I Was Here First
An angry man, scaling the cliffs of coherence and only rarely reaching the top.

Feb
19

You may have heard that Radiohead have released a new album: The King Of Limbs. Well, here’s a song-by-song breakdown of my thoughts, feelings and wanky metaphors compiled as I listened to the album over and over and over again much to the annoyance of my girlfriend.

1. Bloom – The album starts with a nimble little piano riff that is too quickly swamped by the overly distorted Afro-electro  drumbeats. The band seem to be continuing their In Rainbows-led fascination with layers of music, rather than sections.  Everything sits on top of everything else to create a beautifully evocative soundscape. It’s interesting, and makes for  wonderful noise but ultimately it remains largely hookless. Thom Yorke’s warble-mumble is out in full force so far, sweeping  through the track and occasionally sinks below the surface of the music, becoming just another layer of sound. You get the  feeling that there is a far more conventional song in here that was torn apart and stitched back together to create this  track.

2. Morning Mr. Magpie – An angular drum and bass sound kicks this track off, overlaid with a crackling, static-y bassline and  Thom Yorke’s ethereal hum. The various elements all come together to create a dark and claustrophobic sound that seems to be  building up to some great explosion but never seems to get there. There are occasional pinpricks of light here and there  where snippets of guitar work slip through the murk, but there’s nothing to grab hold of. Whilst it’s undeniably a deeply  atmospheric track, it feels just a little pointless. So far, so In Rainbows B-side.

3. Little By Little – Now this is more like it. Radiohead know how to create beautiful sonic landscapes that cause music tech  nerds love to cream themselves, but they are always at their most interesting when their experimental leanings are tempered  with just a hint of conventional songcraft, and Little By Little hits with a focus the previous two tracks have lacked. The  percussion comes in heavy once again, but gives way to a dropping bassline that loops and falls around you and there’s an  Eastern-feel to this track that suggests a sly seduction. Radiohead are often tagged with being overly intellectual and  lacking in any real emotional content, but there’s a sensuality to Little By Little that pulls you in slowly. Hopefully  this is where the jam session ends and the album-proper starts.

4. Feral – And it looks like I may have spoken too soon. Feral introduces itself with a jazz-tinged drumbeat and some soft synth  splashes of colour. It’s a nice enough opener, but unfortunately it doesn’t really go anywhere. It’s like an idea that’s only half- finished. There’s a build in the middle that rises up quickly but just as quickly feels like a cheat when it stops suddenly  and drops back into the percussion like nothing happened. It’s the shortest track on the album, but it could have been much  shorter for what it offers.

5. Lotus Flower – The single, and so far it’s easy to see why. The entire thing comes off like the big brother to Little By  Little. The percussion is here, as is the distortion, but they build into something that could be legitimately called a  song. The gently twisted guitar works its way through the opening and fades away into morse code bleeps introducing Yorke’s  melancholy vocal line, and for the first time on this album we have an actual hook. Yorke’s voice has always had a haunting  quality to it, but backed up by the band’s digital mastery, it becomes something unearthly. Ethereal is a word that’s going  to be used a lot in association with this album. And if Little By Little comes across like a seductive invitation, Lotus  Flower is a dirty, desperate fuck in a bathroom stall.

6. Codex – We may have wandered into a Pink Floyd album, here, where the electronic predilections and percussive influences are  mostly stripped away, leaving behind a beautiful piano-and-voice track. The digital sounds come in later, but they are used  sparingly; ornamentation rather than decoration, and they are startlingly effective in their near-absence. This, with the  occasional blare of discordant horns makes this song into a masterclass of atmospheric minimalism. This track is a return to  the hopeful-depressive Radiohead of OK Computer, who write songs searching for beauty in a bleak world, rather than the  jitterbug, kicking-against-the-pricks electronica of the band that made Hail To The Thief.

7. Give Up The Ghost – Following on from the beautiful sadness of Codex is Giving Up The Ghost, whose sparse acoustic strums  and ethereal, digitised vocals plant it somewhere between Johnny Cash and Portishead. Yorke’s vocals have always been  strongest when they’re reigned in by a strong melody, but for this track, his multi-tracked mumble works perfectly. The  vocals echo Martin Grech’s Open Heart Zoo as wave after wave of Yorke’s gentle vibrato washes over itself and falls  together to create a campfire hymn that’s equal parts soothing and disquieting.

8. Separator – And perhaps to show that this is an album, rather than two EPs stitched together back-to-back, Separator resuscitates the drums and the distortion. However, rather than bringing back the offbeat schizophrenia of Bloom, or the noodling pointlessness of Morning Mr. Magpie these elements are used with intent and are set against the craftsmanship shown in the past three songs. The light-handed drumtaps are understated and the distorted bassline carries the bottom end of a melody as shards of guitar fall, crash and fracture above it. Yorke’s lazy vocals whisper “wake me up” as the track carries us off, creating a dreamlike wash of sound; a splintered lullaby that whispers of depression and how it will all get better.

The King Of Limbs is the sound of a band doing what they damn well please, free from the restrictions imposed on them by a record label and by themselves. Some people would like Radiohead to make a slightly poppier album; one that calls back to The Bends and OK Computer, and others want the band to push the boat out even further; to head out into the desert and make some existentialist electronica noise that is indecipherable to anyone not on extreme amounts of peyote. And there are flashes of both those bands here; Lotus Flower, Codex and Give Up The Ghost are as commercially pleasing as anything since OK Computer and Feral is so impenetrable it becomes pointless, but Radiohead don’t want to be either of those bands. They have made an album that continues where they left off last, and you get the sense that they are perfectly happy with that. And you get the feeling that, as far as they’re concerned, that’s all that matters.

Nov
30

X-Factor.

(Oh c’mon; you knew this was coming).

I have been getting very angry at X-Factor, Pop Idol and any other show that is marketed on this desperate desire for celebrity that seems to have gripped us in the past decade.

I’ve been especially vocal about my distaste at X-Factor over the past couple of weeks, and have actually gotten into a couple of little tiffs about it. I was surprised by this because I honestly thought that no one was really taking A) X-Factor or B) myself that seriously. So, after my hyperbolic snark regretfully upset a few folks who I actually like (the ones I upset and don’t like I don’t give a monkey’s about, mouth-breathing luddites that they are), I thought it might be a nice idea to actually sit down and work out why I have such a visceral gut reaction against this show. At least then people will be able to be angry in a concentrated format and get it all out of my system, meaning I can direct all future complaints to this post. Sort of an FAQ on why X-Factor fans think I’m a cock.

And I found out I don’t like it because of what it represents in people, and what it is forcing people to be.

At the very best, people enjoy these shows because they get their kicks from watching vast tracts of desperate people trying and failing to achieve their dreams. Through a combination of clever editing and the you-can-be-anything-if-you-wish-hard-enough bullshit pedalled by an overly PC society, these people have been tricked into believing they’re legitimately good enough to become pop stars. They then go to the X-Factor auditions and prostrate themselves before a group of television executives to earn the chance to make fools out of themselves on national TV. For the chance to have their dreams crushed as an audience of millions points and laughs at them. I’ve never watched X-Factor out of choice, but I’ve been in rooms with televisions before and I’ve watched people watching the show. It’s distressingly clear that “look at the silly man singing his funny little song” is one of the most common reactions; it’s little more than bullying made socially acceptable by an unspoken consensus. “Let’s all get together and laugh at the weird kid. Let’s all get together and be glad it’s not us being suckered in by false hope.” But hey, no one feels bad because it’s on TV and TV’s not real.

And that’s at the very best. At the worst, and this is the music snob coming out of me somewhat, there are people out there actively enjoying the bland, derivative schlock pumped out by the show. These over-polished, pub-band cover songs (and I know that’s a little hypocritical to be coming from me) being sung by singers who were incapable of succeeding in music through any kind of legitimate channel end up diluting the musical landscape through their sheer omnipresence. It’s like victory through attrition and overwhelming force simultaneously; no other artist can possibly match the marketing juggernaut that trundles along behind these songs, so our radio airwaves and TV channels become saturated with this tripe masquerading as real music, convincing people who don’t know any better that this is actually worth listening to because everyone seems to be listening to it. I know that’s a tremendously elitist opinion to have, but I’m damn proud of having it. When you bring me a singer who manages to win X-Factor with their own music, and becomes a chart-topping success with their own music, perhaps I’ll reconsider, but whilst their talent is affirmed solely by piggy-backing on the songwriting credentials of other, proven artists, their claims of musicianship remain thoroughly fucking dubious.

People have told me that I’m maybe thinking too hard about this, and it’s just a silly show with no real impact beyond its weekly timeslot, but I disagree. Culture informs culture and X-Factor does not exist in a vacuum. Just as there is a direct link between Top Of The Pops and the musical tastes of six or seven generations of people, so to will there be a direct link between X-Factor and the musical tastes of a generation or two of children. But that I can live with. People have enjoyed watching and talking about shit for as long as Coronation Street has been on the air. It’s the ethos propagated by X-Factor that I despise and fear. The show is creating a group of people who think their dream of fame, fortune and success is attainable in eight weeks of moderate effort and, whilst that mindset exists now, X-Factor is only ensuring the problem will get worse.

It’s breeding children who think playing music for a living is as easy as buying a guitar. Kids that would go into effort shock at the thought of gigging five nights a week to 16 people, 14 of which don’t want you there, one of which knows the songs better than you do and the last of which is the barman. Kids who think musical longevity is releasing three albums with four decent songs between them, so long as marketing keeps them in the top 10 for a week. Kids whose idea of artistic integrity has been ground into the dust, and who realise that the “x-factor” the show is after isn’t musical talent; it’s how inoffensively bland you can appear and how big a slice of the market they can sell you to.

Occasionally I think I might be over-reacting. I mean, it’s a weekly show that only airs one series a year; how influential can it really be? But then I think of how many conversations I’ve had entirely in Family Guy quotes and how, for about a year of our lives, a friend of mine subconsciously slipped into a Cartman impression whenever something pissed him off. And I remember how many people spend hours upon fucking hours completely missing the beauty of why Monty Python is so excellent by constantly spouting “The Holy Grail” to one another and I think of how many of my friendships have begun through a mutual love of a musician, or a TV show, or an obscure film.

No matter how inconsequential we may render the thought in our heads, X-Factor is a presence in our lives. I don’t watch the show and I’ve written a hate-rant on the damn thing because friends of mine have argued with me over it. To say that the show isn’t influential enough to damage society is to ignore the fact that society is made up of people, and that people are made up of things they saw one day that changed the way they thought about something. And maybe I hate the thing so much because all my shouting and screaming about it; all my bitter, vitriol-fuelled Facebook statuses and blog entries and conversations and arguments about X-Factor and how it actually affects people for the worse will be ignored when that retarded colossus of a show lumbers onto your screen this Saturday. It’s like David and Goliath, except Goliath is a 70ft tall Simon Cowell holding a rocket launcher and David is a crippled kid with a white flag and not a chance in the world.

And then I think: it’s a fucking TV show. Stop getting preachy and go watch the A-Team, you tosser.

Nov
30

Two schools in India.

Scenario:
You’re a headmaster of a school.
You’re there to promote open-mindedness, rationality and acceptance.
You just happen to be headmaster of a school based in one of the most superstition-reliant societies in the 21st Century.
You encounter a child with a medical condition that is highly visible to people, but completely unthreatening to them.
You’re equipped with a brain, so you can see that, without support, this is the kind of stigma that could destroy a person’s life.

As this bastion of open-minded thought, and proponent of intelligence and compassion, what would you do as a headmaster? Would you:

a) instruct the teachers to preach acceptance to their classes, explaining the situation and making it clear that the child in question is still to be a valued member of the school? Or;
b) take precautions against bullying and perhaps insulate her from the more violent sections of the school, potentially setting up private classes for her so that she doesn’t feel totally segregated and still maintains a social life? Or;
c) expel her from the school, and refuse her an education because of her condition?

So, who answered c)? Yeah, those two headmasters I’ve been angry at.

What the fuck kind of society creates these people? Do they lack mirror neurons, making them completely incapable of compassion and empathy? Or are they that messed up and fucked-over by overzealous religious bullshit that they believe the girl is cursed by gods, like others in their religion?

Teachers are supposed to be shining examples of some of the best that humanity can aspire to be: people who have spent their lives improving themselves just to be able to improve following generations. Not small-minded idiots, pandering to the whack-job superstitions of society. That little girl deserves a future where she doesn’t shy away from human contact; a life where she feels herself to be the equal of everyone around her, and you pricks should be shot for potentially fucking hers up.

Rantrantrantrantrant.

I’m not at my most eloquent today. Sometimes subtlety just doesn’t cut the mustard.

Nov
30

This won’t win me any friends.

Your opinions are wrong.
Your friends’ opinions are wrong.
Those wise and lauded words you heard at your grandfather’s knee back in the days of yore? Wrong. Wrong. Wrong.

My opinions? Yep. Wrong.

WARNING
This may come across a little Fight Club….

We’re a generation raised in a world gone political correctness mental, where the authorities and anyone with a legitimate public voice is so afraid of offending someone or alienating a certain sub-section of society that “wrong” has become a filthy word. No one wants to be the one to say “Shut up. Sit down. You’re an idiot and you are wrong” for fear of being labeled an intolerant bigot. Instead we suffer through the simpering choruses of insufferable platitudes amounting to “well, everyone’s entitled to their own opinion”. And that’s true. Everyone is entitled to their own opinions. But not every opinion is as intelligent, or as well thought out as we’d like it to be, ergo, not every opinion is equal. Some opinions are just flat out WRONG.

However, it’s this pacifistic attitude to disagreement that is so rife in society today that allows things like Creationism to be taught as a viable alternative to evolutionary theory in schools. Just to put that into perspective, it’s like being taught (with a completely straight face) that Santa is how you get your presents come Christmas morning. Until you’re 16.

One of the teachers out there presenting intelligent design as a legitimate rival to evolutionary theory says that “to critique Darwinism is quite appropriate”, and he’s quite right. All scientific theories should be contested continually; it’s how we prove they work. But here’s the kicker; to challenge a scientific theory, you’re going to need some evidence (a book written 4000 years ago by an unwashed lunatic, fresh from the desert and sporting a beard you could hide children in doesn’t count). And another thing; it helps to have a theory that doesn’t require the student to disregard thousands of years of scientific study in order for it to work.

It’s a horrendous enough state of affairs when otherwise educated people allow this kind of babbling irrationality to sway them, but even worse when the system they’re operating in has elevated opinion up onto such a high pedestal that they can’t be told they’re wrong without coming off as intolerant. We’re effectively sacrificing common sense upon the altar of individuality, and it’s a dangerous path to take.

Don’t get me wrong; I’ve read my Orwell. I know that diversity of opinion is a wonderful thing, but people seem to be forgetting that (generally) society is a network of people that all work together for a greater purpose. Debate and diversity should be encouraged, always, just as long as there are people with enough common sense to make sure the ignorant never acquire a louder voice than they deserve. Otherwise things like this tend to happen. Everyone is entitled to have their opinion heard, but that doesn’t mean we have to listen to all of them.

But that’s just my opinion.