Posted by: Nick Walters | September 4, 2014

Feathered Frenzy

I’m on a roll…

My story Feathered Frenzy has  been chosen for publication in Teeming Terrors, a new anthology from Knightwatch Press.

The idea behind this anthology is a simple one: HORDES OF CRITTERS! Think James Herbert’s The Rats or Hitchcock’s The Birds. Actually, that second one was the starting point for Feathered Frenzy, which tells the story of a war between seagulls and pigeons: ‘whoever wins, we get shat on.’  It’s like World War Z filtered through a Wyndham-esque disaster story.

Teeming Terrors will be released – when you least suspect it!

Posted by: Nick Walters | September 4, 2014

Blood Slobber of the Scrunge Worms

My short story Blood Slobber of the Scrunge Worms has been chosen for inclusion in Killer Bees from Outer Space, a new anthology from Knightwatch Press. 

The thinking behind the anthology is to have fun with the cliches and ideas found in B Movies. My story is a homage to the golden eras of B Movies, the 1950s, and also to the all-but-bygone age of the video rental shop, source of much of my movie viewing during the 1980s – with an added dose of satire about the modern propensity for remakes/re-imaginings, told through the story of three relationships. Oh and yes the titular Scrunge Worms put in an appearance!

Killer Bees from Outer Space lands in early 2015.

 

Posted by: Nick Walters | August 12, 2014

Lana Del Rey: Ultraviolence

Oh. Well, FUCK YOU!

This will be my last album review on this blog. And it won’t even be a proper review. Sorry, Lana!

Why am I stopping? I’m not in a strop, this is not a flounce, or a cry for attention; it’s a calculated decision. There are two reasons: a) writing them has become a chore, and b) I need to invest my time in other things.

So: a) It’s becoming a chore. A new album will come out, such as this one, and, even before I’ve heard it, even before I’ve bought it, I’ll start to think ‘bugger, I have to review this now.’ I’ll read the other reviews that come out at the time of the release, and phrases from them will seep into my brain before I have even heard a note. I may even begin composing the review in my mind, even before I have heard a note! And so I will get the album, listen to it, and always be aware that I have to write the review. There will be a persistent niggle at the back of my mind each time I put the album on. And it gets worse as time goes on – it takes me a while to get into an album, and it can be weeks, or even months, by the time I eventually manage to chuck some words together for this blog, by which time, who cares? So the whole process of reviewing music is beginning to get in the way, big time, of my actual enjoyment of the music.

Now to: b). Time! I have a ton of other writing I should be getting on with, so time spent on these reviews could be better spent on those. It may not seem like a lot of time, penning the odd music review or two every month, but I have a day job so my writing time is limited to evenings, weekends, and holidays. And then there’s the mental headspace that not worrying about writing these reviews will create.

And I should really be using this blog to promote my writing, rather than churning out these reviews that nobody, least of all me, gives the tinest toss about.

So this is my last ever review on this blog. And I can’t even be bothered to write it. (If you really want to know, read some of the other reviews out there on the Interweb).

Sorry again, Lana! You know I love you.

Posted by: Nick Walters | July 24, 2014

Coldplay: Ghost Stories


Coldplay’s last album, Mylo Xyloto, was such an exuberant, ecstatic dayglo monster that it seemed inevitable that the only way onward was to go in the opposite direction, to go ‘back to basics’ – which, on Ghost Stories, they have. It is not, however, a return to the style of Parachutes, though it does share that album’s sense of intimacy. Ghost Stories is such a radical departure from the Coldplay we’re used to that it has been widely misunderstood, and criticised for being something that it’s not. It’s not a ‘classic break-up album’ like Dylan’s Blood on the Tracks or The Jazz Butcher’s Condition Blue. What it is, is Coldplay’s dreampop album. Compare it to Cranes’ Particles And Waves and the similarities are striking: the electronic beats, the glitchy drums, the sense of stillness and space. It doesn’t quite go far enough in that direction for my liking – there’s nothing really wildly experimental or even original here; Coldpay play things safe musically and lyrically – but it is a beautifully crafted album, put together with much thought and skill. And the title actually means something this time: the songs are all about actions of the past haunting the present.

It opens with the sound of angels crooning leading into Always In My Head, which sets the agenda perfectly. A woozy, dreamy stroll with Martin mumbling away about lost love, sounding not at all bothered. Then comes Magic, which is, admit it, a classic Coldplay single. Clever, catchy, lovely, it’s up there with their best. Then comes Ink, which compares the pain of love to the pain of inking the body, over a simple, even cheesy melody. True Love comes next, one of the best songs here. It shares a smilar sound to Ink, and at first sounds superficial and bland. But the lyric:  ‘Tell me that you love me and if you don’t , Lie to me’  makes the song’s bland  title quite dark, if you think about it. There’s a brilliant, brief, guitar solo towards the end that makes you realise how little guitar work there is on Ghost Stories, but it’s not a really problem as this is not a guitar rock album – as I have already said, it’s dreampop.

And next up is the culmination of this: Midnight, the album’s standout track, and the biggest departure from the usual Coldplay sound, though anyone who has listened to (say) Brian Eno will realise how unoriginal this track is. That said, it is a thing of ethereal beauty, and the nearest to the sound of Particles and Waves it ever gets. The way it builds to its twinkling climax is spellbinging. Next up is Another’s Arms, where Martin moans about missing watching TV with his bird. Naff lyrics do not ruin a lovely song. A word now about Chris Martin’s voice – he’s not everyone’s cup of tea, but  he is in absolutely stunning form here, his voice soars and swoops and croons, sometimes wordlessly, reminding me sometimes of Sigur Ros (as does the album cover, come to think of it). Ghost Stories represents Martin’s finest vocal performance to date.

Then comes Oceans, the album’s other key track. A sonar blip replaces a drumbeat and guitars gently strum and the whole thing ends in two minutes of ambient drone and surging sea sounds. Beautiful! I wish the album could have moved more in this direction, but hey. This is Coldplay, they are trad, not rad. Sky full of Stars comes next, a re-tread of Every Tearbrop is a A Waterfall and, although more uptempo than the rest of the album, it does not seem as out of place as others have said. In fact its sense of dislocated, majestic yearning fits right in, and those stars in that sky reference back to Midnight.  Final track O is seven minutes long, but isn’t really: it’s a sweet piano piece called Fly On, a big gap, then a reprise of the opening fanfare, so leave the CD (remember them?) playing because it brings the album full circle in a satisfying and beautiful way. Overall, then, Ghost Stories represents a new direction for Coldplay and an artistic peak for Chris Martin.  It will convert no-one (in fact perhaps the opposite) but somehow I don’t think that matters one bit.

Posted by: Nick Walters | July 5, 2014

Boris Blank / Malia: Convergence

Yello’s last album was the smooth and sensual Touch Yello in 2009, and since then both Dieter Meier and Boris Blank have embarked on solo projects.  Meier’s album Out of Chaos is, shall we say, the more artistically adventurous. He adopts a startling singing style totally at odds with the deep bassy croon beloved by Yello fans. A brave choice and, to these ears anyway, an off-putting one.

Boris Blank’s solo album is less adventurous but will sound more familiar to Yello fans. Although a joint solo album with Malawian singer Malia, Convergence sounds like a continuation of Touch Yello, albeit with one vocalist and no instrumentals, which gives the project a coherence and identity of its own.

It may be less adventurous but it is no less artistically valid. Blank’s skills in the studio are renowned, and he creates a warm, cinematic, smooth palette of sound with what music geeks would probably call ‘a deep and intricately layered sonic floor’ or something. Malia’s voice is excellently suited to this style and she brings a playful, warm personality to the proceedings especially on the funky I Feel It Like You and the cover of Fever.

I have previously blogged about wacky Yello song titles and there is some of that here Celestial Echo, Magnetic Lies, Touching Ghosts and, most wonderfully, Embraceable Moon.

This is the coolest, smoothest, most sophisticated album since the invention of Babycham. When listened to it, I close my eyes, and am instantly transported to a bar on a beach on a warm summer night, dressed in a tux, propping up the bar and gazing into the eyes of a sexy lady. I am Swiss Toni and Don Turbulento and Random Tox. Nice.

Posted by: Nick Walters | June 17, 2014

James: La Petite Mort

The stunning cover of the new James album is a pretty accurate indication of its contents.

This, James’s second full album since their reunion, is among their very best. The days of Sit Down and Laid are long, long gone, but James’ fire certainly has not gone out. Indeed it burns brighter here than on any of their albums since, arguably, Whiplash. This is a joyous, life-affirming, uplifting album with dark undertones; its theme seems to be ‘in the midst of life we are in death, et cetera.’ Lead single Moving On was written in response to singer Tim Booth’s mother’s passing, and it is truly wonderful and affecting, as is the astonishing video. This bereavement underpins the whole album from its title to its macabre skull/carnival imagery. It  is, however, not a maudlin record – quite the opposite: second track Curse Curse is a bona fide rave anthem and Gone Baby Gone is a fine piece of pop gibberish, totally meaningless fun fluff which contrasts with the record’s weightier themes. Talking of which, Interrogation is the album’s stand-out, a stunning piece of music over which Tim Booth rails and wails against injustice. Now in his mid fifties, Booth sounds just exactly as he ever did, or perhaps even better – and the band are at the top of their game. Larry Gott’s keening, melodious guitar and Andy Diagram’s trumpet flourishes are instantly familiar and reassuring, but it is Mark Hunter’s keyboards that dominate the album and indeed is the first thing you hear on the seven-minute opening track Walk Like You.  However, three consecutive songs on ‘Side 2′ are dominated by Hunter’s piano melodies which does make them seem a little samey on first listen. The production doesn’t help here, not giving these three tracks space enough to breathe, but this is a minor criticism as overall the music has a warm, involving sound. The album ends with the extremely moving All I’m Saying which is one of the best closing tracks to any James album. At ten songs La Petite Mort doesn’t overstay its welcome and leaves you wanting more. James fans should love this, and it’s a fine starting point for the curious. Strange that an album about death and bereavement is proving to be the album of the summer, but there it is!

Posted by: Nick Walters | June 15, 2014

Tobias: A Series Of Shocks

No… not THAT Tobias…

The Quietus has written an excellent review of this album from the point of view of the dance music expert. I am not a dance music expert by any means – I love Underworld, Orbital, the Orb, Leftield, New Order and Yello, and have the odd album by Daft Punk, Air, Royskopp, Basement Jaxx, Burial etc. Only the most popular and high profile dance music ever comes my way. So what led me to this? Well to be honest it was the Quietus review. From that, I knew that this album would fit right in to my tastes in dance – mainstream, well-produced, leaning towards the weird. And, hey ho, so it did! So here is a review from a non-dance expert, a dilettante, an amateur. It begins with Entire, a gentle tinkling piano thing like Philip Glass meets underworld. This burbles on merrily for a while lulling the listener into a false sense of security as it is completely unrepresentative of the album (and indeed was not included on the vinyl version). Second track Heartbeat really kicks things off with a ‘four to the floor’ beat, as I believe they say, with an incredibly deep speaker-busting bass drum pulse. The rest of the tracks are variations on this theme. The strength, as with the best of this sort of stuff, lies in the layers of programmed loops and repetitions which build and build and circle and prowl around each other to exhilarating effect. This is best demonstrated on Instant which features a nagging little riff which sounds almost out of time with the rhythm, causing a delicious dizzying sensation. Ya Po is the biggest head-cruncher here, a relentless  juddering aural assault that sounds like a machine going wrong. If is the most sinister track – its descending, relentless bass riff is deeply unsettling, and it is circled by a swirling, hesitant synth melody and punctuated by a hoarse voice shouting ‘IF!’ To sum up: intelligent techno that will delight both the dance geek and the casual listener.

Posted by: Nick Walters | June 7, 2014

Paul Heaton & Jacqui Abbott: What Have We Become

Yes you should look pleased. It’s a fine album.

Since the Beautiful South split ‘due to musical similarities’, I have been meaning to catch up with the career of Paul Heaton, one of this country’s very best songwriters, but I never got round to his solo albums or even his opera on deadly sins ‘the 8th’. The Beautiful South’s last album, Superbi, is one of their best; and I always thought it was a shame they didn’t carry on, if not up the charts, at least hovering somewhere around its margins. Well, they sort of have, in the form of The South; but without principal songwriters Heaton and David Rotheray I’m not in that much of a hurry to check out their album Sweet Refrains.

And so we come to What Have We Become, which Heaton has recorded with former Beautiful South vocalist Jacqueline Abbott, who left the music industry to look after her son. The reunion of Heaton and Abbott has caused a frisson of nostalgic excitement, and to some What Have We Become is seen as a ‘new Beautiful South album’, which of course it is not as Heaton’s songwriting partner in TBS, David Rotheray, is not present. What this is is a new Paul Heaton solo album, though how it compares to his previous recordings I cannot yet say. It does, however, compare, and very favourably, to the best of The Beautiful South – but it is not a mere exercise in empty nostalgia; it is a work in its own right and should be judged as such.

That said, lead single D.I.Y. is when all is said and done prime mid-period South, very much in the style of Don’t Marry Her – fast and funny with ludicrously overcomplicated wordplay that somehow works (Heaton is a master at cramming as many words into a line as possible).

The excellent sleeve notes, a state of the nation address bemoaning our fragmented, commercialised society, show that Heaton remains as political as he ever was since the early days of The Housemartins and it is refreshing to know that some of the old guard are still writing this way whilst most are happy to trade off past glories (Weller, I’m looking at you). And, sleeve notes! Who does them these days? I wish more would if they’re of this quality:  ‘Women have cooked for thousands of years without saying a thing, men have cooked for ten years and they can’t shut up about it. Look at me, I’m a bloke and I actually know how to hold a frying pan without hitting it over the head of a woman.’ It’s worth buying this album for the sleeve notes alone.

As for the music, it’s at least as good as the best of the South, but with a harder, rockier edge. The title track and Some Dancing To Do are the immediate standouts, real belters as good as anything Heaton has ever written. Further listening reveals other gems like the Snowman, a wise and woozy ballad.  Lyrically, Heaton targets modern society on the title track and the extremely acid Advice To Daughters (one of four extra tracks on the special edition – well worth getting) and lays into the music industry, pulverising pretention, on the dry I Am Not A  Muse. It’s this quintessential handy Britishness and obstreperous, righteous outspokenness that makes Heaton so valuable as a songwriter.

At 50, Heaton’s voice is better than ever, more mature and growly but still able to belt out a tune. Jacqui Abbott’s warm tones are the perfect counterpart, their pairing makes this album a complete pleasure. Musical similarities may have brought The Beautiful South to a premature end, so let’s be thankful for the musical differences that brought these two together again.

Posted by: Nick Walters | May 24, 2014

The Not-So Dangerous Dangers of Evil Blizzard

Evil Blizzard, yesterday. I bet they’re all accountants.

On first glance, depending on your musical mental age (mine is 14), Evil Blizzard look like either the best, or the worst, band ever to exist:  Four bassists. Song titles like Whalebomb and Slimy Creatures. Band member names like Stomper and Prowler. Slipknot-style masks. Theremins inside baby dolls’ heads. They notoriously supported The Fall and this is how I came to hear of them, from other fans on The Fall Forum. Though I didn’t get to see them, reports of their live sets sounded hair-raising and hilarious.  Something about Evil Blizzard makes me think they would be the perfect festival band, like Ozric Tentacles, and they probably make more sense live than they do on record, because – considering all of the above – this album is a disappointment.

I was expecting something akin to the Butthole Surfers at their most demented. The baby imagery they use is highly ‘Buttholian’ and the high children’s voice on the intro track ‘Here come the clowns!’ recalls the opening to Independent Worm Saloon. However, this album goes nowhere near the genius and profane glory that was the Buttholes at their best. There are cosmetic similarities but the music is far too clean and wholesome to bear comparison. What it does sound like is a strange mix of Hawkwind, The Fall and PIL. The singer’s Lydon-like vocals give the whole thing a quaint, reassuring, cosy English pub lunch malarkey feel. The music, though indeed extremely bass-heavy, is rather pedestrian and lockstep, only momentarily taking flight, content most of the time to lurk around the lower end of riffs even Beavis and Butt-Head would find boring. This can be a strength – I myself love repetition, when done well (and particularly when done  by The Fall), but here, it’s just dull.

Opening track Feed The Flames could have been recorded at any point between 1973 and now. Clones is livelier, but the album stops dead with the dull Sleep. Open Up The Red Box is the most reductive track, a pummelling ‘duh-duh-duh-duh-duh’ riff  that beats you into submission – except it doesn’t. Live, it probably would kill, but on record, it feels safe and pedestrian.

Slimy Creatures is far better, with its chugalug bassline and the singer crooning ‘Slimy creatures, ugly features!’ It’s about as threatening as a fluffy kitten, but it is great fun. The closing track, the titanic Whalebomb, is 19 minutes long, 19 minutes of the same moronic, thunderous riff being banged out with all the subtlety of a rutting Skarasen. It is brilliant and the best track here. Overall, though enjoyable, this album is far too clean and polished to merit its title. Sorry, guys! I must try to catch you live at some point, then you can beat me properly to death with your bass-mungous riffs.

Posted by: Nick Walters | May 19, 2014

Addressing UKIP and Nigel Farage

Several times over the last couple of weeks, I’ve considered blogging about UKIP and Nigel Farage. So now, here I am, blogging about UKIP and Nigel Farage. Actually, I’m going to cheat, because I am going to let others speak for me.

Firstly, Nick Pegg says everything I ever wanted to say about the matter, and more so. Well worth reading, which is why I am re-blogging it.

Secondly, this says it all more eloquently than mere words:

Thirdly, well, there is no thirdly.

Vote UKIP by all means, but know what you are voting for.

The 2am knock on the door.

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