Thursday 27 February 2020

Lovely... wonderful...

Let's talk about spam. Specifically, spam comments, because I've been getting loads lately. Across all my blogs, but mostly here on New Amusements. This is the kind of thing I've been getting:

Wow! this is amazing! Do you know your hidden name meaning? Click here to find your hidden name meaning

These things seem to come around every so often. Last summer, I had loads that begun like this:

Straight away after Dr Osauyi cast the Lottery spell for me, I felt enveloped by the control of the lotto spell...

You can guess the rest.

I mark all these comments as spam, hoping they'll improve whatever algorithm Google use to weed this kind of rubbish out (if, indeed, they do - I assume so, otherwise why would they have a "mark as spam" facility?), but God, it's tiring. What to do, then? I mean, I have fairly liberal comment moderation settings, because I get few enough comments as it is, and don't want to put undue barriers in the way of more. Anyone can comment here, and I don't moderate by default, but you have to do a Captcha-style word verification. I don't want to make it account holders only, as some of my oldest readers prefer other attribution methods, and I don't want to moderate everything, as that would be as much work as deleting the spammers.

So basically, no solutions, just a problem. Sorry.

P.S. Even if I did limit comments to account holders only, it wouldn't have stopped this recent comment - is it spam? A joke that I'm not in on? Or just vitriol?

Friday 14 February 2020

Such (a) small post

Just wanted to draw this Crowdfunder to your attention. Such Small Hands, aka Melanie Howard, bass player (and one-time keyboardist) with The Wedding Present, is crowdfunding to produce an album. I've written about her once before and, yes, I think she's excellent, more than worthy of your support and mine. Why not pledge? Especially if you like slightly ethereal, more than a little sad, Goth-inflected songs of beauty?

Go on, stick in a fiver (or more), you know it makes sense.

You can also find Such Small Hands on Bandcamp, plus the dreaded Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, if any of those are your bag. Here's a relevant tweet from the lady herself, with something you can click to play:

I hope my heart'll do

Thursday 13 February 2020

More new to NA ... and more margins

Last week, driving around the city, I was listening to my local community radio station. The DJs, Ciaran and Mick Oglesby of Lost Radio Outpost, seemed to be conducting some kind of review of 2019's indie. And they played a couple of songs by bands new to yours truly. Not surprising, is it, I'm nearly 50, my finger is no longer on the pulse of the indie world. But that isn't what got to me, oh no. I was struck, once more, by the fine margins that exist between breaking through, being really successful, and just not quite making it. I've written about those margins before but I thought about them again, because one of the new tracks (new to me, anyway) was this, Useful Information by Purling Hiss.

Now your mileage may vary but this track immediately put me in mind of early REM, especially the drunken studio out-take tracks that ended up on Dead Letter Office. Mumbled, semi-coherent, obtuse lyrics? Check. Chiming, chugging, lone Rickenbacker? Check. Melody straining against bar-band buzz? Check. But REM became the biggest band on the planet, and I'm pretty sure Purling Hiss won't. And that's not just because Purling Hiss is a terrible name, the sort that seems funny at first but doesn't age well. No. It's those margins. Something... some thing elevated REM to a higher plane. What? Stipe's lyrics and frontman skills? Buck's superior way with that Rickenbacker? Mills's musicality and harmonies? Berry's songcraft and arrangements (and if you don't know what I mean by that, note the difference after he left)? Jefferson Holt's management? Bertis Downs? Luck? All of the above?

And no, this isn't just an excuse to embed some early REM. But since we're here...

Oh, and if you think I'm being mean about the name Purling Hiss... before they settled on REM, the lads from Georgia considered calling themselves Cans of Piss. Considered, but decided against. Another fine margin. Would they have bestrode the planet called Cans of Piss? Unlikely...

I haven't been able to ID the other track that caught my ear (despite "reaching out", in the modern parlance, to the DJs), other than that it was by French-speaking Canadian band Corridor. So here's a random track by them, that has a neat video.

There's no other point to this post (or blog). I have no conclusions, no theory to espouse. Just ... margins. Life, eh?

EDIT: the DJs came back to me - the Corridor track was Junior, and it's mighty fine.

Wednesday 12 February 2020


I'm far from as up to speed as I'd like to be on US politics, but is it just me that looks at what's happened with the Justice Department and the Roger Stone case and thinks, "Bodysnatchers?"

Thursday 6 February 2020

Not just Spartacus

Kirk Douglas has died, aged 103, after a life that can only be described as incredible, by anyone's standards.

The first film I remember seeing him in was The Vikings, then Spartacus, then the astonishing Lust for Life, then The Final Countdown (which I remember as being far better than it had any right to be). I loved his turn in Saturn 3 (am I alone in my appreciation of this film?). Greedy is fun too. And then there's this, from Paths of Glory, without which there probably would have been no Spartacus, at least not as we know it now.

(Also, no Kirk would have meant no Michael either... so no Fatal Attraction, no Basic Instinct, no Wonder Boys, no Falling Down and, most importantly, no The Game, again not as we know them now, at least.)

Oh, and he voiced Chester J. Lampwick too...

Rest in peace, Kirk. You've earned it.

Twenty in '20: Nameless

Having failed to read nineteen books in 2019, I'm going to have another go with, guess what, twenty books in 2020. When I finish one, a thumbnail review here will follow.

1-6/20: The Nameless books by Dean Koontz

The blurb: If our memories make us who we are, who is a man without any? Nameless has only a gun, missions from a shadowy agency, and one dead aim: dispense justice when the law fails. As he moves from town to town, driven by splintered visions of the past and future, he’s headed toward the ultimate confrontation in this propulsive series of short thrillers.

The review: you might not remember, but when Stephen King's The Green Mile was first published in 1996 it was as a serial, six books released at monthly intervals between March and August. I loved that, bought each and devoured it in a hurry, then spent the rest of the month waiting for the next instalment. Well, Koontz's Nameless series is similar: six novellas linked by a common character, a common theme and a persistent arc. Unlike King's serial, the Nameless titles work as standalone short stories too, to be read in isolation... but there is a satisfaction to be had from reading them sequentially. Having said that, to make them work as standalone stories there's a necessary degree of repetition, sometimes word for word. Curiously, this doesn't grate - indeed, it becomes something of a trope that you start to look for, and pat yourself on the back for spotting.

Anyway, the books. You've read the blurb, so you know the premise. The titular hero is not only nameless but, for a character in their mid-thirties, only has two years of back-story. He is almost literally a blank slate. This ought to make him hard to like, but there's enough in his actions throughout these titles to endear him to the reader. This reader, at least. And the fact that he's basically a modern-day Equalizer helps too, especially as he seeks out those in need of his help, rather than waiting for them to reply to a newspaper ad.

It's an intriguing premise, certainly good enough for Amazon who, I think, are delivering these as exclusive e-books to help push their Prime Reading offering. But what of the writing? Well in the past I had, somewhat unfairly perhaps, thought of Koontz as a kind of cut-price King. Good, but not quite as good. And these novellas have done nothing to change that view really - I rattled through them quickly enough, and certainly enjoyed them, but I can't quite rave about them. Why? Well, for most of these stories Koontz adopts a prosaic, almost journalistic style that suits the dark subject matter and the anonymous (anti-)hero very well. It keeps the pages turning nicely, but it's not prose you could love. And then, periodically, Koontz suddenly drops in a paragraph of purple prose that seems at odds with the clinical writing on either side. This jars, somewhat. It also only seems to happen when the author is trying to make a grand point, about people in general, or life today. It feels a little pompous, like the writer, or at least the omnipotent narrator, is taking himself too seriously. And since this happens in all six books, it's a little hard to overlook.

Maybe I'm being a little hard - these are good stories, well told. I enjoyed reading them, despite the often bleak themes, and my opinion of Koontz's work has gone up after reading them. I just wish I knew what he was trying to achieve with what I came to think of as the grand diversions.

The bottom line: if you like Koontz (or King) already, you'll like these too. They won't change the world, but would make intriguing films or, better still, a mini-series. Maybe another one for Amazon...

Since everything online is rated these days: ★★★★☆☆

Wednesday 5 February 2020

Before the beer, before the virus...

...a Proustian rush, a Pavlovian response, and proof that having voiceover artists who sound like more famous people is not a new thing... (unless that's Arnold Stang voicing the Corona trainer?)