things my friends say

30 Days of Music is Over! feat. Sam Cowley

Sam Cowley is a rude, rude man. And far too cool for this being-on-the-internet business. Mr. Spencer has asked for my services in this navel-gazing, 30 days of pretentiousness… I joke, I love it really. How could I not? So my favourite song, eh? I will have to go for Roots Manuva’s Witness. For several reasons which I will elaborate on… …Right now. I love a lot about this song. But I warn you, it may get a little Sociology. First off, it is from without doubt the best British hip hop album of all time (Run Come Save Me). I would say there are all sorts of of amazing British hip hop artists, mixtapes etc, but this is one of the few albums which works as a whole. Second, I think the bassline is ridiculously iconic. All it takes is for a DJ to drop the first half-second of the beat over the end of another song to get me outrageously aroused. Bloody cockteases. Seriously, see it live if you can… jizztastic. It is so different; robot diarrhea if ever I heard it. Third, I think it typifies everything Britishness should be. Forget* Griffin and the rest, with their archaic nursery-rhyme idea of national identity. Apart from the mix of cultural references (cheese on toast, jerk fish, pints of bitter) there is just the spirit of the thing, glorying in a diversity of origins, boastful in the most understated way. Even the opting for low key language only adds more power We don’t give a frigg** about what them fools thinkFrigg your network, our debt work will speak for itself. It makes me proud to come from this bloody bloody country. And as a typical Sociology type, I think that says a lot. *Oh, Mr. Cowley, with your politicised swears! Tut tut. I’m sorry, ladies and gentlemen, I warned you he was rude.**Oh, Sam, why can’t you be more like your Mr Manuva, with his polite non-swears?

30 Days of Music is Over! feat. Sam Lewis

Sam Lewis is the tender heart of The July Days and an all-round very polite boy. One thing that has struck me most about Mr. Spencer’s blogathon over the last 30 days has been the honesty in choices of songs. For many of them I smirked at his choices for being a bit, well, poppy and stupid (see Britney Spears, Tenacious D). Yes, I’m fully aware that this is a very elitist attitude, but this is why I’ve enjoyed reading these blogs over the last month. These songs aren’t bad at all and have actually made me rethink about why I tend to have this blinkered prejudiced attitude to pop music. If I’ve learnt anything (and I like to think I have) there is such a thing as good pop music and that it is okay to like it whoever its done by. Which brings me to my choice of favourite song: Ex-Factor by Lauryn Hill. Lets make this clear: this isn’t my favourite song of all time. However, it definitely is up there in the list. I can vividly remember hearing this in the car on the way to school at the age of 10. I used to hate everything that got played because I wasn’t that interested in music and so nothing really grabbed me, but this song was different; I didn’t actually mind it. I then heard it randomly a couple of times throughout school, and it got to the point where I used to like it but could never admit it because Blink 182 was ‘the thing’ and carrying a skateboard meant that this sort of music was off limits. Being an insecure teenager, music taste meant everything and any signs of weakness would be exploited (not much change there mind…) Fast forward to university and, once again, this song popped up on a long car journey back to the Shire. This time it was different; I could be open about liking it without embarrassment. I actually bought this album from a charity shop for a quid the other day and this song has been pretty much on repeat ever since. I can finally be open about my unashamed love for it, and my gosh does it feel good. I guess that’s one of the reasons its one of my favourite songs; it’s the only song that’s stuck with me for 12 years and the one of the very few songs I have liked throughout my youth. If that’s not testament to a personal favourite song, I don’t know what is. So, like those old school tales of suppressed love like a García Márquez story, I can finally stand tall and proud and say I love this song. Without being accused of brown-nosing too much*, I’d like to think that Mr. Spencer’s blog for helping me recognise this and reminding me that sometimes, pop music can be fun and that you can like anything (within reason) and not feel the hot pangs of worry and anxiety that many know me for. Cheers Alex. *He is, but that’s alright. We love you too Sam!

30 Days of Music is Over! feat. Helen Shepherd

Helen Shepherd has various Google-related superpowers. She can see you right now. That sudden download of all your search history? It came from inside the house. I don’t know if you know, but Alex is actually quite a nice person*, when he isn’t forgetting my birthday. So nice in fact that he asked me if I’d like to write a short guest entry for his fabulous blog, about my favourite song. I said yes without thinking of the consequences of my actions, as ever, and so here I am mulling over what my favourite song is. This is the sort of question that usually makes me drop and roll, the horror of being judged as worthless and irrelevant is just too much to bear, and I never tend to impress when it comes to musical competitiveness. To work out what song I could suggest to be my favourite song, I turned to a process of elimination, walking through the forests of my youth to remember what once was. I remember when I lived for Slipknot’s first album, swearing I’d never love anything more. Then, I went through puberty and realised most people could understand my pain, so that was abandoned. I turned to my Last.fm, hoping for some answers, but there was not much to report. Yes, Turn Me On by Kevin Lyttle is perhaps my most adored, (second) most played song since 16th July 2009’s reset, but is it my number one definitive smash hit wonder? I’m not sure. Turn Me On has a specific context in my heart, and whilst I do love it, I think there is probably a song out there somewhere which has been intrinsic to my identity much longer. I checked all over for answers, under my desk, in old playlists, when suddenly like a bright yellow guitar falling from the sky, I clocked the song I could say that, perhaps, could be, the song I might be able to name as my favourite. I’ll give it a bit of context, that seems to be the gig in these sort of things: Diamonds and Pearls came out in 1991, when I had but two tender years to my name and, not that I remember this, but it was the album my brother got for Christmas that year and managed to appal my lovely, Catholic Nanny with (though retrospectively we realise she probably just found it hilarious). In those between years, I remember sitting in the car shouting along to the lyrics I now realise are completely inappropriate for such a young thing to be shouting. This song recalls it all: the house parties I’d insist on playing my (mostly terrible mix) CDs at, the singalongs at the bus stops of my glory years, going to see Prince at the O2 the day before I started university (not that he performed it, man of faith he is now). I admit, even the video has something so me about it, begging the questions am I like this because I love the song, or do I love the song because I’m like this? So, the song I think I will choose is Gett Off, by Prince. *Lies. All lies.

30 Days of Music is Over! feat. David Inkpen

David Inkpen is a polymath. A physicist, writer for Redbrick music, member of The July Days and infrequent blogger. Mr. Spencer has commissioned me to comment on my favourite song for his ever-pretentious 30 Days of Music fiasco. I did briefly consider doing the whole 30 days at the start of the month, perhaps with my own twist (I was thinking counting down all the non-prime numbers then the prime numbers: I’m a physicist so had to do something nerdy). Looking at the topics however such as “A song that makes you happy” and emotional things like that I passed as music does not seem to stir the same feelings in me as other people.* I look as music as more of an analytical thing, appreciating good composing, performance and the like. Not to say I haven’t got a chill down my spine when listening to music. It happened once. I think it was cold day. To that effect, I feel I should choose a “favourite” song based on compositional quality and not perhaps on how much I enjoy it. On the other hand, what does that portray me as? Some form of robotic musical scoring system which does not appreciate any human values attributed to songs? Perhaps. So no, I will not choose music on its musical nuances, nor the skill or subtlety of the artist in question, I will choose a song I like. But what is my favourite song? This is an impossible question I feel. To say out of the whole of music – THE WHOLE CABOODLE – that Song X by Artist Y is the thing I’ve most enjoyed ever is somewhat of a crazy concept. Must it be by your favourite artist (which then poses the same question with relation to artist)? I think not. And to narrow down one song seems crazy and imposes too great a limit for one to actually choose a song. So I will answer this question with not my favourite song**, but with one I enjoy, have enjoyed for a while and think I will appreciate for a good while to come. Smiling at Strangers on Trains by Million Dead is a song I’ve loved for a while and know very well as I have played it at acoustically at open mics probably too many times. With such fantastic similes as “you were a single red blood cell but I lost you in the knot of capillaries”, along with the original guitar lines that only Million Dead can provide. Frank Turner (of Frank Turner fame) delivers an ever passionate and angsty performance. I think his lyrics were perhaps the best and most poetic when he sang for Million Dead and it’s a real shame he grew up and became less serious. Have a listen, I hope you enjoy it. Mr. Inkpen adds: If it is a little too “heavy” for you people of a fragile demeanour then here is Mr. Turner doing a cover of himself, with only some swearing in the beginning.****Note: Mr Spencer had a similar discovery.**This is a cop-out. Wuss.***Those rockstars, eh?

Cider: A Lament

I sit here drinking a bottle of Westons Vintage, and considering – for the fourth or fifth time – the budget. For those of you who don’t know, cider was recently picked out for a 10% increase in tax. Cue national uproar, stretching from the Wurzels to Facebook. I have no political qualm with this decision, so far it hasn’t affected me (though the vast majority of alcoholic beverages I’ve consumed since it came into effect are in fact cider). My issue is the feeling of being targeted, picked out. I’m hardly a loyal cider drinker: I’ve wandered far, into the wild torrents of Wine, the soft embrace of lager… cocktail’s shameful puddles. But nevertheless, I’ve stayed true to cider, in various forms, since that first underage taste of Strongbow. And that’s the thing: it comes in a variety of forms. I can’t help but feel grouped in with the drinkers of … shudder … White Lightning and Frosty Jack’s. The difference is not just one of snobbishness or taste (though that’s in the mix), it’s of entirely different uses. Cider can be luxuriated in – I instantly think of my Westons (sadly emptied now). This is the mid-range red wine of ciders. The taste takes a little getting used to: thin and appley if I was being unkind; sharp and refreshing to the trained tongue. Okay, I concede, it has an ABV of 8.2%, putting it above Frosty’s level, even. I’d even accept a tax that specifically targeted your high-alcohol-level beverages… I just think this increase shows a fundamental misunderstanding of how broad a category ‘cider’ is – your fine Thatchers and Westons are a mile away from Frosty Jack’s, but they’re equally as far away from your flavoured Kopparbergs sweet syrup, or the Magners and Bulmers pretenders to the throne, as all revolve around Strongbow in the public imagination. All types are acceptable, in the right situation; it’s just nice to give them some recognition, and recognise that they’re separate. Cider is a loose word, let’s not see it become a dirty one. (For Liv.)

It’s Britney, Bitch.

Back on the first show (that I was actually around for) of my wonderful, now-over-but-possibly-available-on-zShare radio show The Hour, we tried to introduce a feature called ‘Alex Defends…’. The first candidate for this was Britney Spears, who I muttered fairly incoherently about as I tried to express exactly why I love her the way I do, something my good friend and co-host Sam Willet disapproves of. We didn’t do it again, but it’s something that’s bounced around my brain a lot since. The main point we got out in that conversation was that there’s no irony in the way I feel about Britney. Admittedly, there’s a certain pleasure in loving something so far into the mainstream it becomes almost niche again (I think this is a traditionally indie-kid pleasure, tending towards the most obscure or the hidden-in-plain-sight joys of music.) I also tried to establish that Britney works because she’s a Goddess-like figure of legend, for me. This is probably a case of history:I remember waiting in the car for my mom, age 10, a kid who didn’t really like music, tapping the dashboard along to …Baby One More Time.I remember doing some quiz in high school, aged maybe 13, and everyone turning to me when they asked which video had Britney in that red PVC catsuit (Oops! …I Did It Again, obv.)My first year of Uni will forever be crystallised within Gimme More (the song that brought me back into the Britney fold after losing interest, around Toxic.) Britney’s persona is key, too. It’s shifted over the years, and isn’t entirely consistent: but that’s myth for you. Obviously, the nature of pop music is such that none of the songs Britney sings are her own but, given her unique status, people will write songs about her, for her, this can become a positive. When I listened to the Circus album, I started to realise how self-aware Britney’s stuff is. Kill The Lights introduces her as “our pop princess, now Queen of Pop.” Which is pretty obvious: it’s something the media have been talking about for years now. But in Unusual You, which would otherwise be a fairly weak track, Britney addresses the way she’s presented herself over the years. Wedged among songs about the usual misadventures in love she asks her man,Didn’t anyone tell you, you’re supposed to break my heart? She expects him to. And it hits me. Through the years Britney’s played a number of key parts, some of them contradictory, most of them cyclical- she’s the Victim of Unrequited Love, she’s the Accidental Cocktease, the Devoted Girl In Love. She’s Girl, as processed by Pop; then, as that identity takes form as Britney, she becomes Britney, as processed by Pop, giving us the Victim of Fame, the Good Girl Looking To Escape Her Reputation.In the SavageCritic(s) post I linked to in the Scott Pilgrim brain’splosion down the page, Abhay mentions Susan Douglas’ book, Where the Girls Are: Growing Up Female with the Mass Media and how Douglas talks about the way“the success of the girl bands of the 1960’s can be attributed to how they allowed girls of that generation to ‘try on’ different sexual identities, whether the troubling thrills of dating the bad boy of Leader of the Pack or the hopeful uncertainty of the Shirelle’s Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?“Whether Britney, taking on this role in a post-sexual-liberation age, is surplus to social requirements is debateable. But, as a Boy growing up with the Mass Media portrayal of women, Britney helped lay out some templates of what girls might be like. Maybe they were a little warped in parts, but I’m still in love with the Girl Britney provided. Plus, if you can stop yourself singing, dancing and/or miming throughout all of My Prerogative, you’re either a better man than me, or dead inside.

My name’s Alex and I’m a Scottaholic.

(If you’re not, ask to borrow it. Instead of reading this. I’ll wait for you to come back addicted…) It was the shiny cover that did it. I waited ages for my copy of Scott Pilgrim Vs. The Universe (aka SP5), and when it finally came, I tore open the package to discover a land of shininess and awesome design. It promised so much, after the pure joy of Gets It Together (that’s SP4). Nothing had warned me about the cover, which was already bringing back the joy of discovering an all-new shiny in your Pokemon card booster pack. I admit that I hoped a little that it was only mine that had it, as a special gift for being so patient and awesome. I was ready to revel in all that freshly-discovered love as it accelerated towards some infinite joysphere.On the other side of the book, I am in a world of emptiness. When I reread the series to prepare for SP5, I began to place it in Comics History- the current movement, led by Morrison and Fraction, that seems to be moving away from the early ’00s tendency towards what Morrison called “a showcase …that they can actually write convincing TV and movie scripts”. And embracing the colourful Pop Insanity comics do so well. (Or, as he puts it: “the raw and the primitive and the ‘who gives a fuck, this is the shit!’ element”, in a surprisingly good IGN interview.) Scott Pilgrim is a character defined by the fact that things do work out for him. He exists, pretty much, in his own world, but the world he’s placed in works for him too. He gets all sorts of stuff thrown at him but, like Kim says: C’mon, it’s Scott Pilgrim. And maybe it’s a fantasy, but the same rules, generally, seem to exert themselves on my life. The morning before I got down to reading SP5, a friend reminded of my ability to luck out on stuff. Which just meant the bad times hit more personally. Up till now the classic story’s played on, boy meets girl, beats baddies (and has at least a couple of times in his lifetime) because that’s just how he rolls. But 5 throws a whole batch of stuff at him, for a whole book- the title should’ve warned me: Scott vs the Universe, Ramona’s face should have warned me. But I was too busy looking at the darned shininess of that cover. As it stands, this is definitely the Empire Strikes Back episode of Spaced. Which makes me appreciate the serialised format. As a person, I tend towards discrete chunks of culture: I watch TV on DVD so I can just jump straight to the next episode, I don’t like picking up comics I know will never end. I like albums. So maybe I’m a little spoilt. Film can throw all the misery it likes at you but, presuming there’s a happy ending, it’s never more than 2 hours away.I finished the book and sat around, feeling a little empty, waiting for the next book to arrive and make it all better. Then remembered, it won’t be in my life for a whole year at least. So, somewhere out there, Scott Pilgrim’s stuck in a limbo of misery. And the only way I can rescue him is by reading the next book. COME ON SCOTT PILGRIM 6! (The next thing I did, instead, to fill that hole, was read the awesome articles on it here, by Kieron Gillen and especially here, at Savage Critics. That also inspired another thought, which I might get round to today…)