readers recently picked "Doolittle" by the Pixies as a contender for Ultimate Album. There's an extended blog about the Ultimate Album vote HERE which includes my top 5 moments from the same album but I've taken Justin's bit's out for the guest post below.

We decided to give a go at arguably the Pixies' strongest or at least their most consistently loved album Doolittle and give a proper inner Top 5 from the album. I voted for Stevie Wonder this round but I can't deny this 1989 release and its staying power as an album that was a precursor to the alternative explosion that happened in the following decade. And voters agreed. By one point it narrowly took down Wonder's tour de force double album a la kitchen sink and last night's leftover Songs In the Key Of Life. After wrestling with Wonder's shortcoming I quickly lightened up. Why? Because Doolittle is frankly a blast.

5. Gouge Away - As far as closers go, Gouge Away is wonderful for the way it sets the tone for the album that preceded it quite nicely. Musically, Joey Santiago rips through this one on guitar like the world is on fire around him. And Frank Black's lyrics are quite violently disturbing but he delivers them on target being a bit more gentle in the main chorus then getting up to his frantic antics in the verses for extra effect. I've taken Gouge Away as being trapped to something tangible (a drug, a lifestyle, a habit, anything you can't break away from) and being unhappily set in its moribund path of destruction. But further reading for this five shows it's of biblical proportions. Black had written Gouge Away around the story of "Samson and Delilah" which I didn't know previously but makes sense. Do all these things to me (Gouge Away, Break My Arms, Spoon My Eyes...) and I won't break. Unless of course, you cut my hair. If the song ended on that refrain it may have been a bit...corny? Nonetheless, I've got "Gouge Away" at #5...mainly because "Gouge" is a pretty terrifying bad-ass word.

4. Debaser - Well if you told an average Joe "Hey I've got this album you might have not heard and the opening song AND closing song are both about getting your eyes sliced up and gouged" I wonder what his reaction would be? Excitement or Bewilderment? Maybe he asks if you should try a new medication. Cause basically that's the blueprint of "Doolittle" and its bookends. And both songs make my Top 5. Debaser slightly ahead of Gouge Away because Frank sounds like he's having a panic attack. It's on par with Bone Machine for me, the previous album's "Surfer Rosa" opener in that there is this oddball mentality prepared to rip your mind and rock out at its own digression. Lyrically I guess Debaser is simpler (and if you dig French silent films from surrealists from the 1920s, you're in luck here too) and Kim Deal's sweet female counterpoint vocals of the word DEBASER off of Black's snarl of DEBASER is one of my favorite moments on the album. And of course the "slicing up eyeballs" reference. Ha Ho Ho Ho! What a great opener!

3. Tame - Cause there is quite a good amount of 2 minute and under songs on "Doolittle" I feel the need to add one in here and Tame is hands down the cake taker. It's aggressive and a bit mean hearted...but it's in good fun right cookie? The way Black crawls into your space just screaming Tame isn't for the lighthearted but making references to Cinderella's hips and falling on your face in bad shoes, well, that's for the girl you want to see fail because their mean hearted to begin with. And the dynamics of the simple chord progression in Tame was used time and time and time again in any grunge outfit you can count on your hands and toes in the next decade. Also Black's scream is probably on par with any metal vocalist you want to reference. Not one to throw on for your kids because they'd probably feel their father has lost their mind. But for style points if their just at the right age, you'd probably be a genius in their eyes. "Mom, dad's playing that guy screaming "Tame" again! And he's smiling the whole time! I'm, worried!".

2. Monkey Gone To Heaven - This is probably my first memory of the Pixies seeing the video for Monkey Gone To Heaven on 120 Minutes back in my early teen days. It made for a dark and mysterious band at first glance (the black and white video or the whole devil is six, pick one they both fit the bill at the time). But there is a touching side to Monkey Gone To Heaven. There is a more conscious environmental flow and spiritual side to Monkey Gone To Heaven. First off, the under water guy who got killed by ten millions pounds of sludge from New York and New Jersey. What bastards we are as humans to kill Neptune with our sludge! Also mentioned is the hole in the sky which I imagine was the first talks of what we're doing to the hole in the ozone layer back in '89. I may not recycle as much as I want to should, but Monkey Gone To Heaven does a great deal in wanting me to help our Earth. (As Jim Morrison drunkenly mumbled "What have we done to our fair sister?") And now that the environmental part of the song is out of the way a quick tip of the hat again to Santiago for crafting a guitar line that matches the mood perfectly. And Deal again works the bittersweet side vocals to Black who is much more subdued for most of the song. Of course he can't help himself by the time "Then GOD IS SEVEN" comes round near the end. Most people think of Monkey as the number song but there is much more here when you dig deeper...there's even cellos for goodness sake.

1. Wave Of Mutilation - Leave it to my pop sensibility again, I love Wave Of Mutilation the most on "Doolittle". It's like a slap across the face with cold water on a July day. Sure there's nothing refreshing about driving your car into the ocean (a reference to failed Japanese businessman's answer to failed business deals) but it somehow pulls off a romantic feel to it in that chorus. Something about just being on a wave with Santiago upping the feeling playing that guitar a bit off from the rest of the song for extra punctuation. Can any Wave Of Mutilation have a good ending to it? No way. But the Pixies make that wave feel right somehow, Black's crunchy rhythm guitar leading the way in the verse to a seaport mariana. Yeah, that's where we'd all like to ride to sometime. Even if it is one defined by mutilation. It's slightly better than slicing up eyeballs, a little more refreshing than being referred to as 5 and a top notch song from an ultimate album.


Friday, 20 June 2014

Top 5 Sub Pop singles

I recently read Keith Cameron's excellent biography of Mudhoney (The Sound & The Fury From Seattle) which also detailed a lot of Sub Pop's early history. If you're not familiar with the name, Sub Pop is a record label that was founded in 1986 by Bruce Pavitt and Jonathan Poneman in Seattle, Washington. The label achieved fame in the late 1980s for signing Nirvana, Soundgarden and Mudhoney, becoming synonymous with the rise of Grunge and champions of the Seattle music scene.

The late eighties & early nineties were a very exciting time for me and became a turning point in my musical tastes. I was firmly into Heavy Metal at the time but Mudhoney & Nirvana helped bridge the gap from Metal and open my mind to many new bands and genres. Sub-pop felt different to other labels, they survived on a shoestring, even after having some major success, and the sub-pop singles club became something of an institution, a great way to find new bands in the days before the Internet. The singles below are the tunes I think best represent the early style of Sub Pop.

1. “Touch Me I’m Sick” Mudhoney – Mudhoney's debut single and the perfect encapsulation of everything the band were about. A real grungy blast with a fabulously dirty guitar sound that's become one of my favourite tunes.

2. “Love Buzz” Nirvana – Hot on Mudhoney's heals came Nirvana’s first single. A cover of a song from Dutch rock band Shocking Blue's second album. Nope, I'd never heard of them either. Kurt Cobain wrote some decent songs in his time but his record collection was pretty impressive too and he indirectly introduced me to a lot of great bands.

3. “Shove” L7 – This single came a little later than the rest of the entries (1990) but it's a song with real attitude and remains my favourite L7 track.

4. “Hunted Down” Soundgarden – I was never a big fan of Soundgarden but this tune manages to squeeze all the good things about them into two minutes forty two seconds.

5. “Ritual Device” Tad – Tad didn't go on to the same level of success as many of their contemporaries but they played a significant part in the success of the label featuring on the three band touring line-up (alongside Nirvana & Mudhoney) that did a lot to spread the word about Sub Pop outside of Seattle.


Friday, 13 June 2014

Top 5 Sporting Events I attended

It seems there's some sort of ball kicking competition about to start so it feels like a good time to consider the greatest sporting events I've ever witnessed. If I was being completely factual it's possible this would actually just be a list of Fulham matches but to keep things interesting I've limited the football a bit and only allowed myself one Fulham entry.

1. Fulham 4 Juventus 1 (18/Mar/2010) - The 2010 Europa League run was the absolute peak of my years following the Fulham. It made the seasons watching us struggle, get relegated and reach the brink of extinction all worthwhile. There were plenty of games worthy of a mention, not least the final itself (even though we lost) but the home game against The Old Lady in the Round of 16 was undoubtedly the greatest football game I have ever seen in my life. Fulham were 3-1 down from the away leg in Turin and conceded another goal within 5 minutes of this match. At 4-1 down the game seemed up, there was no chance we could get back into this so the crowd relaxed a little, decided to just enjoy the fact we were playing one of the European greats and had a good old sing-song.

Fulham dusted themselves down as well. Bobby Zamora collected a cross from left back Konchesky, brushed aside World Cup winning captain Cannavaro and fired a bullet volley into the bottom corner of the net. Then Zoltan Gera was through on goal and seemed certain to score but Cannavaro fell over and took him down in the process. There was a pause then a red card for the Italian. Zamora sent the resultant free kick towards the top corner but somehow the big hand of 3rd choice goalie Chimenti managed to push it over the bar. The atmosphere was rocking now and before half time Gera made it 2-1 Fulham and opened the glimmer of hope a notch.

Fulham started the second spell at full pace. Damien Duff fired in a cross that glanced off a gold shirted arm. Gera whipped a fine penalty whipped into the bottom left corner and suddenly we were level on aggregate. A double somersault from Zolo who was then mobbed by the rest of the team. There was a lull during which Clint Dempsey joined the fray. With less than 10 minutes to go Dempsey received the ball on the edge of the box, his back to goal. He turned into space, leaned back a little and floated a chip towards goal. From where I was sitting everything happened in slow motion. The ball rose high into the air, it looked like Clint had over hit a cross but no ... it dropped down towards the top corner and, unbelievably, wonderfully, perfectly finds it's way into the net.

There was a cheer like no other I've heard at the Cottage or anywhere else. The noise of 25,000 people who cannot believe what they've just seen. Football is never like this. From 4-1 down to 5-4 up against one of the biggest teams in the world. It was a magical moment. I can't remember anything after the goal but the whistle eventually blew and we were through. There were more thrills to come in the Quarter & Semi finals but nothing would ever quite live up to this game.

Photo courtesy nicksarebi via used under CC2.0 license

2. Olympic Rowing (1/Aug/2012) - The chance to attend one of the world's greatest sporting events isn't something that comes along very often so I was very excited when we managed to get a couple of tickets for a day at Eton Dorney to watch the Rowing. By sheer fluke this turned out to be the day Great Britain collected their first gold medal of the London Games. Heather Stanning and Helen Glover won the coxless pairs with a stunning performance that left their rivals literally in their wake. The atmosphere was incredible and got louder whenever there was a GB rower involved. British rowers also claimed a thrilling Bronze in the Men's eight and qualified for two finals (Alan Campbell went on to win single sculls bronze whilst George Nash & William Satch also won bronze in the coxless pair). We were back a few weeks later to see Paralympic rowing and I also got to spend a day at the Olympic Stadium to see Paralympic Athletics & Swimming but seeing GB win gold was a special moment.

3. England 33 South Africa 16 (14/Nov/1992) - Beyond one fairly shoddy lesson at school I hadn't played any rugby until we started a regular touch rugby session at work. That grew in popularity and resulted in us fielding a 15-a-side team for a few years. I had no clue of the rules and remember playing wing in one of my first games, receiving a pass, looking up to see some massive bloke running towards me and just chucking the ball into touch. As a club we were able to apply for tickets to test matches and a group of us went to Twickenham to see what would be my first non-sevens game. Unsurprisingly we got very drunk. Very very drunk. We played spoof beforehand, drank a bit more during the game and carried on afterwards as well. England won 33-16 in a really entertaining game of which I remember very little.

4. 81 Ashes: England draw with Australia (31-Aug-81) - This was my first test cricket match and the final day of an amazing test series that saw England win the Ashes and ignited my interest in the game. We made a late decision to go to The Oval after hearing tickets were still available and were listening to test match special on the drive up when Geoffrey Boycott lost his wicket with England only on 1. I'm not entirely sure why but Chris Tavare was a favourite of mine. He had a reputation for being a reliable if rather slow opening batsman and I think I admired his stubbornness. Typically he was also out before we were parked. Having made it in to the Oval things improved somewhat. Mike Gatting steadied the ship and wicket-keeper Alan Knott scored an impressive 70no (despite Dennis Lille's best efforts). Man of the series Ian Botham went lbw for a disappointing 16 but we held out to draw and ensure we didn't end an incredible test series on a downer. Not the most amazing game of cricket but a chance to feel slightly involved in what had been an incredible series.

5. Euro '96: England 1 Germany 1 (England lose 6-5 on penalties) - The country went mad for football in 1996. The St. George's cross was everywhere, Three Lions topped the charts and everyone believed this was going to be the year England finally won a major competition. I'd watched the group games at various friend's houses. A dour 1-1 draw with Switzerland, a 2-0 win over Scotland including a brilliant goal by Gazza, and a 4-1 romp over the Netherlands. I went to the quarter-final against Spain. That was a tense game in which neither side could break through but ended with a penalty shoot-out that saw Stuart Pearce lay the ghosts of 1990 to rest and Paul Gascoigne send us through. The semi-final was a repeat of the 1990 World Cup semi-final. Alan Shearer headed in after three minutes but the elation was short lived as Stefan Kuntz equalized less than 15 minutes later. In extra time Gazza almost won it for us but, with the goal gaping, was inches away from a Shearer cross. Penalties again. Both sides scored their first five kicks and the tension increased with every one. Sudden death meant there was nowhere to hide and it was England that finally flinched. Gareth Southgate had his penalty saved, Andreas Möller scored and it was all over.


Friday, 6 June 2014

Top 5 Works by Martin Creed (slight return)

I've already done a Martin Creed Top 5 but that was before I'd seen any of his art for real. In March I went to What's the point of it?, a Creed career retrospective, at The Hayward Gallery in London. It was excellent and hilarious and actually made me laugh out loud. It also made me think about art and what it's supposed to be.

I understand the point of view that great art ought to have some technical skill but I think there's a place in this world for art that doesn't conform to any sort of classical rules and even more for art that can cheer you up. Martin Creed first came to national prominence after winning the Turner Prize in 2001 with Work no. 227 "The Lights going on and off". I'm pretty sure that would have really annoyed The Daily Mail and that can only be a good thing in my book. Considering an analogy with music many of my favourite bands create amazing & thrilling sounds with very basic chord structures and I kind of see Modern Art as being the Punk Rock of the Art world.

1. Work No. 1092 MOTHERS (2011) - A massive neon sign that spins around seemingly inches from your head, with enough of a wobble to suggest it might fall over at any moment. This is the second thing you'll see as you enter the exhibition, though you may not notice the first (Work 142 - A large piece of furniture partially obstructing a door) which is just a battered leather sofa plonked in the doorway. Once I'd gained my bearings a little and realised the head room under the huge steel girder was more substantial than first thought I actually enjoyed feeling the wind whoosh past my head as I explored the rest of the room. I even sat on Work 142 for a bit to admire it in comfort.

2. Work No. 200 Half the air in a given space (1998) - Basically a room filled with balloons that contain half the air in the room. You had to wait to get a number to go in and there was a bit of a knack to squeezing through the door but once inside it's amazing how quickly you could loose your bearings. I walked as far as I could and found myself completely engulfed by white balloons, the only way to successfully navigate your way back was to look up at the ceiling where there were helpful direction arrows. Though I was in the room at the same time as several other people I only briefly caught glimpses of my compatriots. The occasional laugh or scream as someone else realised how lost they were and a couple of slightly embarrassed looks as we met face to face.

3. Work No. 755 Small Things (2007) - Martin likes neon and the exhibition featured several examples of this including; Work No. 890: DON'T WORRY, Work No. 203: EVERYTHING IS GOING TO BE ALRIGHT and Work No. 232: the whole world + the work = the whole world. Small Things wasn't there but remains my favourite because I like the colour and the fact it's really big. I find that sort of thing funny, I think me & Martin would get on quite well.

4. Work No. 1000 Broccoli Prints (2009-2010) - Creed finds comfort in repetition often revisiting themes, he made his first broccoli print as the cover for a 7" vinyl record. The thousand individual prints that make up Work 1000 are each made from a different head of broccoli and use a different colour of paint. It's a simple idea made stunningly effective by the quantity and scale, the collection filling one entire wall of the gallery.

5. Work No. 701 Nails (2007) - Not everything has to be massive or obviously funny to make a mark. Nails is quite a discrete work featuring, you can probably guess, several nails hammered into the wall at varying depths. It appeals to my sense of neatness and is lit in a way that creates comforting geometric patterns. The subtitle of this blog is "Putting everything in its right place" which is something I definitely like to do and I suspect a part of what I like about a lot of Martin's art.