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!

Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Countdown to Ecstasy! (one)

Christmas is over and the geese are getting laid
Please to buy me prezzies cos I haven't been paid;
If you ain't got no prezzies then some money will do,
If you ain't got bugger all then piss off!

Los Campesiños!
Hold On Now, Youngster...

Ooh, slightly stunted and later than scheduled, we reach the brief pinnacle of my 'Year In Lists'. With their hand drawn artwork, wordy lyrics and flurry of seven inch singles, at first glance this many-headed Welsh, but not Welsh beast of a band recall the 80s golden years of do-it-yourself indie schmindie. But the useful difference is that everything seems so joyful, even when they're breathlessly shouting out their never ending stream of self-deprecating teenage angst. In amongst all that, there are healthy dose of annoyance (Don't Tell Me To Do The Math(s)), youthful hope (You! Me! Dancing!) and downright weirdness (This Is How You Spell, "Ha ha ha, We've Destroyed The Hopes And Dreams Of A Generation Of Faux-Romantics").

This punctuation loving combo (there's an exclamation mark, a comma and ellipsis on the cover alone) are full of exciting contradictions: taut but messy; tuneful yet shouty; both adult & childish; they have clanging guitars mixed with tinkly glockenspiel & folky violin; they can be deathly serious yet bladder-burstingly funny. Their wise, but silly, witty turns of phrase, with short stabs of petulance are the most exhilarating thing I've heard all year.

With two albums already under their belt this year (no matter how much they protest that the last one wasn't an album) I don't think we'll have to wait too long for their next exhuberent burst of brilliance. The future's bright, the future's shouty!

Friday, December 19, 2008

Countdown to Ecstasy! (two)

Apologies for the short delay, my saddlebags were encumbered by a gaggle of ailing cabin boys, escaping from the evil, self-proclaimed sexual enigma. With three heroic, swooping flails he was dispatched, only for me to find the overwhelming, misplaced sorrow of The Housewives Of A Certain Age guiltily bestraddling my seasonal throat like an ageing, foul-smelling Tonsillolith.

Neon Neon
Stainless Style

Gruff Rhys returns, this time with Boom Bip and a host of other guest stars in tow (Spank Rock, Yo Majesty, Cate Le Bon), to bring you the nylon-tastic story of disgraced car-nutter, John DeLorean. Yes, he of the ridiculous DMC-12, a car with wings that didn't take off, in either sense, later rehabilitated by Marty McFly; he of the shady business, creative accounting & drug trafficking entrapment fun that was all the rage when I was 5. The story of a much maligned man from a much maligned decade, the decade that taste forgot (if you listen to the propaganda, I'd plump for the 70s myself), set to a music using all the tricks & sounds of the era, but better than you ever remembered. Fast Cars, faster women, dream cars, hope & optimism, The Kids From Fame; this is the true essence of an idealised 80s, when it was shiny, new & day-glo, when it wasn't just a mess of big hair, leg warmers and obnoxious yuppies braying noisily on their humongous mobile phones.

We begin with 'Neon Theme', at first listen it sounds like the authentic sound of my childhood, a soundtrack to an unreleased Tron sequel from when the synthesiser was king. This sound cropped up in everyone's work in the 80s, from Eurovision winners to ex-Beatles to the heaviest of heavy metal bands, no one was left untainted. It now seems dated, but this is the perfect way to present this one man's vision of the future. And the thing is, the 80s were never this slick; no matter how much they wanted to be. When you listen back, it's never quite as gleaming and clean as you remember.

'Raquel' is named for Ms Welch, a previous conquest of Mr DeLorean. It starts with a joyously tinny drum machine, complete with fake cowbell & artificial handclaps; the sound that was all the rage in the clubs that I wasn't allowed to go to. I keep expecting a Gary Davis, Kid Jenson or Mike Reed-type to interject with a tired witticism, whilst wearing a cardigan of heavily made up girls around his shoulders.

'I Lust U' is a blatant Depeche Mode steal, but an electro-disco classic nonetheless, 'Belfast' is sadly not the exotic place previously immortalised in song by Boney M, but 'Trick For Treat' even manages to make Har Mar Superstar sound cool. In other words, an embarrassment of riches (a juicily apt summary, if I may say so), not a straight copy of a unfairly derrided oeuvre, nor a pastiche or a piss-take, but enhanced with a little perspective & humour. Messers Rhys & Bop have made a great album from artificial, outdated & cheesy parts, assembled in just the right way to give the illusion that the eighties was a time of hope & genius music (which, in part, it was).


Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Countdown to Ecstasy! (three)

Fleet Foxes
Fleet Foxes

Ever since the Kings of Leon felt the power of Gilette's ever-multiplying blades of smoothness, there's been a Fleet Foxes sized gap in the balding world of popular music. Now they have arrived in all their hirsute wonder, sporting a look previously favoured by boy band members desperate to look grown up, their shaving hands busy clinging on to their fading careers. These foxy creatures, however, have no such worries, living in their woozy utopia where a hairdo is not a means to an end.

The mood is set with opener, 'Sun It Rises', with some squirrel-based, close harmony a capella; followed by a rolling, drone soaked tune with folky guitar figures & old, echoing drums; all finished off by more, this time sun-based, close harmony a capella. On that note, I've heard some criticism doing the rounds that the vocals are a bit tatty in quality and too high in the mix, exposing the fact that the harmonies are a little off. Well, I'd rather have an honest, homey, heartfelt & earthy record, with nothing more than a touch of trusty reverb, than something that's been polished, vocodered and pro-tooled to death in an effort to chase futile 'perfection'.

This collection of pastoral hymns and, in the bands own words, "baroque harmonic pop jams" are filled with a cinematic beauty that straddles history like a giant, musical midget. Medieval madrigals, nursery rhymes, appalachian ballads, sixties surf, seventies prog & folk-rock, AM country, noughties indie & americana; all these 'so naff they're trendy' (& probably made-up) influences are present and correct, but they don't tell the whole story. Rather than evoke a feeling of the past, there's more of a sense of timelessness here; these uncomplicated, yet deftly structured songs are not so much of a different time, but of a different place. As the liner notes suggest, "I can listen to music and instantly be anywhere that song is trying to take me." A mythical land where the sun shines, the snow falls, where it's winter, spring & summer, morning & evening, past & present all at once. This truly is an album for all seasons, for all times. A modern classic.


Monday, December 08, 2008

Countdown to Ecstasy! (four)

Pete & the Pirates
Little Death

Ahoy! In amongst the sensory overload of flashing disco lights, gaudy baubles, Human League Top-Shop t-shirts and their synthesised, aural equivalents; a ragtag band of Berkshire cut-throats have come from the other, C-86, indiepop side of the 80s revival to capture your heart, if not skewer it with a rusty cutlass. At first glance the title suggests more miserablism ala a more angsty, teenage Teddy Thompson; but translated into French, 'tis a naughty euphemism for orgasm, or its postcoital aftermath. A perfectly apt & naughty moniker for these melodic lovesongs bursting with orgasmic riffs, euphoric chord changes, youthful exhuberance & a dab of confusion. (... Watercolours?)

Ragged edged, yet tightly packed tunes follow tunes with alarming speed (only a couple break the 3 minute barrier), and are played with both a touch of quintessentially English, awkward shyness & boyish confidence: "Your smile is fake, but I like your face". Armed with a barrage of pleasingly tinny guitars & duelling harmonies, this deceptively simple collection of good-strong, hot-strong songs show that you don't need big bucks, big sounds or even big ideas to make a great album (size isn't everything), just a little space to breathe, a little joy, a little despair, a little life, a little death.

Arrrgh, me hearties, etc.


Friday, December 05, 2008

Countdown to Ecstasy! (five)

Teddy Thompson
A Piece of What You Need

Teddy Thompson really is a bit of a miserable bastard.

Maybe it's because he's a ginger. Maybe it's because his last album was a fat, Bernard Matthew's-style, reconstituted turkey drummertwizler, country cowpat of a covers record. But who cares when the end result is as finger-snappingly entertaining & cheekily self-pitying as this. On whinging, foot-stomper, 'What's This?!!' he even bemoans the state of happiness with such down-with-the-kids expressions as 'Oh shit!', 'It's all too good' and the classic, 'but yeah but no but'.

With one musical foot in the past and one tearful eye on his woeful future, the arrangements here harken back to the golden days of rock'n'roll & pop music, but with a healthy dollop of twisty modern twists. 'Jonathan's Book' opens with a horror movie sting, mutates into a piano heavy rocker, is interrupted in the middle by weird atonal mechanical squelches and ends with a rendition of the 'Harribo' jingle. Single, 'In My Arms' features an array of 60s handclaps and an olde, wind-up, cinema-intermission wurlizter solo, all set to a roller-disco themed video. 'Can't Sing Straight' struts along, punctuated by organ stabs, trumpet blasts and features the couplet 'Maybe it's good, maybe it's fine. Maybe I'll learn to walk the line.' Possibly a reference to his (not brilliant) album of country & western standards from last year. Did I mention that it wasn't very good?

The true masterpiece is a torch song for manic depressives, snappily titled 'Turning the Gun on Myself'. Previously released on a gig merchandise stall e.p. a couple of years ago, here it's augmented with some suitably irritating, ironic bird twittering and what sounds like the synthetic ocarina from the Zelda games. With a lyrical structure nicked from a lymeric, a mention of 'Rapper's Delight' (even if it's just to say how annoying it is when you're trying to sleep) and the least convincing exclamation of 'Wee Hee!' on record; grumpiness has never seemed like so much fun.


Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Countdown to Ecstasy! (bubbling under)

Ooh, is it that time of year again? Having been metaphorically prodded in the naughty bits by the Crabb's early bird listability, I have figuratively cracked my ailing knuckles and literally begun to spew musical opinions from my fingers. Well, maybe not literally, but if Fearne Cotton can't understand the difference, who am I to call for a repealing of the abolition of the death penalty in her one, special case? But then, I don't think I left my preliminary list in her 'special case', I left it at work, next to my heavily stained teacup, so there better not have been no peeking!

Where to begin... hmm, tricky. Well:

Scarlett Johansson
Anywhere I Lay My Head

A controversial choice, I can only assume, as the only one I know (everybody sing: 'has come to take me away') who even gives this album the time of day is me. 'Oh no', I hear you sing, greek chorus-like, 'another blonde actress that thinks she can sing'. But that's just it, she can't! At least, not in that squeaky bubblegum pop voice, or the equally offensive wanky, Mariah variety. Her register is pretty low, not unreminiscent of early Liz Fraser without the swoopy bits, but none the worse for that. TV On The Radio's David Sitek provides appropriate Cocteau Twins-esque 80s basslines & atmospheric guitar washes (before going on to make a second storming album of the year, TVOTR's own 'Dear Science,'). They even rope in lady of leisure, Dame David Bowie, to contribute some spooky backing vocals (before depositing him back in his straw & glitter lined hibernation pod/time capsule in the Blue Peter garden).

A quirky & unexpected, nostalgic yet shiny-new album; Miss Johansson has taken a pretty unpromising pitch, to say the least: 'Hollywood airhead with OK voice tackles the heavyweight catalogue of Tom Waits', and spins a thrilling, ragged (but wearable), musical yarn.

Amadou & Mariam
Welcome to Mali

Some may call this great 'world music', pah! Sod your lazy genres. Some may say they've strayed too far from their roots; 'more djembe', they may shout (they may not, I'm not quite sure who 'they' are). Sod your cravings for pointless authenticity and gimme something I can dance/swivel on my fat, lazy arse to (I'm talking about this album here, this is the one I want you to gimme. Do you see? They don't. They're blind. What has that got to with anything? Well, nothing really, but it is a good album. Good? Well, actually it's great. Is it? Yes.)

She & Him
Volume One

'She' is Zooey Deschanel, yes her of the steaming pile of stenchy excrement that is 'The Happening', the latest 'film' by M. Night ShyameOnYou, with a name sacrilegiously nicked from a mid-period Pixies song & a plot snatched from the wooley pages of a not particularly exciting edition of Garderner's World magazine (badly edited by God).

But all is forgiven, as for this collaboration she has chosen a far worthier sparring partner: 'Him', for it is he, M. Ward. I have been mildly aware of his work, partly because he's signed to my childhood sweetheart, 4ad, but mostly because he's been popping up on everybody & their monkey's (admitedly not too shabby) alt.country solo albums. Based on his excellent arrangements of Miss D's tip top songs here, I will have to investigate further.

The music industry is rampantly worried about the naughty downloaders taking all of their evil money away, but they're looking in the wrong place. It's those doe-eyed, Hollywood lady-thesps that've come to invade my top 10, muso space; but if you like your country like you like your coffee: hot & thick, smooth with a gravelly after-taste and bodged together by a crap actress, then this one's for you.

The Week That Was
The Week That Was

Ooh, now. This is a spin-off from the recently defunct band, Field Music, apparently. They are a beat combo that I've not really given much shrift to, not intentionally, they just never floated within my, admittedly limited, radar. Well, now I'm wishing they had, if this little beauty is any indication of their tunesmithery; and this one's by their drummer, for Chorlton's sake! I remember reading somewhere that this album was conceived around a certain week of telly watching. I do not remember which quite significant week that was. But who gives a skid-mark when the end result is this chock-full of delightful melodies, complex arrangement and a healthy dose of startled marimba?

British Sea Power
Do You Like Rock Music?

Yes, I bloody well do!