Category Archives: Breaking news

Re-re-‘Sized

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If you loved Oceansize you’ll love The Demon Joke, the new album from former frontman Mike Vennart. The swathe of Unfamiliar material was a bit much for me to take in at the Brighton gig a couple weeks back – the potential was clear, but this isn’t music that gives of its best up front; it requires patience, the better to tease out the intricacies.

If you’re not familiar with Oceansize I’d fall back on ‘it’s Elbow (heartstrings) vs Mastodon (asskick) spiced with a little Faith No More (contrariness)’. And as much as I adore Oceansize‘s expansiveness I love that Vennart can satisfyingly cram as much into 4 minutes as his former band did into 8.

Mark Heron was all over the kit for four albums and as many LPs, and his Moon/Portnoy presence would be missed if new boy, Denzel’s math-y economy didn’t chime so well with the new music.. ‘He nails it, does he not’ opined Vennart at the gig: quite so.

The polyrhythmical plod of Duke Fame reels out tentacles of appealing melody whilst the easy singalong remains tantalisingly just out of reach, in the fine tradition of Money, or Turn It On Again. My favourite song here.

And maybe it’s the weight of taking the helm, but Vennart‘s vocal is suffused and enhanced by a new soulfulness previously only touched upon. FNM‘s Mike Patton was a discernable influence on Vennart‘s earlier work with Oceansize, and one that he audibly digs into once more, with added conviction. For the great soul singers – Gaye, Knight, Turner, Simone – sweetness and simmering aggression were like yin and yang: always in balance, even when unevenly distributed. Great rock singers, from Glenn Hughes, thru Morrissey, Mike Patton, Maynard Keenan to Andrew ‘Darroh’ Sudderth draw on this tradition; and Vennart exhibits it here too. Check out Don’t Forget The Joker.

Amends has the gravitas and compelling art-mospherics of the best of the ‘Size’s‘s closing epics, condensed into less than four minutes.

Sometimes less really is more. Vennart has succeeded in inhaling all that was great and memorable about Oceansize and expressing it with yet greater feeling, brevity and wit. ‘Prog’ doesn’t have to impose on our time to make its point.

This is possibly his best album… he compared it in recent interviews to the mighty, Everyone Into Position, which I still recommend unreservedly; though TDJ certainly gives it a run for its money…

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Re-sized

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Pre-ordered my copy of Vennart‘s debut album week before last. Pretty excited. For those unfamiliar (no pun…) Mike Vennart achieved artistic, if not financial longevity as singer/songwriter/guitarist with indie-rockers, Oceansize. Negotiating a scarcely-categorizable line between Post Rock, Nu Prog and Art Metal, this sadly-short-lived, Manchester-based crew infiltrated the hitherto-unimagined no-man’s land between Elbow and Mastodon, jamming to fondly-remembered tales of Cardiacs, Faith No More, Tool and Radiohead; refreshed by lashings of mushroom tea. Heady brew? Fuck yeah! And a finely-balanced one too: heaviosity aplenty for die-hard metalheads and cool for the too-cool Guardian fashionistas.

The best rock band to come out of Manchester for a decade.

A year to the day following that band’s dissolution, Vennart and fellow Oceansize cohort, Richard ‘Gambler’ Ingram launched British Theatre: a canny proposition, streamlining the distorted, glitchy and lush atmospherics of the former, whilst substituting a full backing band for laptop dancing. Not a million miles from Radiohead‘s Kid Amnesiac days, albeit grimier, more louche, sordid.

Ingram, and former Oceansize guitarist, Steve Durose both contribute to the new record, The Demon Joke, but to all intents and purposes it’s a one man show now. He launched the new tracks – or some of them at least – at a gig downstairs in Sticky Mike’s Frog Bar here in Brighton last week and I’m not ashamed to say that I couldn’t make head or tail of them. I felt the same way the first time I heard Effloresce (much like Trout Mask Replica, Angel Dust, Second Toughest In The Infants and Spirit Of Eden: sometimes brilliance takes time to absorb and process, even when it’s presence is instantly recognizeable).

In interview, Vennart references (second Oceansize LP) Everyone Into Position, both musically and personally, suggesting ‘I’ve not believed in a record as much since…’ which is good news for me, since EIP is my favourite ‘Size album, though follow-up Frames comes bloody close, and Trail Of Fire (from Frames) is not only my fave Oceansize track but perhaps my favourite song of all time. They didn’t play that at the gig, though they did pull a few classics out of the bag, including Music For A Nurse, Ornament (The Last Wrongs) ‘really long and fuckin’ hard to play’ and Part Cardiac. Even the deceptively-basic, Sabbath-y grind of the latter – from Oceansize swansong, the uneven, Self-Preserved While The Bodies Float Up – conveyed more emotional depth than their support act, Lithuania’s Mutiny On The Bounty, whose selection of sub-Depeche  Mode b-side material merely served to confirm the futility of industrial, post-rock instrumentalism. The wank dripping from a sea of dumbly-nodding post-hipster beards. The ‘Size stood out from the crowd and one has a feeling that Vennart‘s new collection – written whilst on the road as Biffy Clyro‘s live utility guy, studio-enhanced and mixed by Gambler and Durose will too, thanks to a lifetime of musical geekality absorbed from Maiden to Radiohead. The live presentation was augmented by Durose on guitar and b/vox, Gambler on bass and keys and newkid Denzel on drums, who along with Jo Spratley (Spratley’s Japs) also appear on The Demon Joke. The latter is winging it to me as I type, whereupon the chance to make fuller sense and fall once-again in love will surely present itself…

Can’t wait, chaps 😉

Another track, Infatuate is also available upon preordering here

You know you want to…

Colin Edwin Interview

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Interview with sesssion basssist Colin Edwin, discussing his ongoing relationships with singer/songwriter Steven Wilson and also Eraldo Bernocchi. Album review (of his latest work with producer, Paul Mex and performance poet, Bernadette Cremin) to follow.

Liberal = incontinent

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(access to) pornography has changed the landscape of adolescence beyond all recognition

I don’t quite buy that. The (intellectual) stumbling block I’ve always found with critics – mainstream critics, that is – of porn is the notion that it depraves and corrupts. I’ve read/viewed enough porn over my (near) 42 years to realise that it fairly represents my sexuality. Nonetheless, I’ve never felt license to violate human bodies to the extent that the GP in the above article describes. And what is this thing with anal sex anyway…

‘…in-vaginal ejaculation is so novel it occupies its own, minority-interest ‘kink’ category (‘creampie‘, if you’re interested): the converse ubiquity of ejaculation on faces and/or breasts (as far as possible from the vagina, note) and anal sex‘.

Male sexuality is a very simple thing. We find an opening; we insert; we thrust unto orgasm. That’s pretty much the definition of male. Which is not to say we’re not capable of more, or different, simply that this underlies more and different: fires it, motivates it. We simply have to choose better: to choose ways of expressing our sexuality that are less damaging; or not damaging at all.We need to reject the – currently trending – mode of liberalism that promotes ‘anything goes’; that damages both our bodies and our partners’ bodies; our minds and theirs.

Please share this post, or the above article. When we’re hurting others, and diminishing ourselves just to feel/be ‘normal something’s gone badly awry.

We need to choose better, because we can…

Anthropomorphukupzthanyoucanshakealadystickat

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What my cat taught me about gender… (from medium.com)

Little if anything, it seems… Hee hee.

‘Lolita, my 16 year-old female cat, emerged from her kitty litter box with a penis.’ On the basis of which you assign her male?

Your cat has a penis ∴ your cat is male. ARRGH! Fucking bigot! How do you know this? Have you not stopped to entertain the possibility that this is the fabled lady-penis? Later in your article you clain to have learned that ‘…gender (is) experienced from within — it’s not something you can (or should) identify from the outside…’ And surely you’re aware most MtF trans folks have intact male genitals? Party line says this is a class issue, that the surgery is prohibitively expensive for most. It is a class issue as it happens; more in the sense that the penis is both symbol and instrument of class oppression (and more fun than a stress ball to knead in times of dysphoria, boredom, horniness…).

Hell, you even go on to say ‘Mr. Lolita, as far as we know, doesn’t have a gender identity. He just has a sex: male.’ As far as you know? You’ve not bothered to take evening classes in cat tongue that you might be able to have the conversation? He/She/Zie/Hir/Miaow might identify as a dog, a wombat or a Russian space station for all you know! Good Lord!

‘Others that met Lolita, would use words like “diva” and “bitch” to describe his personality (“bitch” seems harsh, but he could get a bit hissy with strangers; especially female strangers, if that means anything)…’

Yep, it means they’re (and you’re) sexist. Cos only females get ‘hissy’ with females, right? Never males, no Siree. Male divas? What a ridiculous idea. Jeremy Clarkson, Rob Downey Jr and the drum tutor in Whiplash would be falling over themselves to be the first to scoff at such a suggestion. And you realise a bitch is a female DOG, right? How d’you think Lolita feels about being mis-specied? (assuming that he/she/zie/hir/Lord/Lady/Dr/Pope/Emperor does in fact identify as a cat; and let’s not even get started on race: looks kinda like a long-haired Burmese, but that doesn’t mean a thing: might be thinking in Siamese or Sphynx). How damned inconsiderate of his former owners not to dye his fur blue and teach him to carry an identity card…

And you don’t own him. He owns you. If you’d taken that evening class you’d understand ‘Fuck you! Just feed me! And none of that fucking Iams sawdust! No? Iams it is. Another fucking eviscerated, half-dead mouse on your pillow tomorrow morning, sonny boy.’ when you heard it.

And ‘Lolita‘. Lolita?! ‘Nuff said.

Oh, and the barista thing…

‘…Not only was this formerly female classmate of mine now a male, but — by all appearances — he was a gay male working at a gay coffee shop. (I would later see him out with other gay male friends at a gay bar.)…’ So you assumed he was gay because he appeared gay. Like you assumed your cat was female cos ‘her‘ name was ‘princess‘; and now assume he’s male cos he has a penis? Sheesh! Aand a gay coffee shop? WTF does that even mean? That they only serve super-skinny caramel lattes with rainbow sprinkles? Be sure to wipe the seat before you sit down, then; wouldn’t want you to catch anything nasty, now.

And you know, ‘formerly female’ but now a male? Either he was always male (wrong body yada yada, unlike the 99% of cis-sy folks who just love their perfect physiques) or is still (biologically) female but has busted out of the prison of ‘assignment’ in a cloud of rainbow-coloured confetti) and now identifies as male. Even the most batshit crazy MRA transjacktivist types seem to grasp that a person can’t actually change sex. Though to be fair, any kind of concensus amongst professionals and lobbyists looks to be a ways off.

You got one thing right, though; about gender and sexuality being socially constructed. Who knew?

Pop shots Fader

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Why is pop still so scared of the vagina?

Why indeed?

And it’s not just pop per-se: popular cultural morés in general often present as being at odds with female biology even whilst commodifying (female) sexuality embodied therein…

e.g.

Pornographic representation of in-vaginal ejaculation is so novel it occupies its own, minority-interest ‘kink’ category (‘creampie‘, if you’re interested): the converse ubiquity of ejaculation on faces and/or breasts (as far as possible from the vagina, note) and anal sex.

Public breast-feeding remains a matter of consternation and misunderstanding, despite those practicing it having ‘enjoyed’ http://www.maternityaction.org.uk/sitebuildercontent/sitebuilderfiles/breastfeedingpublicplace.pdf since 2010; restrictions on its portrayal via social media. Showing breasts is only a (moral, if not actually legal) crime it seems, when they’re actually functioning as breasts; rather than as a sexual fetish.

The increasingly visible recourse to accusations/diagnoses of Transphobia/Cissexism within public discourse, with the tacit purpose of disabling such discourse: embodying the increasingly-fashionable Post-Modern notion that female-ness is a psychosexual ‘identity’ divorced from reproductive biology, and that any suggestion to the contrary is offensive, albeit to a small minority.

The longstanding trend towards employing girls/women with ‘masculine’ (i.e. tall, lean, not-so-curvy) physiques as models in fashion.

What is it ‘we’ don’t want to see? You’d think femaleness were a terrible thing indeed, that we might be blinded by the light of it. ‘This little wound women have… it frightens me.’ spoke the artist-seducer Reynolds in Anaïs Nin’s A Model’ . Seems it frightens a lot of people. Maybe it should?

From The Fader article:

‘Why is pop scared of pregnancy? Aside from the fact that women are so often presented as objects not subjects available for consumption in their own music videos—an illusion that’s broken by the sight of a pregnant bump—perhaps it’s something to do with that old nightmare of “having it all.” Ever since the sexual revolution of the ’60s and ’70s—when sexual morals shifted, independence celebrated, and more women began to enter the workplace—women have been split into workers and nurturers.’

Having it all‘ is a phrase once often deployed to knock down women who dared to step outside of their male-prescribed, supposed limitations, especially if they performed too well. Overt, incontestible evidence of female reproductive power is an affront to those of us who claim to have the red telephone to woman-central at our fingertips. Whilst some of us non-females show aptitude as both workers and nurturers, there’s still that one thing we can’t do. And it’s no coincidence that artists such as Cherry and Björk who unashamedly bare – and revel in – their femaleness are also high-achieving and indisputably icons. Bjrk writes of

‘”(the) “biological” process of heartbreak: “the wound and the healing of the wound.” But, let’s be real: it also looks like a vagina! Which is, of course, the anatomical source of the family unit that she mourns on “Family,” following the breakdown of her relationship. Where do I go to make an offering, she sings, To mourn our miraculous triangle: father, mother, child.'”

(Which the Po-Mo set might seize on as homophobic, unjustly: even Elton in full indignance is grounded enough to realize he can’t have his kids without female participation. There’s good reason to interrogate the wisdom of IVF and other ‘reproductive technologies’ but that’s a debate for another day.)

She knows.

When Marillion‘s Steve Hogarth wrote the words for The Wound he was in the same metaphorical space, I think; albeit from a necessarily incomplete, male perspective:

Finally, here’s a good – and apposite – one from the vault:

 

 

 

Style. Over. Substance.

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One step forward and three steps back…

The slow arrival of a new Steven Wilson record has established itself as an event to be savoured: the guy set the bar high from the off; before the off, even, if one factors in his musical pedigree as bandleader – Porcupine Tree – and collaborator – numerous. The Tree‘s output has been variously rewarding, if rarely less than interesting, Bass Communion and Blackfield have mostly left me cold. Never, though, could one accuse Wilson of being lazy, unimaginative or of taking anything for granted. Each successive release has broken ground that is, at least for him as writer and performer, new.

By contrast, Hand. Cannot. Erase. shapes up as something of a throwback; a project in the same vein as PT‘s ultimate release (The Incident, back in 2009) an ugly, overwrought, heterogenous; if not entirely unrewarding collection. Much like the granddaddy of prog rock operas, Pink Floyd‘s 1979 opus, The Wall, it played as something less than the sum of its occasionally considerable parts. In both cases one might feel justified in feeling surprised and a little let down: both bands had previous for handling the form (concept album; rock opera – call it what you will) with applomb: Animals and Fear Of a Blank Planet are both masterpieces in this writers’ opinion.

Perfect Life sounded rightaway to me as close to the ghost of PT as Wilson has sailed since his solo voyage began in earnest (let’s not forget that the former began as himself-in-bedroom-studio, sans backing band). Not that it sounds quite like that band, but the mood of the track, its apparent ‘interlude’ quality harks back to the piecemeal feel of The Incident. In that sense it’s quite a departure from his recent solo and collaborative output. As far back as Grace For Drowning and Storm Corrosion, Wilson has been favouring texture and exploration over narrative. The Raven…. signposted a move back in the opposite direction…

And so it is with H.C.E. as a complete statement. The allusions to Dreams of a Life* as the seminal inspiration might lead one to believe that this is a flowing, seamless storyteller of a record: it’s none of those things.

It really doesn’t feel like it has anything to do with Vincent‘s, or any woman’s life. Whilst there are pretty (and hummable) melodies scattered thruout, and fragments of a story, the overarching juxtaposition of brooding atmospheres and jagged shards of aggression contrives to create an air of decidedly masculine indulgence.  Wilson, one feels is coolly observing the pain of Vincent and others like her without offering the listener much by way of understanding or insight. It is, to The Incident, what Queensryche‘s Operation Mindcrime II was to its antecedent, in a way: more of the same, without the heart or the commitment. Not since Michael Rutherford‘s treatment of (Peter Currell Brown‘s) Smallcreep’s Day has a musical interpretation fallen so far short of justice to the written word.

Interestingly, Wilson recently spoke of the possibility of a PT reunion with Prog magazine,

“I would have to say to the guys, ‘Look, there’s no point in me writing the material. If I were to do that I might as well do it for a solo record. Let’s try writing together, or writing in partnerships.”

…Which sounds, in a roundabout sort of a way – and factoring in also his scaling back work with NoMan and Blackfield – like he feels the well is running dry for him as a writer. His most notable work of late has been as go-to-guy for remix work for the likes of King Crimson, Jethro Tull and XTC; as interpreter of others’ work. It would be refreshing to hear the results of a more fully-collaborative incarnation of PT, if this is where following his current muse is taking him.

Offering up such a seemingly comprehensive slagging kinda behoves me, I think, to point up what is right about H.C.E. The title track is a successful detour into accessible pop-rock, rightly-compared in a Prog review to mid-period Manic Street Preachers. Adam Holzmann (keyboards) gives of his best in a sublime solo spot in Regret #9, an exceptional moment on an album where Wilson‘s crack unit rarely get a chance to bring their indisputable virtuosity to the fore. And Wilson (and KScope) shine as never before in the packaging stakes: the box-set is a beautiful thing, showcasing wonderful attention to detail with its myriad artful photographs, collages and inserts (courtesy of Lasse Hoile and Hujo Meuller). There’s a wealth of extra material for conisseur/geek; including album demos and visuals on dvd and Blu Ray.

If you’re a fan of Wilson‘s work over the last two-or-so-decades, there’s much here to enjoy – it’s as much ‘signature Wilson’ as ever – with the caveat that returns appear to be turning in the direction of diminishing, as opposed to accruing; which isn’t what one feels his departure from PT et al in favour of ‘solo’was supposed to about.

*p.s. if you live in the Brighton area, Dreams of a Life is being screened as part of the 2015 Brighton Festival.