iainjclark: Dave McKean Sandman image (Default)
"We come from the lowlands / Dream of high ground."

On first impressions From the Lowlands ('Being the second part of The Alphabet of Hurricanes') feels like a perplexingly spare, small record. An EP with ideas above its station. Certainly not the same kind of diverse, confident affair as its predecessor.

It's not long before those first impressions are confounded. Ruthlessly stripped-back tracks such as the opener, 'Lately's All I Know', worm their way into your brain with melodic hooks that belie the starkness of the production (or indeed its subject of bereavement). The cover of 'Sloop John B' counterpoints a melancholy take with rich harmonies, the beautiful title track blooms into a choir of voices, and when 'The Alphabet of Hurricanes' finally makes itself known as a song rather than an album, it's as an epic 8 minute affair heralded by lush string arrangements. Lyrically it's also one of the strongest compositions on a collection of sincere songwriting that's almost painfully confessional, even for Tom McCrae. Two tracks, the perky 'Fuck you, Prometheus' and the maudlin 'All That's Gone', confront failure to achieve success: "time has worn a hole in me /the place I keep my dreams". Another two tracks, the opener and the lovely 'Ship of Blue and Green' contemplate death and loss. And yet the overwhelming impression is not of gloom but of melancholy beauty.

It's not the most commercial of offerings; as an introduction to Tom's music it's unlikely to convert the unfaithful. The closest thing to a single here is 'Belly of a Whale' which is very agreeable but never quite soars, or the sprawling closer. The actual single, or at least the one with the online video, is the low key 'Nothing on the Dry Land', my nomination for the least remarkable song on the album.

Ultimately this album has an intimacy that means it never quite escapes the feeling of a maxi-sized EP, but with a full-band album already recorded for release next year maybe that's exactly what this wants to be. It's certainly a more addictive experience than it may first appear.

Posted via LiveJournal app for iPad.

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On Friday we went to the beautiful and impressive Sage in Gateshead (i.e. South Newcastle but don't let them hear you say that) to see Tom McRae supported by Brian Wright. It's by far the nicest venue we've ever been to, all glass and aluminium and polished wood and airy spaces. Maybe we've been going to the wrong gigs.

Steven Moffatt describes Doctor who star Matt Smith as an "elegant shambles". That pretty much describes this gig. Almost from the word go the bassist had problems with his amp, and Tom was forced to extemporise with a version of I Ain’t Scared Of Lightning (read from his own tea towel merchandise) while Things were done, none of which appeared to make much noticeable difference. Then it turns out cellist Oli Kraus had been urgently recalled to the US where his wife was having a baby, resulting in a large cardboard standee of Captain Jack Sparrow acting as hilarious stand-in for the whole gig (ably supported by the stylings of Brian Wright on his slide guitar). And just generally there was a spirit of fun, constant messing about: trying to get the drummer to crack up when the entire band was singing close harmonies; Brian whistling cheerfully during Still Love You; seguing from Still Love You into a version of Rihanna's "Umbrella" ("Tombrella"). Tom was in a chatty mood and it was a hugely enjoyable, relaxed occasion, and the bad were so tight and well-rehearsed they rose above every disruption.

I'm terrible at remembering the order of a setlist, but the songs were:

Mermaid Blues
Me and Stetson
I Ain’t Scared Of Lightning
Walking 2 Hawaii
Dose Me Up (End Of The World News)
Summer Of John Wayne
Streetlight
Please (up tempo version)
Still Love You (plus 'Tombrella')
Karaoke Soul
Silent Boulevard

(encore)
Draw Down the Stars (The Girl Who Falls Downstairs)
Bloodless
Boy With The Bubblegun

Given that we saw the opening gig of the Alphabet of Hurricanes tour, it's both remarkable and pleasing how much variation there was between the two shows. I got to hear a number of personal favourites, including Mermaid Blues, Walking 2 Hawaii, Bloodless, Karaoke Soul and Summer of John Wayne. There was also a lot of variety. Mermaid Blues was a stunning 'cold open'; pure A Capella, just Tom's soaring voice in a silent room for the entire song. Really great. Streetlight used the whole band in close harmony for the chorus. Draw Down the Stars was sung solo but with looped backing harmonies and lyrics from The Girl Who Falls Down Stairs near the end. Bloodless was sung entirely acoustic and off-mike, resulting in the audience spontaneously singing along to almost the entire song (something I don't normally like as the crowd invariably expect the album version note for note, but which really worked here).

Brian Wright provided some superb and at times frenetic guitaring, and sweet backing vocals. He opened the gig with a solo acousitc selection of some of his own fine songs, including one of my favourites, Radar, plus Former Queen of Spain, Striking Matches, and War on Wilcox and a newer song I liked but can't name.

If I've a complaint about the evening, it's that the room could have taken many more people, and those missing people really missed out on some good music. But the sound system was perfect, the view was perfect, and the audience were appreciative. A great experience, warm and inclusive, in a stunning venue.

I also picked up 'The Streetlight Collection' containing 18 of Tom's b-sides & rarities, only about seven of which I'd heard previously. 'Out of This' is outstanding and should definitely have found its way onto an album.

iainjclark: Dave McKean Sandman image (Default)
We went to see what turned out to be the inaugural date of Tom McRae's Alphabet of Hurricanes tour last night, in the reasonably tiny upstairs room of the O2 Academy2, Newcastle. It was a thoroughly enjoyable evening, although the fact that the doors opened half an hour late did result in moderate hypothermia. Sadly no-one has yet invented Warm Mulled Guinness1 so I was forced to warm myself on regular Guinness. You can't beat the taste of beer out of plastic2.

Brian Wright provided a really fine support act with a stripped down one-man-and-guitar (and-beard) performance. It's also possible he was stoned. Although I'm allergic to country I can generally suppress my immune reaction if it's blended with healthy doses of blues, rock and folk, and it helps that he's a deceptively intelligent writer. Of the new material I think Queen Junk (or whatever it's called) is borderline genius. Great to hear Radar too.

Wright also provided guitar, harmonica, backing vocals and the occasional banjo for Tom's six-piece band, the largest group he's ever toured with and one that kicked out a lot of good noise. Tom played for about an hour and a half and delivered some powerful singing and his usual self-deprecating banter between the tracks. As near as I can remember it the setlist (in approximate order) was:

an alphabet of hurricanes can't blow this drifter homeAlphabet of Hurricanes
Me & Stetson
Summer of John Wayne
End of the World News
A&B Song
Please
Walking2Hawaii
American Spirit
One Mississippi
Still Love You
Silent Boulevard

(encore)
My Vampire Heart
Draw Down the Stars
Boy with the Bubblegun

I can't begin to imagine why Alphabet of Hurricanes is not on the album which bears its name. It's a lovely song and if it's worthy of starting the new tour it's surely worth a place on the record. I was surprised that the new material didn't dominate more, although the choices were undeniably the right ones. Summer of John Wayne is one of my favourites from the new album and Please was the superior downtempo version from the Recorded at Gunpoint EP, while Still Love You's spare charm was boosted by a bigger finish and plenty of audience participation, plus a valiant attempt to get the venue's mirrorball working.

The benefit of the bigger band was really felt on the pacier tracks. Me & Stetson really rocked with a six-piece band behind it, as did End of the World News, A&B Song, Silent Boulevard and Boy With the Bubblegun. Brian Wright knows his way around an electric guitar. The sound was comparable to the Tom McRae Live album with a couple of notches more oomph and the benefit of an actual drummer.

The other tracks were a mix of familiar standbys but nonetheless I was very glad to hear One Mississippi, Walking2Hawaii and My Vampire Heart. Draw Down the Stars was an absolutely beautiful interpretation with some great harmonies.

We had a really fun night. Janet picked up a couple of t-shirts (the McRae one bearing a quote from that title track that's not on the album3), and I picked up Brian Wright's new one House on Fire which is setting off my country allergies but has some interesting material when I can stop sneezing.

As for the album, I had the benefit of Amazon's snafu when they briefly released it on 1st Feb so I've lived with it a while. I really like it. Economical, bleak and uplifting it's a throwback to McRae's debut sound but also absorbs some americana to surprising effect. One moment he's croaking along to plucked strings, the next delivering a soaring ballad, then singing the blues by way of The White Stripes. It feels like a moonlit walk after the expansive highway of King of Cards. Although it slowly reveals itself to be less sombre than it first appears, it's as uncommercial as anything he's ever done. It's good, but it's tough to see this being his breakout success.
--
1 And by 'sadly' I mean 'mercifully'.

2 And by 'can't beat' I mean 'should never willingly experience'.

3 Okay, I'll let it go.

Oh bugger

Sep. 10th, 2009 06:06 pm
iainjclark: Dave McKean Sandman image (Default)
Bugger. We don't have a good history of having Tom McRae gigs cancelled on us. This was just posted by Tom McRae on his forum (abridged version below):

"I’m very sorry to have to tell you all that the release of the new album and subsequent tour has been delayed until next year.

Due to circumstances I couldn't really control - and a last minute record deal being offered, which I desperately needed but wasn't expecting, I have been asked to reschedule the tour to early next year.
...
As you are all aware the industry is in turmoil right now, and while I was preparing to throw yet another record out there unassisted, only for it to vanish instantly like the last 3 - it looks now as if a label wants to champion it after all.

This is obviously still a gamble, and who knows if it will ultimately change anything, but I owe it to the songs (which I hope you’ll think are some of the best I’ve written – when you get a bloody chance to hear them) and I think I owe it to many of you, who have been urging me on with your support for many years.
...
If you can bear with me just a little longer, I’ll have more news, and some hard facts about the new dates. I think we’re looking at February now, which gives the label a chance to promote the record before and during the tour. There’s even talk of a single going to radio – so it seems I’ll have to adjust to working with crazy optimists for a while. But none of this gets you closer to hearing the new songs or seeing them performed by the amazing band I had put together. For that I apologise again.

I’m also going to look into ways which I can begin to make this up to you somehow in the short term, maybe I can do the odd solo show here and there, or ask to let you hear a song or two from the album – I’ll let you know how I get on.
...
Tom"
Fantastic news about the record contract, obviously, and wish him every success. Ah well. We'll get to see the gig (and hear the new album) eventually. Fingers crossed!

iainjclark: Dave McKean Sandman image (Default)
Woo hoo! Have tickets to see the Mope King himself (sorry Dan) Tom McRae in the autumn, and it turns out that his support act will be the inestimable Brian Wright. Two great acts for the price of one.

I first saw Brian Wright doing a guest song at a Hotel Cafe tour, then later supporting Mr Mcrae, and then as a full member of the Hotel Cafe. I think he's a deceptively rich songwriter who often transcends the various country/honky tonk genres he writes in. There are some good examples of his range of stuff on his myspace page (with his band The Waco Tragedies), from the foot-stomping Glory Hallelujah to the freewheeling Morning Cigarette and the wistful Neighborhood. The only one I'm not keen on is the None More Country Bluebird.

iainjclark: Dave McKean Sandman image (Default)
Hurray! My Tom McRae Live 2007 album arrived yesterday. Just listening to it now, and it sounds every bit as sharp and powerful as you'd expect.



Track list:
1. Walking2Hawaii, La Cigale, Paris
2. For The Restless, The Limelight, Belfast
3. A&B Song, La Cigale, Paris
4. Ghost Of A Shark, La Cigale, Paris
5. End of The World News (Dose Me Up), The Limelight, Belfast
6. Got A Suitcase, Got Regrets, Folken, Stavanger
7. One Mississippi, La Cigale, Paris
8. On And On, La Laiterie, Strasbourg
9. Deliver Me, Shepherds Bush Empire, London
10. Only Thing I Know, Debaser, Stockholm
11. Silent Boulevard, The Limelight, Belfast
12. Boy With The Bubblegun, The Limelight, Belfast

I could obviously suggest many other songs I'd like to hear, but this is a decent spread from his four albums with some material like 'Ghost of a Shark' that I've not personally heard very often (contrasting with songs like 'Got a Suitcase...' that I seem to hear all the time). The interpretations tend towards acoustic but if anything less quiet and sparse than you'd expect from the albums, with rich backing instruments from Olli Cunningham and Oli Kraus and a rounded sound. Tom is in strong voice and belts out some of the more up tempo material like 'A&B Song' and 'End of the World News' and there's some electric guitar in there.

If you've seen him live you'll know what to expect. This brings back memories for me, though I have to say we made a far livelier audience on 'End of the World News' than the shambolic lot on the album.

It has a fairly cheap cardboard sleeve, but since this is a direct release from Mr McRae unmediated by a record contract I assume it means more money gets to the artist. Go buy it! Other than that there's nothing to quibble about. Very pleasing.

iainjclark: Dave McKean Sandman image (Default)
Tom McRae has released a live album through his website shop. He sounds great live, and it's a decent track selection recorded at various venues around Europe last year. Mine's already on order.

Meanwhile the irrepressible Dan "Don't call me irrepressible" Hartland has a rootsy new EP out. But you knew that. I was lazy and bought it on iTunes.

Anyway, all this leaves me musing...

[Poll #1274318]

iainjclark: Dave McKean Sandman image (TV)
My horrible phlegm-filled lurgy is now finally subsiding, even though my throat is still raw and I keep coughing randomly. At least I no longer sound like a cross between Davros and Barry White, and was able to laugh at last night's Mock the Week without actually killing myself. (Frankie Boyle's Inuit Robot Butler was absolute genius).

Janet is off work today, and is happily ensconced on her PC playing Spore, which (despite annoyingly refusing to let her interact with any of the online content) is generally pleasing her in being a combination of every game style she's ever liked, with the added bonus that she gets to design weird alien life and evolve it.

Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, which turned out to be unexpectedly not-a-big-pile-of-crap, is back for a second season on 8th September. I might never have started watching this if I hadn't been asked to review it, and seen a couple of other people praising it, but I'm really glad I did. It's smarter than it has any right to be, and it neatly picks up on everything I liked about T2 while ditching everything I disliked about T3. Lena Headey is suitably obsessive and bad-ass as Sarah Connor, plus it has Summer Glau as a deeply unnerving 'good' Terminator, as showcased by this here poster (click for a bigger version).

Ben Folds Five are re-uniting for one night only to play "The Unauthorised Biography of Reinhold Messner" in its entirety. When we saw Ben Folds 'solo' back in June he was playing with two other musicians who were for all practical purposes indistinguishable from the remaining two members of Ben Folds Five (to a philistine like myself -- I'm sure their friends and families see an important difference) so I'm sure this will be a breeze for Ben. This seems to be part of a MySpace "Front to Back" live album initiative.

Folds's new album Way to Normal is out on 30th Sept. He played quite a few songs from it when we saw him live, and generally it sounds quite up-tempo; less acoustic and melancholy than Songs for Silverman. More of an early-BFF sound, in fact.

iainjclark: Dave McKean Sandman image (Default)
Tom McRae's website is broken. Or possibly not. Allegedly it's run off overseas with a girl band wesbite and is sending him postcards from France and India. Mad.

Unfortunately he's also posted on his Facebook wall that while he was on stage in Regent's Park someone broke into his house and stole his laptop including his new songs. He seems... unhappy... about it. As you would expect.

iainjclark: Dave McKean Sandman image (Default)
The Wire star hits out at Emmys. Sergeant Ellis Carver thinks the Emmys are ignoring his show, and rightly so. I still can't believe that The Wire has never won an Emmy. It does at least have a single nomination this year: Outstanding Writing in a Drama Series for its final episode. Maybe that means it'll get the 'lifetime achievement' sympathy vote.

Fresh from last month's Ben Folds gig, we now have tickets to see Counting Crows supported by Ben Folds in December. This is good. Counting Crows' latest has some strong return-to-form stuff on it but has left me a bit cold overall. Nonetheless the combination of Crows and Folds is pretty much a slam-dunk. Folds has a new album Way to Normal out on 30th September which sounds a good deal more up tempo than anything he's done since the first couple of Ben Folds Five albums.

Hot on the heels of The Dark Knight (spoilery review here) there are preview screenings of Hellboy 2: The Golden Army on 5th August, so we have tickets to see that too. This is double plus good. My Cineworld Unlimited membership is a process by which I willingly allow Cineworld cinemas to scam £12 from me every month in return for me not going to the cinema. To add insult to injury, even though I only found out about the screenings through their Unlimited newsletter, my membership doesn't let me book advance tickets. So I've paid for the tickets. I really should cancel that membership...

The trailers for Hellboy 2 look a bit mediocre but I sense there's a good film hiding behind the crappy marketing. Plus I like the comics and really enjoyed the first flick and Janet is a sucker for dark mythological faerie types, so really the film is pandering to us shamelessly.

Lipstick

Jul. 12th, 2008 01:49 pm
iainjclark: Dave McKean Sandman image (Default)
That Tom McRae single I mentioned, "Lipstick", is out now. It's one of those "featuring Tom McRae" arrangements where the original artist 'Wills and the Willing' supplied the backing track and a bit of rap and he wrote and performed the rest.

I have to say I absolutely love all of the Tom McRae bits - it's the best thing he's done in quite a while, especially when he gets to rock out a bit towards the end. Sadly, although I'm not normally averse to a bit of rock/rap fusion, the rap bits just don't work for me.

Still, I've bought it on iTunes. You can also hear it on his myspace account (although the contrast with the downloaded version from iTunes only serves to remind me how much streaming audio changes the mix and sound of a song.)

iainjclark: Dave McKean Sandman image (Serenity)
Tom McRae "guests" on the new single by Wills and the Willing, Lipstick. This seems to mean that he wrote and performed all his bits of the song --which are excellent-- based on hearing the rap parts --which are terrible. You can hear the whole song on their myspace page. Tom is also performing on Jonathan Ross's Radio 2 show tomorrow, which will presumably be available on the 'listen again' feature for the coming week. Finally, here is a very good summary and set of interviews with the Tom McRae / Hotel Cafe tour.

Meanwhile have some Star Wars Strictly Come Dancing. The best bit is Darth Vader and the Stormtroopers at the end.

And Harry Knowles has seen some scenes from J.J. Abrams's Star Trek film. It's not out for a year, but this is the first thing I've read to get me actually excited about it.

iainjclark: Dave McKean Sandman image (Default)
On Tuesday we went to see Ben Folds at the Carling Academy in Newcastle, which is pretty much identical to the Carling Academy in London if you moved it 300 miles nearer the North Pole.

The support act was a man called Corn Mo, playing solo without his band. This was one of the most complete WTF experiences I've had at a live gig. While I can see that in some hard-to-pin-down way his songs share a certain sense of deadpan irony with Ben Folds, he was just...bizarre. He spoke like the breathless Open University guy from The Fast Show, looked like Bill Bailey, sang like Freddie Mercury, and played an absurd set of observational songs accompanied by an accordion or an organ. To finish he sang along to a CD of one of his band's tracks, which had a far more overtly rock/metal flavour and so ended up sounding like a Darkness song. The audience appeared to love him. We felt like Derren Brown had secretly set the entire thing up to mess with our minds.

Mercifully Ben Folds then rescued us. Songs played included (not in this order): Underground, Kate, Battle of Who Could Care Less, Narcolepsy, Army, Lullaby, Annie Waits, Zak and Sara, Gone, Rockin' the Suburbs, All You Can Eat, You To Thank, Jesusland, Landed. He also played several others from the upcoming album due out in September, which some YouTube research reveals to be probably: Errant Dog, Free Coffee, Kylie from Connecticut, Hiroshima(?) and one with the line "If there's a god out there he's laughing at us and our football team". The new ones sounded good, insofar as you can tell from one listen at a concert. Free Coffee was particularly good.

Oh, and there was a song about Newcastle, its "weird-ass" white footbridge, eating a dodgy meal and not being understood when ordering beer. I assume this was written specially for the evening but it was so slick it was pretty hard to tell!

We were standing a little way back on the raised floor behind the sound desk, where the view was great but the actual vocals seemed a little boomy at first. Since he kicked off with a song I didn't know it took me a little while to get into the gig. Maybe I was still reeling from Corn Mo. However as things progressed and Ben's piano playing became ever more virtuoso (his hands were just a blur at several points) I started having a really good time. He had an organ by his side which he would often play with his right hand while his left stayed on the piano. For other "effects" he dropped bits of metal and shakers onto the piano strings.

Ben wasn't particularly talkative and what he did gabble into the mike wasn't always that easy to catch, but the sheer energy of the songs came through well. He was supported by a drummer and base player in a "Ben Folds Five" arrangement making for some extremely faithful renditions of his early material. Their backing harmonies were fantastic, and they delivered "hand me my nose ring / show me the mosh pit" from Underground with aplomb.

The show ended with Not the Same, for which Ben got the audience to do the aaaaahAAAAAH bits in a three-part harmony, then started conducting the audience with his hands. Hugely good fun. The audience were singing along throughout the evening and generally very appreciative (although there was a distracting amount of loud chatter from the back of the room in some of the quieter songs).

Good fun.

iainjclark: Dave McKean Sandman image (Default)
Just saw this nice Tom McRae interview for those as is interested, on wide variety of topics ranging from his music to politics to record labels to touring to... what kind of fruit he is.

iainjclark: Dave McKean Sandman image (Default)
On Thursday we drove up to Edinburgh to see the Hotel Cafe tour headlined by Tom McRae. We went to the Hotel Cafe tour in Newcastle in 2006 and we saw him solo in Edinburgh last year so this fused the two experiences. The Hotel Cafe concept is a fantastic idea which manages to highlight artists you may (or may not) like while never staying still for long enough that you get bored with any one singer.

Cut for length )

The gig lasted about three hours all told, ending about 11.30. Overall it was a fantastic experience.

The night sky was so clear and brilliant I actually made a brief pit-stop on the way home just to stare at it. I can't remember the last time I saw so many stars away from light-pollution. The constellations were almost lost amidst the background stars. It was a truly gob-smacking sight, and a fine end to a fine evening.

iainjclark: Dave McKean Sandman image (Sandman)

Having purchased an iPod recently I'm feeling a renewed interest in all things musical and have invested in a few albums of varying quality. Inevitably therefore comes the rambling post about a shedload of music.  I've put up a few tracks to download here and there. Tracks removed as they were killing my bandwidth allowance. :-)

Josh Ritter - The Animal Years )



Roddy Woomble - My Secret is My Silence )

Crowded House - Time on Earth )

Suzanne Vega - Beauty and Crime )

Matt Nathanson - Some Mad Hope )

Newton Faulkner - Hand Built By Robots )

Hue and Cry - Seduced and Abandoned )

Deacon Blue - Raintown / When the World Knows Your Name )

EDIT: My wife demands your sympathy for having been subjected to my 80s nostalgia.

Coming up in the next few weeks are the new Counting Crows and R.E.M. albums, which (on early evidence) could tentatively represent a return to form for both bands.

iainjclark: Dave McKean Sandman image (Christmas)
Today Christmas officially began. We're on holiday until 2nd January, we have all our presents bought (or at least ordered), the house is decorated, and several batches of cards have been sent. I even managed to get a proper holly wreath for the front door. Phear my l33t Christmas skillz.

It helps that while snow is notably lacking, today our garden was in the grip of a hard white frost of the kind that leaves the blackbirds pecking fruitlessly at soil which has the consistency of concrete. Our little pond was entirely frozen over, as was the bird bath, and everything looked very beautiful and very wintry. I felt so sorry for the small birds hopping around this desolation that I went out to break the ice and add some new fat-feeders to the ever growing number of peanut and seed feeders and hanging bird tables that festoon our apple tree. Fortunately for the birds we've been very lax this year in tidying up the windfall apples and the birds seem to be making a feast of them--either that or they're benefitting from the various insects and worms that are making a feast of them.

In fact it's been absolutely freezing for the last few days, with the kind of wind that makes it difficult to stand still at pedestrian crossings or bus stops without fidgeting from foot to foot. I know this because we went out for a christmas drink with Janet's office last night and the walk there and back was bloody nithering.

Anyway, to get you in the mood here's a little festive tune. Because nothing says Christmas like Tom McRae being a miserable drunk. I'm currently downloading carols from iTunes, something I've been meaning to do for a couple of years. Janet's enquiry desk at work has been playing Christmas pop tunes on endless repeat, and so to preserve her sanity the house has been declared free of any hint of Band Aid, Aled Jones, Wham or Slade. Carols however can be tolerated. Although I'm an atheist there's something about the sound of church choirs singing traditional carols that really gets me in the mood for Christmas. I'm sure it's partly the result of all those Midnight Masses at our local Catholic church when I was growing up. When you get right down to it what is that fuzzy Christmas glow if not nostalgia for all those childhood Christmasses?

Tom McRae

Nov. 5th, 2007 01:57 pm
iainjclark: Dave McKean Sandman image (Default)
We drove up to Edinburgh yesterday. It's a beautiful drive full of desolate winding roads, and at this time of year the countryside is intensely autumnal. I've never seen so many shades of orange.

The city itself is lovely, of course. I've never visited Edinburgh just for its own sake and had a proper look around, and sadly we didn't manage to do that yesterday either. I'll have to go back. We did walk up to the castle briefly after dark, then meandered back down past bagpipers and tourist attractions and shops selling pastel-coloured tartan (which is if possible more hideous than normal tartan.) I'd have taken pictures but the photographs on my battered old phone are terrible in low light. You can count the individual photons that make it to the sensor.

The Tom McRae gig... )

The scenic drive was somewhat less scenic and more taxing in the pitch black at 11 p.m. But we survived, and even got to see a fox retreating into the roadside hedge at one point.

iainjclark: Dave McKean Sandman image (Default)
I'm really enjoying Tom McRae's new album King of Cards. I've spent the best part of the last few days with fragments of its tunes slipping in and out of my head.

I'm also a bit disappointed with it: there are a few songs that, as yet, seem as anonymous as passing strangers on the street. I still couldn't tell you much about them despite the fact that I've bumped into them for three days straight. 'The Ballad of Amelia Earheart' is one such, as is 'Houdini And the Girl'. It's not that they're poppy, just... slight. There are also some songs that feel lyrically or structurally awkward, like 'One Mississippi', which is something I don't normally associate with his writing.

Clearly his mission statement on this album was accessibility. Even more than All Maps Welcome this is by far his most eclectic mix of songs, with tracks that could sit comfortably on each of his past albums but also frothier tracks that, until now, I really wouldn't have associated with him at all. The saving grace is that he does accessible quite well. Even the up-tempo happy ones have twists and quirks that sound like Tom McRae songs--just up-tempo, happy Tom McRae songs. 'Bright Lights', for example, is just the kind of thing I didn't expect to like. It's great. They're not as satisfying as a lot of material on his earlier albums, but they're enjoyable on their own terms. And if they feel a little bit thin at times then there's always the more typical stuff like the sparse 'Got A Suitcase, Got Regrets' or the stumbling bitterness of 'Keep Your Picture Clear'. 'On And On' is strangely addictive too.

It's far from perfect, but there's lots to enjoy. Apparently he's already written his next album, and there's no reason it shouldn't be great, but I do hope for something a touch darker next time around.

Linkage

Mar. 10th, 2007 12:29 pm
iainjclark: Dave McKean Sandman image (V for Vendetta)
There's a nice behind-the-scenes article on Babylon 5: The Lost Tales over at CG Society (Society of Digital Artists) with a lot of new photos and a few story spoilers.

AICN have a test image of Rorschach from the ever-mired-in-Development-Hell Watchmen movie. I'm still ambivalent about the movie, but the high-res image is very well-realised and faithful to the comic. Janet says that it just looks like a man in a cloth mask, but that in Watchmen this is probably part of the point.

A version of the image has been snuck into the middle of a new promo for 300 for some reason, a film which has just exceeded box-office predictions on its first day of release. The movie looks visually gorgeous and is getting very positive reviews, although I suspect it may be just a teensy bit OTT and hyper-macho for my sensitive tastes.

EDIT: For those who don't read Neil Gaiman's blog: Bob Dylan sings Dr. Seuss.

iainjclark: Dave McKean Sandman image (Default)
Idlewild - Make Another World

I have to say I'm loving this Idlewild album. It's entirely rekindled my enthusiasm for the band after their oddly lacklustre last effort (which I did enjoy in parts, but which was so turgid at times that it didn't really feel like an Idlewild album). I posted the first track last time, so here's the second track: Everything (As it Moves). The rest of the album is relentlessly up-tempo but blending from rock to pop (and even an unusually anthemic dance-tinged sound on 'No Emotion', which seems to be the first single) resulting in an album that feels energetic without sounding one note. It pulls off the tricky feat of seeming both familiar and fresh. The exuberance of the music is offset, as ever, by the solemn, overly-introspective lyrics; for some these might feel a tad pretentious but for me this is just about the perfect combination of cheery music and smart language. It all seems effortless. If you like the band and you haven't already bought Make Another World you should rush out immediately1.

1 And buy it. Not just rush outside. Look, at least put some shoes on first.

Music

Mar. 5th, 2007 02:11 pm
iainjclark: Dave McKean Sandman image (Sandman)
We are now the proud possessors of tickets to see Tom McRae in May. The tickets seem to be exclusively available to fans for the first couple of days, so it's worth registering on the website if you want to grab tickets early.

Idlewild - Make Another World )

Ray LaMontagne - Trouble )

Joe Purdy - Only Four Seasons )

Tim Finn - Imaginary Kingdom )

Grant-Lee Phillips, Counting Crows, Crowded House... )

From all of this you may suspect that my musical tastes are irredeemably middle-aged. It's true *sob*.

iainjclark: Dave McKean Sandman image (Default)
It's been a fairly hectic weekend all told. By which I mean not even remotely hectic by most reasonable standards, but the kind of weekend which involves constant socialising - very pleasant, but also tiring!

On Friday we went to see Tom McRae and an ensemble of other singer-songwriters at the Carling Academy 2 in Newcastle. Lengthy rambling about Tom McRae )

Then we went home and spent the rest of the evening boozing with Janet's brother and one of our friends back at our place, then spent the whole of Saturday doing much the same thing, with a short interval in the middle to have a meeting with a mortgage adviser and arrange a new mortgage deal (our existing one comes to an end on 1st Jan). Saturday night involved much boozing and watching Miyazaki's Nausicca, a film we've never got around to watching, and which I enjoyed very much.

Today we went on a day trip out to Warkworth Castle in Northumberland with another friend and one of his friends, which was fun. We had a very nice carvery lunch at the Hermitage Hotel and the castle, while mostly ruined, is very impressive. Only the fact that the wind was a-howlin' and the rain was a-downpourin' kept it from being entirely fun. My ears are just now beginning to warm up and stop hurting.

Music

Nov. 30th, 2006 09:21 pm
iainjclark: Dave McKean Sandman image (Default)
We're off to see Tom McRae tomorrow night. Specifically we're off to see a bit of Tom McRae, and an equal amount of several singer-songwriters we've never heard of. It's an interesting idea so I hope I like some of the other artists who'll be playing. To be honest I tend to enjoy most live music if it's even remotely in a genre I listen to, and we seldom go out to gigs, so it should be good.

Mr McRae has just posted the following about the tour:

"Hotel Cafe, right. It's a revue show, I hope we made that clear. Using my name, to present my friends to my audience. "My audience", he said beating his chest, gorilla-like. Sorry to be possessive. I am well aware I share you with many other artists.... one or two who may even be marginally more successful than me (hard to believe I know)....but I look out night after night and see you, and I want to own your souls, if only for a couple of hours. Obviously I sold mine long ago, so I'm thinking if I can check yours out, maybe I can find one that fits. What the fuck am I talking about? You try doing this at half past bastard o'clock in the morning on a tour bus that is being blown every which way... supply your own easy joke if you must. The artistes... like the 'e' we added?... vaudeville style dontcha know....the 'artistes' on this tour are incredible. All different, all amazing, all actually my friends. We all play a couple of songs, with me starting - so get there early - and then we all come back again and do more, and then we sing with each other, and then we forget what we're doing, and then we start to bump each to each other, drop guitars, and generally run headlong into chaos until someone makes us leave the stage. It is different. But it is special too, and we all took big risks to bring this show to this country, and I would love more than anything for this idea to take hold, and for the Hotel Cafe tour to become a show where you can regularly find new artists, and see something less sanitised than the vanilla-flavoured white bread that is our thrilling pop culture. Yes, I am just as bitter and fucked off as always, in case you think America is making me sentimental and soft."

I admire that man's ability to ramble, I have to say. Sounds interesting, though.

iainjclark: Dave McKean Sandman image (Default)
There's a new Police poster around Sunderland (and possibly elsewhere) warning of the potential penalties for keying a car. Apparently you could be "DNA'd". Yes, "To DNA" is now a verb. As is "To key" now I come to think of it. Not sure about that apostrophe either, although "DNAd" would look even stranger.

Other random things I have failed to mention recently:

The new Snow Patrol album is quite alarmingly anthemic, but has quite a few strong tracks amidst its blatant commercialism. I'm still making up my mind about it.

Pearl Jam's new album cements in my mind that I really don't like a good 50% of their material, and am unclear why I continue buying their stuff.

Bones is getting increasingly enteraining as the snark levels increase between the regulars. The opening credits are really annoying though, since they randomly fling actors names at you accompanied by images of entirely different actors. You'd be forgiven for thinking David Boreanaz was actually called Jonathan Adams.

The West Wing is really hard to watch with a 3 second lip-synch delay, but this week's US episode was still very entertaining. I think it's the series finale next week.

Speaking of which, I've obtained (via the pixies, don't you know) the Veronica Mars S2 finale but we haven't got round to watching it yet. I've been enjoying this show a lot recently, despite the stop-start vagueness of the season arc.

Woo! Kingdom of Heaven Director's Cut. 50 minutes of extra footage and apparently a good deal more coherent from a character standpoint, this is Ridley Scott's original cut of the film, not some cobbled together kitchen-sink-for-the-sake-of-it version. I liked the theatrical cut so we're definitely after this. It's due September 11th in the UK, a memorable date if nothing else, but it's out on 23rd May in the US, and the UK art is not a patch on the US art.

In Scotland? Visit the scenic Torchwood House and its famous observatory. More information at www.visittorchwood.co.uk. Nicely done.

Catch-up

Mar. 17th, 2006 11:39 pm
iainjclark: Dave McKean Sandman image (Sandman)
My sister was supposed to be visiting this weekend but Ticketline managed to take the money for the rail tickets from her account and fail to actually deliver the tickets, or have any record of her order. This wasn't helped by the fact that they ask you not to ring them unless your tickets still haven't turned up the day before you travel, leaving no time to resolve the problem. So now my sister is visiting in a few weeks time instead! This may be for the best as a nice relaxing weekend seems like a good plan after a fairly stressful week at work, and it'll give us the opportunity to see V for Vendetta into the bargain.

It also gives me the chance to mention the many things I've heard, read and seen over the last few months without bothering to write about them.

Books, Music and Films, oh my... )

iainjclark: Dave McKean Sandman image (TV)
Both Janet and I are feeling under the weather at the moment - nothing major, just the typical head cold where your body's normal resources are diverted to the full-time production of mucous. Lovely. :-( As a result we've spent the day intermittently pottering in the garden when we had the energy (gorgeous sunny day) and vegging in front of a mini Veronica Mars-athon (episodes 6 to 9). I'm still not quite convinced that it's the Best Thing Ever In The History of Television, but it's definitely growing on me. Her Dad is fantastic.

In other news, my birthday has (not before time!) come to an end today with the arrival of my final present - a set of Creative 2.1 computer speakers from my brother and sister. I've wanted some decent computer speakers for ages, because I only listen to music in the car or on my computer. My actual standalone CD player stopped working some years ago, so I cannibalised its speakers for use with my PC. Unfortunately they weren't shielded so I couldn't have them near the monitor without it having a trippy sixties flashback. Instead I placed them both at the same side of the PC, behind the curtains. Most experts agree that this is not the optimal arrangement for stereo speakers.

The new speakers are much smaller and properly shielded, with a subwoofer in a huge box that required the removal of several panels from my computer desk. The new set-up copes admirably with the Gladiator soundtrack, from quiet solos to big thumping action, and "Annie Waits" by Ben Folds has a big rich sound in all the right places. Me pleased.

Tom McRae

Jun. 30th, 2005 11:09 pm
iainjclark: Dave McKean Sandman image (Default)
I'm addicted to Tom McRae. It started small - just the first album. Okay, strike that, it started big - just the first album. I liked it after one listen, loved it after two, then we put it on repeat play in the car and never looked back. I'm expecting the album's third child shortly.

What's got me hooked... )

Tim Booth

Jun. 16th, 2004 09:29 pm
iainjclark: Dave McKean Sandman image (Default)
I always knew George W Bush was only joking about being President...

Well, it amused me anyway. (I found it on author Peter David's weblog.)

In other news, I ordered the new solo album by Tim Booth, former James frontman, today. James somehow passed me by in their heyday, but I've got really into them recently - mainly the classic albums Laid and Seven, which have some outstandingly good tracks on them. Hope his solo stuff is, well, any good.

I'm very bad at buying new albums, and especially at buying artists I haven't tried before. For some reason I have a near pathological fear that I won't like them, and will therefore end up with a crap CD in my collection. No idea why this should be an issue - half my collection is crap already. :-)

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