Tuesday, July 31, 2007

What Is Your Gender?

The Murder of Rosa Luxemburg – Everyone's in Love and Flowers Pick Themselves

This album was not quite what I expected coming from the same bundle of albums that delivered Converge's Jane Doe and The Blinding Light. There's definitely a similarity in the way they combine punk with spastic time signatures, but whereas Converge and their followers deliver said signatures in the form of angry, raw hardcore, there's no attributing the affected cooing, not dissimilar to that of Morrissey or the dude from Dexy's Midnight Runners, of The Murder of Rosa Luxemburg's vocalist to any genre other than post punk.

Now there's no other vocal style than that one guaranteed to turn me off faster, but I surprised myself by quite liking this album. Despite the sarcastic title it's generally twee and poppy in tone, (but with a good dose of quirky weirdness) and against my expections I found that the serhythmic shenanigans are just as appealing in this format. Even the vocals fit well and didn't bother me.

While most of the songs fit into this upbeat, post punk style Everyone's in Love and Flowers Pick Themselves is stylistically actually pretty schizophrenic. There are periodic blasts of hardcore distortion and one of the middle songs ('Jack and Oscar have a Fight') is, for the most part, indistinguishable from a Mogwai track.

It's a pleasant, succinct little album and it's nice to have a dose of arrhythmia without it being burdened by the turgid melodrama of metal and hardcore.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007


Can anyone suggest why my recent comments widget is broken? The instructions are here and I'm pretty sure I've followed them correctly, but it just won't work...

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Random Tired Sunday Post

John Scalzi makes a good argument as to why the Lord of the Rings movies are better than the books. Via Uncertain Principles.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

A Funny Video For The Weekend

The Chaser's 'Learning From History':

Again via Schneier on Security

1001 Albums Number 6

Duke Ellington - Ellington At Newport

I've decided I should start doing these a little faster, since at the rate I'm going it will take two hundred and fifty years for me to get through all of these. This one is a live album recorded in 1956, and it's release re-ignited the career of Ellington and his band after a long period of unjust obscurity.

This is my first explicit exposure to Ellington and indeed the first 'real' jazz album I've ever listened to properly (I don't think Fats Domino or Louie Prima really count). Even despite my limited knowledge of the genre I can readily appreciate The Duke's compositional skill, and the performers are every bit as talented as you'd expect from a world class jazz act, hitting that fine line where cool sophistication overlays frenzied passion. It's not as wild and intense as say Charles Mingus (and I'm really looking forward to getting into that kind of stuff soon), but if you're in the mood for a light, upbeat, swinging time then this is the album to get.

The original release of this album was actually (shockingly to my modern expectations) rerecorded in the studio because the tapes of the performance weren't loud enough. The reissue contains these recordings but also restores the originals, thank goodness. Ellington's presence as he introduces the songs is charming and evokes the idealised figure of the classic polite but suave jazz front man. The band members are given plenty of chances to show off their chops in solos, and their personalities really come through in their playing. The centrepiece of the album is an impassioned performance of 'Diminuendo and Crescendo in Blue', in particular the bridge containing a twenty seven chorus solo by Paul Gonsalves which single handedly brought the sedate, seated, middle class audience roaring to their feet. To be honest I don't quite feel what made the performance so amazing (I prefer Sam Woodyard's drum solo on 'Skin Deep') but it's hard to argue with the crowd, who can be clearly heard yelling and screaming and generally going crazy in the background.

Nice stuff. I shall add Ellington to my very, very long list of artists to listen to more of.

Next up, more Sinatra. Groan...

Friday, July 20, 2007

For Jeremy

Via Shneier on Security:

Indian coins are worth less as currency than what their raw materials are worth in neighbouring Bangladesh. Economic tomfoolery ensues.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

We Walk Against The Wind

Tomahawk – Anonymous

I'm a big fan of most of Mike Patton's projects but Tomahawk stands above the rest for their incredible evocation of mood and inventive compositions. Their first album is comfortably one of my favourites of all time. The followup, Mit Gas, was a slight disappointment although it did contain three or four tracks of truly superb quality. I've waited patiently many years for a third album, as it developed slowly in the background while the band members attended to more pressing commitments. Patton's first priority is currently Peeping Tom, drummer John Stanier has found modest success with his other band Battles (more on them from me in the not too distant future), bassist Kevin Rutmanis was kicked out of the band at the same time as he was booted from The Melvins (rumour has it because of drug abuse; at least it wasn't to go and play for Coheed and Cambria) and guitarist/songwriter Duane Denison has other projects on the go as well.

Anonymous was composed by the band members by mail, without any of them actually meeting face to face and it shows, as the performances lack cohesion and polish (doing things this way is not always a bad thing mind you, c.f. Lateralus). It feels as if the band members (especially Denison) all did their best but were let down by a lack of time and energy to devote to this project while they were all so occupied with others. It's a pity because the composition and the concept are genuinely inspired. All the tracks on this album are arrangements (by Denison) of obscure traditional Native American songs. It's a great idea and it's a pity the band wasn't able to deliver it as effectively as they could.

The lack of attention shows in the album art too. Anonymous comes in a nice package with some decent art, but it's nowhere near as impressive as the mysterious, chilling depictions that decorate the debut or Mit Gas, which is as beautiful an artefact as I've ever seen a CD case fashioned into.

Despite these complaints this is still a very good album. It opens with a pentet of great tracks. 'War Song' opens the album with my favourite prelude gimmick, a deep, deep bass drone, complimented by Patton's ominous chanting. 'Mescal Rite I' and 'Red Fox' are typical tracks for the album, showing off the ingenuity of Denison's ability to take traditional music and, without altering the melodies, turn it into an alt metal song. 'Cradle Song' would appear from the title and Patton's lyrics to be a lullaby, although what baby would sleep to a song this dark and creepy I can't imagine. Nevertheless it is a wonderfully atmospheric piece, as is 'Ghost Song', which showcases Stanier's drumming, revealing his excellent sense of mood that is never shown in his manic performances for Battles.

The album hits a bit of a low point with the subsequent tracks 'Antelope Ceremony' and 'Song of Victory', which don't find any interesting way to interpret their source material and the lifelessness that sometimes afflicts what should be a truly great album is prevalent here.

Fortunately they are succeeded by the beautiful 'Omaha Dance', a soaring, upbeat epic, and 'Sun Dance', which is the highlight of the album even just for the moment when the band drops from an eerie, subdued, wordless verse into full funk metal mode with Mike Patton gibbering an ecstatic, joyous tribute to dancing in the sun. If the whole album were this good it could blow even their past discography out of the water.

The rest of the album is perfectly satisfying, although nothing stands out againstthe great songs that precede, but they serve to offer further opportunities to marvel at the ingenuity of Denison's arrangements, which retain the authentic feel of their source material while fully integrating them into a rock context.

I hope this band still has a future and that on the next album they are able to lavish it with the attention it deserves, because they really are one of the best bands active today. Here's hoping that they get together once more and tour for this album too, because (a) they are the best live band I've ever seen and (b) it would be great to hear these songs performed with the energy they lack on the album.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Get Stuffed Grandad!

Withnail and I
Written and directed by Bruce Robinson

The year is 1969. A pair of broke actors, driven to despair by the miserable, impoverished lifestyle they are living in Camden Town, take a trip to the English countryside. Pratfalls ensue. One of our protagonists (the 'I' of the title) is a sensitive, thoughtful sort, while his companion (Withnail) is a hateful, manic sociopath. The setup sounds a lot like that of a stupid comedy starring a pair of B grade Jim Carrey wannabes, with the city boys making fools of themselves out in the farmland and learning a few valuable lessons along the way. Fortunately this movie is nothing of the sort. It's an independent British film over twenty years old with a way offbeat style and a dedicated cult following.

It's no surprise that this film never found a mainstream audience. The characters and situations, while they are particular to the time and place of the setting, are counter culture archetypes and the movie probably makes little sense without having known a few people who fit the parts. Withnail is a narcissistic nihilist, dancing perpetually on the edge of a drug induced early grave and is propelled through his squalid, haphazard life by nothing except sheer spite and the fear of ever sobering up enough to have to face himself in the mirror. The one area in which I thought the movie failed in was portraying the ways in which people like Withnail, through a bizarre sort of anti charisma, are so much fun to hang around and party with, I think it's a bit of a misstep that for the most part he is simply portrayed as a particularly imaginative jerk. Our narrator is an intelligent, gentle enough guy but while he's too smart to jump onto the endless treadmill of the rat race he hasn't the strength of personality to forge his own path and instead just gets tugged along in the current of Withnail's booze fuelled shenanigans.

Withnail and I has a reputation as a funny movie so it countered my expectations when it turned out to have very few genuine comedy moments and mostly took itself pretty seriously. However while you may not laugh out loud a lot there's still a lot of humour to be found, it's just subtle and quirky. Especially by today's standards.

I can't say I really liked the ending but it is at least an original take on the Sixties and pretty succinctly nails the reality of hedonism, not at all burdened with the rose coloured glasses through which most counter culture media views the bohemian (especially the Sixties counter culture) lifestyle.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

The Weight of the World

Fur Patrol – The Long Distance Runner EP

It's been quite some time since we last heard from these guys. After their (quite successful) first album (Pet) they moved to Australia and dropped out of existence for a few years. They reappeared with a new album, Collider, proclaimed they were back with a vengeance, toured a little and then went back to Australia and dropped out of existence for a few years. Now they're back (sadly missing a guitarist) with this new EP, to be followed by a new album in a few months.

Collider was a deliberately hard rocking reaction to the poppiness of Pet (particularly their teenybopper friendly single 'Lydia'. I've never seen a band grow to hate one of their own songs so much) but while the two albums differed greatly in style they both shared a very maudlin, almost gothic, atmosphere. In contrast Long Distance Runner has a light and sweet mood that they haven't shown much of in the past (there's nothing even remotely like 'Man In A Box' or 'Someone You Really Want' to be found here...). Julia's vocals are in full pop splendour, with plenty of ooohings and aaaahings and not a sour or angry note to be found. Despite the changes the music is as wonderful as ever. On the surface it is straight up Kiwi rock (they more or less epitomise the term for me) but there's no other band that sounds quite like them, and there's always something interesting or original to love about every song they write.

It's great that these guys are finally releasing new music and touring again. It's hard to guess what the new album will sound like based just on these four songs, but I can't wait to hear it all the same.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Profound Observation Of The Day

Foot fetishes are so common, but I've never heard of anyone with a hand fetish. That seems weird, surely it would be easier to sexualise hands than feet?

Monday, July 09, 2007

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Super Hungover Music News Roundup

Trent Reznor: Still awesome.

Trey Spruance: Still awesome and crazy.

New Smashing Pumpkins single: Actually kind of good.

Upcoming concerts in Sydney: Machine Head and Arch Enemy (November), Nick Cave and Grinderman (October) and Marilyn Manson (October). Somehow I have a feeling I will end up going to that last one against my better wishes.

Friday, July 06, 2007

What This Country Really Needs, Right Now, Is A Doctor

Doctor Who – 2007 Season

The last two seasons of Doctor Who have turned out far better than I had dared hope, so the latest one was immediately put on the 'must watch' list as soon as it began airing. The first episode delivered quite satisfactorily. While the story was not terribly original (the Doctor faces off against a couple of breeds of malevolent aliens in modern day London (OK, a section of modern day London that has been transported to the moon)) it was done with the wit and flair that the new series has become known for and does a nice job of introducing the Doctor to his new companion, who turns out to be an improvement on Billie Piper if only because every time she appears on screen I don't think “Why d'ya have to play that song so loud?” “Because we want to! Because we want to!”

However much to my dismay the season quickly deteriorated after that, most episodes were based around ideas that were largely derivative of others from earlier seasons. This would not necessarily be a disaster, and the actors playing the Doctor and his new friend Martha do their best to put a bit of pep into things, but the dialogue and the plots are simply uninspired, far below the standard set to date.

A pair of two part episodes are the worst of the bunch. The Daleks are reintroduced, to no one's great surprise, but the writers aren't able to think of anything interesting to do with them. It must be hard when the Daleks have come up with one mindblowingly evil scheme a year for forty something years to keep finding new and interesting works of evil. They must be getting a bit tired, I wouldn't mind if the writers gave them a break next year.

In a later two parter, The Doctor erases his memory and assumes a human identity in order to hide from a group of aliens. This storyline exists only to foreshadow a plot point to be introduced later and delved to nauseating depths of sentimentality. At this point I was almost ready to give up on the show, and I would have confidently declared it worse than Torchwood. However the writers managed to engineer a total reversal of my opinion in the last four episodes. The disappointing two parters were followed up by the fantastic 'Blink', which revisits a lighthearted theme explored in an episode from last season ('Love and Monsters'): obsessive fandom. It also features the second best bad guys of the season; a breed of aliens that appear as statues and can only move when they're not being observed. It's an original idea and it leads to some really great effects.

The season ends with a fantastic three part storyline, featuring another of the Doctor's old enemies who has not yet reappeared in the new series. I'll spoiler protect things here, but if you're familiar with the show then you probably won't find it hard to guess who it is:

WATCH OUT! SPOILERS! Highlight to view:

The Master returns and gets elected as Prime Minister of Britain. In this incarnation he's a jovial, fun loving psychopath and his carefree attitude makes him the perfect foil for The Doctor. The actor who plays him is fucking hilarious. I'll never think of this scene without laughing:


This final story arc is completely inspired, and redeems the entire shitty season. Here's hoping next year's will be of a higher overall standard.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

The Lees of Laughter's End

by Steven Erikson

The Lees of Laughter's End is the second book in a series of three standalone novels following the adventures of Korbal Broach and Bauchelain, two peripheral characters from Memories of Ice, an early entry in Erikson's mastodonian Malazan Book of the Fallen series. I hadn't read the previous book in this series (Blood Follows), but I didn't have any trouble keeping up with the story in this one.

Chad Orzel described Erikson's books well while mentioning our two main characters in his booklog entry on Memories of Ice:
“And, to give you an idea of the tone of the book, two other characters are powerful necromancers who murder dozens of people, and raise an undead army to protect themselves from battle-- and their primary purpose in the story is to serve as comic relief.”
No one should be surprised then that this novel turns out to be a fun filled romp about a cast of lost souls aboard a doomed voyage, in which the sorry collection of unfortunates manning the ship Suncurl find themselves trapped far out to sea and at the mercy of at least four or five unholy nightmares hidden onboard and in the nearby ocean (not counting our malevolent protagonists). Erikson's idea for a running gag in this light comedy novel is an inoffensive fellow who loses a different body part every couple of chapters to the various kinds of hell breaking loose.

The Lees of Laughter's End is a quick, easy read but I didn't enjoy it quite so much as I have the Malazan books. While it's nice to read a fantasy novel with a quick pace for a change, I still felt that the plot was rushed, and although Erikson's black humour works very well as an occasional flavouring in the context of his overwrought epic fantasy series, as the focus of the writing it's not strong enough to carry even a short novel like this one. I'm inclined to believe that a little more semi-serious character and setting development before everything went nuts would have both provided a more fertile home for the humour and a little more space for the frantically paced storyline to pan out.

Monday, July 02, 2007

Movies. Two Of Them.

A History of Violence
Directed by David Cronenberg

This film was a critical darling and gained a few Academy award nominations, but I can't imagine why.

Viggo Mortensen plays a mild mannered café operator who becomes a local hero after he kills a couple of nasty would be robbers. However he himself has an unpleasantly violent past (in the opening flashback we see him kill a child in cold blood) and it comes back to haunt him.

The setup has some potential but my moral sensibilities were more than a little offended by the way the plot developed. The film fairly overtly states that violence is the solution to everything. Not only does Mortensen resolve his troubles by viciously murdering the gangsters who are chasing him but it is explicitly noted that the gangsters made a mistake by not killing him as soon as they could. The worst scene is where Mortensen gets his wife back by holding her down and initiating violent sex. Because of course that's the way it works in the real world...

They can throw in a scene of Mortensen washing the blood off his hands (and shirt so we get a chance to heterosexually admire his chiselled body) at the end but it doesn't justify the warped morality of the rest of the movie.

The Lives of Others
Directed by Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck

This was a much better movie. Set in Eastern Germany before the fall of the Berlin wall, the plot follows a Stasi spy assigned to keep an eye on a prominent playwright. It gets a little melodramatic towards the end, and there are some quite cheesy scenes, but I really liked the message, which is that art can change a persons life, and it can change the world. I don't know how much I believe that is true, but it's still a message I can enjoy. Beautifully directed too.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

All Ah Do Is EAT!

I've eaten out every other night it seems for the last month, so I'm going to try my hand at something new for the Wildebeest Asylum, restaurant reviews.


This place is a trendy Thai (Sydney-siders love their Thai) restaurant in Surry Hills. The first time I ate here (almost a year ago) they were reeling from the drama of being dropped from three hats (the highest possible rating) to two by the Sydney Morning Herald. I'm not inclined to dispute that decision; both times I've eaten here the food was very good, but not the best of the best. On the other hand I do really like this place for a few reasons. It has a nice, trendy but relaxed atmosphere, and they also do great cocktails. I quite like the communal way the dining tables have been arranged too, even if the first time I came here we were seated across from an gay couple and the (much) older guy kept leering at my date.


A nice Italian place in Newtown. Not as upmarket as some of the other places I've been to recently but the food was still very good, and even if it was not as good as Longrain, it was a whole lot cheaper. Also, it's in Newtown. That's always great because there are lots of bookshops, CD stores open late and lots of restaurants but not many bars, so there's always tons of people and not too many drunks, which makes for a nice atmosphere on a Saturday night.

Kobe Jones

A very trendy Japanese / Western fusion place on King Street Wharf. Even on a wet, stormy night the view was still impressive and the place had good ambience. Perhaps a little too good because it was almost too dark to read the menu. Again the food was nice but in this case way too overpriced, and the service was terrible too. I've found that most fabulously trendy places (restaurants, bars and clubs) in Sydney are pretty crap for what you pay.


Still my favourite restaurant in Sydney. I can't believe how good their meals taste. Expensive, but it's worth it.

Wacky Pizza Place

We went to some random pizza place in a small town in the Blue Mountains while on a little family holiday. I can't remember what it was called but it was very amusing to go from all the super trendy, expensive places to a much less bourgeois place, filled with screaming kids, drunken women on hen's nights and terrible house wine. The food was nice though.


Super expensive but with the perfect location, looking out over the harbour and situated right between the bridge and the opera house. Despite my low expectations (I assumed that we would be paying mainly for the view) the food and service were really good, and the cold wind kept all the geriatric tourists inside so we were spared their company.

The Vanguard

This one is the ulterior motive for me writing about all those other restaurants. There was food and it was good, and there were some very nice cocktails, but those are ancillary reasons for coming here. This venue exists for the sadly uncommon practise of combining a meal and live music. The bands that play here are an eclectic sort, but usually tend towards blues and roots. When I went here we had:

Charlie and the Maddox Factory

A jazz two piece featuring a female singer and a bass player. The bass player I immediately recognised from another band, Glitch Jukebox, which I could waste a lot of space describing but will sum it up as 'Mr. Bungle style circus music medleys of covers ranging from Christina Aguilera to Tool'. This band is far more conventional, but still fairly light hearted and lots of fun. The bass player is a very skilful musician and the vocalist has a really strong voice.

Lolo Lovina

There were about seven of these guys on stage and they played straightforward traditional eastern European music. They were pretty good and featured some great soloists, but I didn't like them quite as much as the other bands.

Crooked Fiddle Band

This band's music was similar to the last one, but with more of a rock edge. They even described a few of their songs as metal, and their interpretation was quite original. The drums were certainly very metal, and the frenzied shredding of the violin sounded a lot like a thrash metal electric guitar. The violinist deserves special mention, as, not only was she a total virtuoso, but she pulled double duty as the violinist for the last band as well.

Anyway, it was a great show and a cool idea for a night out. I shall definitely go back.


Just Japanese with no fusion. The food was pretty good, probably better than any other restaurant I've listed here except for Bentleys or Longrain, but by the time I got here I was all restauranted out. I'm looking forward to some plain old spag bol this week.