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David Allison

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Marnie Stern
Marnie Stern
Price: 12.99

5.0 out of 5 stars As You Like It, 26 Jun 2013
This review is from: Marnie Stern (Audio CD)
The alarm bells started to ring when you heard your favourite frantic guitarist talking about how her new record will showcase an increased focus on songwriting. They only got louder when it became obvious that this would also be a more directly emotional album than the two that preceded it.

Since you already live in a world full of singer-songwriters, their mouths full of trite metaphors, always happy to take up the first tired chord progression that comes to hand, you had no desire to the artist who was at the heart of the careful frenzy of In Advance of the Broken Arm and This Is It reduce herself to that level. Turns out needn't have worried. Marnie Stern (the album) is not a reduction but a condensation of Stern's previous accomplishments. The reduced tracklisting should provide a hint as to what's really going on here: everything that was present on Stern's first two albums is here in its purest, most compressed form. What this means is that roughly half the tracks here feature Stern's most direct and muscular compositions yet (from the ringing clarity of `Transparency is the New Mystery' and `Risky Biz' to the monstrous, Steve Albini-esque guitar and bass parts of `Her Confidence', which are fierce enough to send even Zach Hill's drums skittering in their wake), while the other half are overloaded to the point where they hit My Bloody Valentine-esque depths of synesthetic delirium.

Opening track `For Ash' drowns a lament for a deceased ex in waves of crashing percussion, hammer-on guitar, and wailing vocal chants. When the Stern manages to make the same sentiment scream through the noise of the latter `Cinco de Mayo', it becomes obvious that the aforementioned emotional content *is* here, and equally obvious that it has always been a part of Stern's approach song-writing. Stern's songs have always teetered on the brink of chaos, but the stakes are higher here, the longing for something resembling a genuine connection more desperately felt.

This description might make Marnie Stern sound like a drearily self-important record, but Stern's commitment to playful lyrical conceits and joyous noise stop that from being a problem - `Female Guitar Players Are the New Black' and `Gimme' see Stern sounding freer and more alive and confident in the chaos than ever before, while `Building a Body' manages to both reference Field of Dreams and provide a conceptual sequel to `Patterns of a Diamond Ceiling' over yet another riff that should shame most of Stern's contemporaries into early retirement.

Closing track `The Things You Notice' sees Stern going solo, letting the warm fuzz of a few slowly strummed chords overwhelm the twinned guitar and vocal melodies. The sublimation of song into noise is a happy one here, an illusion of blissed out contentment that is perfectly fitting for a song about new love, and every bit as fleeting, every bit as easily dispelled when the album stops and you find yourself pressing play, starting the whole cycle over again.

No Said Date [CD + DVD]
No Said Date [CD + DVD]
Price: 9.20

5.0 out of 5 stars Masta/Teacher, 21 Jun 2013
This review is from: No Said Date [CD + DVD] (Audio CD)
Of all the Wu-Tang MCs, who ever thought that Masta Killa would be the one to most truly embody the Clan's kung-fu philosophy? No Said Date starts with a dialogue fragment about a young apprentice seeking out to judge his master's former pupils, and follows up on this premise by hitting the Wu basics hard. Scuzzed up soul & martial arts chatter are married with forceful precision by the RZA and his disciples, while Masta Killa spits a mix of thug-chat and thoughtful flashbacks together with an attention to rhythmic intricacy that recalls Rakim in full flow. The relative lack of vocal charisma that had previously seemed to be Masta Killa's weakness works to his advantage here: no Wu-Tang rapper has ever sounded so relaxed in his own mastery as he does on this album. There are cameos from high profile Wu members, sure, but not even the frantic drama of Ghostface or the muffle-mouthed charm of the Method Man can decenter Masta Killa here. He's too busy relishing his art, finding gaps in in the beat, making sure that his fellow Wu-soldiers know that he's got the skills to match them if needs be.

In Advance Of The Broken Arm
In Advance Of The Broken Arm
Price: 12.99

5.0 out of 5 stars This is my Thunder Road/This is my Marquee Moon..., 24 Sep 2012
At first the blast of drums and guitars and vocals that makes up yr typical Marnie Stern song might sound like an explosion in a music shop, but don't run for cover right away. Pay attention to the virtuoso fragments as they whiz past your ears and you'll realise that that songs such as 'Vibrational Match' and 'Absorb Those Numbers' contain beautiful melodies in their jagged tangents. What does it sound like? Like Sleater Kinney exploded into a million art rock pieces, all intricate guitar parts and songs that combust and re-combust as they go on.

Forget such easy comparisons and throw yourself into the heart of the album and you'll discover the greater purpose of this musical shrapnel. It's there in the lyrics and song titles, which read like frantic notes to self: "Keep on! Keep at it! Keep on! Keep at it!", 'Put All Your Eggs In One Basket and Then Watch That Basket!!', 'Every Single Line Means Something'.

This is music that constantly challenges itself to get better, more imaginative. It'd sound hectoring if there wasn't so much going on, if every song weren't a firecracker full of ideas, just waiting to seen, heard, imitated, and dreamed of. On album closer 'Patterns of a Diamond Ceiling', Stern describes her method while she demonstrates it. "The picture in my head is my reward" she says, and you believe her, but you know that the picture wouldn't be half so valuable if there weren't listeners out there eager to misinterpret it for themselves. By the time all of the elements in the song have been brought together to ignite, you've learned Stern's methods, and it's time to burn your own picture into the sky. You've got the tools, you've got the know-how: go!

This Is It and I Am It and You Are It and So Is...
This Is It and I Am It and You Are It and So Is...
Price: 7.49

5.0 out of 5 stars Holding back will be forgotten, 24 Sep 2012
"I cannot be all these things to you/It's true" she sings, that oddly childlike voice straining to be heard over the electric crackle of 'Transformer'. You'd almost say she makes it sound easy as she finds gaps in the noise in which to shout "The future is yours, so fill this part in", but nothing sounds easy on a Marnie Stern record. These twelve tracks are science experiments, attempts to understand the rush of new guitar knowledge that Stern discovered on her debut album. As such, there are fewer ecstatic revelations here, but listen to the way that obtuse guitar fragments joyously fail to cohere on 'Shea Stadium' or layer into something both dense and brittle in `Clone Cycle' and tell me what you hear. Are these vain displays of virtuosity or acts of self-creation in sound? Album closer 'The Devil Is In The Details' answers this question in a typically giddy fashion, with Stern offering herself up to the world and letting it see her change from moment to moment, guitar line to guitar line. "The devil is in the details/If you are ready" she sings, and she's right. How can Marnie Stern be everything to you? She doesn't seem sure, but she's ready to try if you're willing to keep up. Soon Stern will be invincible, a chimerical machine made out of layered vocals and art rock histrionics, but right now it's thrilling to hear her struggle to master the strange energies she's unleashed.

Price: 11.49

8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Q&A, 11 Dec 2011
This review is from: BLACKENEDWHITE (Audio CD)
Q - Is this album better than Tyler, The Creator's Goblin?

A - Yes. For one thing, it doesn't feature half as many rambling, Kanye West-esque outros, and for another, while Hodgy Beats doesn't try quite so hard as fellow OFWGKTA member Tyler in the shlock horror stakes, he *does* seem to work his skinny little backside off as a rapper.

Q - Is it better than Frank Ocean's Nostalgia/Ultra mixtape?

A - Let's not get silly now! Despite some excellent production from Left Brain (who maintains just the right mix of stoned jumble and blank menace throughout), Blackendwhite isn't quite up there with modern soul-pop classic Nostalgia/Ultra, which is not only the best OFWGKTA release but one of the best MUSICS of 2011.

Q - Will it turn my child into a rampant psychopath?

A - Look, to be honest, I can't be arsed with you and your kids, but I severely doubt it. It *might* make them want to come up with their own personalised garish eighties rap fantasy stories though, so - be aware!

Q - Can Blackendwhite help me lose weight/reverse hair loss/cure the common cold?


I award this album four out of five brains. Maybe you will too.

An Incomprehensible Condition: An Unauthorised Guide To Grant Morrison's Seven Soldiers
An Incomprehensible Condition: An Unauthorised Guide To Grant Morrison's Seven Soldiers
Price: 3.16

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Peace hath her victories, No less renowned than war..., 11 Dec 2011
If you haven't read Grant Morrison and co's epic Seven Soldiers maxi-series, there's probably not much point in you picking up this excellent book unless you want to see a brilliant mind spinning off in too many directions at once.

Come to think of it, if you've not read Seven Soldiers, you really should get on that right away, here's your starting point - Seven Soldiers of Victory: v. 1. Seven Soldiers is easily one of the best superhero comics of all time, and what Andrew Hickey does for it here is to rescue it from the narrow, inward-looking confines of comic book criticism. Sure, like so many modern superhero comics, Seven Soldiers is built out of a mess of references to other comics so dense that light bends around it, but *unlike* so many similar works, the interconnected stories in Seven Soldiers actually warp the world around them in a number of alarming and beautiful ways.

And so instead of focussing on the ongoing metcommentary as though Seven Soldiers was just yet another comic book about comic books, Andrew Hickey uses these brilliant, garish fantasies as a jumping off point to discuss modern scientific theories and not-so-modern religious poetry. Both Grant Morrison's comic book series and Andrew Hickey's book are about parenthood, authorship, entropy and how no plan survives contact with the enemy. I can't pretend that either of them will leave you feeling all right about everything, but if you're anything like me then both of them will leave you reeling from the sheer number of possibilities suggested within, and I don't think you could ask for more from comics (and books about comics!) about people in funny outfits trying to save the world.

Sci-Ence! Justice Leak!
Sci-Ence! Justice Leak!
by Andrew Hickey
Edition: Paperback
Price: 10.00

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars As Above, So Below!, 11 Dec 2011
Double disclosure: not only is the author, Andrew Hickey, an internet friend, he was also daft enough to ask me to proofread this book and provide "helpful" feedback. He even swapped a couple of chapters around at my suggestions -- THE FOOL!

Even as someone who had an "inside" view of the creation of this book, I still found the format a little frustrating at first. I think this is related to the fact that certain scientific concepts are introduced early on in Sci-Ence! Justice Leak! but not fully explained until nearer the end. Still, as I pressed on, I found this to be part of the charm of the book - it's a fractal story about fractal stories, and many of its pleasures derive from the fact that Andrew can look at a Batman comic and see everything from black holes to British politics reflected in it.

And hey, even when Mr Hickey doesn't get back round to a topic, I enjoyed getting to do a little bit of extra dot joining myself - a good indicator of how much I liked the book, that! So, for example: the realisation of the way the seemingly disconnected essay on the Melmoth chapter of Cerebus was actually an essential part of the ultrastructure was probably when I decided that this was A PROPER BOOK, whatever the hell that means! Melmoth is a tangle of interconnected fictions concerning the life and death of Oscar Wilde, and by writing about it early on Andrew underlines the complex relationship between the real and theoretical that runs through his book.

I've always been a big fan of art that expresses its themes in style as well as in content, and Sci-Ence! Justice Leak! manages to do this with great panache - it's a witty, esoteric tribute to lots of different sorts of freedom, and I can pretty much guarantee that you've never read anything like it!

There *is* a lot of Doctor Who in there though, so it's still quite a niche book, but if it's your niche then I suspect you might just love it...

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