Archive for December, 2003

yat kha triumph

Let’s face it: no-one is really interested in what I have to say on any matter, let alone what I consider to be the finest cultural artifacts of this year or any other. However, I have my own weblog, which means that I’m duty bound to inflict my ill-formed opinions on anyone who has the misfortune to stumble across this shoddy excuse for a website. So here they are, the best and worst CDs, books and any other business of 2003. Enjoy. Or not, as the case will almost certainly be.

Best Albums

coverYat-Kha – Tuva Rock
In 2003, the World’s best band got better. Albert Kuvezin continues to combine Tuvan folk music with Deep Purple and Sonic Youth in a way that no-one else can. That he works alone in producing this kind of crossover is largely irrelevant, and he is blessed by having one of the greatest singers in history in his band, Radik Tiuliush. Radik is also pretty handy on the Morinhuur.


coverCalexico – Feast Of Wire
The band’s most fully-formed statement, an eerie combination of Mariachi, Tex-Mex, jazz and lonesome desert rock from somewhere south of the border. Singer Joey Burns is one of the most imaginative lyricists around, ably demonstrated in lines like “With a head like a vulture and a heart full of hornets / He drives off the cliff into the blue.” When backed by Mariachi Luz da Luna in concert, they’re unstoppable.

coverJosh Rouse – 1972
Imagine it’s 1972. Josh Rouse certainly does, on this beautifully executed homage to early 1970s pop-balladry. Think Carole King, think Neil Young, even Marvin Gaye gets a nod. “Sparrows Over Birmingham” is quite possibly the song of the year. Really quite lovely indeed.

coverWhite Stripes – Elephant
Yadda yadda married blah blah divorced etc etc brother whatever sister hello Renee Zellweger goodbye bar brawl Jason Stollsteimer who cares. Oh yeah, the White Stripes also released an album this year. It did quite well, by all accounts.

coverM83 – Dead Cities, Red Seas and Lost Ghosts
A simpleton might describe M83 as ‘Mogwai meets My Bloody Valentine with swathes of lush keyboards,’ so that’s precisely what I’ll do. They’re like Mogwai meets My Bloody Valentine with swathes of lush keyboards. I saw them play a gig at London’s Royal Albert Museum as part of an event organised by the French embassy at which (unless I’m greatly mistaken) all the band members were tripping deliriously.

coverDaniel Johnston – Fear Yourself
Poor Daniel Johnston. The greatest songwriter of his generation, trapped in the mind of a autistic child and the body of a water buffalo. Obsessed with Paul McCartney and The Beatles to such an extent that he apparently spends much of his royalties on purchasing multiple second-hand copies of ‘Band On The Run,’ he is nonetheless the one bona-fide genius on this list. Daniel, we salute you.

coverThe Coral – Magic & Medicine
Whether you like sea shanties or not, The Coral are to be admired for writing proper songs, like, and y’know, playing their instruments with a fair amount of ability. Sadly, they’re fronted by the least charismatic man in popular music (get your hands out of your pockets, young man), and as such are unlikely to ‘make it’ in America, the country that has so obviously inspired every aspect of their oeuvre. Learn some fucking stagecraft, sonny.

coverDel McCoury – It’s Just the Night
Along with the esteemed Dr Ralph Stanley, Del McCoury is proving that Bluegrass music is as vital now as it was when the Carter Family started broadcasting from Del Rio, Texas, back in the early 1930s. This record has inspired my one New Year’s resolution for 2004 (apart from the one about getting laid), which is to learn to play the Appalachian Mountain Dulcimer. Not that you’ll hear one on this release, but apparently it’s quite easy to master, y’all.

coverRachels – Systems/Layers
With track titles like “Moscow Is In The Telephone” and “Air Conditioning – A Closed Feeling,” Rachels burden the listener with the most pretentious song titles this side of Godspeed You Black Emperor! Yet most of what you’ll hear is deceptively simple – “the foremost purveyors of forlorn and lamentatious orchestral arrangements in the indie world” – as someone once wisely said. And no, it wasn’t me.

coverThe Darkness – Permission To Land
While it remains unclear whether The Darkness are the genuine article or Bjorn Again with their own songs, what can’t be questioned is the brilliance of 2003’s most entertaining night out. Thrill to those twin guitar sounds! Marvel at Justin’s catsuits! And then get your head around the fact the album is actually full of great pop tunes. Will either fall apart and disappear in 2004, reduced to playing college balls for drunken students, or they’ll dominate everything, sitting proudly astride the globe like a giant metal colossus. Or perhaps they’ll end up somewhere inbetween. Lock to rock, my friends.

Bubbling Under

Obie Trice – Cheers
Bonnie Prince Billy – Master and Everyone
Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – Nocturama
Cracker – Countrysides
Go-Betweens – Bright Yellow Bright Orange
Jayhawks – Rainy Day Music
Loose Fur – Loose Fur
The Mars Volta – De-Loused in the Comatorium
Mogwai – Happy Songs for Happy People
Gillian Welch – Soul Journey


Compilation of the year

coverVarious Artists – Le Festival Au Desert
Ahhh, those Tuareg campfires, those rolling dunes, those camel-skin tents. God forbid I should come over all Damon Albarn on you, but this collection of songs recorded at last year’s Festival in the Desert in Mali is probably the best introduction to African music you could ever
wish for. Those who remain unconvinced may be interested to learn that the CD also features Robert Plant backed by French outfit Lo?Jo, performing one of his Eastern-style rock mantras, and it doesn’t sound particularly out of place.


Box Set Of The Year

coverNitty Gritty Dirt Band – Will the Circle Be Unbroken: The Trilogy
Long before ‘O Brother Where Art Thou’ re-introduced old-time bluegrass music to the mainstream, The Nittys (as I like to call ‘em) were getting together with musicians both young and old to produce compilations of genuine mountain music. Volume one is to be especially treasured, featuring as it does real legends of the genre like Earl Scruggs, Roy Acuff and Mother Maybelle Carter, but all three ‘Circle’ albums are worth hearing. Now where did I put that dulcimer?


Reissue of the Year
coverGene Clark – No Other
One of the great lost albums of the 1970’s, No Other is a work of vast ambition, a fully realised vision of the ‘Cosmic American Music’ that Gram Parsons strived to produce and never quite managed. Truly God-like. Now all we need is for someone to re-release Dennis Wilson’s ‘Pacific Ocean Blue’ on CD and I’ll be happy.

Not nearly as good as you’ve been led to believe awards.

coverDizzie Rascal – Boy In Da Corner
Let’s face it – Boy In Da Corner is this year’s ‘OK Computer,’ ‘Dummy,’ ‘Moon Safari’ or ‘Play’ – the coffee table album bought by folks on the way back from IKEA to impress their people-carrier driving colleagues at dinner parties over canapes and cocaine. Unlike those albums, it’s not that great. In fact, I’m convinced that a good proportion of the people praising this album have NOT ACTUALLY HEARD IT. Don’t believe the hype!

coverKings Of Leon – Youth and Young Manhood
What annoys me most about this band are the continual comparisons to Creedence Clearwater Revival. I realise that’s not their fault, but let’s examine the evidence, shall we? In John Fogerty CCR had three things – one of the best singers in rock ‘n roll, one of the greatest guitarists of any genre, and a song-writer of almost unparalleled talent (seriously – at his peak he was punting out the hit songs at a rate that would embarrass The Beatles). And what do we have in KOL? A great story, some quite outstanding facial hair, and… well, that’s about it. ‘Molly?s Chambers’ is a a good song, but elsewhere you’ll only find Emperors New Clothes. Don’t believe the hype!


Book Of The Year

coverGary Wolf – Wired: A Romance
While the tale of the rise and sale of Wired magazine and its related businesses (the HotBot search engine, a TV show, a publishing house) might not be an obvious choice for book of the year, this story is a doozy, recounting one man’s extraordinary vision of the future and the lunacy involved in the creation of a company to support it. Magnificent, 100%, grade-A bonkers.


Shite Book of the Year

coverStephen Miller – Johnny Cash: The Life of an American Icon
Tragic. Johnny Cash tumbles off this mortal coil, and the best biography we’re left with is this sorry effort, clumsily written and leaving as many questions unanswered as it poorly attempts to answer. Read this side by side with Hellfire, the utterly compelling biography of Jerry Lee Lewis by Nick Tosches, and then try and tell me that the man doesn’t deserve better. A travesty.


Remainders

Website of the year: B3ta. No explanation necessary.

Shite website of the year: Friendster. Yes, it’s a good idea, but surfing Friendster is like using the Internet on a dial-up in 1993. Sort out your technology, or I’m off to Everyone’s Connected.

Technological retreat of the year: Copy-protected CDs. In an attempt to stop people sharing files on the Internet, the music industry begins to release CDs that skip and sound terrible when played on computers. Bravo! That’ll get everyone on your side!

Band to watch in 2004: Do Me Bad Things

Newspaper article of the year: Delta Force by Richard Grant, from November’s Observer Music Monthly. Quite possibly the most amazing story ever told.

Film of the Year: Lord of the Rings – Return of the King. The acting is wooden. Not one of the players appears to generate even the smallest spark of charisma. The story is palpable nonsense. The last fifteen minutes of smaltz almost ruin the previous three hours… but the simple truth of the matter is that the bulk of this films looks jaw-droppingly more magnificent on screen than any other in motion picture history. And that’s why you should see it.

Er…. and that’s probably about it. I could mention TV shows (The Office Christmas special), Sport (Ronaldo’s Old Trafford hat-trick) and Science (the discovery of a singing black hole producing music 57 octaves below middle C), but I doubt that you’re interested.

And to be honest, neither am I..

the goose is getting fat

It’s been a reasonably good year at blogjam towers, and I’d like to personally thank and wish a very Merry Christmas to everyone who drops by to read from time to time. Of course, I’d love to wish season’s greetings to each of you individually, but that’s impossible…. or is it?

Insert your name:

happy b-day

Crikey. I just realised that blogjam reached the grand old age of three a few days ago. It’s a victory for quantity over quality. Hurrah.

internet seer spam

Apologies for the following post. It’s really quite dull.

Internet Seer, on the face of it, offer a pretty useful service. What they do, according to the sales pitch, is monitor the availability of your website. They’ll ‘ping’ your domain on a regular basis to check whether it’s online or not, and if they don’t get a response, you’ll receive an e-mail letting you know. Very useful.

In reality, however, I suspect that Internet Seer are not as sweet and lovely as they might appear at first glance, a theory backed up by little bit of googling – there’s this example, for instance. Or this sorry tale. Or this little nugget. Or this healthy dose of vitriol. Or this… you get the picture. And now I’m joining in.

Let’s start here. On this page Internet Seer claim that they adhere to the robots exclusion standard, which is a way for webmasters to declare that they don’t want particular parts of their sites to be indexed, or they don’t want to allow certain robots access at all. A random sample of five recent day’s log files reveals that the Internet Seer robot requested my robots.txt file exactly ZERO times, completely contradicting their own claims.

But does this matter? If they’re only monitoring my site to check it’s availability, then it’s no big deal, right? Well, let’s choose a day at random, say November 19th. On this day the Internet Seer robot visited on a number different occasions, examining 67 different pages as it passed. Now wait a minute… if all Internet Seer are doing is checking to see if my site is online, why are they visting 67 different pages? What use could they possibly have?

I dunno, let’s play devil’s advocate here. What’s the worst they could be doing? Harvesting e-mail addresses, perhaps? Surely not. But then again… two people have e-mailed me recently after receiving an e-mail from the company, notifying them of the following or similar:

On Fri Dec 05, 2003 at 10:55:01 PM EST we were unable to reach your website: http://www.blogjam.com/old/000760.html due to the following reason: Host Not Found. As of Mon Dec 08, 2003 at 11:11:59 AM EST we were able to access your website again.

How strange. Why are other people being notified when my website is supposedly down and, more pertinantly, where did Internet Seer obtain their addresses from? The first part I can’t answer, but the second seems obvious – from my website, where both people in question had left comments on the pages Internet Seer had claimed were down in their respective e-mails. I guess the obvious question at this point is this: how could Internet Seer possibly grab a couple of e-mail addresses if my site was actually down? Playing Devil’s advocate once more, I rather suspect that the company aren’t monitoring my site at all in the way thet they claim. I’m sure Internet Seer will deny all this, claiming that the two people in question are subscribers that signed up for their service (unlikely, since neither has their own website), or that they were picked up during one of Internet Seer’s extraordinarily vague “studies on the connectivity of the internet
and the related web sites that were involved in such studies.”

Suffice to say I’ll be preparing a friendly e-mail to the company to question their actions and, in the meantime, if anyone else reading this has had mails from Internet Seer regarding my site, please let me know. If you’ve still got the original mails, even better – please forward, with full headers. Thanks.

Update: I heard back from Internet Seer. They’ve promised to remove me from their database, and offered the following explanation of how they came to be be e-mailng people who left comments on my site:

I can only assume that we must have noted the emails on those pages during a prior visit, stored them as a contact in the event we found the site down.

Which appears to confirm in no uncertain terms my theory that they’re scraping sites for e-mail addresses. If they’re doing anything further with these addresses other than annoying the owners with irrelevent monitoring mail is a different matter altogether – I’ve no reason to believe that they are, but as their current business model seems at best chaotic and at worst unethical, nothing would surprise me.

brigate rossonere & me

Me, yesterday.
hello mum

It’s a completely meaningless game for Milan, through to the next round of the Champions League by virtue of victory over Ajax two weeks ago, and half the squad has already travelled to Tokyo for the final of the Intercontinental Cup final against Boca Juniors at the weekend. There’s no Maldini, no Nesta, no Rui Costa, no Shevchenko, no Inzaghi. There’s only 36,000 people in a stadium that holds 85,000, yet I’m having the time of my life. While three sides of the San Siro feature large blocks of empty seats, the Brigate Rossonere end of the arena is packed, and it’s rocking. The chanting doesn’t let up in ninety minutes, led by cheerleaders stationed along the front of the tier who encourage the crowd to stay involved. Each of them has a microphone wired up to a primitive PA system, their disembodied, electronic voices booming across the stand like a series of competing Mu?azzen clerics. If you fold your arms for a second you’re singled out for criticism, your loyalty to the Milan cause cast into immediate doubt. To top it all off, there’s an elderly gentleman wandering the seats doing a roaring trade in miniature bottles of Sambuca.

The weirdest thing is that, apart from the moment went Kaka puts Milan ahead, the reaction of the home support seems to have very little to do the action on the pitch. While in the UK the volume and passion levels of the fans are driven largely by events during the game, here the noise remains constant whatever happens. Each Celta Vigo goal is met with something close to indifference, with no interruption to the song or chant in progress. It’s an absolutely bizarre, fantastic experience, and I doubt I’ve ever watched less of a game in my life yet felt so involved. The only slightly threatening moment comes during a visit to the urinals, when I’m studying a piece of graffiti that reads “Basta con la mafia delle giacchette nere sangue violenza Brigate Rossonere.” I don’t speak Italian, but any sentence featuring the words ‘mafia’ and ‘violence’ is worthy of closer inspection. The guy standing next to me offers to translate, and reads the phrase slowly back, gazing at me rather intently as he does so: “Piss. Shit. Beckham. Fuck off.” I decide not to persue the matter further and quickly return to my seat.

Just in front of me, yesterday.
just one cornetto...

The Brigate Rossonere also sing a great version of ‘You’ll never walk Alone,’ where most of the consonants seemed to have been dropped, or at least that’s the way it sounds to my uncultured ears.

War Oh
War Oh
Wi Ho
Ih Your Har
Ah yoo ne’ah war agai
Ah you ne’ah war agai

Someone please buy me a season ticket.

monkey tennis

Half a million people crowded the streets of central London today in protest at the England rugby team’s visit to the capital. I was there in spirit if not in body, and I do share the marcher’s concerns. Let’s examine the evidence:

  • Rugby is played by public school posh blokes, the type of Hooray Henrys responsible the lovely tradition of fagging.
  • The few non-public school players are usually corrupt policemen thugs (I’m referring of course to the era in which the players were still amateurs. In today’s professional environment they’re merely thugs).
  • Ex-England international Rory Underwood was a pilot in the air-force, and was reprimanded on more than one occasion for dropping napalm on innocent villagers in Kosovo.
  • New Zealand should have won.
  • Matchwinning ‘hero’ Jonny Wilkinson was formerly the leader of a gang of steamers responsible for a series of unsolved robberies across the Surrey stockbroker belt.
  • England centre Mike Tindall tortures cats.
  • ‘Captain Fantastic’ Martin Johnson steals traffic cones when he’s drunk. This is a regular occurance. The staff at the Bengal Lancer curry house in Leicester are terrified of him.
  • New Zealand should have won.
  • England coach Clive Woodward has a statue of Mussolini carved out of butchered baby rhinoceros tusks in his front room. Sometimes he sleeps with it.
  • Scrumhalf Matt Dawson owns an unscrupulous Northampton company that pressure-sells security systems to the elderly via scaremongering door-to-door methods. Investigations by the Office of Fair Trading have yet to produce a conviction, although several hundred complaints have been examined.
  • The clean-up bill for today’s little party comes to nearly ?12 billion, enough to buy several hospitals.
  • New Zealand should have won.

    What’s the big deal anyway? England are World Champions in a sport taken seriously in about five countries, only one of which considers Rugby to be it’s National game. Big bloody deal. You may as well celebrate a victory in the popular sport of, oh, I dunno… elephant polo.

  • it’s about oil

    Today, I finally snapped.

    Our Government is involved in an occupation of Iraq which is, to say the very least, of dubious legality, while the ongoing presence of ‘coalition’ forces in the region begins to resemble nothing more than the US legacy in Vietnam. And what’s it all about? Despite right-wing media protestations to the opposite, it’s all about the dark, gooey stuff.

    This is how the story goes, at least as far as I’m concerned: Internationally, we’re facing a massive medium term oil crisis. Independent scientists predict that there will be a peaking of World oil production between 2010 and 2020. With this in mind, and with the US already a net importer of oil, so-called “Energy Security” plays a pivotal role in that country’s foreign policy, both in terms of of national security and economic stability. In the aftermath of 9/11 Donald Rumsfeld argued at a National Security Council meeting that an invasion of Iraq was necessary to secure oil reserves, a perceived necessity that gained even greater credence politically when the subsequent instability of the Venezuelan oil industry was considered. And that, in a very small nutshell, is why we’re there.

    Basically, it’s a mess. So today, I decided to do something about it. I wrote a letter. To Pret A Manger.

    I was very disappointed to discover today a ‘new’ version of the banana cake I’ve been eating almost daily for the last couple of years. Gone was the deliciously moist, even-textured masterpiece of before, to be replaced by a dryer, roughly-hewn impostor featuring a lot less icing and nuts. Nuts? I hate nuts! If I want nuts I’ll go and buy some – I certainly don’t expect them in my banana cake. Is it still a banana cake? Shouldn’t you be advertising it as a banana and nut cake? Or did honesty go out the window when McDonald’s purchased the company?

    Within 45 minutes I had a reply:

    Hi Fraser

    Thanks for your email.

    I am really sorry to hear about your disappointment with our New Banana Cake – I will pass on your comments to our Food Development Team for their consideration.

    Thanks again for letting us know your thoughts!

    Best wishes,

    Charlotte

    Suffice to say, I’ll keep you abreast of any further developments. I will make a difference.