Sunday, August 28, 2005

The Things You Do For Your Art

I passed my yellow belt Bushido grading today. Three and a half hours of torture. Luckily, the actual grading was only 30 minutes, but that only stopped just on the point where I was about to collapse. After performing the yellow belt kata (Bushido Sho) and the Geri Waza for the 7th time, my legs almost fell off. Well, they felt like they did, anyway. Unfortunately, I arrived home fully intending to sleep...but found myself too tired to do so. I'm probably still too psyched up, which is going to be fun, since I'm up at 7am tomorrow for a trip back to Whitchurch.

Today's post title is also a reference to The Machinist - a film where Christian Bale literally starved himself and lost almost 4 stone of weight to play a factory worker who may or may not be losing his mind. The film builds up to a revelation that was more "ohhhhh, ok" rather than "Wow!", but it's worth seeing just for Bale's performance - even better than American Psycho. It's a grimy, bleak picture painted in assorted greys, browns and blacks, but it has imagery that will burn itself indelibly into your memory.

I would write more, but I am far too tired right now. My bed awaits.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005


If you haven’t already checked it out, take a look at Beaver and Steve – thanks to Gilly for the link to this superb strip. While we’re on the subject, also check out Penny Arcade and CtrlAltDel, two excellent gaming strips.

A few more records made it into my search for the “Perfect Album”:

ELO – Time

A true classic, not only was it ahead of its time in terms of both sound and production, but it still holds its own brilliantly today. ELO’s best album, it was a move away from their prog-rock roots and into the territory of popular music – incredibly, this album is almost 25 years old but seems as fresh today as it was back then, mainly because of the quality of its tracks. When you have hook-laden offerings such as Twilight, and Hold On Tight mingled with more poignant songs like Ticket To The Moon, Rain Is Falling and the oddly affecting Yours Truly, 2095 (about the future of man’s "relationship" with computers), and with a dash of political statement (Here Is The News), you have an album that is both well-written, exquisitely produced and ultimately satisfying.

Feeder – Echo Park

Like Ash, 2001 was the year for creating something a little bit special – and for Feeder, it was Echo Park that finally kicked them into the spotlight. Creating a sound unlike anything they’d produced before, and coupling it with some atrocious lyrics (example - “Get up, shut up, give me Nurofen Plus”), the album worked. Why? Because it was so damn catchy. Every single track on this record is a stonking achievement of sound over substance. Melodic riffs and punk pop abound, with more table-banging singles than you can throw a small horde of students at. Do the lyrics make sense? No. Does it sound like the band exhausted every page of the Acme™ Rhyming Dictionary? Yes. Do we care? Hell, no. Ask yourself when you’re manically jumping up and down and screaming “CD PLAYER-PLAYER-PLAYER!!!” in the Student’s Union whether you stopped to think about the words coming out of your mouth. I’d bet the answer would be “no”. That, my friend, is why this album is utterly superb.

More to come soon.

What else has happened recently? Well, last weekend Gilly took me to see some of London's...umm..sights, including the National Gallery, National Portrait Gallery, Natural History Museum and Science Museum. This was followed by a Sunday lunch at the Duck in the Pond, where the staff succeeded in providing me a roast chicken dinner (including potatoes, stuffing, beans and Yorkshire Pudding). I didn't want carrots or parsnips, so I asked for everything except that. Easy enough, eh? No, they forgot to give me the stuffing. Or the Yorkshire Pudding. Or, get this, the chicken. So I sat there dumbfounded, staring at my plate of potatoes and green beans, trying to comprehend what must have gone through the head of the kitchen worker who was piling my plate up. "Wow, so he ordered a roast chicken dinner, but he doesn't want anything but potatoes and green beans? OK, no problem." What I'd actually said was "The only veg I want is potatoes and green beans." It's tough sometimes. Still, the Pinot Grigio took the edge off the situation.

My Bushido yellow belt grading is on Sunday. It's amazing how different this martial art is to the Kung Fu I did at university. It's a lot more involved, and I've learned far more in the 5 months I've been doing this than I did in the whole 2 years I did Kung Fu. In fact I probably learned more in the first month. Hopefully the grading will go OK, fingers crossed. I better go practice some more.


Tuesday, August 09, 2005

On The Jukebox Tonight:

This Kiss - big props to Faith Hill for managing to write a song that rhymed "centrifugal", "perpetual", "pivotal" and "subliminal". Shame she's not done much else since. I also think I deserve some praise for using the phrase "big props" in that first sentence. Props, as you all know, is a US term meaning "proper respect". I'm trying to resist the urge to append the word "innit".

I've been thinking recently about music and more importantly, The Perfect Album. That is to say, an album so incredibly good that it has not one single track that could be labelled either "filler" or "crap". It's a hard task to find such an album, and I've heard many in the short quarter of a life I've lead thus far. But I've come up with a few candidates. This is of course, hugely subjective. Then again, a blog is just that anyway, so I'm not going to apologise.

1.) Pearl Jam - Ten

An album so utterly well produced, that it sends shivers down my spine each and every time I listen to it. Not a single track is wasted, from the stunning opening of Once to Even Flow, Garden, Black .... hell, they're all good. Not only that, but it is without a doubt the greatest debut album of any band in the history of the world, ever. There would be nothing Pearl Jam could do that would ever top this phenomenal record, and though they tried, Ys and Yield just couldn't match it. If I'd have been them, I would have retired then and there.

2.) Jon Bon Jovi - Destination Anywhere

Taking a break from their strutting arena pop-rock, Jon and Richie went their separate ways for a while to record solo studio albums. Jon certainly should have stayed away. This is far and away the most brilliant thing he has ever created. It's not your usual big lickin' riff-happy crowd-pleasin' amalgamation. Indeed, it's a lot darker and moodier than anything Bon Jovi ever produced and may be the reason why it was criminally rejected by the mainstream crowd despite critical acclamation. Tracks like August 7, 4:15 (a song about the murder of his manager's daughter). Midnight in Chelsea and my personal favourite Little City give you a brooding feeling of small-town depression, whilst the pick-me-ups such as Queen of New Orleans and the title track balance things out nicely. Even non-Bon Jovi fans should like this album, and that's a big statement to make.

3.) Ash - Free All Angels

2001 - the year that Ash finally got things right, before saying "sod this" and flitting back into relatively heavy Indie rock territory. But the brief hiatus from their normal guitar slamming allowed Tim Wheeler and Co. to create one of the best pop-punk albums of the last 10 years. Not even Green Day have an album that can match the infectious freshness that Free All Angels washes lovingly over your CD player. Kicking off with possibly one of the best opening tracks on any album (yes, yes, Smells Like Teen Spirit was pretty good too...) Walking Barefoot was clearly a winner of a single. Except, it didn't get released. Wheeler didn't seem to think a song about summer would sit too well in the charts around the Christmas period. Personally, I'd have held off on the album for 6 months before pumping that baby out there. Still, Burn Baby Burn, arguably one of the most infectious guitar pop tracks ever produced, made it into the top 3. And when you're a band like Ash, who will never make it big in the UK singles chart, that's pretty good going. They can take heart from the fact that Bon Jovi have never gotten past number 2 either, and they're not short of a bob or two. Even the (comparably) weaker tracks such as Shark and Candy are eminently catchy. It's an album that lifts you up and fills you with summer joy...something that seems to be missing these days amidst the constant covers and droning R+B.

Anyway, that's three that spring to mind. I have a couple more that I'm considering labelling as Perfect Albums, but I think I need to give them another listen first.

Until next time, pop-pickers!

Sunday, August 07, 2005

Henry Porter and the Incredibly Obvious Ending

Book 6 of Henry wasn't as bad as I thought it'd be, despite the fact that it was an awfully big book for 500 pages of sod all to happen in, followed by a climax signposted so brazenly that you may as well only read the first three chapters and then skip to the final two. JK still hasn't managed to capture the magic (groan) of the first three books though, which were tightly plotted and with far less exposition than the next three. The final book will undoubtedly decide whether she's made of sterner stuff than I previously gave her credit for; I'm hoping Harry gets the chop. I love unhappy endings.

I went to Swindon yesterday to visit Nick who I've not seen for over 3 years since leaving Intel. It's quite worrying, he's now engaged and has a mortgage, a dog and a vegetable patch. I was expecting him to dress in tweed and run the local golf and country club, but thankfully that slice of suburbia hasn't settled on him. Yet. It was great to catch up - Swindon's still full of the type of nightlife I had no regrets about leaving behind, but it's definitely improved in a lot of places. I've invited him and his girlfr...fianceƩ... over to experience Bristol hospitality, so when Gilly comes over, we can do the whole "going to dinner as two couples" thing. Wow, I feel old.

On our return last night to his newly built house, we found time to fit in 2 Fast 2 Furious and I impressed myself by managing to stay awake for at least a quarter of it! I think Mr. Diesel knew a bad thing when he saw one. The same can't be said for Samuel L Jackson, in SWAT. The alarm bells should have started ringing when he heard the film tagline, which has to rank as one of the worst in the history of cinema: "Even cops dial 911". Pur-lease. With a twist so obvious that even JK will be taking notes and, in Colin Farrell, a performance so bland it makes Seagal look charismatic, SWAT was one of those generic action films that had the chance to be so much better but ultimately played it safe. And most of the time, incomprehensible. Case in point 1: the chief in charge of the SWAT team wants it to fail, just to score points against Jackson's character. Ummm...ok? Case in point 2: It takes HOW many days for one of the world's most wanted criminals to sit in a police cell, before someone realises who he is? Great policework, guys! Throw into the team some generic white guys (one has a moustache so you can tell them apart), a rapper trying to act (what IS it with that these days?) and a latino woman who does little but snarl and stomp round whilst glaring at her colleagues menacingly (Michelle Rodriguez, reprising the exact same role from Resident Evil), and you have the perfect ingredients for wasting a lot of studio dollars. Ah well Sammy, you can't win them all.

Here's a little game I'm hooked on, in between FF8 stints: Acrophobia. Fiendishly simple, I used to play this during the second year of uni before it simply disappeared into a void. But it's been resurrected by Uproar (set pop-up blocker to "Kill"), and the format is exactly the same. So go and make up some funny definitions of acronyms and earn the respect of your peers.