Jan 12, 2005 · 2 minute read
Reading Apple rumour sites is a bit like discovering your presents a week before Christmas; it’s rather disappointing to know everything in advance. However, seeing the new products for the first time is almost as exciting.
The iPod Shuffle
is what the iPod Mini
should have been. Yes, I know it’s very popular, but I still think it’s overpriced compared to equivalent players made by other companies (especially iRiver and Creative), and is an odd fit within the iPod line, considering the 20Gb iPod is only $50 more. The Shuffle, though, is at exactly the right price point: $99/$149. I’m not going to complain about the lack of screen; after all, most Walkmans and portable CD players don’t have one, do they? Plus, the Shuffle has a button that should really be present on all players: a switch on the side that turns random playing on or off, rather than having to navigate a host of menus. Do not eat the IPod Shuffle.
update is a little disappointing, consisting only of incremental improvements and a $30 increase in price (although I imagine the BitTorrent version will be doing swift trade at the end of the month). Although GarageBand 2 now features autotuning! You can pitch correct your voice - and create a mini Stock, Aitken and Waterman factory!
(hmm, Grange Hill is turning into Hollyoaks Junior. This makes me sad)
But! But! The Mac Mini
! Swoon! The cheapest Apple Mac ever! So small you can hold it in your hands! A fully functional Macintosh for under $500! Less than what a Commodore Amiga used to cost! Yes, it doesn’t come with a keyboard, mouse, or monitor. But it’s aimed at PC owners, who would like to switch, but don’t fancy spending out the $1,000 for a complete iMac. They have a keyboard, mouse, and monitor already. Just get rid of the box, and plug in the Mini! drool
Oh, and the New Order album might leak on Friday. Consider this a two-day warning; if what I’ve heard about the record so far is true, I will be gushing uncontrollably…
Jan 11, 2005 · 1 minute read
Yesterday on Blue Peter (a long-running UK children’s show, in case you didn’t know), they announced a new competition. Children have to send in designs based on the theme of “Best of Britian”, and the winner will have their design placed on the tail fin of a British Airways jetliner. Nothing wrong there. But then the presenters gave some examples of what they thought would be good on the tail fins. The new presenter, who’s from Northern Ireland, cheerfully held up her design.
The Red Hand of Ulster.
Now, the legend of the Red Hand goes back a few hundred years, but there’s no doubt that for the past century, it has been associated with the UDA (Ulster Defence Association), a umbrella group for Loyalist terrorists.
Good choice! I look forward to the “No Surrender” tail fin. For reasons of balance, if nothing else…
Jan 10, 2005 · 2 minute read
On this day, twenty years ago, the ultimate driving vehcicle was unleashed on an unsuspecting British public. Oh sure, Dean Kamen’s Segway is all very well and good, but we were there first. I give you — the Sinclair C5!
You have no idea how much a five-year old me wanted one of these. It was like the Space Age had arrived. An electric car! I would soon be taking one to school, and surely jet-packs would not be far behind.
The reality of the C5 was a little more mundane. A top speed of 15mph, a motor with relays that would go open circuit if you pushed it backwards, and so small that a Mini could crush you. I can’t imagine the terror of being stuck behind a lorry. The C5 became a national joke, and lead to the downfall of Sinclair Research (and the poor Spectrum was sold to Amstrad).
But still, there’s something charming about the silly-looking tricycle. And that Sinclair went out of business in a staggering blaze of glory, making sure that they’d never be forgotten in Britain, unlike, say Commodore, whose gradual slip into bankruptcy was just embarrassing. And just once more, for the record: The Spectrum? A heartbreaking work of engineering genius, blessed with the best home computer versions of R-Type and Chase H.Q.. The C64? Well, it makes a good doorstop…
There’s a group of dedicated C5 fans, and obviously, they have a website
. One has even modified the design to get a top speed of 70mph. Which is terrifying. But I want to ride in it…
Jan 9, 2005 · 1 minute read
I know exactly what you’re thinking.
“Ian! What happened if a group of people suddenly burst in, explained that they were desperate and needed you to fill in an hour of music RIGHT NOW?”
Well. Okay. First, I’d check to see if anybody was hiding in my wardrobe. Having established that I’m not in a bad episode of Frasier, I’d pull out Ian’s Super Dancing Mix That Doesn’t Have Come On Eileen On It For Fear Of People Slapping Him!
- ABC — Show Me
- Gwen Stefani — What You Waiting For (Jacques Lu Cont mix)
- Section 25 — I Can’t Afford To Let You Go
- The Flirtations — Nothing But A Heartache
- Annie — Heartbeat
- The Go! Team — Bottle Rocket
- Foster Sylvers — Misdemeanour
- Jackson 5 — I Want You Back (Readymade Mix)
- The Art of Noise — Close (To The Edit)
- Rachel Stevens — Some Girls
- Saint Etienne — The Way I Fell For You
- Modern English — I’ll Melt With You
- The Distractions — Time Goes By So Slow
- Electronic — Getting Away With It
There. Now you know! Sleep well, citizens!
Jan 7, 2005 · 1 minute read
Jackie Lee — The Town I Live In
Current obsession number one: British girl pop singers of the 1960s. I blame Saint Etienne, of course. Anyway, this is one of my favourites; a stinging indictment against the New Town construction of the 1960s; of houses, and churches, of the final destruction of pre-war Britain and the Empire, and the feeling of being trapped in such a town. As for the song, it sounds exactly like you’d expect a 1960s song to sound - a British version of the Spector wall of sound, with the spectre (ho-ho) of church bells echoing through the chorus. Plus one of the greatest uses of “etc” in history!
there’s several hundred brand new houses
and lots of brand new primary schools
etc, etc, etc,etc
You don’t get better social commentary than that, trust me.
The Dresden Dolls — Coin-Operated Boy (video)
Because I’m a sucker for a combination of 1920s cabaret, Victorian automata, white make-up, and stripey suspenders. Oh, and though I keep going on about it to anybody who’ll listen, the bridge part is a lovely metapop sparkle. Go! Watch!
Jan 6, 2005 · 3 minute read
One of the most entertaining things about the 2004 US Presidential Election (and no, it wasn’t being in a state of denial about Kerry’s chances of victory — he only lost by 100,000 votes, after all. And given some of the stories coming out of Ohio, it might have been a lot closer than it initially appeared) was Jon Stewart’s appearance on CNN’s Crossfire. I saw it while in Washington D.C. waiting for a plane to Florida; the audio was turned down low, but it seemed very entertaining. A copy of the transcript (plus video links) can be found here. Choice highlights include:
STEWART: I enjoyed his [Al Sharpton] way of speaking. I think, oftentimes, the person that knows they can’t win is allowed to speak the most freely, because, otherwise, shows with titles, such as CROSSFIRE.
STEWART: Or “HARDBALL” or “I’m Going to Kick Your Ass” or…
STEWART: Will jump on it.
In many ways, it’s funny. And I made a special effort to come on the show today, because I have privately, amongst my friends and also in occasional newspapers and television shows, mentioned this show as being bad.
BEGALA: We have noticed.
STEWART: And I wanted to – I felt that that wasn’t fair and I should come here and tell you that I don’t – it’s not so much that it’s bad, as it’s hurting America.
BEGALA: Let me get this straight. If the indictment is – if the indictment is – and I have seen you say this – that…
BEGALA: And that CROSSFIRE reduces everything, as I said in the intro, to left, right, black, white.
BEGALA: Well, it’s because, see, we’re a debate show.
STEWART: No, no, no, no, that would be great.
BEGALA: It’s like saying The Weather Channel reduces everything to a storm front.
STEWART: I would love to see a debate show.
BEGALA: We’re 30 minutes in a 24-hour day where we have each side on, as best we can get them, and have them fight it out.
STEWART: No, no, no, no, that would be great. To do a debate would be great. But that’s like saying pro wrestling is a show about athletic competition.
CARLSON: I do think you’re more fun on your show. Just my opinion.
CARLSON: OK, up next, Jon Stewart goes one on one with his fans…
STEWART: You know what’s interesting, though? You’re as big a dick on your show as you are on any show.
(if you can, download the video. It’s much funnier when watching Stewart being assailed by Tucker Carlson. And you need to see the bow tie.)
Well, Stewart seems to have been granted his wish: Crossfire is likely to be no more
. And, in another example of how The Daily Show’s influence seems to be extending far beyond a channel more often known for puppet making crank calls, the many deaths of a child called Kenny, and reminding people who Rick James is, the chief executive of CNN’s US network had this to say about the decision:
I guess I come down more firmly in the Jon Stewart camp.
A small victory. But anything which reverses the mindless partisan bickery that takes place on most of the US news channels is to be applauded.
Of course, we’re also at the point where US Attorneys General have to be asked whether they support torture or not…
Jan 5, 2005 · 1 minute read
Sorry; the blog has been concentrating on music almost exclusively for the past month. And today’s entry is no different. But maybe tomorrow, eh, readers?
Today, I’d just like to point out that my first two album reviews are up at Static Multimedia. I promise not to mention it every time a review goes online, but it’s my first published music work. So yay!
Tanya Donelly review.
Young Heart Attack review
Jan 4, 2005 · 2 minute read
These are the nominees for “Best British Song of the Past 25 Years”, to be handed out at the Brit Awards later this year:
- Heroes - David Bowie
- We Are The Champions - Queen
- Wuthering Heights - Kate Bush
- Night Fever - Bee Gees
- London Calling - The Clash
- Love Will Tear Us Apart - Joy Division
- That s Entertainment - The Jam
- I Don’t Want To Talk About It - Rod Stewart
- Look of Love - ABC
- Golden Brown - The Stranglers
- True - Spandau Ballet
- Careless Whisper - George Michael
- Holding Back The Years - Simply Red
- Sledgehammer - Peter Gabriel
- Sacrifice - Elton John
- Unfinished Sympathy - Massive Attack
- Why - Annie Lennox
- Fields of Gold - Sting
- Kiss From A Rose - Seal
- Wonderwall - Oasis
- Angels - Robbie Williams
- Yellow - Coldplay
- Babylon - David Gray
- Leave Right Now - Will Young
- Dry Your Eyes - The Streets
Now, aside from the fact that the first four songs were released in 1977 or 1978, and as such don’t actually fall within the last 25 years, the bizarre inclusion of Rod Stewart, and even, if we will, not carping on too much at the suggestion that Will Young has recorded a song that is better than the entire output of New Order, Human League, Soft Cell, Frankie Goes To Hollywood, Pulp, Blur, PJ & Duncan, The Spice Girls, The Undertones, Take That, or Dexy’s Midnight Runners, one question remains:
When was the last time you heard Why
by Annie Lennox?
I mean, really. Wouldn’t it have been better to stick Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)
on instead? If you really wanted to bulk up the female part of the list, you could have always nominated Kenckie’s Come One 2Nite
. Well, I can dream, can’t I?
Jan 3, 2005 · 8 minute read
There’s too much music.
I don’t know exactly what led me to this not-very-surprising thought; perhaps a comment on Matt’s blog, or perhaps it was this weekend, when I came across a copy of the fantastically-ace Dresden Dolls album sitting on my hard drive, where it had sat for the past four months, unloved and unlistened. As the joy of Girl Anachronism
and Coin-Operated Boy
filled my ears, I realised: I can never hear everything
. At the moment, I’m reacting violently against this cold fact, obtaining a copy of The Magic Numbers’ Hymn For Her
to work out the exact point in the song where the sun rises and you look into the girl’s eyes and go hand-in-hand over the horizon, ready to have a brand-new adventure, which will inevitably involve kissing at some point. At the same time, I’m immersing myself in music that I’ve never really given much thought about; a set of CDs curated by Saint Etienne has got me all excited about British girl-pop bands of the 1960s, so after dancing in the dawn, I’m hearing tales of heartbreak; of first crushes; of intense jealously for the girl who lives on the corner who gets all the boys. It’s just too much. I forget who I am, who I like. What happened to the boy who listened to The Evening Session every night and who thought that (What’s The Story) Morning Glory?
was the best album ever made? And should I worry that he’s no longer around?
A lot of the blame has, like most things, to be placed on the Internet. I can still remember my first attempt to use the net for musical purposes. One day, back in 1998, I joined the Kenickie Mailing List, to keep up with my love for all things Laverne, Montrose and Santiago. Unfortunately, the day I joined was also the day they decided to split up. Even so, it was my first introduction to a music community, and, although I was a bit too quiet on the list, they were very welcoming, and I did get involved (there’s a particularly awful piece of writing that I gave to a girl called Kate who was going to assemble a book to give to the band). I have only met one person from the Kenickie mailing list, but they were all a decent sort, if possibly a little obsessed with toast. They’re also the first, but not the last, in a whole host of people that I could tell you many things about, but I don’t actually know in any sense. I can make Kieron Gillen go into sniffles just by saying “Impactor”, but I’ve never been in the same room with him. This makes me sad (although he probably doesn’t feel quite the same way, I imagine).
Anyway, the Internet. At first, it turned out that it was a good way of getting in touch with people in Singapore that were willing to send you bootleg tapes of early Oasis recording sessions (laugh all you want, but I Can See The Sun
is a song that deserved to be on an album or single somewhere), but then came Napster. Somewhere, in the background tcp/ip handshake codes of the Internet, you could hear the sound of terror. That was the Manchester Computing Centre, struggling to take the strain as I took full advantage of a direct connection to the Internet. I attempted to download songs by Godspeed You Black Emperor!, although I eventually gave up and bought Slow Riot For New Art Kanada
in Wilmington’s CDAlley (And even now, I try to be faithful to that chain, visiting every time I go back to Chapel Hill. The guy who runs the shop is very friendly, and always has a conversation for me when I’m there. Although I haven’t had the heart to tell him I don’t live there anymore). I downloaded this, I downloaded that. Mostly live tracks by Hole (yes, honestly). But it was useful; whenever somebody recommended a group, I would download a track or two, then the next week I would head off to Piccadilly Records, HMV, or Vinyl Exchange, and come out with the album (it’s true; my university grant money didn’t go on the usual vices of cigarettes and alcohol. It was lost in the haze of a 3-for-£20 sale in HMV). The best find during my time in Manchester? It would have to be (The Best of) New Order
, which I found for £2.99 in the back of WH Smiths when it was still in St. Ann’s Square.
I can still remember when I first played Sleater-Kinney’s The Hot Rock
; the wild sounds of Start Together
irritating the occupants of A15 and A13 for many Saturday mornings, I imagine. It was a review in the NME that forced me to buy it; a completely over-the-top piece of writing by Steven Wells that made me think “if it’s half as good as he says, it’ll be the best thing I’ve listened to all year.” It was twice as good. And I can also remember, in a fit of despair, having been mugged the day before, heading into HMV to buy Spiritualized’s Ladies And Gentlemen, We Are Floating In Space
, easily the most depressing album of 1997. As I’m writing this, I realise that the NME and the Mark Radcliffe show were probably the two main influences on what I listened to when I was at university. After all, I did send Mark & Lard a CD made up of Records of The Week one Christmas (still not sure why I felt the need to do it, seeing as they probably had copies of them already, but they seemed touched when they talked about it on the radio).
After university, I guess you could say I drifted somewhat. I was locked into what I had discovered at Manchester, and didn’t really see the need to branch out into anything new. It wasn’t until I went to Chapel Hill that I started looking around again. In the first semester, this was because I didn’t have much else to do, sitting timid and alone in my room at night. So I discovered Saint Etienne and Dexy’s Midnight Runners (beyond Come On Eileen
, natch), and (the rest of) New Order; I found a music board on the Internet that talked about nothing but music. It was to be my downfall. I started ordering CDs by obscure bands on even more obscure record labels, eager to see if Saturday Looks Good To Me’s Meet Me By The Water
could possibly be as good as they said (it could, and it was), and catching up on the back catalogue of bands that I would have previously ignored (imagine, not hearing Forgotten
or Don’t Talk To Me About Love
by Altered Images? Life would be devalued). I loved music; it kept me going. I danced and tidied up on November 1st 2002 to a combination of New Order’s Temptation
and the Dexy’s version of Jackie Wilson Says
, and my love of Ultrasound…heh…it was a very funny moment.
I got back home, still loving music. But a subtle change came over me; I realised I was not John Peel. Nor was I meant to be. I didn’t have to run away from the eight-year-old in me that bought Smash Hits
every week; Betty Boo was fantastic, and Beyonce’s Crazy In Love
was just as good. It was not that I had discovered Pop Music while dancing in remote parts of Chapel Hill; it was that I had let it back in.
So now, I’m obtaining pop albums, getting into Annie, Girls Aloud, and the rest, while still finding time for more indie-type bands like Stars, The Dresden Dolls, and The Concretes. But I’m still looking for more; going off to blogs and discovering about J-Pop and Bollywood and Afro-beat, and music made in Amsterdam cafés. I can’t listen to all of it. Even though I always beat a path to it in service of a joke, I know nothing about Norwegian Death Metal (I just think it’s funny that a country that gave us the word ‘fjord’ also gave us band who like to set themselves on fire or drive spikes through each other’s heads), and I don’t think I ever will.
I cannot listen to everything. But when I hear records like Coin-Operated Boy
, songs that have moments that make me almost burst with joy, for the bridge that makes you glad to be alive in the here and now, so utterly perfect is the lyric “this bridge was written to make you feel smittener / with my sad picture of girl getting bitterer”
, only to be followed by a song that begins with “shoulda known / shoulda cared / should have hung around the kitchen in my underwear”
, I’m glad for the way for the way I approach the music. I will not become an expert, it seems. For what is the point? Somewhere, somebody can recite the FAC number for every Factory release. But I have heard The Distractions sing Time Goes By So Slow
, and even if I don’t know all of their history, it doesn’t make “it falls like tears / of wasted years”
any less heartbreaking.
Looking back over the post: there should have been more jokes about Norwegian Death Metal. I am sorry. The next ten tracks to be played on my music player are:
- Bruce Springsteen — I’m On Fire
- The Beat — Best Friend
- Garbage — When I Grow Up
- Cat Power — Maybe Not
- The Temptations — Beauty Is Only Skin Deep
- Life Without Buildings — Sorrow (I could write about the album for years. I’m mostly English. Eyes like lotus leaves. Not even like)
- The Go! Team — The Ice Storm
- Manic Street Preachers — Yes
- Baker Street Philharmonic — The Last One
- Blink-182 — I Miss You
and of course: