‘Ideal’ creator Graham Duff’s epic best albums of 2014 megapost
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Graham Duff
Best of 2014

‘Graham Duff With Night Demons’ (2014).  Acrylic on canvas by Val Denham.

He’s back! Once again, we’re thrilled to present a year-end musical round-up from Graham Duff. Graham is the creator of Ideal, the cult hit dark comedy that ran for seven series on BBC Three (before some fucking idiot cancelled it). He is a well-known music fanatic and personally selected Ideal‘s eclectic soundtrack. Seen in a small role in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows as a “Death Eater,” he is currently working on an Ideal feature film.

30. The Vacant Lots - Departure

The reference points are obvious; the pared back organ driven throb of Suicide and the mesmeric cyclical guitar riffs of Spacemen 3 or Loop. With their minimal lyrics and off the peg titles like “Never Satisfied” and “Do Not Leave Me Now,” it would be easy to dismiss The Vacant Lots as merely men mining an overfamiliar seam. However, at its best, their’s is a debut which burns with an iridescent light. This is a direct and uncluttered music that plugs right into the primal heart of rock and roll.

29. Esperik Glare, Tactile - Abyssophonics

A subtle and sympathetic collaboration between Charlie Martineau’s Esperik Glare and the multi-talented and now sadly departed John Everall AKA Tactile. The album comprises four lengthy minimal and uneasy instrumentals. “The Dweller” fizzes with elemental energy. On “The Thing In The Pit,” a nervously fluttering electronic pulse is pierced by high pitched darts of sound. Best of all is the slowly shifting “The Psychophage.” A beautifully sustained sequence of grainy washes of noise underscored by a bass tone which flickers like helicopter blades in a heat haze.

28. Snowbird - Moon

Former Cocteau Twin Simon Raymonde teams up with Wisconsin vocalist and pianist Stephanie Dosen to fashion an album of delicate mystery.  There are numerous moments—on the spacious beauty of “All Wishes Are Ghosts,” or the bucolic “Where Foxes Hide”—which could almost be the Cocteau Twins circa Four Calendar Café. However, rather than aping Elizabeth Fraser’s gravity defying voice, Dosen’s serene tone recalls the stylings of 70s psych/folk artist Linda Perhacs and Raymonde’s luminous arrangements are more sparse and sleek than those of his previous group.  The accompanying remix album by RxGibbs opens the material out into even more intriguing vistas of sound

27. Cyclobe - Sulphur-Tarot-Garden

Conceived as soundtracks for three short films by Derek Jarman, this is Cyclobe’s Ossian Brown and Stephen Thrower at their most Kraut-rock inflected. Both “Sulphur” and “Garden of Luxor” bring to mind the lush textures of early Cluster, whereas the slow, opiated spiral of “Tarot” shimmers into view like a 21st century Tangerine Dream. However, Cyclobe bring so much more to their rich sonic mix. Finally seeing a general release after 2012’s strictly limited run, this is a deeply psychedelic LP. 

26. Then Thickens - Death Cap at Anglezarke

The oddly named Then Thickens have hit the ground running. This is an unusual debut which seems to stand apart from any genre. Songs like “Tiny Legs” and “Death Cap” meld a strong pop sensibility to an unforced strangeness. With their muscular band dynamic and lyrics which seem to be simultaneously confessional and oblique, the group they most closely resemble is the long lost Scottish band Dawn of the Replicants. It would be a shame if Then Thickens were to suffer the same lack of attention which befell that ensemble, because this is a vibrant and at times thrilling set.

25. People Like Us - Don’t Think Right, It’s All Twice

PLU (aka Vicki Bennett) is a transformative artist. Shunning copyright laws, she deliberately samples the most familiar, over worked and banal of source material, then refashions it into something unique and uncategorizable. There’s a large dose of humour in PLU’s work—which at times approaches a kind of audio slapstick. But don’t let the comedy blind you to her razor sharp intelligence. A track like “Panic As Usual And Avoid Shopping” will make you smile even as it gives you goose bumps.

24. Robin Saville - Public Flowers

As one half of electronic duo Isan, Robin Saville has a sizeable catalogue of excellent albums and EPs behind him.  Here, on his first solo outing, he creates a collection of gentle electronic watercolours, where simple synth patterns blend with subtly mixed rural field recordings. “Hilary And Dave’s Piano #2” is an exquisite minimal piano piece, with sparse notes falling like jewels from a cloud of warm synth tone. Saville’s best track is probably the closing “All Fail Girl”—an optimistic spray of colour and light, where a stripped down clockwork rhythm provides the base for a blooming moss garden of melodic curlicues.

23. The Iceypoles - My World Was Made for You

A collection of songs which at a cursory listen could easily be dismissed as twee and cloying. But repeated exposure reveals a genuine emotional depth. This Melbourne four piece’s debut is a flawless piece of intimate, stripped down girl group indie. Songs are built from the sparest of ingredients; skeletal guitar and bass figures, snare and occasional organ.  Where the band really shine is with their warm vocal harmonies.  And yet it’s not all sweetness and light. On “Happy Birthday” there’s a breathy sensuality which takes the album in a different direction. And their version of the Twin Peaks soundtrack song “Just You” is the icing on the cake.

22. Scott Walker Scott Walker + Sunn O))) - Soused

As we have come to expect from both late period Walker and all period Sun O))), this is a pitch black and monolithically slow moving suite of songs. And whilst it would be great to think Walker would occasionally experiment with some brighter emotions, nobody does dread and unease quite like him. Similarly Sun O)))’s mastery of the drone and the power chord is unparalleled. “Brando” is probably the high point, with Walker’s distinctive brooding baritone weaving its own path over rich, tense slabs of noise which grind against each other creating dark sparks.

21. Githead - Waiting for a Sign

A polished and considered third album from Githead shows the band refining their sound. The low-slung menace of fuzz drenched opener “Not Coming Down” immediately hooks you in with its combination of art-pop and shoegaze. Yet Malka Spigel’s vocals refuse the easy blissed out vagaries of the average shoegazer for something far more pointed and personal.  The mood slides from optimistic to introspective and, as always with Githead, there are surprises to be had. “For The Place We’re In” actually has a folk-psych tinge with echoes of Family or Camel.

20. Morgan Delt - Morgan Delt

A lo-fi collection of pop-psych songs which boast the assured dynamics of Tame Impala and the smeary fuzzed out harmonies of early Ariel Pink. Many of Delt’s songs have an endearing Byrds-like jangle, but the Eastern phrasing of “Barbarian Kings” and the frenetic wig out of “Backwards Bird Inc.” prove there are numerous influences at play here. This is harmonious and pure hearted pop pitched into an opiated fog of effects peddles and stoned bedroom studio techniques. To his credit, Delt makes it all sound very natural and effortless and it’s easy to see how he could blossom into a major talent.
Read more after the jump…

Posted by Tara McGinley | Leave a comment
Naughty but nice: Suck on these Kama Sutra-inspired lollipops (NSFW-ish)
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Massimo Gammacurta

If you have a taste for rude food or randy candy then you may enjoy getting your tongue around these “Kamasugar” lollipops by Italian artist and photographer Massimo Gammacurta. The lollies are inspired by erotic positions from the Kama Sutra and creator Gammacurta describes his tempting confections as “Sweet love-making,” giving each a sense of passionate frenzy by the use of color, drips and splashes.
More sweet treats, after the jump….

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
‘The Prisoner’ meets ‘Brazil’ in Jim Henson’s surreal Kafkaesque nightmare ‘The Cube’
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Jim Henson
The Cube

Before breaking into the big time with Sesame Street, Jim Henson was an aspiring art house weirdo who counted among his early work, Time Piece, a brilliant surrealist, Oscar-nominated short and Youth 68 a probing documentary on 60’s youth culture featuring such high profile names as The Mamas and the Papas and Jefferson Airplane. Perhaps most unexpectedly, Henson also took a crack at experimental theater (as director, co-writer and producer) with the psychologically intense teleplay The Cube, in 1969. The hour-long performance was featured on NBC Experiment in Television, and ran only a few months before Sesame Street took over his career.

The Cube centers on an unnamed man who is inexplicably trapped in a white room with a grid overlay, from which there is no obvious escape. Despite this, a nonsensical assortment of characters keep making entrances and exits, providing little to no information or sympathy for the man’s predicament, (perhaps most cynically, a holy man who bestows upon him a useless religious relic). After being subjected to a parade of increasingly surreal characters (at some point gorilla suits make an appearance—a trope also explored in Time Piece), our protagonist becomes desperate and attempts suicide.

Suddenly he is escorted from his maddening prison and in a heart-breaking attempt at solipsistic reasoning, he believes that even in this nightmare world, he knows he exists. An accidental cut with a knife however, produces only strawberry jam for blood (jam is a theme throughout the play), and the man is suddenly back in his psychological prison. Disheartened, he sits back down, apparently defeated by the Cube.

The Cube stars veteran character actor Dick Schaal, a face seen frequently on 70s television, especially shows produced by Mary Tyler Moore’s MTM production company (he was married to Rhoda‘s Valerie Harper for many years). Schaal played “Chuckles the Clown” in one of the most famous episodes of The Mary Tyler Moore Show—the one where she starts laughing at his funeral—and was a Second City alum. He died last month at the age of 86.

Posted by Amber Frost | Leave a comment
MAD Magazine gives America the finger (40¢, Cheap), 1974
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MAD magazine
William Gaines

As a lowbrow, take-on-all-comers venue for satire, MAD Magazine has trafficked in shock on a regular basis. Only on one occasion did MAD cross the line to the point that the publisher himself, the great William Gaines, decided to issue an apology to the magazine’s subscribers. The April 1974 issue dispensed with the usual iconic face of Alfred E. Neuman (who wasn’t on every cover in any case) in favor of a realistic painting of the unmistakable hand gesture denoting, in aviary fashion, “Wyncha go fuck yourself?” The headline read, “The Number One Ecch Magazine.” (“Disgusting” in MAD parlance, see also “blecch” and “yecch”.)

In any case, confronted with the option of placing an upraised middle finger on their shelves, many newsstands refused. Gaines decided that the newsstands and the many, many offended readers had a point and sent out “hundreds and hundreds” of apology letters. (Does anyone out there reading this have one of those letters?) For some readers it was a watershed moment, and they would never return to reading the magazine. MAD obviously survived, but it was a tough moment for the magazine.

MAD publisher William Gaines
Maybe they were looking to offend some people—just three issues earlier, in MAD 163, the cover declared, graffiti-style, “MAD Is a Four-Letter Word!” Gaines would later imply that the “usual gang of idiots” had come up with the idea of the cover and that he wasn’t that into it, but it seems like a quintessentially Gainesian move from the man who successfully defended First Amendment issues when he withstood the withering scrutiny of the Senate Subcommittee on Juvenile Delinquency in 1954 and insisted that the definition of “bad taste” for a horror comic might be a cover in which “a man with a bloody axe holding a woman’s head up” was holding the head “a little higher so that the neck could be seen dripping blood from it, and moving the body over a little further so that the neck of the body could be seen to be bloody.” (See here for more of his testimony, including the images he discusses in detail.)

According to TV.com, “The magazine itself was pulled and returned/destroyed from many newsstands and is now a hard-to-find collector’s item.” (True enough, it’s available for $50 on Amazon as I write this, although on eBay you can pay for less for one, it looks like. Awesomely, an uncut cover sheet for that issue sold for $40 just a couple of weeks ago.) As a user on the Collectors Society forum put it, “Many parents were P.O.‘ed and either complained or just canceled their subscriptions. William Gaines ended up sending out a letter to all subscribers in which he apologized for the breach of good taste—probably the first time Gaines has ever done such a thing.”

In an interview in the May 1983 edition of The Comics Journal, Gaines discussed the incident:

Dwight Decker: Do you feel you might have been isolated in New York, putting out the comic books [meaning the “Vault of Horror”-style comics in the 1950s], that you couldn’t really judge the reactions of the people in Oshkosh?
William Gaines: Definitely. And this is still true with MAD. We put out an issue, oh, maybe 89 years ago now, which is what we called “the finger issue,” which was, “MAD is number one,” [giving the finger] and holy Moses! The guys called me into a cover conference to look at the thing, and I said, “That’s okay. It’s not too funny, but it’s all right.” And we put it out and the roof fell in. And I was sitting here sending out apology letters by the hundreds and hundreds to people all over the country—from Oshkosh. ...
Decker: A friend of mine just told me the other day—he lives in Connecticut—he hasn’t read an issue of MAD since that issue.
Gaines: That issue so offended him?
Decker: Yes.
Gaines: Incredible. To me it’s incredible but there’s no question that a lot of people felt that way.

Here’s Gaines on Canadian TV in 1977 discussing another occasion when MAD got some flak from a very different corner of the world:

Posted by Martin Schneider | Leave a comment