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That Greg Stekelman isn't better known is a travesty. This north London writer, humourist, diarist, illustrator and engager with new media has been 'bubbling under' for a while now without ever having really broken through to get the audience his work deserves. This could be down to the sheer number of media through which Stekelman works. He may be a master, rather than a jack, of all trades but this strength also means he is very difficult to pigeonhole.
His novel, 'A Year in the Life of the Man Who Fell Asleep' follows the narrator - the Man Who Fell Asleep - as he encounters celebrities, messiahs and polar bears in a dreamlike version of London. The book is written in diary form and follows The Man Who Fell Asleep through a calendar year. To ask what the basis of the story is would be pointless. It isn't about anything in the traditional sense. There is no real plot and there is often no link between two consecutive days in the diary. However, despite this, Stekelman somehow captures the ennui of daily life. Even though The Man Who Fell Asleep's adventures are fantastical Stekelman imparts a sense of prosaic tiredness - a feeling that the title character is trudging through life which I'm sure many can relate to.
One of the clear strengths of this book is Stekelman's writing itself. Put simply, he writes beautifully. He has a fantastic use of language but remains, at all times, accessible. That this is a distinctly non-traditional novel but remains strangely gripping, even a page-turner, is a credit to him.
Not all of the content is new. Some is repackaged from Stekelman's website, http://www.themanwhofellasleep.com, where most of his early material was posted. Some particular highlights from the website make an appearance here including the birthday cards (for instance, "Happy 90th Birthday. All your friends are dead") and Tube Gossip which sees Stekelman report back on the ridiculous things people say on the London Underground.
This is a fantastic first novel and I would thoroughly recommend it, although do not come to it expecting a typical read. Those of you that like your books traditional may hold no truck with this.
I am genuinely excited to see where Stekelman goes next. He was ever present on Twitter until recently (@themanwhofell) and there are rumours he is working on a graphic novel. Whatever he does, I hope it sees him get the credit he deserves.
Despite the fact that Reservoir is the first album from British/Swedish multi-instrumentalist sextet Fanfarlo it displays an impressive maturity. Although buoyed by a following gained through a string of well-received live dates across the UK and beyond, the album was released in the summer of 2009 to little fanfare.
Fanfarlo come from the same tradition as north American bands such as Arcade Fire and Beirut but also have a British indie sensibility which is clear in Radio 6 favourite 'The Walls Are Coming Down'. As such it would be wrong to dismiss Fanfarlo as Arcade Fire wannabes. Their songs are slightly less expansive than those of their transatlantic counterparts with a tighter structure and arrangement and with Simon Balthazar's vocal more prominent in the mix.
Balthazar himself has a fabulous voice, reminiscent of a young David Byrne. Indeed, there is something of late 70s Talking Heads in Fanfarlo. Again, this influence is not overpowering but sits neatly within the Fanfarlo whole.
Highlights on the album include first single 'Drowning Men' which is perhaps the poppiest song on the album and 'Fire Escape' which has a fantastic middle chord structure.
All in all, with influencers and peers so apparent it would have been easy for Fanfarlo to turn out something dull and derivative. That they haven't is a credit to this new band. This is definitely not a Fanfail.
* Track list *
1 I'm a Pilot
5 Fire Escape
6 The Walls Are Coming Down
7 Drowning Men
8 If It Is Growing
9 Harold T. Wilkins or How to Wait for a Very Long Time
10 Finish Line
11 Good Morning Midnight
I've been on Dooyoo for a couple of weeks now and have enjoyed the experience to date. I do find that my reviews are different to most of those posted on here though and as such I sometimes wonder whether this site is the right place for me.
Let me explain - I see a good review as one that leaves a reader with a desire to find out more. I also think a review should tell a story. With my reviews I've tried to do that in extremis - using little vignettes from my life to give the context for the writing that follows. As I've said in my bio, I realise that this isn't to everyone's taste (and a couple of users have made comments to that effect). However, I know the general types of reviews in the mainstream media that I like to read and have tried as far as possible to use that general style while finding my own voice in my writing.
I certainly think any good review should contain basic information on the product. However, I'm absolutely not of the opinion that reviews should treat the reader as a simpleton that can't do their own research. I don't want to read something that spoon feeds me a vast quantity of basic information. I want some nuggets that I won't find in a technical specification or manufacturer's description.
Opinion is clearly also very important but I do believe that reviews for different items will naturally contain different amounts of opinion. Factual reviews on products are much more likely to contain bits of opinion on the efficacy of a product. Did it work or not? In my opinion this approach is much more difficult with reviews of the arts or culture - you can't say whether something works or not, it's whether it moves you and this is trickier to package and describe.
So, opinion is important but to me there's something even more vital - the quality of the writing. I want to be engaged by writing. I want to read first sentences or paragraphs that draw me in and I want the review to actually give me an idea of who the author is. Good grammar and spelling are always crucial as well.
To sum up, I really like Dooyoo. The community on the whole seems very friendly. As such, any constructive comments would be really helpful to me. I do wonder whether I'm just trying to do the something different on a site that wasn't designed for it.
It was about ten years ago that I first heard Brassy. I was lying in bed with BeautifulPartnerLady and we had Radio 1 on in the background. A song came on and all of a sudden I was distracted. I tried to zone back into what was in front of me.
"Jon, you idiot," I told myself. "You have a real life woman in bed with you and you're paying more attention to John Peel."
I looked back to BeautifulPartnerLady and she gazed into my eyes.
"Which song is this?" she said excitedly. "It's great!"
And so we lay back and thought of, well, not England anyway, but rather what turned out to be a song called 'B'Cos We Rock' by a Anglo-American four-piece called Brassy.
Formed in Manchester in the mid 1990s, Brassy mold electronica, hip-hop and riot-grrl vocals ably provided by American expatriate Muffin Spencer, sister of Jon of The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion fame.
The band's first three single releases came on independent label Costermonger. They then signed to Wiija, releasing first an EP 'Bonus Beats' in 1999 and then the album 'Got It Made' a year later. This album spawned a number of singles, including 'Play Some D' that was later used on the awful "Hello Moto" adverts for Motorola.
This album is a fantastically eclectic mix and the album as a whole gives a real party vibe. DJ Swett's turntables and the guitar/bass combination perfectly complimenting Spencer's vocals. Brassy could certainly not be described as unique - they come from a long line of riot grrl acts, the most famous of which are probably Le Tigre. This is a brash album, confident from a new band and told of huge promise which, unfortunately, was never realised.
Highlights include the aforementioned 'B'Cos We Rock' and 'Play Some D' as well as 'Work It Out' which provide that perfect fusion of styles. Less good are the intermissions which break up the flow of the album, L vs. S particularly annoying.
All in all this album comes highly recommended.
* Track list *
2 No Competition
4 Work It Out
5 That's the Way
6 L vs. S
7 I Can't Wait
8 You Got It
9 Who Stole the Show
10 Play Some D
12 Good Times
13 Put You Right
15 I Gotta Beef
16 B'Cos We Rock
I used to hate mobile phones. I didn't get my first until I turned 26 in 2001 and that was under sufferance. Over time they've gone from something I've detested to tolerated to now can't live without. This love of mobile telephony has grown since the company I work for invested in BlackBerries four years ago. I am now the personification of the CrackBerry addict. Mine is with me all my waking hours. And if I put it down and can't find it panic sets in. My eyes grow wide with terror and I start to foam at the mouth like a rabid dog. As such I feel quite well placed to review the current device I have, the BlackBerry Curve 8900.
This is my 4th BlackBerry after my first broke and numbers 2 and 3 were stolen (not at the same time I hasten to add). This is certainly the best of the devices. The handset maintains the QWERTY keyboard that is one of its key strengths. Now that I'm used to it I can type on the BlackBerry as quickly as I can on a computer keyboard - a good 40 words per minute. The keys themselves are of a good enough size to prevent issues with fat thumbs and the fact that the keyboard is not of the touchscreen variety makes it much easier to manage. Scrolling is via a trackball which is simple to manipulate but is perhaps the handset's Achilles heel - it is often the first thing to fail.
The screen is full colour and easy on the eye and of a suitable size. The phone also has excellent functionality. A 3.2 megapixel camera is built in along with a reasonable video camera and a dictaphone, all with playback capability. The handset has a standard headphone socket and a good quality mp3 player function - great for commuting.
The device itself is lightweight - much lighter than previous BlackBerries I've owned and about the same weight as other non-smartphones that I've used.
There are timer and stopwatch functions and the ability to set the clock to more than one timezone - useful for any travellers amongst you. My device came with a few reasonable games and more can be downloaded free of charge,
For the social networking enthusiasts, apps exist to help with viewing and posting on sites such as Twitter and Facebook. There are a growing number of apps for the BlackBerry, including a nifty little messenger, but nowhere near as many as for competitors such as the iPhone. The BlackBerry's strengths come elsewhere though.
The BlackBerry was predominantly designed as a business tool and it is in this area that it comes into his own. The BlackBerry 8900 is incredibly easy to link to a server. All of my emails, contacts, calendar entries and tasks are synchronised between the office and the BlackBerry. Clearly this has huge business benefits as I'm a walking mobile office. (All I really need is a solar powered travel kettle to complete the experience!). It also means that if I lose my phone I don't lose any data. The only real issue is that this mobility does mean time creep into your daily life - something BeautifulPartnerLady has complained about regularly!
All in all I would highly recommend the BlackBerry 8900 Curve for business use and it holds it own for non-business users as well.
Some days are dangerous for my relationship. For instance, there's the (incredibly rare) times when I'm out in town, drunk and surrounded by a bevy of beautiful women. That doesn't tend to go down too well with BeautifulLadyPartner. Surprisingly enough, equally as frowned upon are the days when I'm out in town, sober and surrounded by hundreds of records. These are the Days of Disposable Income.
It was on one of these DDIs that I picked up Freeform Five's debut album Strangest Things. The review in the shop used words such as "uplifting", "sleazy" and "electro-pop". Needless to say, I went in for a closer look. It was as soon as I noticed that Lateef the Truth Speaker guested on fourth track, 'Losing My Control', that I was sold. To be honest though, they had me at sleazy.
So what of the album? To me the term freeform does have certain negative connotations - interminable drum solos, a band of 30 men with berets including 16 players of brass instruments; quite frankly, all in all, a cacophony. None of that here. What we have is twelve supremely crafted pop songs.
The album kicks off with the funky 'Electromagnetic'; Tamara Barnett-Herrin's sexy vocals expounding the virtues of pornography enough to give even the most asexual of men weak stims. And the appearance of Lateef on track four certainly doesn't disappoint.
Strangest Things is an album that cannot easily be categorised (always a good thing in my book) effortlessly mixing funk, electro, rap and good ol' fashioned pop. There's more measured tracks as well - 'Easy' and 'Slow' may lack the frenetic energy of much of the rest of the album but neither song affects the feeling of pace that the record has as a whole. Single 'Eeeeaaooww' which features Bounty Killer could easily have come from a Basement Jaxx album. Indeed, it's with Basement Jaxx that Freeform Five could be most readily compared. Except this is the Jaxx mixed with the knowing lyrics and pop sensibilities of Scissor Sisters.
This album may not push any musical boundaries but who cares? It's a collection of excellent tunes and wonderful lyrics and as such is an unqualified success. Now, if only I could ensure my other DDIs were anything like so productive.
2. Eeeeaaooww feat. Bounty Killer
3. What Do I Want From You
4. Losing My Control
6. Strangest Things
7. No More Conversations
8. Let Me Down
11. Ask Me Tomorrow
12. What Are You Waiting For
'Teen Dream' is one of the most complete albums of 2010 and could prove the breakthrough 'release' for the Baltimore duo Beach House. This is the band's third release following 2006's epnoymous debut and 2008's 'Devotion'.
The album is a dreamy confluence of US indie and British shoegaze - the sort of things that fans of groups as diverse as Cocteau Twins, Fleet Foxes, Maps and even 'Tusk'-era Fleetwood Mac might find pleasure in. The instrumentation creates lush soundscapes evoking windswept beaches and summer walks, no more than on second track 'Silver Soul' which sounds almost as if it could be an elegy to music itself. Victoria Legrand's vocals compliment this backdrop perfectly.
Highlights on the album include third track 'Norway' which is remiscent of a stripped down M83 with its slightly discordant backing, 'Used to Be' which almost reminds one of a nursery rhyme with its simplicity and chord structure, and album opener 'Zebra' which starts the album off perfectly.
'Teen Dream' certainly represents a step up in quality for Beach House - not just because the individual songs on this album are better than those that have appeared on previous releases but also because it works so well as a coherent whole. That the tracks flow perfectly from one another is a delight. It's refreshing to see a band that releases an album that works as one rather than just being a selection of standalone tracks. 'Teen Dream' is certainly one of my albums of 2010 and it comes highly recommended.
'Teen Dream' was released on 26 January 2010.
2 Silver Soul
4 Walk in the Park
5 Used to Be
6 Lover of Mine
7 Better Times
8 10 Mile Stereo
9 Real Love
10 Take Care
If you'd told me at the start of 2009 that one of my favourite albums of that year would be a rock opera in the tradition of Tommy and Jesus Christ Superstar I almost certainly woudn't have believed you. If you then went on to say that the album would be by Colin Meloy's band of merry folksters, The Decemberists, I might then have some cause to muster up some belief in your statement.
If there were ever a band that could make sense of the overblown nature of the rock opera it is this Portland, Oregon group. 'The Hazards of Love' was The Decemberists' fifth full length release, following 2006's 'The Crane Wife' and it finds the band in imperious form. The Decemberists are masterful storytellers with large parts of their repertoire conveying tales of brigands, heroes and sorry maidens. The previous album was bookended by the retelling of a Japanese fairytale, the eponymous Crane Wife. As such it was not so great a departure to move to the rock opera, in this case a story told in 17 parts.
The album tells the tale of Margaret, a young woman who meets a shapeshifting spirit, William, on a walk in the woodland. The pair fall in love and Margaret falls pregnant. Unfortunately the hazards of love befoul the couple. The Forest Queen doesn't want her son to leave her and a despicable rake kidnaps and defiles poor Margaret. To complicate matters further, William may or may not be the resurrected son of The Rake who murdered his own three children. The tale ends with pretty much everyone who appears in the story lying dead. I know people say that true love never runs smooth but this takes it to extremes...
The album itself is divided into two parts. Part one deals with the growing love between Margaret and her beau while the second deals with her kidnap by The Rake. The hazards of love themselves are a common theme throughout with four tracks of that title sprinked throughout the album. Vocal duties are picked up by Meloy, who plays all of the male characters (which can be sometimes confusing) while Becky Stark of Lavender Diamond plays sweet Margaret. However, most impressive are the guest appearances from Shara Worden, lead singer with fellow indie sweethearts, My Brightest Diamond who conveys the power of the Forest Queen to devastating effect on tracks 'Repaid' and 'The Queen's Rebuke'.
The style is pure Decemberist, with the music enchanting, engaging and intelligent. It may not necessarily be an easy listen, but it would take a heart of stone to not be moved by the beguiling 'Isn't This a Lovely Night' and, however terrible the actions of the character, 'The Rake's Tale' is as good a pop song as one could hope to hear.
All in all, you would be hard pressed to find as inventive an album as 'The Hazards of Love' and it is on that basis that I recommend it to you.
'The Hazards of Love' was released on March 24 2009
2 The Hazards of Love 1 (The Prettiest Whistles Won't Wrestle the Thistles Undone)
3 A Bower Scene
4 Won't Want for Love (Margaret in the Taiga)
5 The Hazards of Love 2 (Wager All)
6 The Queen's Approach
7 Isn't It a Lovely Night?
8 The Wanting Comes in Waves / Repaid
9 An Interlude
10 The Rake's Song
11 The Abduction of Margaret
12 The Queen's Rebuke / The Crossing
13 Annan Water
14 Margaret in Captivity
15 The Hazards of Love 3 (Revenge!)
16 The Wanting Comes in Waves (Reprise)
17 The Hazards of Love 4 (The Drowned)
I had nigh on given up on The Chemical Brothers. For me, 2002's Come With Us was a huge disappointment. The music of Rowlands and Simons simply didn't seem relevant any more and the originality that had made them exciting, and indeed, helped them make their name in the first place, had all but disappeared.
New album Push The Button is a different proposition entirely. Firstly, this doesn't even sound like any other Chemical Brothers record. All things considered this is A Good Thing. The album kicks off with an absolute stormer. 'Galvanise' is the perfect beginning, setting the pace for what is to come. It was also brave to put out as a first single, coming in at over six and a half minutes. The track features some Bollywood style strings before new collaborator Q-Tip, with his oh so distinctive rapping style, provides the vocals over some top notch repetitive beats. From new collaborator Q-Tip we move to old friend Tim Burgess of The Charlatans. 'The Boxer' was always also bound to be a future single. Burgess' vocals may clash against the staccato backing and this track may not sound as melodic as many of the others but, by 'eck, does it sound good.
Third track 'Believe' features lead singer from Bloc Party, Kele Okereke, who at the time were new kids on the block. Okereke's recruitment was something more akin to what one would have found on a Basement Jaxx album. The Brixtonians had always been much more adventurous in their choice of collaborators and up until that point it was safe to say that The Chems haven't particularly been ones for approaching hip young guest stars. In fact, that new found courage was something that was true of much of this album. Of the five guest appearances, arguably only two are from artists that one would claim are well known. Not so much pushing the button as pushing the boat out.
Further into the album 'Come Inside' features the backing to Grandmaster Flash and The Furious Five's 'The Message' mixed for the electronic generation while the superb 'Left Right' which features Mos Def's brother Anwar Superstar, comes in with a fantastically rocked out sample from Gil Scott-Heron's 'Angel Dust'.
All in all, this is quite possibly the most complete album that Tom and Ed have produced. It sounds fresh and exciting and there's a fantastic mix of guest vocalists featuring on a great selection of tunes in a wide mix of styles, all excellently produced. And importantly for an album that is nominally categorised as dance music, there's songs to which you can actually dance. Which leads me to one conclusion. You know what that is? It sounds like a Basement Jaxx album.
Push The Button was released on 25 January 2005
'Back to the man I was before' is the first lyric that really resonates listening to the new album from Badly Drawn Boy. "Hands up, I admit it," you can imagine him saying, "Have You Fed the Fish? wasn't that great." Which, of course, is a whole different topic but, in retrospect, perhaps Damon Gough will look back at 2002 as the year when he produced enough material for one really good album but spread it over two (Have You Fed the Fish? and the About a Boy soundtrack). So, with this lyric, is Gough harking back to 2000's The Hour of the Bewilderbeast? Perhaps. Of course, it makes a good journalistic opening if I can convince you it does.
In style this album seems far sparser than any of his previous material, the opening few tracks dominated solely by piano and vocals. Other instrumentation takes much more of a back seat and this is A Good Thing. One of the reasons why HYFTF? did not reach the heights of its 2000 predecessor was because it was so much busier. Any melodies contained within were dominated by overblown and unnecessary orchestration.
One Plus One is One does not have this issue. The songs start simply and while more elements are added as the album goes by - a flute on 'Another Devil Dies', timpani on 'Year of the Rat' - the musicianship never detracts from the music itself. In fact, these tracks are two of those that particularly stand out. 'Year of the Rat' especially must have been recognised as a single in the making.
All in all has the behatted one gone back to the way he was before? No, not really. The man has grown up. He's got a kid and a wife and a reputation to support. As such, replicating The Hour of the Bewilderbeast was never likely and would have been less than advisable. But Gough has managed to produce a fun grown-up album. It's got just the right amount of jingly-jangly guitars and plinky-plonk pianos, but sounds like it's produced by an artist who has developed and, more importantly, knows what he's trying to achieve.
I think it was the election that most influenced me to start consider ways in which to save money. Working in a sector that I knew would be hit by public spending cuts made me take a look at the family finances. Were there any ways to squirrel away some extra cash without really impacting on the way we lived? Welcome to Topcashback.
Before signing up I had no clue that there would be ways to receive money back when making online purchases. In six months I think I've had about £100 back through the system. The way it works is a customer visits Topcashback and, after registering, uses the site as a kind of retailer search engine and then shops as normal. The retailer picks up that the customer has come via Topcashback and pays them a commission which in turn is passed onto the consumer. Simple and painless and incredibly welcome in the current climate.
There are a number of companies offering the same service but Topcashback are a personal favourite. They have a wide range of retailers on their books, offer competitive return rates and also offer to match better rates on other sites. Furthermore, they have an excellent customer service that chases up missing commission when it doesn't track automatically via cookies.
All in all I'm delighted to have found the site and can only recommend it most highly.
This album is 28 minutes long. Let me say that again. This album is 28 minutes long. 15 tracks, 28 minutes. Sounds a bit budget to me.
Except, there are more ideas suggested and delivered within these 28 minutes that you'd normally get within 280 minutes of another artist's oeuvre. This isn't an album. It's a tease. It's the suggestion of at least six other albums, all new, all different, all brilliant.
This is Gil Scott-Heron's first album in 16 years. He's new here (where here is in the use of modern instrumentation rather than in the music business per se). But what strikes you immediately is, as a veteran, not just how fresh this sounds but how organic. It's almost like a two-fingered salute to artists like Kanye and Common who have seen Scott-Heron's old output as a mere source to drawn upon and sampled. Scott-Heron is a man that made but has been subsequently been dismayed by hip-hop. And he's here, new in 2010, sounding more innovative and angry and relevant than those that could claim to have picked up his legacy. He's may or may not be new here. Whatever way, he's more welcome here than ever.
It was the summer of 2005 and BeautifulPartnerLady was pregnant with child number 1. We and three friends took off for a week's holiday in the Loire Valley, renting a little cottage in the middle of nowhere.
The weather was glorious. We went exploring on some days but most of our time was spent laying by the pool in the sunshine, we all taking it in turns to drive to Vierzon, the nearest town, to get supplies. It was on one of those days that I was introduced to Port Salut. Our friends had gone off to town and so BeautifulPartnerLady and I had taken the opportunity to spend some time by the pool by ourselves. When they returned we ate.
I had always been suspiscious of soft cheese in the same way that the media is suspiscious of a man with unkempt hair near the scene of a murder. Somehow it didn't seem right - the only cheeses I trusted were good solid English ones like ever-dependable cheddar and his colourful Communist cousin Red Leicester. But when I tasted it - wow. It was like no cheese I had ever tried before. So creamy - not gooey like other soft cheeses I'd tried - and with a magnificent aftertaste. And the rind - who knew you could eat rind? The orangey outside only added to the flavour. I devoured that Port Salut like a man possessed. Port Salut is much more expensive in the UK than it is in the country of its birth and so it has become very much a luxury purchase now. But I still like to partake when I can. Its delicious on a simple biscuit but even better just by itself. It's a cheese so good it needs no accompaniment.
We bought a new Maclaren Quest buggy in early December from Bargains Direct in order to replace the old broken monstrosity that we had (and yes, dear reader, a review of that will follow). From day one we have marvelled at our new carriage. It goes straight and it doesn't need the upper-body strength of Geoff Capes to push. (I realise that the youngsters among you may need to Google Geoff Capes). Believe me, that is a significant step forward from the last pushchair we had. We were also pleased to see that the raincover we already had fitted the new model as did our existing CosyToes. The chair folds down easily and so is simple to store. Also pleasing is the fact that the brake is easy to apply - something that was difficult on the previous pushchair we owned. For the price (£89.99) we couldn't really have expected more from a buggy. Oh, ok then, one complaint (you really are a tough audience) - it would be nice if there were a little bit extra under-pram storage to help lug shopping about. Other than that the Maclaren Quest is just about perfect. Even tiny son doesn't mind sitting in it.
Cards on the table, my youngest son loves Postman Pat. Anything Pat does is alright by him - even in his newest guise as parcel carrier for the Special Delivery Service. Poor Pat; the latest episodes see young Ben, who has clearly come from the graduate recruitment programme, promoted above Pat to head up the local SDS branch. Adventures, clearly, ensue. Most of these revolve around Pat messing up a delivery and having to go to increasingly desperate lengths to get it there on time while the populace of Greendale (and surrounding areas) look on concerned.
Anyway, the little one loves it so when we noticed the (inevitable) range of tie in products our first thought was 'Christmas gift'. We bought him the helicopter. We knew this would be a hit as he'd already tried to smuggle one out of his little friend Matti's house a couple of months ago. And so it proved. Since he opened the present on Christmas morning he's put it down for about five minutes recreating the classic Special Deliver Service episode where Pat accidentally allows a cow to get stuck up a cliff. Fortunately, the toy is pretty durable (as toys need to be in our house) and although it doesn't do much it seems to be just the special delivery that small son wanted. Definitely recommended for the Pat nut in your life.