Thursday, 4 October 2012


Took a trip down to Stokes Croft, Bristol to hang out with all the cool kids.
Ate pizza and drunk Desperado's. 

Sunday, 19 August 2012

One rock star seemingly happy to fade into obscurity is John Frusciante of previous Red Hot Chili Peppers fame. During the nineties his struggle with drug addiction, specifically heroin, saw him leave the Chili Peppers and become a recluse - holed up in the Hollywood Hills with his arms covered in needle marks and the walls of his house covered in Graffiti like some William Borroughs character but living in America instead of Morocco. It seemed that Frusciante would go the same way as the a lot of the good and bad of the rock n rollers from Brain Jones to Syd Barrett. His habit became worse and worse as he released a string of experimental Barrett inspired records - the first of which (Niadre LaDes And Usually Just A T-Shirt) he maintains was not written whilst he was a drug addict. "I wrote [the record] because I was in a really big place in my head—it was a huge, spiritual place telling me what to do."
In January 1998, Frusciante checked himself into rehab after struggling to kick his habits on his own. When appeared out of the other side he began a much more ascetic lifestyle, completely cold turkey, taking up yoga and watching his diet closely. Not long after this, he rejoined the Red Hot Chili Peppers and the following year they released Californication to widespread acclaim. During the tour that followed the album, Frusciante continued to write songs which would land on the album To Record Only Water For Ten Days and were markedly less avant-garde.
In 2004, Frusciante released seven more albums following the same vane as To Record... (six of which were released in six months!) - the best of which being Inside Emptiness. More conventional songs, they are still marked with cryptic lyrics but all with a melancholic theme which reflects the fragile and delicate soul of an ex-addict.
Then, in 2008, Frusciante finally quit Red Hot Chili Peppers to concentrate on making more experimental music, releasing the Empyrian in January 2009 a concept album whose story has 'no action in the physical world'. On its release he explained on his website that he would not tour as the music made was created from a studio environment. The Empyrian also showed a change in direction, production wise, which seems to be where Frusciante is at now. With two new albums out this year (one EP released last month, Letur Lefh and an album coming out next month), he describes what the music is like:

"I consider my music to be Progressive Synth Pop, which says nothing about what it sounds like, but does describe my basic approach. I combine aspects of many styles of music and create my own musical forms by way of electronic instruments.:
John Frusciante, 2012

With a free download of the song which hints at what the album will sound like available at his website, it sounds like it will be a really interesting listen. My only worry is whether it will be lean to much on the experimental side an jeopardise the pop side, but maybe that isn't necessarily a bad thing, right? It combines bits of acid house underneath the brittle falsetto of Frusciante. It might take a few listens but then so do a lot of his earlier works. There seems no desire to tour still however and it begs the question of whether we will ever see him again or has he joined the ranks of the still alive but reclusive (and elusive) rock stars. As long as he carries on making beautiful music and shares it with the public I guess we can't grumble!

Wednesday, 2 February 2011

The Spy Who Came In From The Cold

OK, so it's been over a year since I've posted anything.....
Berlin, Jan 9th - 17th, 2011

As you walk past the giant monolithic SONY building and Fritz Lang's 'Metropolis'-style buildings (The Ritz) on the right, it is hard to imagine the barbed wire, land mines, tanks and scattering of military soldiers that would have previously marked the 'no-mans' land of the wall which once divided the city. And yet this is where on the year of my birth it collapsed as the first blows to the wall symbolised the dawning of what appeared to be a new era. Where you can now get your passport stamped with old GDR visa stamps for just €2. Berlin oozes with history, from the remnants of the Berlin Wall, Check Point Charlie (the old American Check point during the wall now surrounded by souvenir shops and a McDonalds), to the towering Imperialistic Brandenburg Gate and Unter Den Linden with some of Schinkel's grand architecture proudly adorning the Gendenmarkt.
I have never been to Germany before and although I studied modern American history at A-level (and therefore know a little of the cold war) I know little of German history, even of the World Wars from a German point of view. I have always wondered what it must be like to grow up and learn of the terrible truths which happened on one's doorstep. What is sad is the amount of exciting and interesting modern Art that was happening before the Nazi party came into power and forced many artists who were known to be outputting so-called 'degenerate art' out of the country. The Bauhaus movement for one was based in Berlin from the 1920s until they were kicked out by the Nazi regime. Influenced by Hungarians such Laslo Moholey-Nagy and leftist orientated pacifistic avant-garde ideas gathered around Lajos Kassak, editor of the journal MA (today). When Hungary gained independence in 1918, artist with revolutionary sympathies were forced to leave the country. Ironically, twenty years on they would be forced to move out of Germany. The building where the Bauhaus movement used to occupy is now used as an archive and was exhibiting Hungarian art from its earliest movement with many influences including De Stilj with its proclomation 'that which is random or accidental is to be replaced by what is regular and consistent' and influenced the style of architecture that Bauhaus would become most famous for.
Another great movement of German art was the Brücke movement which was a group of German expressionist formed in Dresden in 1905 and named after the Brücke museum in Berlin which is located on the outskirts of Grundewald forest on the western outskirts of Berlin. The movement was all about getting back to nature and had a keen interest, like the Fauves, to primivalist art. A beautifully apt location with a dusting of snow still clinging to the forest land, there was a retrospective on Erich Heckel (1883-1970), clearly showing a distinct 3 stages of his career through early expressionism moving on to 'neue sachlichkeit' - 'the new sobriety' (or new objectivity, it sought to distance itself from the turbulent post war years and pathos of expressionism. Franz Roh described the art as 'miniturist, cool to cold.')
From October 1953 until his death Bertolt Brecht lived in a rented apartment on the first floor of Chausseestrasse 124, East Berlin where he lived with Helene Weigel (although they were pretty much estranged in this time - Weigel lived in the second floor, Brecht in the first and the shared the ground floor kitchen). The first floor is now an open museum and nothing has been touched since Brecht's death. It's fascinating to look through and see how Brecht worked and it's a beautiful house in lovely part of East Berlin.

Inspired by this trip to Berlin, I picked up two books. Firstly, John Le Carrie's The spy who came in from the cold about espionage in Cold War Berlin. A story about the harsh realities of espionage during the height of cold war and about second guessing each over, a story of intrigue, back-stabbing and of raw emotion. A great read; has inspired me to take a look at Le Carrie's over works.
Secondly, Philip Kerr's The one from the other which is set in Hamburg in 1949 and follows a private detective in post war Germany looking for missing persons but before he knows it he is tangled up in a web of ex-Nazis and bent priests. This is what the terms 'thriller' and 'page turner' were made for!
Both books are very similar in their bleakness and self deprecation. I think this is part of allure of Berlin, the beauty in its bleakness with constant reminders of a torrid past round every corner yet signs of a hopeful, progressive future in the same light which mirrors the mismatch of cultures and architectures which dot the city. The cliches roll off the tongue yet they seem to make sense.

Sunday, 22 November 2009

Polar Bear

So I thought that I'd write about something other than Tom Waits. Four years ago I saw a one of the most inspiring live bands that I think I have ever seen. They went by the name of Polar Bear. Mixing new-jazz/be-bop/live electronics (a la Max/MSP) they have a unique and interesting sound and drummer/band leader Seb Rochford also has a good ear for a tune. Their self-titled third album came out in June of 2008 and has never really escaped my playlist since. I recently saw them (for the fifth time) at Camden Jazz Cafe. Well, they never fail to blow me a way. Jazz was once described to me by a friend as three virtuosos on stage. Polar Bear are five virtuosos on stage but at no point does the music seem indulgent or arrogant. The music moves from danceable dittys to psychadelic jams to melancholic ballads with ease, all founded by a brilliant sense of rythm and emotion. This is not music made for jazz fans so do NOT be put off by the connotations this word has. Go on, give it a listen and I'm sure you wont regret it. The new songs they played boasts Leafcutter John (electronics) playing electric guitar with a brush. Apparently the new album will be out by March of 2010 and I cannot wait.
If this floats you boat check out Acoustic Ladyland who you will find under 'jazz' in your local HMV store but seem to be more suited the term 'punk' with their influences being Jimi Hendrix and Iggy Pop, band members include drummer and saxophonist of Polar Bear respectively, Seb Rochford and Pete Wareham.
Oh, and the support bands for Polar Bear at the Camden Jazz Cafe were pretty cool. Can't remember the names of them but will try and find out.

small change got rained on...

So it's half midnight and the weekend has gone of crying to Monday morning. I am currently finishing the abstract to my dissertation which has to be handing in by midday of the morrow/today (depending on whether you're one of those annoying people who count the next day at precisely one second after midnight or not). My dissertation question resembles something along the lines of 'is Swordfishtrombones [Tom Waits' seminal 9th album] one of the most daring transformations in pop music history or merely a natural creative evolution.' blah blah blah. Anyway, researching this has got me delving into Waits' extensive back catalog from the seventies and reminding me of some true gems (eg. 'Romeo is bleeding'). Small Change is a brilliant album from the creative genius. The opening track is both beautiful and tragic, a romantic alcoholic anthem that could've inspired the pogues' fairytale of New York.

The title track is another craker - a kerouac-esque spoken word piece inspired by a young african american kid who waits saw one night in LA with his head in gumball machine covered in blood having been rained on with his own .38
It may well be the best album Waits produced in the seventies, the point when his tin pan alley/boho beat poet hit its creative peak.

Hey man, Romeo is bleeding...

...and he'll die without a whimper/like every hero's dream/just an angel with a bullet/and Cagney on the screen...

Highlight from Waits' Kerouac/Bukowski inspired boho-beat-poet-come-tin-pan-alley-bar-stool-crooning days.