Friday 12 July 2013

Clandestine Classic XXXV - Once Around The Block

Once Around The BlockThe thirty-fifth post in an occasional series that is intended to highlight songs that you might not have heard that I think are excellent - clandestine classics, if you will. Maybe they'll be by bands you've never heard of. Maybe they'll be by more familiar artists, but tracks that were squirelled away on b-sides, unpopular albums, radio sessions or music magazine cover-mounted CDs. Time will, undoubtedly, tell.

What comes to mind when you think about Badly Drawn Boy? Chances are it's the soundtrack to About A Boy. After all, it was Damon Gough's commercial high point, featuring the relatively successful Something To Talk About and Silent Sigh. And I won't carp about that, because it's a decent album full of music for Hugh Grant's least irritating movie performance. But this is Clandestine Classics... it doesn't deal in commercial high points, or popular ditties endorsed by Nick Hornby. Oh no. For today's classic, we have to go back, back, back, before Badly Drawn Boy were releasing albums, back to when they just had EPs to their name...

Once Around The Block was released in August 1999 and tottered to a dizzy #46 in the UK singles chart. How it didn't get higher I don't know, it's not like the pre-Millennial chart was stuffed with gems. I suppose that's the difference a film association can make... Even when re-released, and pushed harder, a year later it only got to #27... and that's surprising because in many ways, Once Around The Block is very similar to the more successful work that followed: it has the same whistle-ability, the same low-key, lo-fi rhythm, the same trick of a downbeat-yet-upbeat melody. In fact this track, a prototype for the success that was to follow, arguably set a standard that much of Gough's subsequent work struggled to live up to. For me it's the slightly phased, recurrent acoustic guitar riff, the delicate harmonies with self, the shuffling, languorous backbeat... these are the things that make this track special. Memorable, even - I bought this song fourteen years ago and, until today, hadn't played it for at least five years, if not more. And yet it feels like I heard it yesterday, that's how fresh it has remained in my mind.

Then there are the lyrics - deceptively simple, yet all the more memorable for that. The closing lines are a perfect case in point:

Take a left, a sharp left and another left.
Meet me on the corner
And we'll start again
Now that repetition of "left, left, left" shouldn't work, but it does, somehow. In fact, it may even be the reason I bought this in the first place.

Damon Gough is still going into bat for the Badly Drawn Boy first XI, though the law of diminishing returns applies, here as everywhere. I see he recently had to apologise to a gig crowd for being a bit shirty onstage (and that's not the first time either), but hey. Today's classic later appeared on The Hour Of Bewilderbeast, and so of course can be picked up there. And then there's always YouTube, which reveals an utterly charming video (even if the young lady with braces has already-perfect teeth). Here you go.

Wednesday 3 July 2013

Book review time - "Let's Kill Love" by Mark Kilner

Let's Kill Love - great titleStop for a moment and take a look around you, maybe browse a newspaper of two. There is plenty to suggest that modern life can be... well, disturbing, to say the very least. Unsettling, even. Kilner's talent, so ably and repeatedly demonstrated in this book, is to take the small horrors of life in 21st Century Britain and take them a step further...

This collection opens with the excellent short-story-as-introduction "Vanity Search". In it, a fictionalised version of the author is asked whether his work is "horror as in werewolves and goblins or horror as in psychopaths running around with knives?" With a sigh, the author replies, "I hope I don't mean either of those things." It's a nice statement of intent and entirely appropriate, because whilst there are genuine scares, moments of violence and other unpleasantness in these stories, this book is not a blood-soaked's far, far better than that. Kilner deals in the horror of small things, the horror of modern life, the horror of people and the things they do. Prepare to be deeply unsettled by the real reason for the growth in management psychobabble in "Inhuman Resources", small-time crooks and councillors (so alike, in many ways) in "That's The Way To Do It" (after which you'll never think of Punch and Judy in the same way), and the pervasion/invasion of technology in "Superficial Intelligence". Throw in a very clever slice of Ballardian fiction in "Killing Time" and the Grand Guignol novella "Postmortem" and you already have an outstanding debut collection, and that's without the eponymous "Let's Kill Love", a sobering tale for today's relationship-obsessed culture.

Being familiar with Kilner's work already, there are a couple of short stories that I had hoped would also be in this collection (I think "Run Down" and "Dead Flowers" would have sat nicely alongside the other stories here) but I hope this just means the author is holding them in reserve for his next collection, keeping his powder dry. On the evidence of this book, a new and distinctive British voice has emerged, with a talent for engaging, contemporary, psychological horror. I said at the start of this review that Kilner's skill is in taking the horrors of modern life a step further; the beauty of this it that, having read each story, you are left with something to look back on, bigger themes on which to reflect. This is no mean feat to achieve once - to do so repeatedly shows real quality.

If I was the sort of blogger to give star ratings, this would be a 4.5 star review, but whatever the rating, be in no doubt: Mark Kilner deserves to be read. Lucky for you then that "Let's Kill Love" can be snapped up on Amazon right now.

Monday 1 July 2013

More street art - Abracadabra and Britain Wins Gold

More pointed street art/graffiti spotted on the walls of my adopted home town. I do like my paste-ups and stencil art to be a bit political. Anyway... other posts in this series can be found here, here, here, here and here.