widg‧et /ˈwɪdʒɪt/ [wij-it] -noun: Pointless ramblings from the New Forest. Obviously complete & utter Rubbish. Why must I contibute to all this endless talk about me? My self-indulgent knees, spilling themselves all over the internet. Obviously i am Jon and his hair, I AM HIM!

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Dance to the Music (Part Eight)

It's time to finish up this long-winded series of ear-candy blatherings and get the past out of the way before I can get around to banging on about 2006. So without further adoings, heeeeeere's Johnny's guide to what good sounds like.

John Frusciante - Shadows Collide With People
TV on the Radio - Desperate Youth, Blood Thirsty Babes
Sufjan Stevens - Seven Swans
Rufus Wainwright - Want One (2003 US)
The Stills - Logic Will Break Your Heart
(2003 US)
(honorary mention: Kylie Minogue - Ultimate Kylie)

I haven't heard the new Red Hot Chili Peppers album yet, but based on the hideously dull, syrupy singles I'm not sure I want to. Ignore any chili-based preconceptions, John Frusciante's albums are never anything less than interesting and this is a stonker. He has a stronger voice than I would have expected and it's perfectly complimented by that of his collaborator, Josh Klinghoffer. The groups of vocal tracks are punctuated by strange, yet compelling electronic warblings, sending the listener into a hypnotising trance of both relaxation and unease.

I may not have given TV On The Radio a try if this bunch of odd noise makers weren't signed to the love of my life, 4AD. Which would have been a shame, but I did, so it's not an issue. Shut up. It takes quite a while to get used to the awkward, off-kilter sounds of this album. In fact, scratch that, you don't get used to it and you shouldn't. Maybe that's the point.

I was making a chilled-out birthday compilation CD for a mate and was a couple of tracks short. I followed up some internet recommendations and found this Sufjan Stevens CD. I'd never heard of him before and this was a bloody good find. Though he's now gaining a lot more recognition for his American states series of releases this one is a lot sparser in its arrangements. Just guitar, banjo and voice, mostly. Very pretty, but not too sugary sweet. A great Sunday morning record, if you can be arsed to get up that early and here's the perfect excuse.

I came quite late to Rufus Wainwright's party, missing this flamboyant Canadian-New Yorker's first couple of albums. I didn't even get this one until the end of the year, more than twelve months after it was released in America. I naughtily bought it on a whim, after the buying-for-oneself deadline had passed in December, lying to myself that I'd give it away to someone else for Christmas. Partly bombastic & operatic, partly quiet & circumspect, this is a monster of an album, producing sessions prolific enough for a sequel. Part two had already been released in the US by this time and I managed to score an import copy on a trip to Barcelona early the next year, but although Want Two is just as wide in scope, Want One is the original and best. Catch him in concert next year, singing the hits of Judy Garland. I'm not lying.

It was a toss up between this Stills album and Green Day. To make the decision easier I asked myself which choice would make me look cooler, so I plumped for the less well known one. Yes, I know I don't need anything to make me look cooler, I am, of course, as cool as it is possible to be, but that's as maybe. See look, I've gone all this way without actually mentioning anything about this lovely Canadian band or their album. That's how cool I am, I don't need to say anything about it and you will still trust my judgement implicitly. It's good, trust me. Peace. Word. No Doubt. etc.

And just to shoot all my ideas of coolness out of the water, here comes this years guest star, Kylie. I haven't been including compilations in my lists, but this is here for Jenny, so she will shut up about my glaring omission of this sexy, Antipodean dwarf. Disc one covers the same period as her previous couple of Greatest Hits, but with significantly fewer tracks. Some may say that this is a good thing. I would not be one of them, to my eternal shame.

Martha Wainright - Martha Wainwright
Arcade Fire - Funeral (2004 US)
Brendan Benson - The Alternative to Love
50 Foot Wave - Golden Ocean
Editors - The Back Room

I first came across Martha Wainwright, based upon her brother Rufus' recommendation in Mojo magazine. Under 'currently
listening', he'd listed an ep called 'Bloody Mother Fucking Asshole' and I was intrigued. Maybe not everyone's cup of tea, but it's far more than the confessional, sub-Alanis Morrisette venting that the title may suggest, in fact it's not just more than that, it isn't that. Sometimes fragile, sometimes powerful, but always compelling, as can be heard on a recent single drowning out Mr. Snow Patrol's weedy voice.

The Arcade Fire's debut may well have been The Bowie's album of the year for 2004, but we don't all have the luxury of living in a country that releases records on time. Having seen this lot live I can only assume they are either very good at acting the part of complete nutters, or are, in fact, actually absolute nutters. Judging by the album I would go for the latter. Let this record confuse your ears with its cornucopia of musical (and non-musical) instruments, producing a cacophony of disparate sounds, but all seeming to coalesce into a unified, but noisy, whole.

Why oh why oh why is
Brendan Benson wasting his time with pub rock band The Raconteurs? He may be having more fun with his mate Jack White, but I'm not hearing it. Rewind a year and you can see what he is truly capable of. A stunning, highly melodic, heavy wow of an album.

I'm running out of steam, fast. I'm going to have to end on a couple of quickies. 50 foot wave is 4AD stalwart Kristin Hersh's new band. With Throwing Muses just reuniting sporadically, every few years, we can rely on The Wave to provide us with the loud, raw & rocking live sound we need as the counterpoint to her acoustic solo albums. The Editors have made the album that Interpol should have made as their second. This is a good thing, we get both.

Phew. And to celebrate the conclusion of the saga here's a picture of me and Martha, that's right, mmme and Mmmmartha, mmmmm. Look she's smiling. I am not stalking her (repeat five times, or until believed).
The End.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Dance to the Music (Part Seven)

Just a quick one year one today, the rest tomorrow, promise.

Mew - Frengers
The Cardigans - Long Gone Before Daylight
The Wannadies - Before & After
Placebo - Sleeping With Ghosts
Josh Rouse - 1972
(Frank Black & the Catholics - Show Me Your Tears)

This year's list is dominated by the cultural giant that is Scandinavia. Danish, uplifting & disturbing in equal measure, Mew's debut international release includes many songs that have been reworked from their two previous (Danish only) albums in vastly superior versions. I first came across them in late 2002 at the Southampton Joiners, supporting Martin Gretch. Best fiver I ever spent. With their atmospheric instrumentation, impossibly high vocals & violin-playing cat screen projections, they gained a lot of new admirers that night. This record is packed full of complicated rhythms, soaring melodies & strange lyrics that could only be written by people whose primary language is not English. For example, a heart-warming Christmas song apparently on the charming topic of rape. 'Tis genius from a foreign land.

Now it's time to journey across the Øresundsbron to Malmö, Sweden, the current home of The Cardigans. Back in the mid 90s I went on a Salvation Army sponsored trip to Norway and Sweden. In-between bouts of do-gooding I managed to stop off in the record shops of Jönköping and picked up a few groovy early singles, along with the regrettable impulse purchase 'Svenska Klassiska Favoriter'. I was very fond of their early, cheesy, 60s sounding stuff, but I wasn't too keen on their mid period, Lovefool and the doom & gloom stuff, in direct bloody minded contrast to the rest of the population. Then while this album found them falling out of favour with everyone else, I think this by far their best. I'm not intentionally trying to be a contrary I-found-them-first-so-now-you-like-them-I-can't style music-nazi, but it's like that and that's the way it is, hur. Country tinged, with the odd Svenglish couplet ("Men I've had a few, but they never quite blew me like you", indeed), but don't let that put you off. It looks great, it feels great, it sounds even greater.

Let's travel further north to the Norrland town of Skellefteå, where the Wannadies are from. Here's another band whose initial burst of prominence was followed by a diminishing audience in direct relation to their increasing quality of work. Before & After is an album of two halves, the first half loud & extrovert, the second half more subdued. I'm not sure what is being referred to between the before and the after of the title, presumably something naughty going by the sexy lyrics of brilliant first single 'Skin'.

To continue the Scandinavian theme we have Placebo, a band containing a Swede on bass (they used to have a Swedish drummer too, don't you know). Yet another unpopular album choice in an artists canon, but I'm really not an admirer of their new back-to-basics record. The record with which NME declared that people are now allowed to like Placebo again. Well, bah humbug I say, they were a record too late, this is a much more interesting beast. Heavy guitars, electronic effects, tunes that'll take your granny's head off, what's not to love? Also if you got the one with the bonus disc you get to hear them bravely tackle Kate Bush, I'm not sure who won.

This year's honorary Scandoman is Josh Rouse. This is the first record of his I bought, based on a staff recommendation. I managed to convert many people to the cult of Josh by playing them this. But I will say no more as I am still pissed off at him for refusing my offer of a greasy chip in Oxford last year.

I just need to quickly mention Frank Black's record this year, I've always been a bit nonplussed by his solo work, but this is great. I went to see him live in Portsmouth and was more excited by the songs he did from this album than the couple of Pixies songs thrown in. Little did I know I would be seeing a reformed and newly popular Pixies only a year later. I almost wish he'd kept the Catholics together a bit longer and made a record half as good as this next instead. Almost.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Thank You, But NO

Current mood: La la la, I'm not listening!

Is it just me or does any sentence that begins "Is it just me or...?" seem incredibly annoying?

Is it just me or is home improvement cold calling getting more & more pissed-offingly frequent? No, it's not just me. I know this because my brother answered two in quick succession last night. At 8 O'clock in the bloody evening, just as we were settling down to our Indian takeaway and monday night movie, 'Slither', the dreaded ringing began.

"Would you like you phone line waxed, it can get very hairy?"

"I know you're very busy, but can I waste a bit more of your time and ask pointless questions about the cleanliness of your inner thigh, ahem, I mean skirting board?"

"Oh you don't have quadruple-glazing? Well then, I will now verbally torture you until you say yes!"

"Can I just share with you the wonders of stoat-effect kidney paving?"

"Aaaaaahhhhh! Oh I'm sorry, wrong number. Ha, only joking. I'm calling from 'Future Roofing', the next generation of non-slip tiling, for all your free running needs."

"Have you ever thought about how a faux-marble porch may change the way you think about spoons?"

Then, after all the effort of getting out of your seat and picking up the receiver with your own fingers, you try and get a word in to explain that this is a rented property and you're very sorry, but you will have to decline their bizarre & generous offer. The second the dreaded word "rented" has left your lips, you hear a muttered "Oh for fucks sake", a click and they are gone, without so much as a thank you poppet/sorry deary/au revoir mon chéri. Bastards.

Currently listening: I told you, I'm not listening!

Monday, November 27, 2006

Death To The Dancing Flea

Current mood: moody

Bad news. According to yesterday's Observer the lowly ukulele is taking over from the stunning recorder as the musical instrument of choice (and torture) in British primary schools. I will fight them every step of the way, well I would if I could be arsed. I would tackle each & every child at the school gates, mug them for their ukulele and force them to blow on a recorder, if I could be sure I wouldn't get arrested & put on the sex offenders register.

Sod the special needs child that stood up in front of the whole class, playing 'Twinkle Twinkle Shitty Star'. School is about misery & pain, not achievement. The strange, squealy noises of the badly played recorder, or even violin, are a perfect soundtrack to the tears of childhood frustration & fear. If this ukulele situation is allowed to escalate out of control there will be no more children impaling themselves on the sharp end of their plastic flutes in despair. And that, I think you'll agree, would be a tragedy. For shame.

If I had to suffer playing in Poulner Wind Group (no sniggering at the back) then all children must succumb to the same fate. Though I did get to dress in a snazzy green suit and tootle on my lovely, wooden treble recorder at the Schools Prom in the Royal Albert Hall. Culminating in the usual feel good, jingoistic, flag waving Pomp & Circumstance finale. Land of mope & whorey forever!

Currently listening: Someone To Drive You Home by The Long Blondes

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Where The Hell Is Mac?

Current mood: wistful

Two earth-shattering events this week:

1. Ooh ooh, I'm reliably informed that the strangely absent Mac returns in a blaze of glory to the next exciting instalment of 'Veronica Mars', about sodding time.


2. The relentless march of time cannot be ignored. As of this moment the Ringwood Christmas lights have been strung up like a colourful noose around the town's fat neck. I discovered this in my pyjamas, sipping my morning (well, afternoon) mug of tea, as a strange, dribbly-bearded man appeared at the window with a length of cable, a handful of bulbs and a beguiling smile.

If only we could go back to the ancient, local tradition instead, whereby the town trolls are strung up by their throats, suspended over the high street and connected to the power grid, pumping 240 volts through their spines, sparks of light blinking in time with their howls. Then the children gleefully take their specially decorated buckets with which to catch the fruits of thievery and used condoms that fall from the ne'er-do-wells' stained pockets. Ah, the good old days.

Well, I can deny it no longer. A brace of wet dogs are all up in my face, I have received the three-figure invoice from the Ringwood Chamber of Commerce for one soggy, moth-eaten, five inch fir tree to be tethered outside the shop for a month. Yes, 'tis the season to spend lolly! On Lego Britneys, Belgian mambo CDs & plum stretching equipment. Merry bloody November!

Currently listening: This Hungry Life by Tanya Donelly

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Guidos & Dolls

Current mood: fiery

A few days ago, in commemoration of the 401st anniversary of an unsuccessful jiggery-pokering with the British system of government, I journeyed to the far reaches of Bisterne village to witness a ritual burning organised by my misocapnic friend. We travelled many yards, hauling a vast array of premium ales & ciders over the fields & meadows. Finally we reached our blazing destination, after wading through the throngs of pitchfok-wielding locals, all residing at either end of the spectrum of age, none in-between saving the interlopers, us. As the nearly dead & barely alive audience alternately toasted either side of their crispy, wrinkling faces we oohed & ahed at the explosive metaphors of parliamentary fireworks in wonder.

I have heard that American audiences were appalled, or at least filled with incomprehension at the British public's behaviour, cheering on the destruction of the Houses of Parliament in cinemas around the country during the film 'V for Vendetta'. I like to think it shows a healthy, democratic & cynical patriotism. Leaders, traditions & rituals are important, but not infallible or past the judgement of ordinary citizens, they draw their power from the will of the people. So on that note I think it's highly justified that I took great pleasure in imagining Tony Blair & David Cameron's smugly screaming visages melting in the crackling flames of the bonfire, leaving only ashes and sweet anarchy behind.

Currently listening: Breaking Up by The Research

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Bloody Needles

A recent trip to the place of my birth led to a profuse amount of blood letting and cheesy nibbles. Yes, it was back to Southampton General Hospital for the first time in 31 years for a trip down pre-memory lane and a visit to the Blood Donor Centre. Being an existing and regular bleeder (the blue card's on its way) I got an invitation to an open evening in order to coerce me into giving up my precious platelets.

I helped myself to the array of snacky treats on offer as I mingled with the exclusively male clientele. It seems that the platelets of some women who have produced babies can give recipients a freaky & fatal lung disease. See, babies are evil, I have been vindicated by facts! I met a small, doe-eyed, platelet-recieving, diseased child while I was there. I assume this was supposed to persuade me that this was a good thing, oh how little they know me.

As we were shown the huge, humming, platelet-skimming machines, the bloke in charge imparted all sorts of useful information. Apparently eating fish & chips makes your blood go all frothy, hormone treatment makes your plasma green and Aspirin kills your poor, defenceless platelets, but Ibuprofen only maims them.

The nurses were all tiptoeing round the issue and sheepishly adding to every sentence, "if that's what you'd like to do, no pressure." Well, there should be pressure. Sod politeness. Only a tiny percentage of the population gives blood. Why ask for it? Just demand it, like a tax. Put it on your payslip: Income Tax 22%, National Insurance 11%, Blood 3 pints a year. Finally, acceptance was granted, the usual squirmy questions were answered, measurements were taken, veins were opened and I went on my merry way a few fluid ounces lighter.

Find your next & nearest blood donor session here, and while you're at it you can sign up to donate your bone marrow here and your organs here. Hurry.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Can I Borrow Your Rubber Johnny? (part three)

Well, since the embargo appears to have been lifted, there will be no more strange fish (for now). So here are the other two Alphino based finger-paintings. By the time I write this the spanking new Alphino website will be up and running in acouple of days. I have to warn you though, it will be sexy (and here).

edit: Okay it's not there yet, but it will be, honest gov. For the moment it is here (and still sexy).

Friday, November 03, 2006

Can I Borrow Your Rubber Johnny? (part two)

Since I have been prohibited from posting the next two paintings in the saga, here's a pretty picture from my endless supply of visual diarrhoea.
It's a fish, or is it? Yes.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Can I Borrow Your Rubber Johnny?* (part one)

Not many words from me today, I'll let the pretty pictures speak for themselves. Today's blog is in honour of Steve Wynn, the idiot Las Vegas casino owner & art collector who managed to poke a hole through a £74million Picasso painting with his elbow, and is also lending the National Gallery one of his rubbish Renoir impressionist arseworks.

While in an unusually arty frame of mind I splashed a bit of paint on various surfaces and came up with a couple of satisfactory doodles. So for your viewing pleasure (if you're particularly masochistic) I present some of my own pointless (f)artwork. (Commissioned for the friendly band Alphino's new album booklet)

* The oh-so-hilarious classroom taunt that I suffered numerous times a day for many years. You see, my name is Jon & sometimes in art class an eraser is required, but, and this is the clever bit, 'Rubber Johnny' is also a humorous euphemism for a naughty condom. Ho, and also Ha.