March 2018

Music. It's been a month full of good music (like every month, I suppose). Here is a playlist of ten things I have been enjoying. There are five new songs followed by five old songs. The former are all things I have bought on vinyl. I'm quite careful about what I buy on record but when I do I make sure I play it properly and that always helps to reveal the songs properly. Perhaps special mention should go to Young Fathers in the 'new' category; this album is really complex and often confrontational but it's rewarding. The five old songs have all been inspired by listening to the outstanding Sodajerkers on Songwriting Podcast.

Here's the playlist

Here's Sodajerkers

I also loved the BBC documentary Blacker Dread by the brilliant Molly Dineen. Warm, rich, funny, sad; an epic in a short film.

Brad's Status is a great film, too. I think it must have flopped at cinemas but it's a lovely gentle thing. It stars Ben Stiller. I'm surprised he's still happy to make low key films; surprised but pleased. Oh, and Baby Driver gets better and better. I watched it again this week and loved it even more; the fast, violent bits become secondary to the romance on second watching and the sound, choreography and music are superb.

February 2018.

Cabins. These are my thing at the moment. We have been rebuilding (completely) an ancient cabin in Scotland and in so doing creating a modern building in vernacular materials (wood and corrugated iron) in a very wild landscape. It's been a joyful project, particularly clearing all of the scrub and trees around the cabin by hand. And trying to burn a whole load of damp wood.


So little time, so much great music.

Valentine's Day got me thinking about the most romantic songs ever. There's a Light That Never Goes Out by The Smiths, A Case of You by James Blake and Fake Empire by The National would be my top 3 choices today. Talking, as I was, of James Blake, we saw an astonishing show by him at The Roundhouse this month. One of my favourite ever shows. The new album is sounding astonishing. Hurry up, Mr B.

Other great new music:

The new MGMT lp. Possibly as good as Kids. Empire of the Sun meets Bowie meets almost every good pop song from the 1980s. On repeat tonight.

ACIDBOWIE. I am not quite sure what this is (except good) or who it's by. It seems to be a sort of trip hop/Ibiza tribute to Ziggy Stardust. I was sold it as a remix album, but it isn't. Slow, textured, addictive.

Everything is Recorded by Richard Russell.  The label boss of XL and producer or Messrs Albarn, Scott Heron et al has released his own album. Try it!


June 2017.

I'm listening to Sex After Cigarettes. It's a dreadful name for a band but the music is great. The Guardian (Alex Petridis is, I think, one of the few really good music journalists writing today). It's deeply in the thrall of Beach House who, I have only recently realised, are themselves deeply in the thrall of Slowdive. When Slowdive were first making records 25 years ago I imagined they were dreadful (I don't think I really bothered tuning in) but their new eponymous album has really worked its way into my head. Francis and The Lights' lp Farewell Starlite! is great too. If you liked their song with Bon Iver and Kanye West you'll like this. Max Richter's compilation for Rough Trade's Behind The Counter series has been a joyful voyage of discovery for me, too; a lovely three record set with sleeve notes by Richter. There are bits of Alt J's RELAXER that I really like and other bits I just don't get (yet?). But my biggest enthusiasm this month is Burial's epic 12 minute track Come Down to Us. I'm late onto this but it's one of the most beautiful pieces of music I have ever heard.

Podcasts are helping pass the time particularly when I'm in the car. Adam Buxton has taken a break until after the summer but there are plenty of good episodes to trawl back through. I don't find some of his guests particularly compelling but he's just so unbelievably good at it that I think he's the PODCAST KING. Marc Maron's WTF is always brilliant and his recent interview with Mark Mulcahy was particularly, unexpectedly good; oh, and the interview with Wheeler Walker, Jr is incredibly funny, too. 

I have just started reading A Little Life by Hanya Yangihara on the advice of my daughter Tara who loved it. So far, so good. I read the Next Draft newsletter every evening; if you have even a passing interest in US current affairs it's a must. It's free to subscribe to. For me it fills the same space as The New Yorker which I read every week. I think my favourite book in the last few months is John Boyne's The Heart's Invisible Furies; he wrote The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas but this couldn't be any different. Having said that, is it just me that notices big thematic chunks of The Royal Tenenbaums in this book? 

July 2017.

Podcasts. I can't get enough of them. Actually, I've slightly gone off WTF with Marc Maron; he just went on and on about the tv show he was in (Glow) and the whole thing seems lazy and self-serving (disclaimer in the name of positive vibes...he's still brilliant; I am just taking a break). Having said this his interview with Al Gore is worth a listen; the startling fact that the sun provides more energy per day than the globe uses in a year is mind bogglingly encouraging. The High Low with Dolly Atherton and Pandora Sykes is great I am not sure it's aimed at old blokes like me but I like it. If you have Audible you can listen to Jon Ronson's latest masterpiece The Butterfly Effect. If you don't have Audible you'll have to wait until November when it'll be on iTunes Scroobius Pip's Distraction Pieces is good as is Malcolm Gladwell's Revisionist History

I have been suffering from reader's block. It's annoying; I have been really struggling to get into books. I wonder if a hectic few months has done my brain in in some way. I haven't been entirely without books, though. I have read Richard Ford's Between Them and been really moved by it. I think Ford is one of the great American authors and this short, elegant book is wonderful. Anna Pavord's Landskipping is great too. And I listened to Mike Skinner read his Story of the Streets -mainly in the car on a long hike- and loved it. I am a massive fan of Mr Skinner and he writes like he raps like he speaks; with real wit and elegance. Actually, now I think of it, I loved David Hepworth's Uncommon People; the Rise and Fall of the Rock Stars. Hepworth writes beautifully and very accessibly about the great rock stars of 1955 to 1995 and his central thesis that 'they don't make them like they used to' rings pretty true. And if you want a simple, clever and light crime read I'd recommend Elisabeth Day's The Party. It's compared to The Talented Mr Ripley in the sleeve notes, which is a good guide to what you'll get.

I had an amazing weekend at the DO Lectures in West Wales. It's here I was incredibly excited to be asked to talk this year. My highlight was Dominic Wilcox's talk But I really just enjoyed everything about the weekend; amazing food, open and friendly company, a very lovely, low-key location. The founders, David and Clare Hieatt inspire amazing devotion and I understand why. If you can afford it, I recommend it highly. Obviously, I didn't pay but I would do, happily.

We have been down memory lane as far as music goes. First we saw Radiohead play an amazing set in Manchester. It's 20 years since OK Computer was released. And then -perhaps less credibly- we saw an astonishing show by U2 in London. They were celebrating 30 years since The Joshua Tree. We hadn't seen them since that original tour but this was brilliant; I can see why they remain one of the highest grossing live acts in the world. They may not make great records any more, but they have truly mastered the stadium show. Sticking with stadium bands, the first four songs from the next Arcade Fire album bode well; you can feel the influence of James Murphy in what they're doing and that, to my mind, is a good thing. Have you heard Chronixx? If you like reggae Chronology will be right up your street. Declan Mckenna is being hailed as the voice of a generation. I don't know about that; he may be a voice.... but there are some really good modern lo fi folk songs on What Do You Think About The Car? And one of the album's best songs, Brazil, is about corruption in football; what's not to like? I don't know...maybe he's the Ed Sheeran it's okay for indie kids to like. If the idea of violin driven R and B/Rap sounds worth investigating, have a listen to Sudan Archives. I think Come Meh Way is pretty good. Grizzly Bear are back I really like this; it sounds more accessible than some of their work, which is no bad thing. Belle and Sebastian sound like the Pet Shop Boys here The Horrors are sounding more late '70s/early '80s than ever here I think Tricky's new record is great...he's back to his best. I hope someone is still listening


August 2017.

The National's album is out soon and they've added another song to their website I'm a big fan and it's all sounding good. They've rebranded themselves and look like a firm of contemporary architects. If Nile Rogers, Jungle or daft Punk are your thing then you'll almost certainly enjoy Parcels Do you ever get the feeling that all of the good band names might have been used up?

I've become an Audible addict. I just finished Jon Ronson's Butterfly Effect. It's great -of course- though possibly not as great as some of the other great stuff he's done. His journey into the psyche of the American Alt Right -The Elephant in the Room-  is excellent and apposite too. Danny Wallace's I Can't Believe You Said That is great, too; it's a sometimes profound, sometimes hilarious and sometimes sad meditation on rudeness. 

Solar Bones my Mike McCormack is a really fine novel. I think it's been shortlisted for the Booker; it certainly deserves it (in my humble and fairly valueless opinion). It's part prosaic, part profound and once you're a few pages in you'll struggle to put it down; it's an unusual book because everything and nothing happens at the same time

Have you heard of Gudak? It's an App that mimics a disposable camera, not only in the qualities of the photos but in the fact that there is no review function and you have to then wait for three days to see your photos once you have finished a roll of 24. It's only 99p!


Sept 2017.

I think my favourite song of the summer has to be Alt J's 3WW. It's grown on me to the point that I have to limit my listens. I have been waiting for the new LCD Soundsystem album since they announced that they were back from the dead 18 months ago. It's had mixed reviews, which I don't really understand because it's exactly what it should be; great songs, beautiful layered production and some bleak, grumpy and sometimes celebratory words. Is it their best? Probably not. Is it a good addition to the canon? Absolutely. Loyle Carner's album Yesterday's Gone... is fantastic. If you like Tricky's best work, or indeed Massive Attack then this is well worth a try And he's from London and only 22. A bright future!

There's a new magazine called Vanguards that's trying to raise money on Kickstarter and I think it's the perfect passion project and worth your tenner (or more). Help them here Next Draft continues to entertain me on a daily basis. Sign up for the newsletter here It's free, funny, opinionated and informative And here's a nice short piece on The National in The New Yorker I subscribe to the magazine on my iPad. Honestly, I can't recommend it more highly.

I am an inveterate enthusiast. This is both good and bad. Last night -with better things to do- I decided to jot down a list of my current 100 enthusiasms. Or 100 of my current enthusiasms. I doubt you care, but here they are (men like making lists, I like lots of things). Indulge me or find something better to do, it's up to you.

Twirls. Roquefort. Red Wine (except Pinot noir). LCD Soundsystem. Narrow trousers. Tolix chairs. Grizzly Bear. Geoff Dyer. Amateur oil paintings. Double espresso (Allpress). Vintage rugs. Perrier. Oliver Goldsmith glasses. Redwing boots. The National. Jay Mcinerney.Famous Grouse with soda. Perrier. Elbow. Campfires. Axes (especially Best Made Co). Vintage flags. Jonathan Franzen. Arcade Fire. Almost all non-mini dogs. OrSlow clothes. Vintage matches. Sunspel T shirts. Copper. Verdigris. Hiut jeans. Loyle Carner. Hans Wenger chairs (almost all). Brocantes and vintage markets. Land Rovers. Sage with pork. Most salt and vinegar crisps. Glass display domes, but only old ones. Opinel’s new knives with painted tips. Digoin pottery. Kubb (best garden game ever). Liverpool FC. Fresh mint tea. The New Yorker. Next Draft daily email. Playing football. Camp Wandewega.  1st PAT-RN cord jackets. Fortela roll neck jumpers. Bella Freud candles. Corrugated iron sheds. Herons (they're just so fascinatingly solitary/shy). The Gudak App. Jon Ronson’s books on Audible (even better than the actual books).Audible generally. Michael May penknives. Le Laboureur workwear. Good manners. Dave Bounaguidi screenprints.  A.B.C.L brushed cotton work shirts. Prayer flags. Japanese knives (the more expensive the better). De Bruyer steel pans. Cauliflower with stalks, garlic, capers and vinegar. The New Yorker. Round wooden chopping boards. Zinc. Oliver trees. Bright socks. Cold Toblerone. Highland Spring (fizzy, plastic bottle not glass). Comte (chronically underrated in GB).  Canopy beds.  Nespresso (i know, I know, but I can't find a better home machine and I have tried and tried). Mike McCormack’s Solar Bones. Adam Buxton’s podcast (hurry back). Elizabeth Day’s The Party. Targets/Dartboards. Ping pong. Wood-fired ovens. 3WW by Alt-J. Stickers. In My Head by The Darker the Shadow. Eytys shoes. Juniper Ridge shower gel. Neon masking tape. The Superior Labor canvas pouches. Aesop moisturiser. Button badges (generally). Yellow (the colour, but very bright). Rosemary (the herb; not a person). Aztec throws (vintage). Vintage pencils. Windburn (altogether better than sunburn). Hand tinted vintage postcards. Revisionist History Podcast. My own podcast (just doing it). Optimism. David Sedaris. Adam Lallana.

We've seen two great concerts this week: LCD Soundsytem and The National (currently rebranded as The Ntl). What a privilege! Two bands at the top of their games. Her's a review of the former from the FT. 'Falstaffian' in a pop review I am not a big tv watcher -and so am definitely not an authority- but have become quite firmly hooked on Tin Star. It seems like good, simple jeopardy but gently in the mould of Twin Peaks. Ali Fakra Toure's remasters are amazing. 

On my beside table are; Dylan Jones' David Bowie book and  David Cannadine's Victorious Century and they are soon to be joined by Jeffrey Euginedes' Fresh Complaint (I think he's one of my favourite writers and although short stories aren't usually my thing -not enough 'meat' I am going with this one) and Jennifer Egan's new book (she wrote A Visit from the Goon Squad). 


October 2017.

So much good stuff out little time.

I have been really enjoying Athletico Mince, the football related (very loosely) podcast by Bob Mortimer and his friend Andy (who I think is a Talk Sport presenter). It isn't all good but some bits are genuinely, deeply funny. It's often blokeish but it makes me laugh a lot so I don't care.

In music there's a brilliant compilation that has just come out by Sunny and the Sunliners called Mr Brown Eyed Soul. This is a collection of American/Mexican soul music from the '60s and '70s which I heard in a record shop and instantly fell for. I couldn't recommend it more highly. The Twin Peaks, Music From... is great; spooky, detached, very cool. If you saw the latest series (and I gave up after a few) this is all of the music that played in the bar. Very Twin Peaks, very David Lynch. I absolutely love the new Grizzly Bear album, Painted Ruins. At first I thought it was a bit dull but a few listens reveal a really lovely, nuanced, beautifully textured record.

I am not a big television watcher but I really enjoyed Tin Star; part Twin Peaks, part Fortitude, part James Bond (but Tim Roth is harder than Daniel Craig).


November 2017.

Alan Hollinghurst, who is one of my favourite authors, has a new book out. I haven't got that far into The Sparsholt Affair but I am loving it and, anyway, all of his previous books are brilliant, so this almost certainly will be.

I haven't read as much as I should recently because suddenly and out of the blue I have become a willing victim to the TV box set. I've watched all of Billions (Shakespearean in its character plots) and Big Little Lies (simple, confident, brilliant) and now I have started on Suits. I know, I know, late to the party and all that. I didn't realise I had so much spare time; but I have been staying up later to feed the habit.

I've been in the car a lot and have just finished Johnny Marr's Set the Boy Free on audible. The Smiths were my favourite group of all time; it was a question of right time, right place, right feelings. I hadn't imagined I would be particularly interested in this but it's good and I was. This led me to listen back to some of The Smiths (I bought the reissue of The Queen is Dead on vinyl; possibly my favourite album ever) as well as some of the bands Marr worked on when The Smiths split; late period Talking Heads, The The, Modest Mouse, Billy Bragg. In the last few days I have been playing mainly Hiss Golden Messenger and Michael Chapman (both highly recommended). The other day a friend was raving about Gretchen Peters which I am enjoying hugely; I seem to be having a mellow moment.


December 2017.

On my Christmas Podcast I said I'd list the recommendations here and I haven't yet down that. Sorry. If you'd like to follow up anything please email me; there's a link on the homepage.

My first discovery of the month is Aldous Harding's brilliant record Party. Like, perhaps, Anthony/Anhoni or maybe Kate Bush, Harding's voice is an acquired taste but the songs are so strong and so multi-layered that you'll find yourself playing this on repeat. Jim James' new record Tribute to 2 is great as is the new Belle and Sebastian EP which, I think, is the first part of a trilogy of records that will, I assume, go on to feature on an album. There's a new collection of reggae from the 1970s and early '80s out called Doing Our Thing which I love, too.

I've just seen Paddington 2. Everyone I know -of whatever age- is raving about this. It's brilliant; part homage to Wes Andersen, part meditation on the value of optimism and kindness and very funny, warm, stylish and rich to boot. 


January 2018.

The are some good things that have crossed my path this month.

Tom Hanks' short stories in Uncommon Type. Ridiculously good for a second or third career; simple, gentle, elegant.

The Robin: A biography by Stephen Moss. Lovely, clever, informed.

Marc Maron interviewing Kim Deal on his WTF podcast. They barely touch on her time in Pixies but it's a good chat. Probably best to skip the first 25 minutes of the podcast where Maron addresses his relationship with Louis CK, as I am not sure that this adds a huge amount to the debate. And his interview with Macaulay Culkin is surprisingly good.

The War on Drugs. A Deeper Understanding. I am not sure that any of the proper critics agree but this is by far his/their best album. I have found it almost completely consuming. Part Dylan, part Waterboys, part Tame Impala.

Les Hommes de Feu. A deceptively simple French film. Understated, funny, very French.

Land Chocolate. Great chocolate, great branding. From London. 

Three Billboards Outside.... I get a bit Oscar weary at this time of year, but this is great, the very definition of black comedy.

Just in case you haven't been listening to Malcolm Gladwell's Revisionist History podcast then I couldn't recommend this highly enough; beautifully scripted short stories.