Thursday, January 22, 2015

Cat of the week - Betty presents her Sonic Youth set list

Betty is extremely proud of her indie-rock memento. She likes Kim Gordon the best.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

What can you do with a replica Stonehenge?

As the venue for Basecamp now comes with a polystyrene replica Stonehenge in the grounds, what do you think we should do with it?

Thanks to being only one degree of separation away from LARPers I can think of any 
number of FOE-inappropriate ideas, mostly involving elves. 

But I'm sure you can do better than that.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

All gone a bit Agalloch in the Peaks

This weekend, we went to Castleton in the Peaks - the site of Basecamp, Friends of the Earth's annual conference - to scope out the 2015 event.

As you can see, it snowed overnight and by Sunday morning it had all gone a bit Agalloch album cover.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Black metal ecology - Agalloch's Marrow Of The Spirit

Agalloch have been weaving back and forth across the line between metal and neofolk ever since their beginnings in the mid 90's. Marrow Of The Spirit - the album before the last one - veers towards the metal end of their personal spectrum.

They are less abrasive than most, using whispers and chants as well as the traditional rasping of their fellows,plus gorgeous acoustic and electronic interludes. And often the songs on Marrow - take Into The Painted Grey as an example - sound like black metal superstructure on an electric folk base.

This makes the read across from the Velvet Underground/Sonic Youth tradition of amped-up urban folk noise all the easier for the indie kid taking the road more metalled. And perhaps explained why I've gotten into this album and struggled with the others in Agalloch's discography.

Marrow is beautifully sequenced and mixed, from the opening duet for cello and mountain stream to the apocalyptic jig which concludes the album. Although each song is at least 10 minutes long with at least two or three distinct phases therein, for me it works best as a single continuous listen, albeit a marathon one.

Unlike Wolves In The Throne Room, there's no link to eco-anarchism here. Indeed, Agalloch are at pains to be resolutely apolitical in their lyrics and public statements, espousing cosmic paganism and a spiritual connection with nature

This art-for-art's-sake stance taken to the ne plus ultra makes the band a decidedly more conservative proposition than WITTR or some of the other acts I've come across in my eco-metal explorations.

It's also sometimes hard to locate the human element in Agalloch's work, or to escape the feeling that they have nothing to say about the present other than the need to transcend or transform it. Listening to them is occasionally a visceral joy, but more often an austere, intellectual pleasure, especially given the length of the songs.

Sometimes, I wish they'd lighten up.

But, accepting that Agalloch's Non-Stop Party Hits with 'Happy' John Haughm is unlikely to be a thing, let's appreciate what we've actually got: an epic musical drama of great scope and breadth.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Campfire metal - Falls of Rauros' Believe In No Coming Shore

Affability is a curious trait to single out in any album, let alone one with black metal voice.

But Maine band Falls of Rauros' Believe In No Coming Shore is a lovely, warm-sounding, folk-ridden piece of work, shrieking or no.
So why's it been on repeat during my journeys this week? 

The guitars

Whether Falls of Rauros are charging forward at blast-beat speed, or slowing for doom metal boogie, acoustic interludes and spindly-indie post-rocking, the playing always retains a calming campfire quality to it. To these ears, indie-soaked as they are, the two reference points that spring to mind are David Pajo of Slint, Tortoise et al and Doug Martsch from Built To Spill. Warm, contemplative guitarists both.

To illustrate, let me present the riff on Ancestors of Shadow. Beautiful device that it is, even the band love it so much that they reprise it later in the album.

If this gets you, then the remainder of the album will keep growing on you. I near as darnit guarantee it. Clocking in at a spare 40+ minutes, it's a pleasing reminder to artists everywhere that you can produce a well-rounded album in less than an hour and not leave the listener short-changed.

The vocals provide the grit in the oyster and prevent Believe descending into the blackened equivalent of Carole King's Tapestry (although that would be an awesome thing indeed, if anyone fancies it). The lyrics, as usual, are indecipherable, but their meditations on autonomy and persistence make for a surprisingly compelling textual companion piece to the music. 

One final thought: it's striking how successfully Falls of Rauros integrate some of the musical and approaches of extreme metal into the continuum of (alternative) rock. Or, if you like, vice versa. Either way, it feels like there's some fence moving going on, and for a confirmed believer in musical impurity like myself this can only be a good thing.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Quotes on the New Year and hope

I think we need two kinds of hope. There's transformative hope - the hope of a better tomorrow and the impulse to be part of it, even if just a small part. 

And then there's hope as a hand-hold. The small but unquenchable hope that gets you through the day and keeps you going.

The good thing is that both types of hope are communicable - you pass on your hope to others and they in turn lend their strength to you.

Our hopes stand strongest at New Year - and here are some quotes I used last Sunday when talking about this at my old Unitarian meeting house in Lewisham.

For last year's words belong to last year's language 
And next year's words await another voice.

T.S. Eliot, Four Quartets

Everyone's got roots in the past, but they've got roots in the future too.

Spider Robinson, Callahan's Crosstime Saloon

Hope is the thing with feathers -
That perches in the soul -
And sings the tune without the words -

And never stops - at all -

Emily Dickinson, Hope is the thing with feathers (full version here)

Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a desire fulfilled is a tree of life.

Proverbs 13:12

Hope is important because it can make the present moment less difficult to bear. If we believe that tomorrow will be better, we can bear a hardship today.

Thích Nhất Hạnh, Peace Is Every Step: The Path of Mindfulness in Everyday Life

We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope.

Martin Luther King

To hope is to give yourself to the future, and that commitment to the future makes the present inhabitable.

Ernst Bloch

Hope calls for action. Action is impossible without hope.

Rebecca Solnit, Hope In The Dark

We must rediscover the distinction between hope and expectation

Ivan Ilich

And a bonus telling of the Pandora myth from the wonderfully named Thomas Bulfinch. Interesting to note that Pandora's name means 'giver of gifts' and the story as we know it may well be an inversion of a previous cornucopia.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

A formula to work to in 2015?

I wrote this flip a few years back - 2011? - for the first low-key piloting of Gamechangers, which fed into what became Campaign Organisers.

It still feels like a good formula for supporting grassroots action to me (give or take the campaign expertise that comes from other teams). 

Perhaps this is our formula to work to in 2015?

Friday, January 2, 2015

Gorky's Zygotic Mynci live at The Room, 1997

In my wasted youth at University of Hull, I penned the odd review for Hullfire, the student newspaper. For the sake of completeness and comedy value, I'm adding them to this blog. Here's a strangely beard-fixated Gorky's gig review from 1997 from which my main recollection these days is terrible indigestion.

The beard has gone! Whether by accident or design, Richard James, guitarist in the worst-named band in rock... EVER, has finally done us a favour and picked up a razor. Thankfully, the rest of their appeal remains unchanged; their elegant newly-shorn pyschedelic pop is still hurled in unpredictable glam, lo-fi and punk directions, with added folk flavour courtesy of violinist Megan Childs.

Similarly, Gorky's bilingual (Welsh and English) lyrics retain a healthy preoccupation with the surreal, populating their corner of Wales with sleeping giants, jealous violin teachers, fiery patios and seaside voyeurs. While their set consequently teeters on the edge of 'Still we are young / We like elves / Have Lord Of The Rings / On our shelves' cliche, they are far too good to simply recycle Uncle Syd Barrett ad nauseum.

If pop logic ran in straight lines, then Kula Shaker, who plunder the same period and emerge sounding like The Charlatans, would be the best band on the planet. Thank goodness for a band who, facial hair or no facial hair, think in curves.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

What is transformational change?

The following definition of transformational change owes a lot to a meeting of Friends of the Earth Europe I attended several years ago where a paper written by the ex-Exec of FOE Scotland Duncan McClaren, was discussed.

I came across it again it in a purge of paperwork just before Christmas and it felt worth citing again at the start of the year, as a reminder of what we're ultimately trying to achieve.

By transformational change, we mean a change that is not merely an extension or improvement over the past, but a state change.

This state change is at the personal, societal and political levels

  • The change is bold and compelling - not simply a better version of business-as-usual.
  • It excites people and unleashes their passion and creativity.
  • After the fact, you will say that we have more than a large improvement, we have a transformation.