Friday, 29 February 2008

Music review: “Freedom 2008” by The Right Trema

The Trema, (or diaeresis) punctuation mark has fallen out of favour in England in recent years. Words such as “coöperate” and “noöne” are now spelt without the trema, usually with a hyphen, leading many people to wonder what has happened to the diacritic since it left the public eye.

The truth, long denied by the Trema’s management, is that the punctuation mark split up, citing that oft-used reason, “artistic differences”. The left dot of the trema, it is believed, had wanted to continue being a diacritic, and was content to sit atop vowels, letting people know that the sounds of the letter is pronounced separately to that of the preceding vowel. The right hand dot had other ideas, however, and broke up the partnership to pursue a career in music.

Several decades in the making, The Right Trema has finally released its first album, Freedom 2008, on Glottal Stop Records. With production from Timbaland (who guests on several of the tracks), the album is a polished, well written affair with some excellent stand-out tracks.

‘U Got Me High’, a duet with Nicole Scherzinger of the Pussycat Dolls, is one such highlight. Slow and sexy with Timbaland’s trademark syncopated beats, the passion on show from the two singers will really make you believe that a human female could fall in love with a punctuation mark. The faster party sound of forthcoming single ‘(Everybody) Get Jumpin’’ should make it a hit in the clubs, and the electro-influenced cover of Talking Heads’ ‘And She Was’ is piece of pure pop genius that almost (almost!) improves on the original.

What lets Freedom 2008 down, however, are the tracks on which The Right Trema seems to be fixated with his status as a small dot. These songs are typically aggressive, and show no small amount of insecurity on the part of the singer. Take ‘Song for Warner’, a diss to the record label who initially refused him. The chorus, “Warner lost out by refusing me/Bitches in the office sad at losing me/Motherfuckers don’t know what I’m all about/Don’t call me no motherfuckin’ umlaut” sounds as bad in song as it does on paper. (One could say that it's as derivative as the mathematical function that uses tremas when written out by Newton.)

It’s sad that The Right Trema should have such a chip on his shoulder when the rest of his music is so good. As he stated in a recent Rolling Stone interview, if someone like Paris Hilton or Heidi Montag can release music, why can’t a tiny limbless dot with no mouth or internal functions do the same? Maybe when he is accepted by the music industry he’ll be able to released a more consistent album.

Incidentally, fans of The Right Trema may be interested to know that he has buried the hatchet with his old partner, Lefty (who has spent the last few decades working as a tittle, the dot on a lowercase letter ‘I’), and they are making plans to collaborate on a new project, the word ‘naïve’.

Freedom 2008 by The Right Trema will be released March 10th on Glottal Stop Records. A special edition microdot copy will be available from the company’s website.

Tuesday, 26 February 2008

The Complete Wayne Carroll Collection of Drunken Text Message Poetry

For nearly ten years, Wayne Carroll has been at the forefront of British poetry, with his prolific output matched only by the accolades he has received from the literary establishment. He burst on to the scene in 1999 with a salvo of hard-hitting works, collected together in the now out-of-print I, Wayne Carroll, I. Ensuing years saw a steady release of individual works into poetry journals and anthologies, and then his blazing 2003 collection, I, Wayne Carroll, II, reignited the public’s interest in the elusive writer’s work. Now, his publishers Cosgrove, Hill and Valence have gathered all his poems together for the first time, in this two-volume set.

As well as the aforementioned works, The Complete Wayne Carroll includes many previously unpublished poems that are sure to please the many Carroll completists out there. Extensive notes and annotations serve to illuminate both the scholar and the casual reader on many facts about the poems. For example, the hitherto unpublished work, Last Night (Red Lion VI) (2005) has two pages of information on why the poem was never sent to any literary journals, despite its obvious merits, which shall be obvious from the following extract:

I saw u last nite in the pub with tht twat
Jules Im sorry I lost it
I shouldntve twatted him

Kudos to C, H and V for locating this valuable work in the history of Carroll’s writing! Such fragility and vulnerability that Wayne shows in these three poignant lines! So different from the angry young man that we see in his most famous work, Fuck U (Fleece & Firkin VIII) (1999):

Don’t care if u dont come back anyway
See if i care
I wasnt even lookin at her tits

The volumes are arranged chronologically, beginning with Carroll’s very first works (which are somewhat weaker than the ones that brought him to the public eye, with the Who Wants a Kebab? Triptych being particularly forgettable). We see his experimentation with haiku around the year 2000, as seen in Missed Taxi (The Royal IX):

Taxi didnt wait
Meet u in the club l8r
Get me a Stella

Then there are the more avant garde elements of his latter works, when Carroll flirted with a more free-form style, such as Sandra (Kelsey’s II), consisting entirely of his ex-girlfriend’s name repeated twenty-three times. Incidentally, the annotated notes for this poem mention that Carroll sent this poem to his then-current girlfriend by mistake, resulting in a severe groin injury.

Wayne Carroll’s drunken text message poetry is one of the most important things to happen to the world of literature since Shakespeare penned his sonnets. This marvellous collection really does bring together a wealth of previously unseen material, and the notes for each work add a multitude of extra layers of appreciation. The addition of Carroll’s personal correspondence gives us even more insight into the world of this brilliant poet; the letters between Carroll and the Scottish band Arab Strap about a possible collaboration (sadly aborted) contain a wealth of mutual admiration, intelligence and profanity.

At slightly less than two thousand pounds, this double volume set is probably beyond the reach of most casual readers, but for appreciators of fine poetry, The Complete Wayne Carroll Collection of Drunken Text Message Poetry is an essential purchase.

Friday, 22 February 2008

We see the new film from Pixar Studios!

The Adventures of Andrew the Anthropomorphic Animal is the new film from Pixar, the makers of Ratatouille and Cars. The film continues the company’s tendency to make animations about anthropomorphic creatures, the lone exception being The Impossibles, which was a complete financial disaster for Pixar due to its lack of things talking that shouldn’t normally talk.

With a famous human male actor playing the role of Andrew, and a famous female actor playing Cutesey, the beautiful but sassy anthropomorphic love interest, this film should continue to add to Pixar’s popularity. It’s full of fun for the whole family, with wonderful slapstick events that children will love, and some in-jokes for the adults, courtesy of Andrew’s dumb but wise-cracking sidekick, played by a famous comedian.

The story begins in Andrew’s home area, where he and his fellow animals do all sorts of things that humans do, but with funny animal-esque touches. Andrew is not satisfied with his life, however, and embarks on a quest that takes him beyond the confines of his familiar surroundings and into the great wide world, where he discovers himself and a whole lot more.

The film is gorgeously animated, with the anthropomorphic animals and scenery all beautifully rendered in a 3D style that is typical of the day. The character design is also great – Andrew’s nemesis, played by an aging English actor, is particularly nice to look at – and it’s certainly obvious that the makers spent a long time studying animals and their peculiarities. After a while one forgets that everything onscreen is a computer-generated creature behaving as a human, such is the realism of the hominine critters.

Of course, no film is perfect, and Andrew the Anthropomorphic Animal suffers from some flaws. The music, by a famous songwriter who had hits in the 1970s, grates a little as the film goes on. The sub-plot involving Andrew’s sidekick getting lost in a forest and trying to find his way back feels somewhat tacked on and familiar. But this is an otherwise good movie, which will be remembered forever as one of the many good movies featuring anthropomorphised non-human things that Pixar have made.

Rating: Four Antz out of Five

Monday, 18 February 2008

The Imaginary Peer Review

Rapathy by Dr William Routledge
The National Journal of Musical Psychiatry, Vol. 21, pp138-179

Doctor William Routledge rose to prominence in the world of musical psychiatry with the publication of his paper on Serendipitous Intra-Subjective Rhyming Triplets. In this paper, he concentrated on the words ‘fly’, ‘high’ and ‘sky’, and the effect that their usage has on the overall mental well-being of middle-aged men in luxury cars. This effect became known as “Kravitz Satisfaction” and spawned an entirely new approach to musical mental studies. Now, several years in the making, Routledge has published the results into his study of Hip-Hop Disinterest Syndrome, or, as he calls it, ‘Rapathy’.

Dr. Routledge spent many years investigating the hip-hop scene, and found a disturbingly high amount of apathy spreading throughout the genre like a plague. As he says in the paper:

At first glance, the people I saw seemed to be enjoying themselves. Their hands
were in the air, and the people were waving them to the music. But something
wasn’t right. When I inspected this hand-waving more closely, it struck me:
These people were waving their hands like they just didn’t care.

This lack of concern on the part of the dancers prompted Routledge to study it further. He traced this disinterest back to 1979, when a little-known paper on the things that delighted rappers mentioned this worrying new trend in passing: “…Throw your hands high in the air…rockin’ to the beat without a care” (Mike, Hank & Gee: Rappers Delight, 1979). This first instance of rapathy received little coverage in the press, and even when it began to spread throughout the hip-hop world in the next twenty years, the public was not informed.

Routledge believes that rapathy could, if not adequately contained, spread throughout the music world. Pop music has already seen isolated cases (Carter, Dorough, Littrell, McLean and Richardson: Everybody (Backstreet’s Back), 1997 and Stevens et al: S Club Party, 1999), and it might not be long before country, gospel and even classical music are seeing people waving their hands in the air without giving a monkey’s.

The paper is both well-written and terrifying, with Routledge backing up all of his claims with evidence, both from his own research and from the studies of others. With all of this proof, it is certainly hard to argue that Rapathy exists in the hip-hop world. But while the experimental side of Routledge’s work is sound, the conclusions regarding the apathetic hand-waving are less so.

Worrying though it may be, rapathy does not seem to have any long-lasting effects. It is yet to be proven, for example, that the condition survives beyond the dance floor. In many cases, the dispassionate hand-waving has shown signs of extinction before the end of the current song. Routledge argues that waving one’s hands in the air without caring could lead to injuries both to oneself and others, and notes cases of accidental slapping that have lead on rare occasions to disco violence (see Jackson: Blood on the Dance Floor, 1997). It should be noted, however, that these are very rare, isolated cases, and are not indicative of listless limb shaking as a whole. Furthermore, Routledge’s most extreme claim, that rapathy could theoretically lead to accidental limb removal, is pure nonsense.

Rapathy is a valid study into the startling world of passive hip-hop arm movements, but Dr. Routledge needs to concentrate more on concrete, evidenced results, rather than outlandish conjectures. Will this mirror the success of his prior papers? Possibly not. But I await the release of his forthcoming work on the certainty of possession of a loved one (entitled She’s Your Baby, But Do You Mean ‘Maybe’?). Doctor Routledge’s body of work remains strong enough to weather the inclusion of several poorly thought-out claims.

Thursday, 14 February 2008

Special Valentine's Day Review: Lovers

As it's Valentine's Day, I thought today I'd review some of the lovers I've enjoyed in recent weeks.

First off, there's Suzanne, who scored very highly indeed. She was a little more expensive than other lovers, but first impressions were good: a full body, rich, and most pleasing on the eye. I detected fragrances of jasmine and summer fruits, with a hint of leather and birchwood. Suzanne has a unique velvetty texture which feels especially good at the back of the tongue; this is complimented by a gently brittle aftertaste which is both alluring and fragile. If I had one complaint with this lover, it's the unnecessarily high alcohol content. But this splitting hairs; she certainly goes down well, and her tannins are delightful.

Gabrielle on the other hand, was a disaster. She started promisingly enough, with a slow, downtempo effort that was both sensual and sexy. It was mostly downhill from then on, unfortunately, with much of what passed afterwards being filler. The heavy, fast-paced rhythms of our later meetings simply did nothing for me, and the spoken word sections were, quite frankly, embarrassing. It's a shame, because I've heard many good things about Gabrielle's live shows. Perhaps that's where she excels.

Finally, I wasn't expecting much from Benjamin, but I'm happy to say that I was pleasantly surprised. Despite my being relatively new to this particular style of lover, Benjamin was a joy from start to end. I just could not put him down. His opening lines had me hooked, and his prose was truly delightful; indeed, I was literally struck dumb by one of his passages in particular. I understand why people may think that he is a little overlong, but when a lover is as satisfying as this, I don't have a problem with length. If anything, I would have enjoyed even more! Benjamin was gripping throughout, and had a wonderfully explosive climax. Fantastic.

Happy Valentine's Day!

Monday, 11 February 2008

New Album Review - Puff Daddy: The Covers Album

When Puff Daddy topped the charts with I’ll be Missing You, he took a metaphorical birthday card, crossed ‘Happy Birthday’ off the front and wrote ‘In Sympathy: Biggie’ before crossing out Sting’s name from the inside and writing his own. Since then, the kleptomaniac star has been appropriating other people’s songs and giving them entirely different meanings. At long last, he has released The Covers Album, in which he slightly alters existing music and removes all original intent on the part of the writer, for a whole ninety minutes.

Take forthcoming single, I Could Die (Feel So Lonely) which samples Elvis Presley’s Heartbreak Hotel. Despite the name of the song and Elvis’s original lyrics (which appear here behind a chunky bass-heavy beat), Puffy has turned the song into a feel-good party anthem. Rapped verses now tell of Diddy’s exploits in the penthouse suite of the eponymous hotel with a group of girls and case of champagne.

Now compare this to the album’s nadir, Hip Hop Hooray (Tha Sun). Sampling an old copy of The Sun Has Got His Hat On, the song has been changed from a happy, full of the joys of spring piece of music to a bleak, plodding song about learning of a friend’s death. Truly, this is amongst Puff Daddy’s worst.

The rest of the album is no better. The song I wish I was Dead by little-known punk band Sadsack is sampled and turned into a crowd-pleasing paean to happiness. For some reason, Lust for Life by Iggy Pop, originally a song about heroin is – in Puffy’s hands – about cream crackers.

For the most part, this album is a terrible blight on the already-pocked career of a fairly poor recording artist. Why he decided to cover his own cover (Still Missing You (Shoulda Written my own Song)) is a mystery to me. Even more mysterious is the extra verse in which Puffy apologizes to his dead friend Biggie for tacking together a new version of someone else’s song instead of writing a new one to commemorate his life.

The Covers Album by Puff Daddy is available on CD, Mp3 and special edition Blu-Ray disc that comes with a free pair of underpants.

Wednesday, 6 February 2008

Restaurant Review: Waiter! Waiter!

The Waiter! Waiter! restaurant in Battersea has been open for six months, and is steadily earning itself a reputation for serving top class food at fairly decent prices. The main talking point of the establishment, however, is that it is owned and run by Jacques LeBeouf, the famous pastry chef and former Miss Paraguay.

The décor in the dining room is particularly stunning, with beautiful crystal chandeliers and very thought-provoking tables. These physics-defying furniture items somehow manage to hold up one’s plates and elbows despite their legs not actually reaching the floor. Extraordinary.

Once my wife and I had stopped admiring the chandeliers, tables and the cleanliness of our hands, we were forced to choose our dishes, which, given the extent of the menu and the quality of the meals on offer, was no easy feat. Luckily the waiting staff are equipped with cattle prods, meaning that the terminally indecisive have some added incentive to choose quickly. I opted for the soup of the day (although not, I was informed, that particular day), and my wife – after a bit of encouragement from Nigel, our waiter – chose the chicken Caesar salad.

Once it arrived, my wife was highly complimentary towards her entrée, though Nigel said that that was a side-effect of the high-voltage shock, and after a little while she stopped talking to it and started to eat. Waiter! Waiter! prides itself on its restaurant-joke-applicability, and as a result my soup came complete with fly in it. This is a very nice touch that my wife and I enjoyed greatly, though I must say I was a little disappointed that our waiter, when asked what the fly was doing in my soup said ‘The backstroke, sir’, when it was quite obviously doing a front crawl.

For my main course I had the ‘Gammon Surprise’, which was indeed a big surprise, as I had ordered the halibut. With a side compote of plum and damson, and topped with lemon margarine, it had a slightly awkward air of perspicacity to it, although my wife put that down to the gentleman on the next table whose cottage pie was repeating on him. My wife, on the other hand, thoroughly enjoyed her duck a l’orange, despite the fact that the kitchen had run out of oranges and so had to make it with banana.

I had the rhubarb crumble for dessert, and my wife had the chocolate fudge cookie. We didn’t like what we had so we swapped.

In summary, then:

Waiter! Waiter! Restaurant, Battersea:

Décor: Four bangers (out of five); Very nice, but a little disorienting
Food: Three bangers (out of four); I burped up a little bit of sick afterwards
Service: Eight bangers (out of eleven); Nigel gave me his number
Price: Ten bangers (out of ten); For some reason I wasn’t billed

Sunday, 3 February 2008

Book Review: 674pp – A Biography of John Cage by Matthew Ng and Norman DeSauza

While many biographies of composer John Cage have been written, 674pp claims to be the definitive story of his life, from his birth, through to the composition of his most famous piece, 4’33’’, up to his death in 1992. Setting it apart from the other books is a single, simple fact: Just as 4’33’’ is a piece of music consisting of 4 minutes and 33 seconds of silence, 674pp is a book consisting of 674 numbered, but otherwise empty pages.

This book, therefore, is not for the casual reader who has a passing interesting in John Cage’s life and works. This is certainly for someone who already has some (ideally extensive) knowledge of the composer, and who will be able to meditate on their existing knowledge while staring at the blank pages.

Despite the lack of any sentences or words on the pages, I found this book took me rather a long time to read. The feeling of the paper against my finger as I turned from chapter 8 to chapter 9, for example, conjured up wonderful memories of the first time I heard Cage’s Musicircus being performed. The last two chapters were very difficult for me to read, knowing the impending death of one of the world’s greatest living composers was approaching. Indeed, I could not bring myself to read the final eight pages at first, setting the book aside for several days in an attempt to delay the inevitable. But then, as I came back to the empty, ink-free pages, the sadness I had been avoiding flooded in, and I was moved to tears.

But to concentrate on the sadness in the book is folly. Look at the highlights of Cage’s life, which, while not actually mentioned in the book, appeared in chapters 12 to 15 for me. The sense of accomplishment and pride one feels on behalf of Cage when his star grows, and when he is described as a genius by his tutors, comes through wonderfully during this period of the book.

There has been some argument regarding this book and the usefulness thereof; Mike Blatt has published a very similar, yet more concise biography one hundred pages long, again with no words. But it is the length of this work and the quality of the non-writing that set 674pp apart from the others. If you look beyond the actual blank pages, and dwell upon the words that Ng and DeSauza didn’t write, you will gather an additional layer of enjoyment from the book.

674pp is a great addition to the works about John Cage. I would recommend it to anyone interested in the composer, Zen Buddhism, or anyone who needs a large and well-bound sketchpad.

Friday, 1 February 2008

Mobile Phone round-up

As with any passing technological fad, mobile phones are here to stay. Nothing screams “2008” more than the sight of a pensioner in a coffee shop shouting down her phone at her investment banker, or a toddler hitting a bemused dog with a Nokia 9900 Series. The latest phones to hit your pocket are reviewed now!

First off, the Samsung Happy Slapper V310 SE comes with a video recorder that allows ultra-close zoom, allowing you to perfectly capture those grimaces of pain from the stranger that your mates just punched in the back of the head. The phone also comes with the latest in ‘Rascal Escape’ technology; pressing a certain combination of buttons releases an oil slick or an eruption of ball bearings, should you get chased by you slapped victim or the police. Oh, and apparently it takes phone calls.

New from Sony is the DigiPuzzle 5500i. It holds up to 50,000 songs, views web pages and can even create spreadsheets using a special knob, but only if you can release it from a cunning array of metallic brain-teasing puzzles. And hurry! If you fail to free it from the trap within two weeks of purchase, it will explode. Once you’ve got the phone out of the puzzle box casing, each call can only be received by answering three riddles correctly. This is THE phone for crossword puzzle enthusiasts.

Tomy have released a phone especially aimed at neonates. It comes in a choice of three bright colours and has a big smiley face on it. Made in China, it is incredibly dangerous for your child if they put it in their mouth, but, let’s face it, if you have a child who puts things in their mouth all the time, it’ll just be a matter of years before they’ve stabbed themselves in the face with a breadknife, isn’t it? Evolution, kids! Don’t put random objects in your mouth, or you’ll be removed from the gene pool!

Finally, a new phone from Nokia secretes an artificially created hormone that makes you feel guilty whenever you tell a lie. The OmniPot CDMB6 also makes horrendous crying noises when you eat snack food, shows a picture of Jesus looking stern if you think impure thoughts and plays a video of your parents having sex if you’re about to cheat on your spouse. This phone comes in grey and black and will be a mandatory accessory in America from June.