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I thought this was a tradition, but apparently it's not (see 2007). But my tens of readers deserve my honest judgements on the best records of the year just passing by us. It would be bullshit to claim I could recommend ten records, as I did last time. You know what? Records mostly aren't worth recommending. But I listen to hundreds of them (which I think some people might forget about me—they think the activity is something passive and trivial, like watching the news, or horse-racing highlights on YouTube). I will break my own fingers if any downloader or purchaser doesn't like any of the following five records:
5. Half Man Half Biscuit - CSI:Ambleside
Disclosure: I'm not impartial when it comes to HMHB. The thing is, Half Man Half Biscuit aren't some ridiculous enduring artists like Metallica, or Celine Dion, or the Rolling Stones. It's all the real thing: they'll never go away, and they'll never be bad. It's not cool to think someone else is cool, that's the truth no-one is ever willing to admit: but Nigel Blackwell is cool. It's not Cammell Laird Social Club–level stuff I'm recommending, but let's be proud of proper accomplishment for once, not nonsense first-record stuff and the like. Let's be proud of 'Totnes Bickering Fair' and the glorious ballad-cum-piss-take that is 'Lord Hereford's Knob.' And Nigel Blackwell's probably just wanking on the carpet watching the Poker Channel all day eating those expensive German biscuits while he writes the songs. Beat that.
4. Various - Indietracks: An Indiepop Compilation
Is recommending a compilation a cop-out? Is someone else doing the work for me? That's capitalism, like it or not. Listen to both volumes for the full effect. I'm a fool for not really going to festivals if this is the kind of fare served up. For the large part British, obviously, but not strictly. Allo Darlin' and Punk TV produce stand-out foreign entries. Sheffielders Slow Down Tallahassee's track is another winner.
3. The Futureheads - 'I Wouldn't Be Like This If You Were Here'
I love you, lads, and it was great to see you last time you were in New York. Only the lack of a B-side (and the Good Natured) knocked you down from the top. But, as a waster, I know the truth. You've written an anthem. I wouldn't be like this if she were here. I only hope some people get to hear it.
2. Various - Future Sound of Russia
A joke, isn't it? But no! Russia has offered up much of the good pop I've heard this year. Who knew Novosibirsk was a real place where real things happen, not just a place you read about when there are car-bombings? A million bonus points to Wonderkid for sounding ridiculous singing in English. Like the Germans used to do.
1. The Good Natured - Warriors
One can be a shit and actually be what some call 'sensitive,' and I call 'receptive.' And I know the chorus at 2.00 on 'Rose' is just achingly beautiful. I have wept once before listening to a record (the Field Mice, 'Emma's House'), and I've nearly done so to this record recently. I literally have found it hard to stop playing it. Like a drug it is. Keyboard and (unfairly) maligned drum machine? That's it? Billy Bragg only had a bloody acoustic guitar, but he told the best little stories through the best tunes, too. And what else are pop songs for? The world doesn't need to fill with meaningless, nasty repetitions backed by rubbish electronics. Kate Nash has taken care of that, bless her heart. Sarah McIntosh has the most pleasing, honest voice to grace pop today, the songs are perfect, and, well, she seems very nice. Not everyone who's made a good record is. A real record for once.
Well, it's been a festive horror show, but at least I've learned through trial by alcoholic combat how one can actually cure the hiccoughs (which recent case of, and my wife leaving me, did literally make me consider hurling myself headlong flaming out the window looking onto the airwell). All of these really work: 1) hyperventilation (breathing in wildly too much); 2) drinking as much water as one can as fast as one can; 3) sicking oneself up, which I personally recommend as the only sure-fire trick. But alternate if you have constantly-recurring hiccoughs. One can't use one method all the time. It hurts too much.
Blimey! Putin's eyes are green.
Carlo Maria Franzero expressed the following (vaguely correct) opinion in Beau Brummell: His Life and Times:
'What is Dandyism? It is most difficult to define. For Dandyism is something both ephemeral and eternal; and even in the shabby epoch in which we live, without a single shred left of an inclination, not to say a concern, for elegance in the true sense, Dandyism survives; it survives, happily, in the approach to life, in the manner of living of a few men who will hand the torch to other men, from epoch to epoch—for the spirit of Petronius Arbiter is as immortal and inextinguishable as the spirit of Plato and Leonardo.
'What, then, is Dandyism? It is something both human and intellectual. It is compounded of vanity, a base sentiment indeed, and of ambition, which is the strongest impulse to greatness. But ambition can be fulfilled only by action, and action is seldom elegant. And pride can go hand-in-hand with selfishness and unkindness. Vanity is neither selfish nor unkind; indeed, she thrives on good manners and kindness. The vain is seldom fatuous. A vain man is a flower that expects to be watered by the dew of admiration. Such is the Dandy.
'It is not enough to be dressed to perfection to be a Dandy. One may be a Dandy in a creased suit. Indeed, incredible as it may seem, the Dandies once had a fancy for torn clothes: to invent new originality some Dandies had the impertinence, and certainly the bad taste, to walk about in clothes that were torn before wearing them; the absurd operation being performed with a piece of pointed glass.
'Probably the origin of Dandyism was French. But the word Dandyism has no equivalent in any other language; and we must take it, therefore, that Dandyism is a truly English interpretation of a philosophy of life. Only England has provided a genuine Dandy—George Brummell—all other countries have only had a crop of imitators, often second-rate.
. . . . . . . .
'Dandyism is a complete theory of life . . . made up entirely of shades, of things that are utterly unessential, such as the things and ways that compose a very civilised society. . . . The rules of Dandyism are the science of manners and attitudes, a science which thrives in the garden of frivolity and imagination: and frivolities are the only things that really matter in life.'
* * *
Erik Kennedy expressed the following (personal) opinion in an unpublished draft of A Portrait of the Alcoholic as a Young Poet:
'The dandy is an elusive, smug, tolerably good-looking shit in close-fitting, proper clothes. What he says is just as important as how he looks—he ought to be able to insult all but present company. He ought to be logical. He ought to reek of something unusual: mystery, larceny, obscure study, gin, etc. He ought to be old-fashioned in the best ways, even a bit shabby.
'It may be a shame, but the dandy must be thin. He probably requires an umbrella.
'Most of all, the dandy's intellectual credentials must be absolutely above scrutiny from 'those who matter': no-one can think he's not clever, or else he isn't. (Not that he cares.) (Luckily, those who matter become fewer and fewer as the days between leaving school and finding an early grave disappear.)
'If such a judgement does get back to the dandy, he will send a polite note to his feeble-minded appraiser: "Dear Bunny, I fear my glitter was a bit dim the other night. Forgive me. I thought reserve exactly appropriate for your guests, so recently wealthy, laurelled, and suddenly aware of class. To tell the truth, Bunny, I didn't feel well. I knew something was coming on, but I'm silly, you know, and I came anyway, for you! Sorry. I always feel ill when I'm bored. Do let me know in advance when your next Christopher Hitchens book discussion and fisting party is, so I can attend in top form. Yours, Dicky."
'In other words, the dandy should be a good fellow.'
Apparently, someone in my building does business with Video Professor.
Why is there not even one thing in this world that everyone can agree not to buy?
Pah. Easy to miss it when you haven't got your head on, and aren't in Scotland, and aren't seeing blue sheep. But this is why holidays are pushed for a month before they happen. I've never forgotten Christmas, have I?