28 February 2011

MILES' MODE

Better known one half of The Last Shadow Puppets, but also a former member of Liverpool band The Rascals, Miles Kane is set to launch his first solo album, Colour of the Trap, this April. Here's a taste...

27 February 2011

THE BIGGER PRIZE

People say 2010 was a terrible year for filmmaking. They say there were more bad movies than ever – more sequels, more remakes, fewer new ideas. By way of example, these doomsayers point to things like Grown Ups, Killers, The Bounty Hunter, Sex and the City 2, The Last Airbender, Iron Man 2, and you know what? I can't disagree. There were a lot of wretched films out last year. But that's not news. Name the year where the good outnumbered – or better yet, outperformed – the bad. Just one year ago, in 2009, the biggest hit at the box office was James Cameron's sci-fi 3D wankfest, Avatar. Pretty movie with innovative special effects? Sure, I'll buy that. Excellent filmmaking with a wonderful story and brilliant acting? Absolutely not. But people flocked to it in droves and it was a serious contender for Best Picture in last year's Academy Awards, despite the fact 2009 also boasted excellent movies like A Single Man, The Hurt Locker, District Nine, Inglourious Basterds, Up, Up in the Air and more.

The Academy Awards are today, and this year, the nominations are packed with some truly wonderful films: Winter's Bone, True Grit, Black Swan, Inception, The King's Speech, The Kids Are All Right, The Fighter, 127 Hours... 10 films were nominated for Best Picture and while I haven't seen each and everyone, they at least all seem worthy of being considered. Before last year, only five films were eligible for nomination, but since they expanded it to 10, there have actually been enough good films to warrant the expanded nomination list. And what's more, there are a number of fine films that could have made the list and didn't.

So, yeah, maybe there were some shitty films out in 2010, but there some genuinely great work made its way into cinemas, too. Any year when I can go see Black Swan and True Grit back-to-back, or an indie film like the shamefully unsung Get Low, seems like a pretty good one to me. I just plain ignored all that bad stuff.

Anyway, here are my picks for the big awards. (Oh, and the Winter's Bone poster is courtesy of a blog called Thirsty For Milk. Lots of great alternative designs for various movie posters over there, so check it out!)

Best Picture - Winter's Bone
Best Director - Darren Aronofsky for Black Swan
Best Actor - Colin Firth for The King's Speech
Best Actor in a Supporting Role - Christian Bale for The Fighter
Best Actress - Jennifer Lawrence for Winter's Bone
Best Actress in a Supporting Role - Hailee Steinfeld for True Grit
Best Animated Feature Film - The Illusionist
Best Adapted Screenplay - True Grit, by Joel & Ethan Coen
Best Original Screenplay - Inception, by Christopher Nolan

26 February 2011

THE REAL THING

The Baracuta G9 jacket has been one of the essential items in my wardrobe for some time now, initially owing to my long-time interest in Mod style, but finally cementing its place in my heart as I developed a growing fondness for the classic Ivy League look. As of this moment, I own four of them: natural, dark navy, sky blue, and red. They're perfect for the Bay Area, where it's often brisk out, but never terribly cold, and they look great with virtually anything.

First made in England during 1937, the G9 was designed as a rainproof golf jacket, but over the years, it found broader appeal as stylish, lightweight casual wear. Elvis wore one, Frank Sinatra wore one – James Dean had that red number in Rebel Without a Cause – and of course, it was the jacket of choice for the ultra-cool Steve McQueen.

During the '60s, the jacket became a favorite within London's burgeoning Mod scene and was nicknamed the Harrington Jacket by Ivy Shop proprietor John Simons, after Ryan O'Neal's G9- wearing character on the television show Peyton Place, Rodney Harrington. In the years that followed, the jacket was a staple of Skinheads and Suedeheads alike, and by the time Punk rolled around in the mid-'70s, it was adopted by the likes of Joe Strummer and Paul Weller, then later again by Damon Albarn, Liam Gallagher and the current James Bond, Daniel Craig.

And if imitation truly is the greatest form of flattery, then the countless knock-offs of the Baracuta are surely the greatest testament to the jacket's iconic status, because over the years, numerous other companies have made their version of the G9. Everyone from designers like Ralph Lauren to fellow English brands like Fred Perry and Ben Sherman have done their own Harrington jackets, along with smaller outfits like Warrior Clothing. The quality and detailing varies depending on the brand, but make no mistake, none of them outdo the original.

All that said, I've found over the years that the G9 is something of a love-it-or-hate-it item. I've been stopped on the street and complimented on mine or asked where to get one, but I've also been told it looks like a Member's Only jacket or something a grandad might wear. Some find its classic design incredibly cool; others view it as achingly square. There's a fine line between "timeless" and "conservative," and as a brand approaching its 75th anniversary, Baracuta definitely straddles it, but given the jacket's ongoing appeal, I'd personally go with the former...

25 February 2011

THE LONDON BOYS

First three parts of a BBC documentary on the evolution of British street style, focusing first on the Teddy Boys of the late '50s and then the Mods of the '60s. Commentary from the usual suspects: Robert Elms (The Way We Wore: A Life in Threads), Paolo Hewitt (The Soul Stylists: Forty Years of Modernism) and John Simon (of the legendary Ivy Shop and J. Simon), along with Rolling Stones drummer Charlie Watts and an original Mod or two...

24 February 2011

I GOT GOOD NEWS

This is a public service announcement:

I went to see my friend Paul up at his place in the Berkeley hills last week and walked away with an armload of vinyl: 12" singles by The Smiths, the original Nuggets comp, a pair of Gene Clark albums, two fantastic Ornette Coleman records, the second Felt LP, a UK mono pressing of Ray Charles' Genius + Jazz = Soul....

I could have easily bought twice, three times as many, because Paul's home, as befits someone who has been in the business of selling records for over 20 years, is filled with records. Some are his, obviously, but many, if not most of them, are for sale. In fact, there's a pretty good chance you haven't been to an actual record store as packed out with great vinyl as Paul's house.

You're in luck, though, because he's in the process of making some of these classic records available online. And along with all the vinyl, he has a ton of music memorabilia dating back to the early 1960s – posters, postcards, pinback badges, various promotional odds and ends. He ships all over the world, and apart from being a diamond geezer, he has an astonishing eye for great records and a depth of music knowledge you're not likely to find elsewhere. Do yourself a favor and check him out.

And in the mean time, feast your eyes on some great album art from three different eras, but all equally amazing.

WHERE ARE THEY NOW?


Here's irony for you: Back in the 1990s, Gene were summarily dismissed by music critics as Smiths copycats, whilst Oasis – a band whose music owed no small debt to a certain Fab Four –were lauded as Britpop heroes.

It's true that Gene's singer, Martin Rossiter, was clearly inspired by Morrissey's vocal style, especially early on, and it's undeniable that guitarist Steve Mason was a dab hand at incorporating various Marr-isms into his playing. It was probably a misstep, too, to base the look of their first clutch of singles and debut album Olympian around the same design aesthetic that made The Smiths' records so immediately identifiable, but the similarities stopped there. By their second album, the brilliant and underrated Drawn to the Deep End, they were really coming into their own. The keen-eared listener could pick out references here and there – The Faces, The Jam, Queen, Bowie, Elvis Costello and yes, The Smiths – but the sound was unmistakably their own.

Before disbanding in 2004, Gene released four studio albums, a compilation of b-sides and radio sessions, and a live album; I recommend them all. The live album may seem like pushing it to some, and I'll concede that live albums often pale in comparison to a band's studio output, but Gene were phenomenal live and as a document of the energy and excitement that accompanied their live shows, this one totally works.

In terms of specific songs, though, I'm willing to be more selective, so here then, are my top 10 favorite Gene tracks....

1. "Where Are They Now?" (Drawn to the Deep End, 1997)
2. "In Love With Love," (Revelations, 1999)
3. "Be My Light, Be My Guide," (single a-side, 1994)
4. "Sick, Sober & Sorry," (single b-side, "Sleep Well Tonight," 1995)
5. "The Police Will Never Find You," (Revelations, 1999)
6. "To See the Lights," (single b-side, "Olympian," 1995)
7. "I Love You, What Are You?" (Drawn to the Deep End, 1997)
8. "Truth, Rest Your Head," (Olympian, 1995)
9. "London, Can You Wait," (To See the Lights, 1996)
10. "Is it Over?" (Libertine, 2001)

23 February 2011

WEDNESDAY GIRL

Anne Hathaway

21 February 2011

THERE IS A LIGHT THAT NEVER GOES OUT

Well, it did that once, back in August, but happily, this magnificent watering hole is up and running once again...

The House of Shields, 1908

20 February 2011

18 February 2011

NEW SONG

Oh, yeah, new Radiohead today:


YOU'RE THE WISH YOU ARE I HAD

Artist Sean Hartter has an awesome blog filled with alternate universe movie posters for dozens of movies I find myself wishing were real. Well, all except the last one, because even though that's a great poster design, I feel like we're a little too close to living in that reality as it stands...

17 February 2011

THE SUN AND THE RAIN

One hit wonders in the U.S., Madness were virtually unstoppable hit-makers in 1980s Britain. This was their 10th entry in the U.K. top five in the space of five years, and though it's nearly 30 years old at this point, it's perfectly suited for rainy days like today.

"Scraps of brain going down the drain," indeed...

16 February 2011

WEDNESDAY GIRL

Carey Mulligan

15 February 2011

EACH AND EVERYONE

Still the best Everything But The Girl song:

14 February 2011

SONGS OF LOVE

There's a place I go that has Al Green's greatest hits on the jukebox, and sometimes the 10 songs from that record get played so often, you'd think it was the only album in there. It's not hard to guess why, though: Everyone loves Al Green. I think it's a testament to the power of his music that a bunch of songs that were hits in the early '70s are still so widely appreciated today, by people of all ages, all walks of life. Part of that's down to his incredible voice, but really, I think the main thing is that so many of his songs are about love. Wanting love, being in love, losing the one you love, you name it, Al Green sang about it and from around 1971-73, nobody did it better.

So, since it's Valentine's Day, I figured I'd do a quick rundown my top 10 favorite love songs by Reverend Al...

1. "You Ought to Be With Me," (Call Me, 1973)
2. "Here I Am (Come and Take Me)," (Call Me, 1973)
3. "Simply Beautiful," (I'm Still in Love With You, 1972)
4. "Driving Wheel," (Al Green Gets Next to You, 1971)
5. "I'm Glad You're Mine," (I'm Still in Love With You, 1972)
6. "I'm Still in Love With You," (I'm Still in Love With You, 1972)
7. "Let's Get Married," (Livin' for You, 1973)
8. "Let's Stay Together," (Let's Stay Together, 1972)
9. "L-O-V-E," (Al Green is Love, 1975)
10. "Keep on Pushing Love," (Don't Look Back, 1993)

And a few videos from an appearance on the Jonathan Ross show last summer, as well, with no less than Dave Gilmour on guitar and Jools Holland on piano for a performance of "Let's Stay Together."

13 February 2011

YOUNG LUNGS

I've been on a bit of a Sean Lennon kick since going to see Ghost of a Saber Tooth Tiger last month. I've had his albums Into the Sun and Friendly Fire since they were first released (in 1998 and 2006, respectively); the second is much, much better than the first, but both are worth having.

I don't remember what my expectations were when Into the Sun first came out, but I do recall being very pleasantly surprised. It's hard to ignore that one of the most famous people of the 20th Century was his father, and I think a lot of people probably hold that against him. By which I mean his music is judged against that of The Beatles, against his father's solo work, even against his elder half-brother's recorded output. Even more unfair, there are some who seem to resent Sean, because of how Julian Lennon was treated by his father or by Yoko Ono.

All of that aside, he's actually quite good. His music has little to do with his lineage and the sound he is currently cultivating with girlfriend Charlotte Kemp Muhl in Ghost of a Saber Tooth Tiger is very much his own.

Still need convincing? Try these (all his own, barring the last one, a cracking version of The Beach Boys' "Sail On Sailor"):

12 February 2011

POSTCARD

Video for the new Manics single, "Postcards From a Young Man," due out February 28.

11 February 2011

PARIS, SUMMER

Yet another Style Council ad, this one for their 1983 EP, À Paris.

What a difference 28 years makes: Paul Weller and Mick Talbot are right around 25 here, and were quite the inspirational figures in their summer suits. Smart suits and sweaters over the shoulder are more likely to be met with derision than a knowing nod of approval nowadays. Boys in their mid-20s are more about ill-fitting trousers (too tight or too baggy, take your pick), hoodies and garishly designed t-shirts, defiantly shirking the trappings of adulthood in favor of some strange perpetual adolescence...

10 February 2011

ANYTHING FOR A LAUGH

Two great tastes that go great together: Comic Patton Oswalt and comic book artist Phil Noto.

09 February 2011

WEDNESDAY GIRL

Laetitia Sadier

08 February 2011

WOMAN'S GOT SOUL

I get a little tired of hearing people run Sade down. If you don't soul or jazz, fine, but her first three albums still hit me where I live and she was easily the highlight of Julien Temple's adaptation of Absolute Beginners...

07 February 2011

WHO'S THAT GUY?

Sometimes people send me cool free stuff, like this sketch by Who is Jake Ellis? artist Tonci Zonjic...

If you haven't had a chance to check this book out yet, the basic concept is this: Jon Moore (that's him in the drawing) is a spy-for-hire on the run from just about everybody, because of his relationship with a powerful psychic named Jake Ellis. The catch? No one but Moore can see Jake Ellis, but Jake Ellis can see everything.

Written by a talented young writer named Nathan Edmondson, Who is Jake Ellis? #1 sold out right away amid rave reviews. If you missed it, a second printing hits stores this week, and issue two is available February 23.

06 February 2011

LOST VOICES

So many albums are regarded as masterpieces today that went virtually unheard at the time of their release. Everyone goes on about things like Pet Sounds by The Beach Boys or The Zombies' Odyssey & Oracle, Forever Changes by Love or The Kinks Are The Village Green Preservation Society, but they were all flops, viewed as commercial (and often, creative) dead ends when they initially came out. Your Nick Drakes? Your Big Stars? Ignored in droves until being reassessed year later. More proof that quality and quantity often have the most tenuous of relationships and that many of us do have better vision when using hindsight.

And these days, it's the same as it ever was, so here are the top 10 albums I'd nominate as hidden gems or lost classics...

1. Spearmint - A Different Lifetime (2001)
A superbly ambitious concept album that charts the rise and fall of a relationship from first meeting to final bleating, this is undoubtably Spearmint's finest collection of songs yet. It's a record that just gets better the more I listen to it, thanks largely to frontman Shirley Lee's exceptional lyrics. He's captured each stage in this love affair so perfectly, it's impossible not to see yourself and the people you've loved in these songs.

2. Lilys - The 3 Way (1999)
Kurt Heasley takes his obsession with the mid-'60s Mod pop he mined for Better Can't Make Your Life Better to its ultimate conclusion with this brilliant mix of classic sounds that evokes everything from his beloved Kinks to psych pop mavericks like The 13th Floor Elevators. I have no idea what "Socs Hip" is about, but over 10 years later, it still sounds as infectious as the first time I heard it, and "The Lost Victory" may be the best Zombies song not actually by The Zombies.

3. The Redskins - Neither Washington Nor Moscow... (1986)
Their sole album, but what a stunner. Every track is a call to arms set to music, propelled along by X. Moore's stirring vocals and an indomitable backbeat of rockabilly and soul. Mixing pop and politics never sounded so joyful. If your neighbors are Republicans, buy this and play LOUD!

4. Noonday Underground - Surface Noise (2002)
Recorded alongside Paul Weller's Illumination album and featuring guest vocals from the Modfather on two tracks ("I'll Walk Right On" and "Thunder Park"), this album is somewhat of a precursor to Weller's creative resurgence on 22 Dreamsand Wake Up the Nation. Simon Dine and singer Daisy Martey are the stars of the show here, though, following up on 2000's Self-Assembly with an even better set of songs that somehow evokes the '60s while still staying shark-laser focused on the future.

5. Shack - The Corner of Miles and Gil (2006)
When it comes to Shack, you could pick any of their albums as a lost classic. H.M.S. Fable tends to turn up on lists the most, but I think this one is just as amazing. There are so many lovely tunes here ("Moonshine," "Cup of Tea," "Shelley Brown"), and it deftly blends the sounds and textures of their previous records into something almost majestic.

6. Donald Fagen - Kamakiriad (1993)
For all intents and purposes a concept built around a remarkably loose concept – it's essentially about going for a ride in a futuristic car, the Kamakiri – Fagen's finely-tuned lyrical observations nevertheless make this a fascinating album that handsomely repays repeat listens over time. Fagen creates such a wonderful world across these eight songs that I can't help getting lost in it whenever I put this on. There's imagery from this album that still haunts me nearly 10 years after hearing it for the first time. And I mean that in a good way.

7. Charlotte Hatherley - The Deep Blue (2007)
I was never all that into Ash, but I've been a big fan of Charlotte Hatherley's solo work since she struck out on her own a few years back. This is my favorite of the three records she's made to date, and a record I'm always surprised more people don't know about. She's really having fun here, allowing some of her influences to shine through, but the sound is still very much her own.

8. The Devils - Dark Circles (2002)
Duran Duran founders Stephen Duffy and Nick Rhodes return to the scene of the crime, dusting off songs they wrote as Brummie youths in the late '70s and recording them using all analog equipment. It sounds a bit daft, but the end result is a luxuriously atmospheric album that recalls the best of early '80s synth pop while sounding oddly timeless. The future has always been here, it turns out.

9. Nicole Willis & The Soul Investigators - Keep Reachin' Up (2005)
I first heard this around the time I was getting into Sharon Jones and The Dap-Kings, and it really blew me away. Cut from a similar pattern as the Sharon Jones records, but a bit smoother. Willis has a fantastic voice, and the Soul Investigators stir up a soul stew that mixes in equal parts Memphis, Chicago, Motown and Philly for a record that sounds like an instant classic.

10. Gene - Drawn to the Deep End (1997)
Frequently dismissed for sounding too much like Morrissey and The Smiths, Gene had actually developed past merely aping their influences by the time this second album rolled around, with to stunning results. Martin Rossiter's powerful and emotive voice really comes into its own here, and Steve Mason has to be one of Britpop's most underrated guitarists.

05 February 2011

CITY LIGHTS

The Condor Club, 1964

The Tadich Grill, 1967

Tosca, 1919

04 February 2011

ENJOY YOURSELF

More footage from last Saturday's GAMH show, this time featuring the Titan Ups performing The Specials's debut album, plus "Gangsters" and "Ghost Town"...

03 February 2011

COMING UP

This is something we're putting out through Image in April, and while I don't often use this space to gush about our books... Well, I thought this worth it. The artist is Nate Simpson and he's just remarkably talented. This is is first comics work and the level of craft he brings to each page is incredible. The series is called Nonplayer, and again, it's out in April, but here's a quick taste: