Friday, March 30, 2007

I made a prediction about 18 months ago to a few people that “one day we will all work for Google”. As facetious as it seems, I was being entirely serious.

Just now I posted on this here blog of mine about my current listening habits, etc (just scroll down, kids!), and as I navigated away from the post-confirmation page to actually look at this new post (not so new now that this one exists), to check formatting was OK and see if the picture looked good (this blog is really all about the pictures; I know you don’t believe me but the words are totally arbitrary), I noticed that Blogger, or Google or The Corporation or Big Brother or whatever you want to call it, was offering me money.

Specifically it was offering to make me money if I signed up to AdSense and, presumably, allowed Google-sourced “relevant ads” to adorn this blog. Now, aside from Ian, who commented below, my girlfriend, and Colin and Glen who I know have signed up to the RSS feed, I don’t really expect that there’s anyone reading this strange little corner of the internet (which is shit, btw), let alone enough people to click the AdSense banner as many times as it takes to make me any money. (Would it know if I clicked them loads myself?)

Some brief thoughts, because I really wasn’t intending on posting again so soon, but these ideas interest me;

Should I sign-up to AdSense?

Is the growing popularity of Web.2 and net-savvy browsers like Mozilla that allow you to block adverts, plus the increasing immunity to adverts that lots of net-users exhibit (Emma and I have discussed this – neither of us ever click on any net-based adverts; we barely even ever notice they exist), plus several other factors far too woolly and barely-even-holistically-linked reasons that I cannot recall, going to lead to a world where companies realise that advertising in the traditional sense simply does not work and stop spending all that fucking money on viral marketing and graphic design to hawk their products, thus depriving various institutions and publications that rely on ad-money in order to exist the very lifeblood revenue of advertising that they require?

I forgot this one while I was writing that last one

I have deleted / deactivated both my Myspace and Facebook pages because they were annoying me and social network sites are the cultural cancer of the 21st century.

If you’re reading, even if you’re Ian, Emma, Colin or Glen, would you please do me the good-favour of saying “hello” or suchlike in the comments box so that I know who my audience is? Also mention if you like the pictures, please.

I am in London on Monday for a conference on copyright. Thought you ought to know.


Friday, March 30, 2007

Current Listening

In unrelated news, a certain online music/books/DVDs/stuff retailer named after a rainforest really, really wants me to buy Neon Bible.

“Last year was rubbish for music” is a common complaint in circles I occasionally find overlapping like a ven-diagram of music-lovers. Personally I thought last year was great; Midlake, Guillemots, Grizzly Bear, Final Fantasy, e.s.t., Scott Walker, Jenny Lewis, TV On The Radio, Howe Gelb, King Biscuit Time, Sonic Youth, Yo La Tengo, Lambchop, Shack…

I think every year is great. This year is also shaping up to be mighty fine; LCD Soundsystem, !!!, Patrick Wolf, Battles, Electrelane, The Field, Do Make Say Think, Acoustic Ladyland… It’s not even April yet. There’s always stuff worth listening to, and generally stuff worth falling in love with.

If you think a year in music is rubbish, you’re not trying hard enough. You can’t expect it to come to you. How often has Radio 1 enlightened you? (Feature idea there – Top Ten Moments When Listening To Radio 1 Actually Made Me Go Batshit Over New Music. I can think of… three. Delakota; Guillemots; “Blind”.)

The life of a music writer is an odd life. Much less interesting than people suppose. It involves a lot of listening to records on one’s own, and then trying to think of something witty or incisive to say about them. It’s not exciting. Maybe it is for some others who do this, but I doubt it.

It also, potentially, divorces you from being able to listen to music the way a “regular fan” does, or looks as though it might from the outside – OK, so “free music” is within reach of anyone with broadband and no fear of the RIAA or BPI, but listening to something in order to formulate an opinion on it rather than just because you enjoy it (or suspect you will enjoy it) is an alien process, perhaps. But is it really what music writers do? Is all our listening critical, purposeful? Do we sit around in an office playing records and discussing their merits? I never have. I consider myself a fan who writes, very definitely, and my listening is still (or, rather, is once again) very much governed by what I like rather than what I feel I need to hear. I simply don’t have the time or heart to try and take in everything.

I think the “normalcy” of music writers’ tastes and listening habits is something that could do with a bit of demythologising, especially in the age of the unpaid internet “critic” (although the ontology and ramifications of the word “critic” are another meme on my mind lately), and as such I have a couple of ideas for Stylus that may see fruit in the next few months. (Mythology, or pop.cult. mythology anyway, and the destruction thereof being something I have always been very keen on anyway, and I’m getting keener. [Listened to The Stone Roses the other day and was struck by how monochrome and dull it was; hmmm.])

As such and in the meantime, here are three current favourite artists who are frequenting the iPod, the hi-fi, the head-fi and sometimes the car, who don’t have new product to pimp and who I shan’t be reviewing any time soon but whose music nonetheless thrills and delights me.

Re-releases of the Super Roots series of EPs and mini-albums (or whatever you want to call them) have piqued my interest. I’ve had Vision Creation Newsun and Super æ for a few years, but aside from one particularly memorable evening dancing to VCN on Emma’s bed with her little brother (then 12 and bewildered / fascinated by what we were listening to and why we were behaving like nutjobs, now 15 and comfortably ensconced in self-identified chav-hell), I’d never really given either much time. I love the idea of crazy Japanese psychedelic rockers playing 10-minute call & response drum grooves but… Perhaps it was that Super æ begins with some nasty, dissonant guitars that put me off enough to make me put it on the shelf and think “one day”. (How many books, DVDs and CDs are waiting for that day? And when will that day come? When I retire and can finally catch-up on my cultural-stockpile pension?) Maybe I first listened during a period when I wanted something soothing (which, of course, some of Super æ is, once you get past those opening guitars)? Whatever, a moment’s research via AMG convinced me to order Super Roots 7 and run Super AE through my headphones properly, all the way to the end, and I was smitten. Super Roots 7 became great driving fodder, and Pop Tatari, purloined from emusic, proved to be much less abrasive and much more fun than I had surmised from hearsay. I think I have an aversion to the word “punk”, probably because the punks are now attempting to do what the baby-boomers have done so effectively for most of the last 30 years – i.e. lord it over current pop culture, constantly claiming their revolution to be the most important and best revolution ever, until I (and presumably lots of other people too) get thoroughly fucking sick of it.

Long Fin Killie
I actually do feel a strong urge to write something about Long Fin Killie, and pretty soon too, although for obvious reasons it won’t be a review for obvious reasons. I’d even try and not make it a simple “Luke Sutherland is a genius” piece, either. (Seven albums [under various guises] and three novels in eleven years suggest he may well be a genius though.) Emma has observed that I “always” listen to them on a Sunday morning, which is an interesting phenomenon and may actually form the basis of what I do end up writing. Three albums, all brilliant – interestingly they got more concise and their albums blessed with greater brevity as they went on, songstructures and musicianship tightly winding-in from the breathless, endless vistas of their debut. I couldn’t pick a favourite record by them.

A recent discovery thrown up by my adventures in fidelity, Califone’s miraculously arranged, engineered, mixed and mastered records have become my default headphone listening choice. To be offensively reductive as only a music writer can be, imagine Wilco’s Yankee Hotel Foxtrot dissolved in acid and reassembled from only the basic elements – country guitars, whispering, feedback, wafts of electronics – with ego, epic gestures and sense of import drained away. Songs are not obvious or enlarged here and neither are sonics – every gesture is microcosmic, deeply felt and ruminatively placed. Without wanting to become compression-geek again, they joy I get from listening to Califone, as well as being from their subtle tunes and the deeply-felt (but never over-egged) emotions within those tunes, is a lot to do with their music establishing real, physically topographical spaces that I can climb inside, especially with headphones on (current weapons of choice are a pair of AKG K601s running from a Meier Audio Corda Headfive, geek-fans). There’s amazing control and care taken in the making of these records, and one can only conclude from that, that Tim Rutili and co. care very much about what they’re doing. It’s a shame that more artists don’t seem to take as much care.


Friday, March 30, 2007


Wednesday, March 28, 2007

“Communication involves other people.”

I wrote this in a comments box of a Stylus review the other day, after another impenetrable tirade of banal linguistic trickery by one of our frequent commentors, who seems to take pleasure in a mean-spirited mockery of those around him by writing in such an obtuse and high-minded style.

Last night I spent two and a half hours parsing Rosalind Krauss’ densely-written A Voyage on the North Sea, in which she explains her vision of a “post-medium condition” in art theory. It involves several things, namely semantic discord over the term “medium”: the end of “the arts” as separatist disciplines, genres and techniques and the triumph of “art” as creative expression: conceptual art as anti-commodity-commodity: conceptual art as (critical) comment on both itself and its venue: and art as revealing the process of art rather than the object of art; that is art as “affect” rather then just “effect”. For instance Michelangelo’s David is not just a marble sculpture – it is the whole ontological process of the sculpture, from commission, planning, man with hammer, chisel and block of marble, to end result. The “art” is the whole process, not just the finished artefact.

I’m not an art historian and I’m not a post-modernist (maybe I am, though – who can say?), but the ideas struck me as essentially pretty simple. Conceptual art triumphs over “the arts” because it is not limited by technique, tradition, or tools; it is not separatist and it is not reductionist; it does not see painting as typified only by “flatness” at a base level. Take Magritte’s infamous pipe that is not a pipe; here it is;

The “art” in Magritte’s pipe is not that it is a painting, which is flat, and contains paints applied to canvas in a certain pattern; it is that it reveals explicitly the process of art. The phrase written beneath the image of the pipe makes you realise that you are looking at a painting and not a real object – we know this already, but like realist cinema imitates documentary which in turn imitates real life, the point of art is often to obscure its own process via mythology, to make you feel moved by something fake by making it appear not-fake, or real: this is what culture is; a system of mythologies which make the artificial (social, planned, cultural, man-made, representative) appear natural (evolved, spontaneous, spiritual, organic, real) – by encouraging you to ponder on the nature and origin (process) of the art.

Looked at as a simple material thing, as “just” paint on canvas, Magritte’s pipe is pretty dull – it’s a lifeless painting with drab colours, the proportions are odd, the lines unrealistic – but looked at as a conceptual whole in which you consider the process and reasoning that brought it into being, it is an enlightening marvel; “this is NOT a pipe!” one’s mind exclaims the moment you “get” it, and one feels a little smarter for having realised Magritte’s schtick, or joke, or deep metaphysical point (delete as appropriate). (Sad that so much conceptual art should be so rich in concept and so poor in sensual, tactile physicality – place a more equal emphasis on the idea and the object, please! I am sure more people would be better disposed towards conceptual art if it was as pleasant to look upon as it was stimulating to think about.)

The thing is that pretty much any art reveals its process if you look closely enough – the brushstrokes in a painting; the chisel marks in a sculpture – so Krauss’ fight against the modernists, who had reduced painting’s essence to “flatness”, perhaps rushes too far in the opposite direction, over-praising the concept in order to defeat the notion of “flatness” as the essence of a painting, or any specific physical characteristics and/or tool-sets as being the “essence” of any work of art, in any medium / genre / discipline. (One might argue that some conceptual art relies too much on the concept as its essence and that this kind of conceptual essentialism is just as reductive as materialist essentialism – Emin’s bed, perhaps; on a conceptual level it is her life, her emotional structure, her sexual history, her most vulnerable, sleeping self; but it is also just a bed, and painfully mundane to look at.)

These ideas are pretty simple; we all know them and our brains automatically process them a thousand times a day as we encounter magazine covers, billboards, televisions, etcetera. We (almost) all know the ontological ramifications of the Nike swoosh – sport, achievement, commerce, style, sweatshops, more – understanding that isn’t a post-modern trick; it’s common sense and awareness.

I had considered for a long time continuing my education past undergraduate level; if one thing turned me off, it was the fact that the area I’d have continued studying – pop music, pop culture, etcetera – would have meant necessarily having to deal with people like Deleuze, with post-modernism and the unnecessary density of post-modern prose which is self-destructive because it actively discourages communication of simple-yet-important ideas by alienating anyone unwilling to parse its lengthy hall-of-mirrors passages. I hate it. I hated it when a lecturer in my final year read out a passage of Deleuze and said “there; I don’t understand it, but it’s genius.” It’s not genius; it’s smoke and mirrors, obfuscation, ivory towers, gate-keeping, exclusivity, nasty intellectual egotism. The ideas beneath “God is a lobster; or a double-pincer; or a double-bind” may be genius, but “God is a lobster” is not; it is ridiculous. I delved into Sokal & Bricmont’s work; none of my lecturers had heard of them and I walked away from academia disgusted by the social irresponsibility of the culture it encourages in undergraduates as well as by the intellectual impostures, straight into a job at a university.

I’ve taken tomorrow off to parse some more Krauss.


Wednesday, March 28, 2007

I'm Not Scared

Monday, March 19, 2007

We watched Gabriele Salvatore’s excellent Io Non Ho Paura at the weekend (amongst other things - Motorcycle Diaries was another). I’d been meaning to watch it for an age – either Mark Kermode on the radio or Peter Bradshaw in The Guardian had raved about it when it was released in cinemas about three years ago, and we’ve had a copy (two, in fact) of the Italian release at work for a couple of years – but simply hadn’t got round to it until now.

The first thing it reminded me of was Terence Malick’s Days of Heaven. Malick, in theory, is one of my favourite directors, but the paucity of his material, and the overlong pretension of his later work (particularly The Thin Red Line) makes it difficult to be a serious fan. Badlands and Days of Heaven are both pretty-much perfect, though.

Visually Io Non Ho Paura echoes the lavish cornfield cinematography of Days of Heaven; but rather than the romantic twilight ambience of that film, it’s a childhood dream that takes place in broad daylight and strong washes of primary colours – the yellow corn, the blue sky, a boy’s red t-shirt. The southern Italian landscape is as much a member of the cast as the awesome Giuseppe Cristiano; in fact on one level you could see the film as a romance between Cristiano’s character (Michele) and the fields through which he rides his bike, the trees in which he lazes above the scorching earth, and the abandoned stone barns and outhouses where he finds adventure. Where Malick’s film is (visually) all about grieving for the closing of the day, about ruminations and remembrances, Salvatore’s is about the sensual joy of the present; the high sun, the cooling breeze. About being a boy in a summer with no cares.

Except, of course, that there are cares and there are worries, and there are also terrible, strange, senseless (to a child) crimes. Michele discovers a boy chained-up in a hole in the ground, half-starved, blinded by sunlight and so delirious he thinks he is dead…

Io Non Ho Paura is one-third beatific childhood escapism, one third grown-ups being assholes, and one third mystery in a deep, dank hole. So, in a roundabout way, is Pan’s Labyrinth, which is the other film that Io Non Ho Paura reminded me of. Except, of course, that it predates Del Toro’s Franco/fantasy film by about three years. Both films have wonderful child leads of around the same age, both are seen almost exclusively through that child’s eyes, both hinge on daydreaming and the way daydreams make terrible adult events and crimes seem almost banal… In fact, so similar are the films that both child leads are shot by their (real or assumed) fathers in the final moments of each, whether with cold-hearted deliberation or by panicked accident.

Io Non Ho Paura is certainly the less phantasmagorical of the two; the daydreams of the lead are of a Boy’s Own Adventure ilk, rooted in noirish kidnappings and ransom notes; while those of Ofelia in Pan’s Labyrinth are concerned with fairies, mystical tasks and magic spells, less absent-minded fantasy than desperate escapism. It’s also the less brutal; the crimes in Salvatore’s film are perpetrated by bumbling, jealous adults, victims of the system rather than its enforcers. Michele, we are led to think, or hope, does not die from the gunshot inflicted upon him by his father, who is not a torturer or fascist – just a poor man with half a brain who can think enough to dream himself out of poverty but not enough to do it by any means other than criminal. Ofelia, in the real world, has no hope but to die at the close of Pan’s Labyrinth, even if she is reborn a princess in her fading dream.

My instinct would have been to say that I preferred Del Toro’s film – fantastical realism being theoretical catnip to my cinema tastes – but I’m unsure. There was something in the gentle nature of Salvatore’s film that made the drama, when it came, seem almost more poignant than the desperate, unremitting nastiness of that in Pan’s Labyrinth. Even Ofelia’s daydreams are frightening – the giant toad, the Pale Man and even the ancient, rickety faun himself are all fearsome apparitions, less an escape from the unpleasantness of Captain Vidal than a displacement. Perhaps Io Non Ho Paura creates a better balance; perhaps its freshness to me is a boon. No matter – both are wonderful films, and so similar in so many ways that I’m surprised not to have seen mention of Io Non Ho Paura in relation to Pan’s Labyrinth.

I am intending to revisit Del Toro’s The Devil’s Backbone soon, as well as Fumihiko Sori’s Ping Pong and Cuaron’s Children of Men (again).


Monday, March 19, 2007

I Am A Target Market

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

I’ve not taken a decent photo for ages. This needs to be rectified, if only because a primary reason for writing here is that I love heading posts with my own pictures. Please excuse this current shameless use of old images.


I don’t get Arcade Fire. The dude’s voice annoys me, the histrionic songwriting and arrangements annoy me, and the heavy-handed compression on the debut album annoys me too. Also, I dislike epic Springsteen. This adds up to not caring enough to investigate Neon Bible. (Also, dreadful title and worse cover.) I don’t, however, begrudge anyone else liking them. Liking music is healthy, and, as an editor said to me in an email several months ago, people who like different records to me aren’t idiots; they just like different records. (Some of them may be idiots, of course, but then again so might be lots of people who like the same records.)

What I do begrudge is people who assume that liking Arcade Fire automatically makes you a more worthy or discerning or less easily-manipulated listener than liking, say, The Feeling. Arcade Fire may be better than The Feeling (in objective “who can play their instruments better” terms they’re probably not though), but that’s a totally subjective judgements call; I don’t like either (and neither of them are particularly revolutionary or groundbreaking). By choosing to like one over the other you are sadly not escaping the insidious cogs of the capitalist machinery that drives the music industry. Arcade Fire have a PR team just as ravenous for the right kind of success and exposure as The Feeling do; I know, I get their emails. So does any band who has any kind of PR representation at all, even if it’s just themselves loading tunes into Myspace. If you like music, you are being marketed to.

Case in point: About a week ago Todd Burns at Stylus emailed me suggesting I might like the forthcoming album by Battles. Battles are a manic, irreverent, experimental and largely instrumental post-rock / math-rock “supergroup” signed to Warp – about as far from the “Marks & Spencers MOR” of The Feeling and the broadsheet-approved of Arcade Fire as you can get without being Louis Sclavis. I downloaded the files of the album from the Stylus promos, and had a listen. Sure enough, I liked it a lot; Todd knows my tastes pretty well. Two or three days later, apropos of nothing, I received an email from the people doing the PR for Battles – they’d got my address from Patrick Wolf’s PR people, they thought I’d like Battles, did I want a promo of the album and was I interested in doing an interview with them for Stylus? See? I am a target market. Even something as (currently) obscure and “experimental” as Battles wants listeners, wants exposure. Don’t fool yourself into thinking you’re not being watched too.


Tuesday, March 13, 2007

A Story Worth Telling

A little voice keeps telling me to “write more” on here, but motivation is difficult. Partly it’s because blogging seems rather passé in 2007 – BBC Radio FiveLive are exhorting listeners to “blog” via the BBC’s own website once again next week (on March 20th, national storytelling day, or something), and while I can see the good in this (creativity and communication being good things almost any way you look at them) the steady stream of mundane profundity that results is deadening rather than moving – “today I start cognitive therapy to deal with my abused childhood” / “yesterday my father died, how I wish we’d talked more” / “our baby son died a year ago today”.

Each of these events taken individually is a tragedy or a triumph for the person involved, and basic human nature means I can empathise, but none of them are national news and none of them are entertainment, and I only have so much empathy to spread around anyway. At a push they could be deemed emotional education, but I can’t help but feel that the lessons they can teach us would be much better learnt from those around us in daily life rather than from disembodied strangers via a national radio station’s website. I’d rather save my empathy for the people I interact with everyday than use it on abstract strangers.

This interesting article from New York Metro offers a deeper investigation into the nature of the kind of ostentatious confessional that the internet seems to encourage. My girlfriend deleted her Myspace account a few weeks ago; at the time I thought it was hasty but now I’m thinking of doing the same.

The other thing preventing me from using this blog more is the lack of communication it inspires. Blogging seems like… not quite tilting at windmills, but perhaps talking to a wall. I decided against putting a hit counter on here so I have no idea how many views this will get, how many people will read it, and the lack of response is disheartening. Almost everything I write is intended to begin a dialogue; possibly this is a reason why I’ve not pushed myself further with my writing – a piece in a newspaper or magazine is dead as soon as it’s printed, no responses, no ideas flowering from it, no communication. Of course the ironic flipside of that is what I bemoaned in the paragraphs above – when everyone responds because everyone can. Human culture is about storytelling, and there are currently more and easier vehicles for telling stories than there have ever been.


Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Identity Theft

Friday, March 09, 2007

Just so you know, this is not me.


Friday, March 09, 2007

Recent Articles / Reviews



Nothing Here Is True
Unless You Want It To Be

Nick Southall was born in southwest England at the tail end of the 70s, and is the youngest of three brothers. He has a degree in popular culture and philosophy and has written about music for Stylus Magazine, The Guardian and Drowned In Sound, amongst others. He likes red wine, expensive headphones, spicy food, and the Hungarian national football team of the 1950s. His favourite record is the last one he listened to. You can contact him by email via sickmouthy @ gmail dot com should you so wish.

All material copyright Nick Southall 2006/2007/2008

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