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Hope is Important
Hope is Important
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Price: £4.53

3.0 out of 5 stars A young band bound by its influences, 8 Feb. 2014
This review is from: Hope is Important (Audio CD)
I think it is fair to say that, as an opening track to a debut album, “You’ve lost your way” would not have been my choice – in truth, it is a rather an inauspicious start, and this hardcore horrorshow is thankfully not representative of the album that follows.

The only positive is that it is soon over, and quickly segues into “A film for the future” a catchy slab of alt-rock which would have made a far better opener. Here, and in many other places on the album, the vocals are quite reminiscent of mid-period Faith No More during Mike Patton’s more unhinged vocal workouts. But of course it is the Nirvana influence that is most prominent: “I know what you think, you think this song is about you/Well it’s not about you” is Kurt Cobain channelling Carly Simon – a novel combination as far as I am aware.

“Paint nothing” starts off Daydream Nation-era Sonic Youth, but fails to fulfil such early promise, lapsing into a squeal of guitars when the ideas run out. “When I argue I see shapes” supplies the album with its first real highlight, a fine slice of late 90’s alt-rock, an interesting lyric benefiting from a sparkling delivery, the title line – when it finally comes – supplied in triplicate.

With “I’m happy to be here tonight” it’s time to get all acoustic and sensitive, REM-tinged and more AOR than hardcore, and none the worse for it. “Everyone says you’re so fragile” has a whiny Placebo-like vocal and lyrics, but is catchy enough to keep the attention, whilst “I’m a message” is pretty much straight-forward mid-90’s rock.

Then comes “You don’t have the heart”, and I have to confess that am not aware of many great songs that have started with some nonchalant band chatter (in this case whether or not they are actually recording at that moment) and a chorus of “99-88-77-66”, but I guess there is a first time for everything. “Close the door” gives us more than just a hint of Pavement, and “Low Light” betrays traces of the “Holy Bible”-vintage Manic Street Preachers (perhaps not coincidentally another British band burdened with something of an obsession for all things American) in the guitar lines, and of course the compulsory Cobain scream of the chorus. But it ends this short album on a high note, its brooding and cacophonous finale a pretty much perfect ending.

All in all, this is the sound of a young band trying to escape from the bonds of its American obsession, which can be forgiven (even encouraged) when we’re talking Nirvana, Sonic Youth, REM, Faith No More & Pavement, but needs to be curtailed when it all starts going a bit too Stiltskin for my taste.

Young Team
Young Team
Price: £9.99

4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars “If the stars had sound …”, 27 Jan. 2014
This review is from: Young Team (Audio CD)
Mogwai are masters of understated noise, beautiful noise. One of just a few bands that can blend delicate instrumentation and sporadic vocals with an unadulterated guitar cacophony and not have the listener reaching for the off button before the end of track 2.

To all intents and purposes, this is an instrumental album. The human voice, where it makes an appearance, is often spoken word and hidden so far down in the mix it is impossible to understand (and not just because of the Scottish accents). If nothing more, it serves as proof to the doubting listener that humans were indeed present during the recording of this album. And here is a health warning for you: just as you should never return to a lighted firework, so should you never assume a Mogwai track has petered out to a slow rumble with a soft hi-hat accompaniment: you are likely to get your face blown off, or at least lose an ear.

“Yes! I am a long way from home” is the perfect start, as Mogwai ease the listener into their sound world, giving just a glimpse of what is coming, trying hard not to scare them off too soon. “Like Herod”, the first of many highlights, has a barely concealed aggression, like a tiger pounding its cage – just when you think it has fallen asleep, it pounces. Yes! it is a barrage of drums and guitars, but so much more than just that.

On to the rest of the highlights: “Tracy” is almost a lullaby, not going anyway but maybe that’s just because it’s already there; “Summer”, if my memory can be relied upon, was something of a hit back in 1997 when the album was first released, and remains a highlight with its alternating soft/loud-ness which could be clichéd but isn’t; and “With Portfolio” offers another treat for the ears – were they testing a jet engine in the studio? The listener is assaulted by the noise, but still feels the desire to say thank you afterwards.

“R U Still In 2 It?” has a Sonic Youth-like atmosphere, and boasts something like a conventional lyric albeit delivered by someone just woken from a decade-long nap. “A Cheery Wave …” is quietly reminiscent of DJ Shadow’s “Endtroducing…” album and some moments of the UNKLE collaboration, but is a little too brief to do itself justice. Such a criticism cannot be levelled at “Mogwai Fear Satan” which closes the album in suitably exuberant style, guitars and drums battling it out for supremacy but allowing the flute to nip in right at the death to clinch the win for Mogwai and their fantastic “Young Team”.

Unknown Pleasures
Unknown Pleasures
Price: £5.62

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A dark masterpiece, 27 Jan. 2014
This review is from: Unknown Pleasures (Audio CD)
“Where will it end?” screams Ian Curtis on “Day of the Lords”, and sadly we know the answer. As a lyricist, Curtis arrived fully-formed, but as a vocalist he was still learning to express himself when this album was released in 1979. It is notable that despite many bands claiming inspiration from Curtis and Joy Division, very few covers of their songs have been made, as if in recognition that only Curtis could sing his own words. For example, who else could sing a seemingly innocent line like “I remember when we were young” and fill it with such foreboding?

The first side of the album is packed with a string of bone fide classics – after the upbeat start with “Disorder”, we get a run of songs which would be highlights of any album: “Day of the Lords”, “Insight” (with its lazer gun breaks), “New Dawn Fades” (its slowed down heavy metal riff obscuring Curtis’s passionate lyric) and “She’s Lost Control” (which has an almost playful ping-pong effect in stark contrast to the subject matter). Throughout the album you can make out eerie mumbling echoes and the sounds of life going on in the background, with drums that sound like the clashing of skulls. This is the opposite of easy-listening.

Unexpectedly, the album brightens a little after this (it’s all relative of course): the almost straight punk rock of “Shadowplay”, “Wilderness” with its PiL-like bobbing bass riffs, “Interzone” with its take on Iggy & The Stooges. At least until “I Remember Nothing” whose smashed glass and drawn out vocals serve as a precursor to their next (and final) studio album, ‘Closer’, which was released after Curtis’s suicide in May 1980.

When it’s all over, it is worth reminding yourself that you have just listened to almost the entirety of Joy Division output to be released in Curtis’s lifetime. If you haven’t done so already, treat yourself to this album along with ‘Closer’ and ‘Substance’, and you have just about everything necessary from one of the most brilliant bands Britain has ever produced. Few reputations are built on such small foundations, and even fewer will last as long.

Demolished Thoughts
Demolished Thoughts
Price: £10.52

4.0 out of 5 stars Accomplished acoustic album, 22 Jan. 2014
This review is from: Demolished Thoughts (Audio CD)
The sleeve notes show Moore hunched over his Fender in a dank basement sparsely decorated with posters for noise bands, yet this album is more Nick Drake than Black Flag and the guitars are strictly acoustic throughout. The first couple of tracks on the album are quite subdued - Nick Drake (especially "Place To Be" & "Which Will") being the obvious reference point, along with Smashing Pumpkins in their more delicate moments - and only really takes off with "Circulation", for me the first highlight of the album, with its Echo & The Bunnymen feel (comparisons with "Nocturnal Me" for instance), followed by "Blood Never Lies", the centrepiece of the album with echoes of Meddle-era Pink Floyd (specifically, "A Pillow of Winds" and "Fearless").

There are of course the obvious comparisons - both positive and negative - with Moore's Sonic Youth output, in particular "Illuminine", which could be an acoustic take on a half-remembered track from Daydream Nation, and "Orchard Street", whose vocal reminds me a little of the Dirty album's "Wish Fulfillment", albeit less catchy and lacking some sense of urgency, at least until it goes a bit "A Day In The Life" towards the end.

The second half of the album leaves less of an impression, although "Mina Loy" is a beautiful song, reminding me again of Echo & The Bunnymen (this time "Pictures on my Wall"), but the strongest song on the album is followed by the weakest, "Space", with its strung-out galaxy-travelling theme done much better by the likes of Flaming Lips. But all in all this doesn't really detract from a fine album, whose 46 minutes cruise by and leave this listener wanting more.

The Passion (Contemporary classics)
The Passion (Contemporary classics)
by Jeanette Winterson
Edition: Paperback

4.0 out of 5 stars Not so much an emotion, as a destiny, 17 Aug. 2013
Between the front and the back of the hardbound book, stitched to the spine, the page waits there suspended like a rope trapeze, its binding threads visible. The words are like grotesque acrobats, throwing broken shapes across the wood fibres, and now and again a word will dangle by its knees and snatch an idea from another's hands, as soft as a kiss, as quick as a kiss. A kiss that fills the mouth and leaves the hands free. The words, and the words alone, are the pleasure. Passion tastes all the sweeter when dusted with words, just like movement through air as the first grip loosens and the soul is falling, only to be gathered up in strong fists at the last moment.

This is a small book. But pages are not the only measure of stature, and this book is colossal with thoughts, but not incredible. Watch carefully for the echoes between words, across chapters, and if you are lucky you'll find sex, and fear, gambling and hero-worship, webbed feet and the uncountable carcasses of a chicken holocaust. And the passion. Always the passion.

I'm selling you stories. Trust me.

Abstract Expressionism (World of Art)
Abstract Expressionism (World of Art)
by David Anfam
Edition: Paperback

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good introduction to the key players, 1 Aug. 2013
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A lovely book (and I have come to expect nothing less from the World of Art series ) that covers in some depth the big names of abstract expressionist painting – Pollock, De Kooning, Gorky, Newman, Rothko and Still – along with photographer Aaron Siskind and sculptor David Smith.

Despite enjoying the read – and, as always with World of Art books, it has now led me to add another 20 books to my Amazon wishlist – I do however I have two small criticisms: the first (which has been mentioned elsewhere) is the large amount of black and white plates, most of which come nowhere near close to illustrating the power and beauty of these works of art; the second, the fact that the author rarely ventures outside the list of names mentioned above, and therefore misses the opportunity to convey the sheer breadth of talent that this art movement encompassed.

However, these criticisms may be a little unfair: for an introduction to the key players in mid-20th century American art at a very reasonable price, this book cannot be improved upon, and will hopefully inspire the reader to study further this fascinating scene, not just its ‘superstars’.

Demanding the Impossible: A History of Anarchism
Demanding the Impossible: A History of Anarchism
by Peter Marshall
Edition: Paperback
Price: £16.54

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The anarchists bible, 1 Aug. 2013
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As far as I am concerned – and I know I’m not the only one – this book is the bible of anarchism, a mind-boggling achievement that can’t help but leave the reader with an awesome sense of just how deep and broad the history of anarchist thought is.

An ‘easy’ read – in that it is so well structured and brilliantly written – but covering some ‘difficult’ subjects, it is well worth taking your time over this book, but I do have one warning to any potential reader: try to guard against being overwhelmed! Practically every page – and there are nearly 800 of them – contains pertinent references to other authors, articles, pamphlets, books, and events, and if you tried to track them all, let alone follow them, you’ll be lucky to remain sane. Instead, what this book can really do for the interested reader is to guide them to specific areas that they may want to develop in more detail in the future, and hopefully then provide a wider framework within which to gain insight into how these areas fit together under the banner of modern anarchism.

Anarchism: A Very Short Introduction (Very Short Introductions)
Anarchism: A Very Short Introduction (Very Short Introductions)
by Colin Ward
Edition: Paperback
Price: £4.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars No better place to start learning about anarchism, 1 Aug. 2013
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This book is an excellent place to begin for those who would like to learn about anarchism – in both its classical and modern forms, and both theoretical works and practical applications – but are unsure where to begin.

The book gives a small but perfectly formed introduction to the subject, with an overview of the individuals (from Godwin, Proudhon, Bakunin and Kropotkin through to Woodcock and Marshall) and the events (in particular the Spanish Civil War) that form the foundations of anarchist thought, and then brings you up to date with the myriad of places that modern anarchism has penetrated (employment, education, individualism/libertarianism, feminism, housing and the Green movement). There’s something for every taste, and regardless of your own special interests, you may be surprised – as I was – to find that anarchism can provide a novel viewpoint from which to develop fresh insights into your subject.

Finally, this book serves as a great advertisement for one of the finest modern anarchist writers that Britain has produced, namely the author Prof Ward. I hope that this little book encourages the reader to seek out the many texts that he authored over his long and diverse career.

The Magic Mountain
The Magic Mountain
by H.T. Lowe-Porter
Edition: Paperback
Price: £10.68

7 of 11 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars For want of an editor, a great book is spoiled, 22 May 2012
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This review is from: The Magic Mountain (Paperback)
Agreeable as it is to be finally able to set down such a great tome, having wrung out every gramme of life and - yes, I have often thought it and so I should let it be said - humanity from its sheathed pages, it is with a heart as heavy as the titular mountain, a mountain that has haunted my waking hours for near a century of days, that I opt to award this orgy of prose a humble three stars, a mere sixty percent of the maximum attainable and of what some will claim should be its rightful inheritance, for it cannot be argued that maximum is not what this book does best.

And it should be known that I speak as an ordinary sweet soul who once took it upon himself to remain sober for a period greater, although only just, than 100 days, and thus I can confirm that similar mental states inhabited me during that feast of sobriety as did when I let this book nightly into my field of vision; never let it be said that there weren't good days alongside the bad, that I will not allow, but the overpowering feelings on some of these days, and likewise through some of the chapters contained herein, was that life could be so much more, contain so many more memorable experiences, if I could only be doing something else.

Without meaning to put too fine a point on it - although the finer points, of life, of illness, of love, death and the inevitable downfall of the human spirit, are indeed the main subjects of the book, to the detraction of the important points and, dare I say, the book as a whole - it seems to me that, amusing though the chapter headings are, there are some such that could have garnered benefit from an increase in amusing content - to put it in short, dear reader, the best that can be said for too many of these chapters is that nothing happened, nothing in the sense of an absence of action and all its corollaries, which is to say nothing of the unavoidable role that the elemental time plays in all this, by which we could rightly say that nothing happens, slowly.

The main culprit - or culprits, if we allow ourselves to lay blame on the literary creations rather than their literal creator - are those chapters that bear the brunt of the philosophical pugilism of Settembrini and Naphta, two names that will send a spineward chill through any hardy soul who has battled the book to its conclusion. The dialogues contained within - or should one rather call them dual monologues, since the combatants seem not to address each other with their streams of consciousness but rather each themselves - are mind crushingly dull, and eyes may be permitted to flit over them without subtracting a proton of meaning from the story, if indeed such a series of non-happenings can be called that. These laborious lectures - yes, there is an apt expression for these monstrous monologues! - serve only to fill the lacunae between some truly beautiful writing, by which I refer for example to the sombre death of the hero's bosom buddy, or to the tragicomic rise and fall of the Personality, or to the - not a moment too soon! - duel between the two aforementioned philosophers which ends in bloodshed unsatisfactory to both parties, albeit with relief for the reader that their threat has now at least halved.

A shame that such diamonds will be lost to so many readers who have neither the time nor the patience to wade through this bog of a book in order to catch such rare glimpses of the perfect prose hidden within.
Comment Comments (3) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Aug 24, 2014 6:19 PM BST

Confronting Collapse: The Crisis of Energy & Money in a Post Peak Oil World
Confronting Collapse: The Crisis of Energy & Money in a Post Peak Oil World
by Michael C. Ruppert
Edition: Paperback
Price: £10.99

20 of 21 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars "Money has no value without energy to back it up", 28 July 2010
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I enjoyed this book, and believe it is an important addition to the rapidly growing body of literature on the subject of Peak Oil and the current energy crisis. The author seems to me to be honest, independently-minded and politically-aware (although thankfully not party political), and is clearly passionate about his subject, sometimes to the point of hysteria. The first few chapters are quite short, which adds to the feeling of breathlessness, and suffers from a problem shared by other books on this subject in that events are happening so quickly that the book can feel out-of-date very quickly - although the author's journalistic style does manage to cope with this.

The author does a fine job of describing the schizophrenic, Alice-in-Wonderland reality of the oil economy, its non-linearity, its paradoxes, with price spikes leading to `unconventional' oil becoming economic but also leading to irreversible demand destruction and to price collapse, leading to supply contraction, leading to ... well, who knows how the cycle will be broken?

The book provides excellent examples of how the numbers bandied around by various governments and corporations simply do not add up - all of which can be found elsewhere, but when collected together make a very powerful argument. The role of the media in helping these organizations hide the truth is also well illustrated, and quite shocking even to those like me who have already very low expectations of the mass media.

The chapters on the role of fossil fuels in food production are the bleakest of all. The `meat' of Chapter 8 is an article by Dale Allen Pfeiffer which paints a stark picture for the future for this industry, and only those with a vested interest will be able to claim that "business as usual" is still an option. If you don't buy this book, it might still be a good idea to find this important article on the net.

I should mention a few (relatively minor) criticisms I have of this book. First of all, the chapters devoted to Renewable Energy are quite insubstantial, albeit pretty scathing, and only seems to be repeating what others have said better, more constructively, and in more detail elsewhere (see, for instance, David JC MacKay's "Sustainable Energy - without the hot air"). By the time we get to the chapter on the modern monetary system, the author does begin to sound unhinged, when a more grounded, subtle critique of the fractional reserve banking system and the concept of fiat currency, and more pertinently its link to energy, would have served a better purpose. The author's dalliance with various conspiracy theories is entertaining but might overshadow some of the more important points that the book is trying to make. Finally, although the author begins by at least attempting to be inclusive, by the end of the book it is clear that the author's viewpoint is very much US-centric, culminating in the "25-Point Programme for Action" which is directed almost entirely to the government and population of the USA.

All in all, I enjoyed reading this book, which generally benefitted from the authors passionate style, and would recommend it to anyone interested in Peak Oil, the future of our energy system and the complex links between energy and the financial system that we currently rely on.

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