Friday, September 30, 2005

We will become like birds




Erin McKeown, the Massachusetts-based 27-year-old with a bachelor's degree in ethno-musicology from Brown University seems to have settled down to a genre at last. This fresh batch of breezy folk-pop has the intimate earthiness of Wilco but with a radio-friendly ear.

Instead of playing everything herself, her band perfectly complement her voice, allowing Erin to show the many facets of her song writing. The opening track Aspera, is a grounded hymn over surging drums and bass. The albums hinges on Float, her most effective song yet. Part wonder and part despair, her intimate and vulnerable vocals peak with crescendos of Hallelujah. She's not another pretty blank coffee house mouthpiece. This is enough to carry even the most calloused listener away with the birds.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Socialism, New Labour, Blair and Brown

There's been a lot of talk this week about the Blair-Brown changeover and when it will or won't come. Will the team work with Brown as the PM? Blair was the visionary but Brown kept his feet on the ground. Blair had the ideas and Brown counted the cost. But can Brown come up with it all by himself? At heart he is a Scottish Puritan, and his socialist roots are only thinly veiled.

I think what will eventually undo labour isn't going to be a wonderful campaign by David Davis or whoever the next Tory leader is, but money. Quite simply, labour governments run out of money. This tax and spend policy by Brown is nice when things are going well, but he's broken his own rules. The IMF were proved right, growth is slowing, public sector borrowing is ballooning, something will have to give. We'll run out of money.

Anyway,Anatole Kaletsky has written a very insightful piece about the would-be PM. It's called
Gordon Brown is still tempted by the besetting sin of old-style socialism

THE MOST IMPORTANT sentence spoken from the Labour Party conference in Brighton this week was Tony Blair’s simple definition of his entire political project: “New Labour was first and foremost about disentangling ends and means.” Read the rest of this article here

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Orenda Fink album review




"Anything you can do I can do better" must be the mantra in Azure Ray. Hot on the heels of Maria Taylor's 11:11, Orenda Fink, the other half of Azure Ray, tries her hand at a solo record. While Taylor sticks to easily digestible dreamy pop, Fink grapples with spirituality, oppression, and the mystical and external world. Inspired by travels in Cambodia, India and backed by Haitian choirs she asserts "Prophets, pimps, angels, whores/ There ain't no devil, there ain't no lord"

Sufjan Stevens and Nick Cave can make wonderful albums about the finer points of theology but Fink struggles to find humour or optimisim. At times the bittersweetness is beautiful, at times crushing. It's much more inventive than her musical partner's solo effort, but expends too much effort to create a musical other worldly feel at the expense of coherent songs.

Monday, September 26, 2005

Bush Whacking

Donald Rumsfeld is giving President Bush his daily military briefing. He concludes by saying: "Yesterday, 3 Brazilian soldiers were killed in an accident.”

"OH NO!" the President exclaims. "That's terrible!"

His staff sit stunned at this unusual display of emotion, nervously watching as the President sits, head in hands.

Finally, the President looks up and asks:

''How many's a Brazillion…??!'

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

New music

I got a few new records recently. First of all I had to go out and buy the limited edition version of Takk by Sigur Ros. It's wonderful. A little hard back book, a bit like the limited edition amnesiac record, with some beautiful artwork and the CD is held in a card page with a bird shape cut out of it. Oh, and the record is pretty great too.

Rather less aesthetically pleasing I got 1990 by Daniel Johnston. I heard about him at the Glen Hansard concert in Lisburn. He played a lovely cover and then recommended 1990 as the album to get. Daniel used to write hundreds of songs a day as a form of therapy on a little cassette recorder and then sell them in the street. Each tape was unique, eventually attracting record label interest. He has an interesting voice, and original lyrics.

Another record I found in my letterbox today was by Orenda Fink, the other half of Azure Ray (that role taken by the delightful Maria Taylor). Apparently it's all about spiritual journeys in Haiti and India. Could be Sgt Peppers then? I haven't listened to it yet but plan to later on today. The guys from Now It's Overhead and Bright Eyes perform on it. A promising start. Other new music I'm excited about is the new Jacksonville City Nights album. But more to come on that when I get a copy.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

There's somthing in the air

I enjoy thinking of songs to play as a soundtrack to my life. There’s always something to fit what you’re seeing. This past week that song has been Thunderclap Newman’s There’s Something in the air.

As I hear the helicopters circling over head, gun shots in the distance, rising smoke and traffic lights littered across the streets of Belfast I’ve been thinking

Call out the instigator because there's something in the air.
We've got to get together sooner or later because the revolution's here.
And you know it's right.
And you know that it's right.
We have got to get it together.
We have got to get it together now.

Pent up aggression and frustration with the peace process has boiled over, the catalyst was a re-routed orange order march. The loyalist community took it as an excuse to go on a bit of riot. It’s not all political. If you’re making a statement by bulldozing down streetlights, you don’t take the ATM machine with you. If you hi-jack a bus to burn it, you don’t rob the passengers before letting them off.

And what does the orange order say? They’d do it all again. Change nothing. Apparently it’s all the fault of the police.

An English woman, Libby Purves wrote in the times a very insightful piece entitled, provocatively enough, Orangemen: why they suck. She says Ulster's hypocritical Protestants are too one-eyed to see the obvious benefits of Christian humility. Worth a read, whether you agree or not. Read it here.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

I don't believe it...

I’m not one to write about football. I don’t know very much about it, certainly not enough to speak with any authority. But I do know a miracle when I see one. And last night the powers that be were playing for Northern Ireland.

Walking home through Belfast I had to avoid scores of intoxicated green-faced supporters, dodge cars draped with Northern flags and listen to seemingly ridiculous chants of ‘we’re going to win the world cup’.

Earlier on in the day my driver said a draw would be a historic result.

After debating whether or not to go out and watch the match on a big screen surrounded by drunks, I put the television on, pressed the mute button and opened the window. The noise from nearby Windsor Park flooded in providing real surround sound.

As the match kicked off optimism was high, we cheered each crunching northern irish tackle and boo-ed every English touch of the ball. Half time came and we hadn’t conceded. It seemed a bit too good to be true, an England goal had to arrive some time. But it didn’t, and on the 73rd minute, David Healy, now a local legend, slotted home what will be one of the most talked about goals in North Irish history.

We whooped and cheered. Then it almost happened again. It was a bit much. The underdogs triumph, almost a Hollywood ending. Our boys aren’t meant to perform like this.

It would have been a perfect night but for the Republic's defeat by France. That dastardly Henry.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Tik Takk

Takk, the new album from Sigur Ros is released on 12 September. I think it's fair to say that everybody at 66 Ulsterville Gardens is pretty excited. Dave went to see them in Glasgow and described it as "an out of body experience". Could have been the drink.

Having had the privilige of listening to a promo I think the excitement is justified. Sigur Ros started small with lots of funny noises and not much else on Von Brigidi, then Agaetis Byrjun and 2002's () found Sigur Ros feeling their way to bigger and better things.

But now they're signed to a major label. Before you can say "corporate whore" rest assured Takk displays the hall mark signs of limited edition packaging, publicity blitz, big money producers fat cats.

It's provoked a bit of controversy. On the whole everybody thinks Takk is great, including me I should add. But for some, notably the well-respected WIRE magazine, thnk "pattern so often repeated, it becomes formulaic, with some tracks simply existing as extended codas for their predecessors" and "What began as an intriguing Icelandic mixof abstraction and emotion has ended up sounding like an indie Last Night of the Proms." They have a point. The big buck producer has obviously said, Coldplay are doing this great 'build it up into something big thing, so why don't you guys do it too'. And so Sigur Ros comply. And they do it well, no problem there, but they do it in every song.

It's like EMI told them what a chorus is for. I liked the twinkling paino of untitled #3 on (), and the low organ opening the album. Now we have trumpets that sound like Sgt Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band.

It's always difficult to see your favourite band grow up and be loved by everyone. They're not your secret anymore. Sigur Ros are no longer the select of music snobs and gurus, now they're music for the people. Quibbles aside, Takk is great, even in its limited edition packaging.