Tag Archives: 27

What Difference Does It Make?

Seeing as I posted the first comment on Tom Harris’s blog post that made the front page of the Daily Mail and have had a streaming torrent of (ooh) eight visitors here’s some comment on his points on my own blog.

I agree with Tom that it is sad that optimism is rare. In my own comment I pointed to three issues I myself find (slow rail links home, the poor quality of rental property and the long term effects of student debt), and others have pointed to some more interesting ones, my favourite of which notes that in an economic environment where the government is demanding below inflation pay rises those with student debts face interest rates rising high above the same inflation cap. So we have a government policy to squeeze the take home pay of graduates (and drop outs like myself). Not good.

I’ve come to the understanding that the optimism of the immediate post war period was there because society believed that utopia might still be possible and with hope of electricity too cheap to meter, an end to disease and poverty and education for all for example it was thought that the issues of society were possible to solve completely. Sadly now, we know all too well that we live in a world of scarcity not abundance, and that our choices have led and are leading us down a road to a world which we don’t like the look of. Knowing you need to turn back and think again isn’t nice.

Much is hysteria, we’re hardly drowning from global warming if the jet stream deflects a little and Glastonbury turns into a mud bath, and children are safer now than ever despite however many knives or paedos you see in the media. However, naturally, some fear is justified. We only get the one planet, and if we waste resources needlessly we don’t get them back. There’s a resources crunch behind the credit crunch at some level and talk of peak oil has gone from far fetched future to near term planning. Rail Minister Tom Harris (for it is also he) openly talks of a programme of electrification. That tells you all you need to know about the future direction of the oil price. He also dismisses a High Speed Line on spurious environmental and economic grounds, ironic considering he’d probably find a good north/south link rather handy in getting from his Glasgow constituency to Westminster and back.

We’ve had eleven years of Labour government, something I dreamed of in my teenage years. However, I have only voted Labour on a single occasion, as a second preference for Ken at the mayoral election this year. I have to remember sometimes that we have seen a Scottish Parliament, human rights legislation and a minimum wage introduced (which is itself going up by more than inflation anyway) because 14/28/42 days, the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act, Identity Cards, DNA Databases and other similar daftness weigh heavier on the mind. Lots of law has been created, and money spent (even without the wars) and it is hard to see what improvements have been achieved. Little in the way of great projects have been accomplished so it’s hard to feel much love. There’s no Open University or NHS that this government leaves behind. Nothing huge. More of a series of pet projects, some of which, like devolution are now overdue for renewal and improvement due to the half hearted implementation they were initially given.

What many have also noted, and rightly so, is that what you could read as the symptoms of a happy society – lots of large televisions, bigger and better cars, more books, people eating out more often – may well just be the activities of a society which deep down is depressed and having to occupy itself to cope.

I’m reminded of one of my favourite books, David Boyle’s The Tyranny Of Numbers (subtitled Why Counting Can’t Make Us Happy) which works well at explaining why it can be so hard to achieve happiness by focussing on the numbers. I like to look on it as an earlier and more insightful Freakonomics and it’s well worth a read.

Do you use an Oystercard Tony?

Yes, it’s the burning question on Londoners lips, and naturally my (evil Tory) MP has opted to ask it. Is there nothing Blair can give a straight answer to?

Greg Hands (my Tory MP)
To ask the Prime Minister
(1) whether he uses an Oyster Card in fulfilling his official responsibilities;
(2) whether the Oyster Card he was filmed with for television on 27 April is one he uses in fulfilling his official duties.

Tony Blair (Prime Minister)
I travel making the most efficient and cost-effective arrangements. My travel arrangements are in accordance with the arrangements for official travel set out in Chapter 10 of the Ministerial Code, and the accompanying guidance document, “Travel by Ministers”.

Meanwhile he’s also signed an early day motion for the RECOMMISSIONING OF CONCORDE AS ROYAL AIR FORCE ONE (why is all caps still in fashion in Westminster?) and another which has a go at Time Out for failing to include (lovely) Kingston in their London for Londoners guide.

I’m sure he does some real work as well.

Songs of 2005

2005 was a very good year for music, and I don’t think I’ve ever listenned to such a wide variety of music and delved back over my old favourites quite so much. This may be because I bought a (semi-) decent amplifier at long last in the spring, and coupled it back to my favourite KEF Cherry 1 speakers and associated nice speaker cable. Despite this, my mp3 collection hasn’t yet outgrown the 200GB drive it calls home, but it is getting very close.

So, here’s my favourite songs of 2005 from my favourite albums. I’ve picked key tracks and grouped them into various types. I have included some tracks from 2004 that I may well not have raved about yet.

1. Want Two – 02 – Rufus Wainwright – The One You Love (3:43)
2. Oh You’re So Silent Jens – 05 – Jens Lekman – Black Cab (4:54)
3. Illinois – 16 – Sufjan Stevens – They Are Night Zombies!! They Are Neighbors!! They Have Come Back From the Dead!! Ahhhhh! (5:09)
4. Greetings From Michigan: The Great Lake State – 08 – Sufjan Stevens – Oh Detroit, Lift Up Your Weary Head! (Rebuild! Restore! Reconsider!) (8:20)
5. Seven Swans – 10 – Sufjan Stevens – He Woke Me Up Again (2:43)
6. Kitty Jay – 04 – Seth Lakeman – Kitty Jay (3:12)

The mopey folk/indie section. It’s natural that I have one but I see all of these as a fight back against the James Blunts of the world. Rufus is only here for this song, despite many listens I can’t get into any of his albums but if he can make something further like The One You Love he might stand a chance. Jens Lekman has just become a Pitchforkmedia darling, but rightly so, and thanks to emusic he was cheap. Black Cab is a great song of public transportation, social awkwardness and late night parties. Sufjan Stevens is a continuation of my strange fascination with Christian culture, though he’s hardly a crucifix waving nutter, he just likes to put the lord into song every now and then. Illinois and Michigan have been the first two states to benefift from his 50 states project, which puts John Linnell’s State Songs into the shade. All of these songs share the grand instrumentation he has now perfected, and for me put Rufus to shame, especially as you can acutally hear the words, and they are good. Kitty Jay was a mercury music prize revelation, and the album is a nice little grower of modern folk.

7. LCD Soundsystem – 03 – LCD Soundsystem – Tribulations (4:59)
8. The Milk of Human Kindness – 01 – Caribou – Yeti (5:01)
9. Elephant Eyelash – 03 – Why? – Rubber Traits (4:01)
10. Sanddollars EP – 02 – Why? – 500 Fingernails (2:27)
11. Hell Yes – EP – 03 – Beck – BAD CARTRIDGE (E-Pro) [Remix] (2:54)
12. Shamelessly Exciting – 05 – Jason Forrest – Nightclothes and Headphones (feat. Laura Cantrell) (4:31)

Now into the one man band electro nutters section. LCD Soundsystem burst onto the scene with Losing My Edge what feels like a decade ago, but amazingly he’s only had one album out to date, and more to the point it was good. Caribou used to be Manitoba until he got involved in an evil law suit of doom. His third album was every bit as incisive as expected, though a bit of a hangover for the 60s psychedelia of Up In Flames, but in a good way. Why? has now matured and taken on a full band, but both of these tracks show the genius of Yoni Wolf’s use of lyrics and rythmn. Beck’s Guero was a massive disappointment, but this remix of E-Pro is a thing of genius that let me forgive him, mostly. Lastly, we have about the only decent tribute to John Peel, which comes from a bizarre combination of urban country lovely Laura Cantrell (whose new album was alright, but nothing special) and the insane Jason Forrest. Just the kind of combination Peel might have liked, I think.

13. Funeral – 07 – Arcade Fire – Wake Up (5:35)
14. Two More Years / Hero – 01 – Bloc Party – Two More Years (4:06)
15. Twin Cinema – 08 – The New Pornographers – Sing Me Spanish Techno (4:16)
16. Picaresque – 07 – The Decemberists – 16 Military Wives (4:52)

Time for some actual bands. Everyone loves Arcade Fire, and to pick a favourite song is tricky, but Wake Up edges it. Bloc Party I’ve never really gotten into much, but Two More Years is a perfect song. Took me a large number of months and much indifference to finally listen to New Pornographers after finding myself googling for the “spanish techno song”. The Decemberists I should possibly love, but so far only 16 Military Wives has melted my heart fully.

17. The Upper Cuts – 09 – Alan Braxe and Friends – Rubicon (6:16)
18. Aimee Tallulah is hypnotised – 01 – The Emperor Machine – The TV Extra Band (4:44)
19. Ratatat – 01 – Ratatat – Seventeen Years (4:26)
20. OK Cowboy – 02 – Vitalic – Poney, Part 1 (5:23)

Time for a small electronica break. The Alan Braxe (and Fred Falke mainly) album was unexpected but is a great collection of various EPs, that had it been released LCD Soundsystem style with an album might have made some chart headway. Rubicon is a marvellous example of the expansive nature of their sound, which made up for the complete and utter failure that was the new Daft Punk album. Emperor New Machine and Ratatat are both 2004 holdovers which I still find time to listen to on a whim pretty regularly. The TV Extra Band is a lovely slice of SciFi electronica and Seventeen Years is a great piece of wailing guitars and keyboards that cannot fail to satisfy. Poney, Part 1 is another piece of french dance pop which has been around for ages but has only now had a convenient album release. It remains a great tune.

21. Raintown – 08 – Deacon Blue – Dignity (3:59)
22. The Glasgow School – 13 – Orange Juice – Satellite City (2:43)

Blink and you’ll miss it, the Scots corner of oldie delights. I gave in to nostalgia and grabbed some cheap Deacon Blue albums in the spring. Not regretted it as it brings back memories of listenning to them in the strange world of late 80s/early 90s Scotland. Dignity remains a pinacle in their work as a great evocation of working class west cost aspirations. Whereas I’d really never heard any Orange Juice, but gave in to buying The Glasgow School on the grounds that I liked Edwyn Collins later stuff. Possibly my favourite reissue of the year, and an excellent soundtrack to my fortnight in Scotland for the Worldcon.

23. Operation: Doomsday – 19 – MF Doom – I Hear Voices (Part One) (3:02)
24. Under an Hour – 01 – Menomena – Water (17:57)
25. DJ-Kicks: Annie – 04 – Le Tigre – Nanny Boo Boo (Junior Senior mix) (3:24)
26. Anniemal – 04 – Annie – Me Plus One (3:38)
27. The Mouse and the Mask – 03 – Danger Doom – The Mask (feat. Ghostface) (3:12)

Strictly speaking I Hear Voices is an old track, but never mind – it’s worth seeking out as a great use of A)samples of Fantastic Four story tapes and B) the rapping of Victor Vaughn, as heard on Madvillain. Menomena should to be honest have captured the limelight in an Arcade Fire fashion. Impressively they took the bold step of recording their second album as the soundtrack to a series of three twenty minute modern dance pieces. Le Tigre’s latest album suffered a little in the production and from being over laboured in some ways, but thankfully Junior Senior’s mix of Nanny Boo Boo recovered their wit and fun. Annie is the ultimate in thinking pop and her album was in many ways Richard X’s second. Love Plus One is almost certainly a dig Geri Halliwell for locking Richard X in a car and demanding that he produce a song for her. The Mask is a further appearance from that Villainous Victor Vaughn, and one from this year. An album that uses Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim as the basis does not sound promising, but it works all too well.

28. Matson Jones – 08 – Matson Jones – He Means Nothing, Dear (5:07)
29. DJ-Kicks: Annie – 05 – Zongamin – Bongo Song (5:09)
30. Dead Horse – 07 – Cassetteboy – Yer Little Pipe Dream (1:06)
31. Symbol – 04 – Susumu Yokota – Song Of The Sleeping Forest (4:19)

Weird instrument time. Matson Jones is the perfection of Cello Indie Rock – something that makes me a little sad to have given up the instrument on the grounds that it bored me. Zongamin returned to the scene with a number of random songs but no new album. Of those I have tracked down, Bongo song is easily the best and sounds roughly how you’d expect a song with lots of bongo samples to. Cassetteboy is always a lover of drum loops, and whilst not strictly a weird instrument his use of samples of the human or indeed celebrity voice has come on miles with his latest album. Susumu Yokota made an album of remixed classical music which managed not to be as hideous as that sounds, which also managed to fit marvellously into his own cannon of works.

32. Soul Limbo – 06 – Booker T. And The M.G.’s – Soul Limbo (2:24)
33. Porque Te Vas – 02 – Jeanette – Porque Te Vas (3:23)
34. Cassetteboy – Mick’s Tape – 31 – Fela Kuti – Water Get No Enemy (4:18)
35. The Big Express (remastered) – 04 – XTC – Seagulls Screaming Kiss Her Kiss Her (3:50)
36. Imperial Bedroom – 01 – Elvis Costello & The Attractions – Beyond Belief (2:34)
37. 6- And 12-String Guitar – 12 – Leo Kottke – Busted Bicycle (2:48)

And finally, the old songs I still love. Soul Limbo should be the cricket theme but isn’t, damn them – perhaps Sky can use it. Porque Te Vas will never leave my head. Fela Kuti lingers in my mind from many Andy Kershaw plays over the years but thanks to cassetteboy of all people I now have a track to love properly. I hit a big XTC kick later in the year and the great song poem that is Seagulls Screaming came to be the ultimate fasication of it. The ever continuing exposure to grumpy geek rock man in chief, Elvis Costello continued with a further love for Imperial Bedroom, a much underrated album featuring some great production. Finally, Leo Kottke used to be played at me a lot by my old flatmate, and has proven to be great music for listenning to on long walks around London.

So, 37 tracks that made 2005 good. How long until I hit the first track of 2006?