Tag Archives: Writing

Music Review – Snow Patrol – Wildness (Album)

On the surface, Snow Patrol seem a bit too easy listening to be on my playlist, but there has always been a dark undertone to their words that resonates with me.

Add to this the fact that not all their songs are quite as slow and melodic – take Starfighter Pilot, Wow or Hands Open – this final one being a song my band used to cover; they have a hard edge which occasionally elbows its way through the mildness.

Which takes us nicely to their newest album, Wildness. Going through the gamut of human existence, the first song, Life on Earth, starts with a family memory which tells that there was snow as high as he was during Gary Lightbody’s first winter, some of my own first memories are of that winter and the way the world looks dressed in white.

Almost a concept album, the word Wildness crops up in a number of the songs and seems indicative of the shape of Lightbody’s current state of mind. This isn’t really surprising as he has been having to cope with the onset and progression of his Father’s Alzheimer’s diagnosis. This is laid bare as we head towards the last few tracks in Soon, a song which both breaks your heart and makes you proud to be part of our species.

The overall feeling you get from the album is a call to arms and a directive to take life by the throat, for instance Don’t Give In is an emotional plea to not let life get you down, Heal Me is about being broken but doing it together and A Youth Written In Fire is about having someone believe in you. So it’s not all doom and gloom.

While tracks like Wild Horses and A Dark Switch have hints of Songs For Polar Bears and When It’s All Over We Still Have To Clear Up about them, the overall feeling of this album is closer to the “anthemic” feel that Lightbody was going for when Final Straw and Eyes Open were written. The tracks pummel you with their heartfelt intensity and leave you feeling battered and bruised.

If this album doesn’t win awards for its song writing then there is something wrong with the world.

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Music Review – Alice in Chains – Rainier Fog (Album)

It was recently my birthday – Yay – and one of the things I tend to ask for is new (or old) music, as it’s a luxury I would probably not buy for myself.

This year I felt very lucky to get five albums by four different bands including:

  • Rainier Fog by Alice in Chains
  • Fallen Empires and Wildness by Snow Patrol
  • Dumb Days by Tired Lion
  • Pacific Daydream by Weezer

If you know me at all you probably won’t be too surprised to find out that the first one I listened to all the way through was the latest Alice in Chains release Rainier Fog. And it is exactly what I was hoping for!

As I’ve mentioned before, Alice in Chains started out in the midst of heavy, hairy metal and, if you listen to their first album and some of the unreleased stuff that came to light when Music Bank came out, you can really hear how close they came to skirting Grunge altogether and finding a place among the other Rock heavyweights of the time.

But they chose a different path and became the leaders of a new style which was much darker and, generally, more depressing than their Seattle based compatriots, comprising such cheery topics as drug addiction, depression, war, loneliness and psychological problems, they blazed their own trail through Rock and spurned a host of copycat acts.

This, their sixth studio album, sits alongside their back catalogue, including solo projects and other bands that have come and gone along the way, so snugly that it is hard not to think that you know some of the songs already.

The opening track, The One You Know, starts like a screwdriver to the temple, which is then joined by a marching squadron of zombies. The percussive drumming continues through the verse then the chorus opens up into a wonderful musical field of primroses, sounding a bit like they got confused and mixed up the order of the parts of the song.

After setting the scene they waste no time reaching into their back catalogue with the title track, Rainier Fog, which could have been a recently discovered outtake from Facelift…but with better production.

Red Giant is a slightly different beast, sounding like the bastard child of Metallica and Layne Staley. The harmonies are so dark you need a match to see the lyrics. At the moment this is probably my favourite track on the album!

Fly, however, sounds like Pearl Jam writing a new track for Jar of Flies. Acoustic guitars and a screeching electric solo really take you back to the nineties.

The next track is called Drone, so you can guess what it’s like without too much effort. Bluesy sludge through the verses with a melodic fingerpicked solo reminiscent of Lies by Guns ‘n’ Roses.

We’re back with Lars and the boys for the intro to Deaf Ears Blind Eyes, but then segueing to classic Alice in Chains territory for the chorus with a minor key harmonic piece of introspection.

Maybe hails back to the 1970s and, strangely, sounds like nothing so much as The Mamas and Papas. Jerry and William work beautifully together to produce something which is more than the sum of their voices. In this case though all the trees are not brown, they’re dead!

Dirt is the album that So Far Under would fit most comfortably on, with a chorus which has been pitch bent until it snapped. Antagonistic sounds are smashed together between the verses and choruses, but make the track into something that is difficult to turn your ears away from.

In Never Fade du Vall takes over. Sounding a little like Comes With The Fall, a bit like Giraffe Tongue Orchestra, and a lot like early Alice in Chains and, as is his way, it sounds like a love song or paean in memory of someone you used to know. It’s a bit of a shame they don’t give him more chance to lead, as he’s quite riveting when he does so.

The final track All I Am does the opposite and hands the reigns to Cantrell. It’s slow, it’s introspective. It could have come straight from Degradation Trip and is none the worse for that.

If you’re a fan then you either have it already or are saving up your hard earned pennies/cents to get it as soon as you can, if you’re not then look them up on YouTube and spend some time getting to know what you’re missing, then buy it and find out what it is to be one of the most popular Grunge bands in the world.


Read ‘Em And Weep

Anyone who is friends with me on Facebook, follows me on Twitter or, unlikely as it seems, occasionally looks at my Google+ account, will know that for the past two years or so I have been undertaking a reading marathon of Pratchett proportions.

I started with The Colour of Magic and continued with all 41 Discworld novels, as well as the maps, cookbooks, tourist guides, kids books and short story collections. After this I started on the non-Discworld books – Strata, The Dark Side of the Sun, the Bromeliad trilogy, the Johnny Maxwell books, etc.

The reason for this single-minded readathon are numerous, I tend to reread my Pratchett collection every few years anyway, but after his untimely death in 2015 I couldn’t bring myself to pick up a book by any other author.

I assumed this feeling would pass but several months later I was still in the same mood, a year later I felt the same, two years later and I was still in my reading rut.

Seemingly unrelated, about two months ago we got notice that our landlord wanted their house back, which was a bit inconvenient because we were just in the middle of trying to find somewhere of our own to buy. Scroll on to about a week ago and the house is full of boxes as we get ready to move to a new rental. I was packing up my Pratchett collection (shudder) and amongst them I found my Kindle, untouched since I picked up The Colour of Magic.

I wasn’t sure what to do with it so I left it on top of my drawers in our bedroom. Then, last Sunday night I was getting my stuff ready for work the next day and thought “why the hell not” and slipped the e-reader into my bag.

When I arrived at the train station on Monday morning I got it out and started reading (American Gods by Neil Gaiman, if you must know!), and have been doing so on every journey to work and back since. It seems my reading mojo has returned and, with it, my brain has also fallen off a deep precepice into the icy waters of “I Have To Write” again.

Ideas are sloshing around inside my head like a particularly spectacular Formula One pile up and my fingers are itching to type. But what to do first?

I’ve been working on a few things, slowly, for the past few months, a Discworld fan-fiction piece about Rincewind; a comedy fantasy novel about a vampire; a biography about my life as a type one diabetic; a kids book I’ve been working on for a couple of years now.

All these conflicting stories are arguing for precedence, so what I’m going to do is…go to sleep! Life is complicated enough at the moment without worrying about what and when to write, so I just need to put digits to keyboard whenever I get the chance.

Wish me luck!


Checking It Twice – Short Story

I wrote this recently in response to a request for stories to be included in an online magazine. It didn’t quite manage to make it to publication but it was fun to write so I thought I’d share it here.

The theme of the issue was Lists, and this is what came to mind, about as far through the year from Christmas as you can get!


The list got longer every year but his patience seemed to get shorter.

‘Have you seen some of these?’ His huge voice bounced off the log cabin’s walls as he flailed a letter in front of her face. ‘I mean, what possible reason could there be for a five year old to ask for a sunbed?’

‘Maybe they have a lizard?’

‘A two metre long sunbed!’

The fire crackled in the hearth. ‘It could be a big lizard?’ The small woman was wearing a jolly green suit, which almost matched the current colour of the big man’s face. ‘How many times have you checked the list, Father?’ She used his honorary title, as it often helped calm him down when he was in one of those moods.

‘I think this is the third, but what with one thing and another it’s a little hard to tell. Look at this,’ his ample white beard seemed to grow more imposing as he quoted the words written on the cheery yellow piece of paper. ‘Ahem…’

dear satna

could i have a fluffy tedy bear that talks, the new leggo set i want and the last sereis of HOUSEWIVES OF ARIZONA on blueray happy crissmas

Cortnee age 7

‘…Do they not teach spelling and grammar these days? And that show is M rated, shouldn’t the parents at least have a look before these go up the chimney? And talking of the parents… What’s with that name, did they never watch Friends?’

The woman looked into the old man’s face, having to crane her neck up to do so or she would have been staring into his ample stomach. ‘I think you need a break, Father, I’ll get you a nice warm mug of cocoa.’

‘No, Adelaide, I’m finding the complex carbohydrates are affecting my waistline, can I have a glass of water please?’

Adelaide backed out of the room with a concerned look on her thin face. The elves had been helping out round these parts for thousands of years. Just because the festival had rebranded a few times and swapped icons occasionally didn’t mean that someone wasn’t needed for the production and logistics side of things.

In fact elves was a bit of a misnomer, the race was more akin to gnomes, who had excellent fine-motor skills, especially in the footwear department, and a fondness for shiny objects. The historical records suggested the race had been slowly edged out of their natural habitat in the northern hemisphere’s forest tundra, because of man’s ever increasing hunger for land and resources. Eventually they found themselves living in caves carved out of the permafrost and subsisting on a diet of boiled extremophiles and the occasional directionally challenged, and subsequently, extremely frozen avian.

When The Big Man took up residence the gnomes decided that a well stoked fire and as many marshmallows as you could eat were preferable to another night of Burkholderiaceae soup, Sphingomonas stew or freeze dried ivory gull with an aperitif of not-quite-thawed ice.

The ancient spirit’s eyes, so dark as to be indistinguishable from the final midnight at the end of time, stared forlornly at the boxy shadows in the corner of the room. His gaze was still fixed on them when Adelaide returned carrying a tray almost as big as she was. On top of it rested a large mug of, oh yes, cocoa and a plate with a bonsai mountain of mince pies.

The elf followed the burning trail of his gaze then looked back at his worried face. ‘It isn’t as scary as it looks, Father. I can help you get started, if you like?’

The machine had been provided by The Authorities to “Improve Efficiency and Help Provide a Better Standard of Customer Service to Believers”. For some reason the higher powers believed that messages had more impact if Written In Capital Case! The old man tried to calm down when he saw his friend and co-worker riding on a knife blade at the edge of terror. ‘I’m not averse to technology, Adelaide,’ he conceded, ‘it’s just that I’ve been working this way for as long as I can remember. The letters arrive, I check who’s been good or bad, the naughty list gets transferred to the vault, the good list gets dispatched to the workshop manager, and we’re good to go on the 25th. A “computer” will just make things more complicated.’

‘But Father,‘ Adelaide put her hand on his knee, ‘when you started you only had a handful of believers, even at the height of Saturnalia there were only about 60 million Romans! These last few decades have seen the whole world start believing in you, there are seven billion children to cater for now, how do you expect to even carry a list that long? The reindeer would have trouble getting airborne.’

‘You’re right, of course.’ The Big Man rubbed his red gloved hands through his mass of white hair and stood up, then walked over to the foreboding machine and pressed the power button, something went “ping”. ‘Show me how it’s done then, my young friend.’

Adelaide nervously climbed into the special chair, “With Six And Five Eighths Degrees Of Freedom”, which had mysteriously arrived when the computer turned up. The screen was already showing a friendly looking greeting, written in Comic Sans:

DeiOS 4.2 – Soul Control from Home.

She tapped a few keys until another pleasant message was displayed:

WishScan DDR: Digitising Dreams into Reality.

‘All you need to do is put the letters in here.’ She inserted one of the wish lists into the hole on the front of the machine, ‘and they’ll be scanned in and automatically categorised and added to the list.’ A message flashed on screen: Scan Complete – Behaviour Checked – Gifts Assigned.

‘Seems simple enough. Can I have a go?’ He picked up one of the letters and fed it into the opening. There was an electronic sound, a bit like vzzt, and the letter was spat out of the same opening onto the floor at his big black boots. The screen showed:

Orientation Error – 0x07338D93 – Change Position And Try Again.

‘Was I standing in the wrong place?’

‘No, Father, it means the paper was the wrong way up. Here see, put it in as if you’re about to read it.’ Adelaide showed him the correct way and, once again, the document disappeared in a small puff of enchantment.

After a few more attempts, some head scratching and a few choice words, some of which were new to the gnome, The Big Man finally managed to get his first letter to go in the hole without being spat out, shredded, turned into a lace handkerchief, or set on fire. ‘Ah, I think I’ve got it now,’ he said, ‘would you mind staying while I try a couple more, please?’

An hour later, Adelaide finally closed the door behind her. She had shown him how to view the scanned letters, look at the lists and search through the names or gifts. He told her he was just going to try a few on his own before he went to bed.

***

The next morning Adelaide prepared the Chief’s breakfast, placed it on a tray and proceeded to his office. Opening the door she was surprised to find him crouched over the machine, ‘Come here, Adelaide, this is amazing.’ The letters, which were previously in two piles almost to the ceiling, were now all but gone. The old man fed another in and watched it disappear into the device. As he turned to Adelaide she saw that the whites of his eyes were tessellated with tiny blood vessels and there were dark rings round them the colour of coal. It was obvious that he hadn’t slept.

‘How are you feeling, sir?’

He fed another letter into the machine and watched with wonder as it was added to the gift list. His bleary eyes juddered slowly towards her as his booming voice vibrated the fixtures and fittings, ‘On top of the world, my friend. You know, I don’t think I’d have managed to get through these before the big day if you hadn’t shown me how this contraption works.’

He fed another letter into the machine and gave a satisfied smile as it disappeared into the mystical ether. Adelaide watched as he continued to robotically insert the wish lists and checked the Naughty List, the Gift List and the occasional letter for scanning errors, to make sure a recipient was going to get what they had asked for, rather than a toy house (horse!), radio controlled chipper (chopper!!) or a solitary parrot (Monopoly!!!).

Eventually the final letter was entered and the machine made a satisfying bing noise as the old man turned it off. He slurped the steaming hot mug of cocoa and took a bite out of the cold turkey and stuffing sandwich, ‘Delicious!’

The gnome lifted her own cup from the tray and took a sip, ‘So, what are you going to do now, Father?’

A number of looks rolled across the old man’s face, like a series of 15,000-pound bombs detonating around a rural village in Kentucky, as he realised he had done himself out of a job until the big day. ‘What do you do around this time of year, Adelaide?’

‘Well, mostly bring you mulled wine and mince pies, sir. I could fetch the newspaper, if you like?’

‘No, no. I think I’ll just have a bit of a sit down for a while.’ As Adelaide pulled the door shut he collapsed into the comfy chair next to the fireplace. After a few minutes there was a deep breath and then snoring. In his dreams lights flashed and speakers blared, a series of terrifying machines marched through his mind, electronically yelling a chant which sounded, for all the worlds, like “we’re going to take your job old man”.

He woke up with a start and involuntarily declared, ‘I’m still useful.’

Adelaide had just entered the room, ‘Yes Father, you are. Here, have some roasted chestnuts and a hot chocolate.’

He took the proffered food and drink and sat in front of the computer again, scratching his bearded chin and looking thoughtful. ‘Who sent this device, Adelaide?’

‘The receipt states it was from,’ she searched in her pocket and pulled out a crumpled piece of paper, ‘Minerva – Virgin Goddess of Wisdom, Handicrafts, Strategic Warfare, and Trade.’

‘Hmm, takes all sorts,’ the old man said. ‘Could you get me some parchment and a stylus, please?’ When he had thought for a minute he started scratching out some beautifully choreographed words on the page.

My Dearest Minerva,

For Christmas this year I would like an automated present delivery system that can be used to ensure that each girl and boy get their allocated gifts, both on-time and to agreed service levels.

If this could be delivered before the commencement of my activities on December the 25th I would be in your debt for the next millennium.

Yours sincerely

Utu, Xipe-Totec, Ekkeko, Ptah, Odin, Zeus, Sancus, Nicholas, etc., etc.

He left the room as Adelaide read the note. When she was done she turned round to find him in a noisy Hawaiian style shirt and shorts. She said ‘Um…’ as that was all that came to mind.

‘I’m going on holiday, somewhere hot! Could you hold the fort please? You seem to have the hang of all this technomancy. I’ll leave it up to you to get the deliveries and gift receipting done. I’m sure you’ll be fine.’

Adelaide stood in stunned silence as the door was shut. Her face was a picture of consternation but eventually she rubbed her hands together and said, ‘Right, there are going to be some changes around here!’


The Glorious 25th

Just a quick post in my lunch break today, If you were drawn here by the title then you already know what I’m talking about.

If not, suffice to say, it’s a reference to a series of events as outlined in Night Watch, one of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld novels. It’s a much darker story than many of his other books and recounts a few days around the 25th of May, 1957, 30 years before the present time (in the book’s timeline).

There are many places you can find out about what happened, but this is a good place to start.

In some ways it seems ridiculous to memorialise something that didn’t really happen, but many religions have survived this way for thousands of years, so if a bunch of Discworld fans want to make the world a better place because of some fantastical fictional events then I say, good luck to them (us!!!).

For my part this year, I have created the following image:

25th

However there are many ways to help raise awareness of the plight of the people who lost their fictional lives that day, and if you are a bit tech savvy, then you can take a look here (although the GNU Clacks codes are actually taken from a much later time in Discworld history, but as we’re all friends I figured that doesn’t really matter!).

Anyway, for those of you who want to remember the Glorious People’s Revolution of Treacle mine road, and those who made it into a lot less of a massacre, I salute you comrades.

#GNUCecilClapman

#GNUNedCoates

#GNUDaiDickins

#GNUJohnKeel

#GNUHoraceNancyball

#GNUTerryPratchett

#GNURegShoe (Temp)

#GNUBillyWiglet


Music Review – The Desert Sea – Elevator

My first ever rock concert was at the tender age of 16. Me and my best friend were, at the time, big (but not in stature) fans of the fundamental heavy metal band – Iron Maiden. As I recall it was very loud and Bruce Dickinson accidentally got himself stuck on top of the massive amplifier stack and had some trouble getting down again.

Now, 26 years later and my tastes have moved on somewhat, I still occasionally fire up some Living Colour or Megadeth, but Maiden – although talented – just don’t really seem to have moved on very far in the 41 years since they formed, so for me at least they just don’t really do it anymore.

The above goes some way to explaining why I chose to do this review, I couldn’t believe that anybody could be so fixated on 80s heavy metal that they try to reproduce it, down to the last screeching guitar solo hammering-off-and-on.

 


 

Starting off like they fell over a Japanese Voyeurs track then remembered they really like Iron Maiden – The Desert Sea’s latest single, Elevator is Proper Metal in the greatest eighties; not certain I should be taking this seriously?; is that Robert Plant?; I thought The Darkness weren’t playing anymore?; sense.

Hailing from Sydney, this hasn’t stopped the band gathering inspiration from every single Heavy Metal icon from the beginning of time to the present day. Their influences are listed as QOTSA, The Raconteurs and Soundgarden which, to a degree, I can agree with because all three of these heavyweights’ influences come from the heyday of long haired guitar screeching chug rock and blues.

Don’t get me wrong, this sounds fresh and interesting but is also reminiscent of so many other bands that it’s hard to identify where the originality takes over from the genuflection to days gone by.

This is the kind of track I could imagine lots of (very) young people jumping about to in a rock club while the more mature metal-heads look on, bemused, from the side lines nursing their bottles of Hahn Super Dry and mumbling about Led Zeppelin.

The solo sounds very much like Dave Murray was pointed at a guitar and told to “just do what you do”. The rest of the song doesn’t deviate too far from the basic heavy metal archetypes of twiddly guitars and throaty choruses.

That said, if you like Metal you shouldn’t be disappointed. Rock on!

 


 


Music Review – Ali E – We Are Strangers

Getting back into my own territory, Ali E looks like an escapee from two or three decades ago, I was quite pleased when I first listened to this one and made no bones of stating so in the review.

Original is here.


 

Like a cross between PJ Harvey and Kim Deal, Ali E walks her own path. Hailing from Melbourne in Australia, her songs sound like she has let music and events soak her neurons throughout her life, which has created a turbulent mix of 90s post rock and magic summertime vibes.

We Are Strangers starts with a simple two string riff that will stick in your head, it moves swiftly on through the rest of the introduction then quietens down for a laid back verse with minimal guitar, a deep, dark bassline and some whispering drums. But before you know where you are, it mugs you with a noisy pre-chorus, which lasts not more than a couple of heartbeats before it fades back into the verse, leaving you wanting some foreclosure.

After a short verse-like interlude the chorus proper starts and you are rushed through an all too short fist of power chords and split lead vocals. However just because it’s short doesn’t mean it isn’t powerful, dragging you bodily into the next part of the song.

Unlike a lot of bands Ali E doesn’t seem to believe in a verse, chorus, verse structure, going for a more free flowing style of “what do I think will sound nice next?” even bringing some violins in to round the sound out and make the whole thing seem like a slightly surreal bus accident involving The Levellers and Melissa Auf der Maur.

In the grand scheme of things, We Are Strangers may not be introducing us to anything particularly ground-breaking but then, in the grand scheme of things, who cares! This is a fun track that makes you want to get up and dance!