Monday, 30 April 2012

Music Monday: Ryan Adams

Posting another Ryan Adams song on Music Monday feels a bit like breaking the rules.  Although the first video was long enough ago that, if this was a mixtape, the tracks would be on different sides, I would prefer to try and find a different artist each week.  But my gosh, he was so great when he played in Sheffield on Friday, so more Ryan Adams it is.

This video was filmed earlier in the tour, in the Netherlands, but is a great representation of the gig on Friday.  He played the whole show solo, swapping between playing an acoustic guitar, a piano and a mouth organ.  I'd imagined him to be the kind of person who wouldn't play old stuff - particularly not the 'greatest hits' type songs - but his set ended up being an amazing mix of new tracks from Ashes & Fire plus a ton of older material, including Whiskeytown and Cardinals songs, and arguably his most famous singles, Firecracker and New York, New York (from 2001's Gold).  Come Pick Me Up was the last song of the show, and one I'll be humming to myself for many weeks to come.

Sunday, 29 April 2012

An Instagram weekend

Now that I'm counting down the weeks until I leave, I'm trying to make every weekend count.  And so despite the horrible weather, this weekend was a busy one...

1. Amazing gigs by Bombay Bicycle Club (ok, Wednesday's gig wasn't at the weekend) and Ryan Adams.  Highlights of the latter included a slightly mental, five minute long, whispered paean to his cat, Mr Cat, as an introduction to New York, New York; his witty and sarcastic between-songs banter; a beautiful acoustic version of Come Pick Me Up; and an encore featuring Alice In Chains' Nutshell, thus proving that I am not the only one hung up on the early 90s Seattle scene at the moment.

2. Taking lots of photographs of my lovely house.  Part of the planning for my exchange to America is working out whether the guy I'm exchanging with wants to live in my home, hence frantic measuring of rooms and the taking of many photos.


3 & 4. An extremely rainy and windswept walk with my mum and brother on the moors above Halifax on Saturday afternoon.  These pictures were both taken in the brief ten minutes of sunshine as we walked around the grounds of Shibden Hall, site of many a childhood trip.

Thursday, 26 April 2012

B marks the spot

I love maps and I love typography, and when I was in Iceland last October the hotel we stayed in had some cool map-covered wooden letters on the wall.  Etsy seller Little White Dog makes beautiful bespoke map-covered letters and other paper sculptures that would make amazing gifts for a wedding or special birthday, but at £25 a pop I couldn't justify the expense.  So I decided to have a crack at making something similar myself.  


Tending towards the slapdash when it comes to crafting, I naturally bodged it up a little bit, putting too much PVA glue on the map I used (a vintage New York City transit map poster from Baileys Home & Garden in Ross-On-Wye) but all told I'm thrilled with the effect. 

The cardboard letter was about £2.50 from Hobbycraft, with the 'B' standing for both Brown (my surname) and Brooklyn (the part of the map I used for the letter, and where I've spent many a happy trip visiting cousins).  As I have a drawer full of interesting vintage maps that I picked up in Hay-On-Wye, I can see map letters becoming my new go-to gift.

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Seen & heard: April 2012

If you thought my obsession with the early 90s grunge era was over, think again.  I have enjoyed re-watching some classic 90s films and discovering a new take on the Kurt Cobain story. 

1. The Truth About Cats & Dogs.  How I loved this film the first time I saw it.  And the time after that, and the twenty or so times after that.  So why did it leave a sour taste in my mouth this time round?  I think it's partly that I just can't get my head around Janeane Garofalo in the ugly duckling role; she is stunning, but seems to be permanently cast as the frump just because she's short and maybe 15lbs heavier than the Hollywood norm.  As a fellow shortarse, this makes me cross.

2. Singles.   Worth a watch, if only for the amusingly bad acting by Eddie, Stone & Jeff from Pearl Jam as members of Matt Dillon's character's band.  A great soundtrack and some surprisingly sweet romantic moments make this a good one to revisit. 

3. Last Days.  Directed by Gus Van Sant (Milk, My Own Private Idaho), this was an interesting film that I didn't exactly love, but enjoyed watching nonetheless.  Dreamy and soporific, it moves slowly through the last days of musician 'Blake' (a thinly-veiled Kurt Cobain) as he wanders around Seattle avoiding friends and family, before killing himself.

Monday, 23 April 2012

Music Monday: Dev Hynes

Not just one band and one video this week, instead three bands with one man linking them all: the mighty Devonte Hynes.  "Who he?" I hear you ask.  First appearing on the UK music scene as one of thrash/electronica/indie band Test Icicles, Dev then went on to a solo project influenced by folk and country under the Lightspeed Champion moniker, and more recently has been recording and performing electronica as Blood Orange.  He is also rather beautiful and in possession of a good line of hats. 

SO hard to choose just one Lightspeed Champion track.  His first album, Falling Off The Lavender Bridge, is one of my favourite of the last decade and packed with lovely songs.  Midnight Surprise is incredible, with a great steel guitar intro and twisted lyrics like, "wake up and smell the semen," but at almost 10 minutes long like I felt it might not be the ideal introduction to Dev.  In the end I went for Dry Lips, which is one of those songs that grabs me by the guts and twists.  In a good way.  For a miserable track about heartbreak ("tell her/I give up/He's won/And I have lost all") I find it really uplifting, and it will forever remind me of the moment it came onto my iPod as I was walking across the Millenium bridge in London one windy summer's day and gave me one of those perfect, movie moments where you feel like you have a soundtrack to your life.

Circle Square Triangle by Test Icicles: best friend to all indie disco DJs for the way it mixes perfectly with The Rapture's House Of Jealous Lovers, and a massive tune to boot.  Makes me want to leap around the dancefloor like I'm 18 instead of well into my 30s.

And finally Blood Orange, his newest project, and a video for Forget It that looks like it cost about 32p to make.  I love his vocals, not to mention the pretty guitar arpeggios just after he sings "I am not your saviour".   I am SO excited about seeing Blood Orange at Field Day festival in June.

Sunday, 22 April 2012

Record Store Day

Sorry for the paucity of posts recently.  Things are pretty crazy at the moment, between the usual work stuff, starting to sort my house out for the move, preparing endless reams of documents for my work visa...  Even this post is, strictly speaking, a day late.  Record Store Day was of course yesterday. 

On Friday I enjoyed reading this article on The Guardian music blog about readers' memories of record shops.  My own memories of record stores are of there being a suprising bounty of stores in the West Yorkshire area.  Wall of Sound in Huddersfield, Crash and Jumbo in Leeds, and a particularly rich seam of shops in Halifax, of all places.  During our A-Levels, my two best friends and I had Tuesday afternoons free from lessons.  Every week, we would sign ourselves out (destination: 'library', yeah right) as soon as the bell went for lunch, and hightail it into the centre of Wyke to get the bus to Halifax, where we'd wander around the independent stores in the Piece Hall and visit the town's four record shops.  It's been a while since I was in Halifax, but last time I visited two of the four were still holding firm against the tide of internet shopping.

Here in Leicester, I've been visiting Rockaboom since I moved to the city in 1996.  New releases tend to be cheaper than HMV and, even if they're a bit more expensive than Amazon I always think it's a price worth paying for the continued existence of the store.  They always have a good selection of back catalogue stuff for a fiver, too, which is good for filling the gaps in your collection.

Nowhere, though, comes close to Amoeba Records in San Francisco.  A huge building at the top of Haight Street, not far from Golden Gate Park, it is well worth a pilgrimage.  With an enormous range of CDs, vinyl, t-shirts, posters and DVDs, it was only the knowledge that I'd have to carry everything home that stopped me from buying half the shop.  As it was, I came away 8 CDs heavier, including some great mid-90s finds (Liz Phair, Belly) for 99c each.

Wednesday, 18 April 2012

Mag hag

So, I've talked before about how much I love magazines but how much I hate the thinly-veiled contempt for their readership that passes for much mainstream women's media.  One of the things I am most excited about regarding my move to Colorado is a whole new set of mags to read; I have heard good things about Lucky, anyone come across it?  If I focus on easy access to Bust and Bitch, the loss of my Saturday Guardian fix might be less painful. 

This article on (from which I shamelessly stole the awesome collage at the head of this post) about 15 women's magazines that don't suck really reminded me of how much good media there is out there.  It's just a shame that it's swamped by the dross. 

This Easter I was excited to find two new magazines to write about though...

Bust is super-hard to find in the UK since the demise of Borders, but Gays The Word bookshop in Bloomsbury came up trumps last week (although it is the Jan-Feb issue, but beggars can't be choosers and all that).
Coverlines ... Style secrets of fashion rebels; Craft it up - easy apple pie (very yum, I can attest), cute crayon rings, adorbs (ugh, I hate that 'word') aprons.
For women who like the look and feel of glossy women's magazines but want one that doesn't seem like it actually hates it's readership (cf. most other women's mags)
Wants you to buy Softcup menstrual products; a hand-drawn plate from Etsy for $43.50; cushions whose proceeds go to support marijuana reform laws (you don't find that in Elle or Marie Claire). 
Reading it I feel like punching the air and shouting "yes" while reading the oh-so-important What To Expect When You're Expecting An Abortion article.  Bust may be glossier, shinier and more mainstream than Bitch, but don't let the Hollywood stars on the cover fool you: it's just as kickass feminist.  I love the fact it combines crafting tips and recipes with pop-culture commentary and more incisive articles.  My favourite thing?  The postcard trumpeting a subscription special offer, which at only $14.95 is totally going to be the first thing I buy when I arrive State-side in July.

I'd never heard of Cloth until I spied it in Salt's Mill bookshop, Saltaire, last weekend.  Full of sewing ideas and patterns, and at only £3.50, it seemed worth a try.
Coverlines... Cool makes, flirty fashion; Free shift dress pattern.
For women who live in the Midlands or North of England.  I say this because, compared with other craft mags, Cloth seems refreshingly full of shops, classes and workshops outside London and the Home Counties.
Wants you to buy The Liberty Book Of Home-Sewing, £20; Eurostar tickets to Paris to explore the craft scene there, as promoted
Reading it I feel like I want to love it more than I do.  All the ingredients are there - a surfeit of practical projects and patterns (one of my pet peeves with Mollie Makes is that it's overly-reliant on nice photos but doesn't give much actual crafting guidance); an interesting article about a charity providing sewing machines to women in the developing world - but for some reason I'm not feeling it.  Most of the projects are taken from books, including the aforementioned Liberty one, and as I have a huge stack of sewing books I've already come across at least half of the ideas.  Definitely a good magazine if you don't have a library of books to refer to at home, but otherwise it might prove to be surplus to requirements.

Monday, 16 April 2012

Music Monday: Local Natives

Who Knows, Who Cares by Local Natives is one of a handful of really standout tracks on their 2009 debut album, Gorilla Manor, and a longtime favourite of mine for belting out in the car on the motorway, trying to see if I can hold the notes on "knows" and "cares" for as long as the singers can (clue: I can't).  But when it shuffled onto my iPod on Saturday my attention was grabbed by the mention of the word Colorado, and when I listened to the lyrics more closely it dawned on me what a perfect song this is for me at the moment. 

Is my life about to change?
Who knows, who cares. 

So we took a van down to Colorado
Where we ran into the dead
I took you by the hand
Know that even with your doubts, it's ok
Take into account that it's not about to change.
Who knows, who cares.

You could let it down
Jump into the river baby,
Easy as it sounds
It's never quite as easily done.
The current has us now, it's ok
Take into account that it's all about to change.
Who knows, who cares.

Even if it weren't for the mention of the very state I'm about to move to, how perfect are those lines?  It's such a great summation of my see-sawing feelings at the moment: it's not about to change/it's all about to change.  Ultimately I'm about to jump into the river and embark on a new adventure.  It won't be easily done, but I kind of do feel that it's ok.  Not quite so sure about the mention of running into the dead in Colorado... hopefully I can skip that part. 

So there you go: anyone planning a 'Janet's leaving' mixtape, here's track #1 for you.  And how amazing is this acoustic version?  These guys voices are so good.

Saturday, 14 April 2012

7 things I've learnt in the past two weeks

So, a couple of weeks ago I found out that I've been accepted onto the Fulbright programme and am off to teach in Colorado for a year, come July.  Since then it has pretty much occupied my every waking moment; conversations revolve around it; endless free time is given over to filling in forms or researching things.  It's been an interesting process.

1. When something as big as this happens (and obviously in the context of, say, pending civil war in Syria, it's actually pretty insignificant.  But I've always been one to make mountains out of molehills, and to me it's really huge) you begin to see everything through it's prism.  Shopping is no longer a carefree occupation, but an exercise in futility: there's no point buying anything new when it's all going to be packed up and put into storage for a year.  Usually banal and everyday activities - like hanging washing out or baking - are suddenly coloured by the realisation that someone else will be using my kitchen, and where will I do my laundry in the new place?  There's a constant voice inside me, whispering and insidious: "you're leaving...".

2. I have truly awesome friends.  Really, truly brilliant people who are so happy for me and supportive of me, but have let me know that I'll be missed.  It's touching how many friends have already looked up the price of flights to Colorado; how many promises of visits I've had.  I love you guys.

3. But when you're leaving, every simple interaction with friends becomes coloured by the fact of it.  If someone says they can't meet for a drink, or they'll be late for dinner, a whiny little voice inside me is going, "but I'm leaving, why can't you make the effort?".  Ugh, I hate this spoilt brat inner-voice.

4. I'm an inch shorter and a stone lighter than I thought I was.  Overly-detailed visa forms do have their uses after all.

5. It's hard to be subjective about your own house and your own city.  I'm noticing the bad (flaking paint in the kitchen; rude chavs in the city centre) at the same time as really appreciating the good (My endlessly comfy bed!  The fantastic bars in Leicester!  I've just realised that the choice of those two things  speaks volumes about me).

6. I'm entirely healthy in mind, body and spirit.  It must be true, my doctor says so.  The medical forms I'm required to fill in are extensive and the tests have been intrustive (quite literally so, in the case of the rectal examination), but as a sort-of hypochondriac - I'm always half-convinced that I might have diabetes, or cancer, or a heart murmur - it's been really interesting to find out that I'm in excellent health.

7. It's hard to stay anxious all the time.  I'm a worrier and can tie my stomach in knots of anxiety just at the prospect of leaving the house sometimes, so I am really and truly crapping it at the prospect of moving to the States.  But you just can't stay scared all the time, and I'm getting better at pulling myself together when I notice the panic creeping in.  So I'll be driving on the wrong side of the road, in snow and ice, on mountain sides?  Ok, I'll deal.  So I'll be teaching a new curriculum and the kids might hate me?  Ok, I'll manage.  So I'll be far away from my beloved family?  Ok, they can visit.  I hope I can keep this zen state up for the next 3 months!

Friday, 13 April 2012

Seen & heard

1. Dream School by Blake Nelson.  The sequel to seminal grunge-era novel Girl, it takes up where Girl finished - with protaganist Andrea Marr on the plane to college.  Whereas I loved and related to Girl on a visceral level, Dream School was a nice story, well told, but failed to connect with me.

2. The House Bunny.  I probably should have realised how awful this would be - the title alone is a major clue - but I had such high hopes for a film that features three of my favourite comic actresses: Anna Faris (famous for the Scary Movie franchise but most amazing in her scene-stealing cameos in Lost In Translation and Brokeback Mountain), Emma Stone (Easy A, The Help) and Kat Dennings (Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist).  It was entertaining enough - Faris is such a great actress she even makes dross like this funny - but laced with misogyny and conflicting messages about the value of beauty vs. brains. 

3. Valencia by Michelle Tea.  I bought my copy of this in a store on Valencia Street in The Mission district of San Francisco, which is just perfect as the book is set in and around that very area (hence the title).  Not quite finished it yet but so far I am loving the travails of lovelorn lesbian Michelle (all similarities to the author entirely non-coincidental) as she drinks, drugs, works and fucks her way around the city.

1. Hold On by Alabama Shakes.  I can't quite articulate the extent to which I'm obsessed with this song at the moment.  The single version is amazing, but this live performance (on the Conan O'Brien show in the States) is superlative; genuinely the most exciting four minutes of music I've seen in a while.  Her voice, her hair, her blouse, her guitar... frontwoman Brittany is my new girl crush.

2. Wolf Hand by Pulled Apart By Horses.  Just for the final 40 seconds or so, where he wails like a man possessed.  Sounds like the best of 90s grunge, so not a surprise that I like it.

Tuesday, 10 April 2012

Lovely things

It's funny how the imminent need to pack up everything I own and put it into storage for a year has dampened my usually voracious consumer habits.  That being said, I have picked up a few lovely bits and pieces over the past couple of weeks.
1. I found this polka dot dress (apologies for crappy image quality, but it's the only picture I could find) in Oliver Bonas when I was in London last week.  It'll be perfect for work this summer.
2. Laura, who blogs at Make Do and Mend, very kindly offered me her copy of Wilson after I mentioned it was next on my 'to-read' list.  I love Daniel Clowes' first graphic novel, Ghost World, so am looking forward to reading this one.
3. I've actually had this Scrabble mug for a while but only just started using it.  I love it!  It's the perfect size and shape for wrapping your hands around, and fits the perfect amount of tea.
4. Ok, I have a problem, I admit it.  I need to go to polka dot rehab or something.  But these fabric earrings are so cute!  Found at a vintage fair in Leicester recently.
5. Scenes From Occupied America promises an overview of last winter's astonishing upswell of protest in the USA, which rapidly spread worldwide.  One to read before I move to the States (eek!) in July.

Monday, 9 April 2012

Music Monday: Hole

I cannot believe that, in almost a year of Music Monday's, I have never posted a Hole track.  It would be fair to say that I idolised Courtney Love when I was a teenager.  It would also be fair to say that, actually, I still kinda do.  Incredibly charismatic, intelligent and articulate, every interview with her I've ever seen or read has left me in awe.  She may be mad, bad and dangerous to know (sample line from the book Everyone Loves Our Town: A History of Grunge (which you will be glad to know I have just finished, so should soon stop posting endless guff about the early 90s): "How do you know Courtney is lying?  Her lips are moving."), but she is an amazing cultural icon.  

Courtney's signature mid-90s look of tattered satin babyboll dress, smeared lipstick, torn fishnets and Mary Jane shoes was one I co-opted enthusiastically at the time, and in fact it's still a big influence on my style.  I've had to grudgingly admit that what looks cute on an 18 year old (crazy bleached hair, eyeliner scrawls on arm, jumble sale nightie-as-outerwear... ok, so maybe this never looked cute) looks mental on a 33 year old, but the Peter Pan collars she rocked still linger in my wardrobe.  It wasn't just her fashions that influenced me, though; to my detriment I spent a good portion of my late teens cultivating a similarly damaged persona.  Why does misery seem so very glamourous when you're 17?

Choosing a single Hole song to represent well over a decade and a half of fandom is a hard one.  Live Through This (released, with tragic timing, a few days after Kurt Cobain killed himself, on April 12th 1994) is for me their best album by far.  The big singles from the album, Doll Parts and Violet, have never been favourites of mine.  I prefer the rawness of She Walks Over Me, Jennifers Body and the track above, Gutless.  I don't think any line sums up Courtney better than "Just you try to hold me down / Come on try to shut me up".

Saturday, 7 April 2012

My news...

At the start of this academic year I applied to the extremely competitive and presitigous Fulbright programme; a scheme that enables teachers from the US and Britain to exchange jobs (and lives) for a year.  A rigourous selection process ensued, and I became increasingly baffled but excited as I progressed through each round.  Last Thursday, after weeks of anticipation (and telling anyone who asked that I was sure I wouldn't be chosen), I received an email.  Come July, all being well, I will be off to Colorado for a year. 

It would be fair to say that I am both excited and terrified by this prospect.  Anyone who knows me will know I often have wacky schemes on the boil, which very rarely (if ever) come to fruition.  I honestly didn't believe I would be successful, and the fact that I have to pack up my house and my life, say goodbye to family and friends, and make a new start, both professionally and personally, is overwhelming.  The mounds of paperwork, medical forms, visa requirements... it is sobering to realise that after a lot of hard work to get through selection, the real work is only just beginning.  And that is before I even consider the realities of teaching in a completely new country.

Durango, the small town in South-West Colorado where I've been placed, sounds idyllic.  Described by Lonely Planet as "nothing short of delightful," it's artsy, famous for it's microbreweries and mountain biking trails, and surrounded by mountains and forests and popular with skiers and snowboarders.  You have to pity the poor guy who has to give all that up and come and live in Leicester for a year!

I am trying very hard not to invest too much in this - aware that it could still all fall through - but just to have got this far is an amazing affirmation and achievement.  Wish me luck!

Friday, 6 April 2012

Joy in people

I've had a good first week of the Easter break, starting with a lovely time in London.  Walking in the sunshine from Angel to the Southbank, I stumbled across many a good bookshop and, more excitingly, an entire pub devoted to cider!  The exhibitions at the Hayward Gallery on the Southbank were both brilliant.  Jeremy Deller, whose Joy In People show was downstairs in the Hayward, wasn't an artist I was that familiar with, but I loved his skewed take on modern life and pop culture.  Some pieces were overtly political - such as a large-scale reenactment inspired by the miner's strike - while others were more playful, like the posters presenting famous lines from indie music as quotes from the gospels.

I've long been an admirer of David Shrigley's art, which is heavily tongue-in-cheek and often extremely funny.  This piece, Lost Pigeon, is one of my favourites.  But one of the most amusing sights at his Brain Activity show wasn't an artwork, though, it was a group of people standing, intrigued, at a doorway, only for the lift doors to open and the group to look embarrassed and disperse.  I love the idea that modern art is so inscrutable, one can mistake a lift for a work of art. 

Last night I went to a wonderful event at a bar in Leicester, The Crumblin' Cookie.  Craftwerk is billed as a "night of music, fun and craft," and I can attest that it was all of those things.  Music by everyone from Grooverider to Screaming Trees on the sound system, a table full of crafty bits and an hour-long deadline; I'm a competitive person so was in my element.  Our egg-based Donnie Darko diorama was beaten by a plasticine Alien creation in the film category, but our bunny-themed Easter bonnet won us a table full of chocolatey goodness.  Annoyingly, my photos didn't come out right (might have something to do with the cider I was drinking...).  Ah well, you'll just have to imagine the majesty that was this scene rendered in fake eggs and sticky-backed foam:

Now I'm up in Yorkshire for a few days of walking, reading and relaxing with my family.  Have a lovely Easter weekend all!

Wednesday, 4 April 2012

Seen & heard

I've been in a film-watching mood lately.  As well as Martha Marcy May Marlene (brilliant), This Means War (oh-so-trashy but enjoyable) and J. Edgar (yawn-fest) at the cinema, I've really enjoyed catching up on DVDs.

1. Whip It
Drew Barrymore directed and stars in this film about Texas teenager and beauty queen Bliss (the wonderful Ellen Page) who, on a trip to Austin, discovers roller derby and plunges headlong into a new, more alternative, world.  Funny, touching and awesomely feminist.  I loved it.

2. Scott Pilgrim vs. The World
I was surprised by how much I enjoyed this film: a comic book/computer game/movie hybrid packed with dark humour and great visual gags.  Michael Cera plays Scott Pilgrim, a slacker bassist in failing Toronto band Sex Bob-omb, who meets and falls for the mysterious Ramona and has to defeat her seven evil exes in order to be with her.  Kieran Culkin is particularly good at Scott's sarcastic gay roommate, and I loved the soundtrack, with the music for Sex Bob-omb being provided by Beck.

3. Easy-A
I liked this film as much the second time around as I did when I saw it at the cinema.  Emma Stone is a winningly dry and sardonic lead, playing high school student Olive, who unwittingly develops a reputation as a "skank" and decides to play it for all it's worth.  The film made some interesting points about how teenage boys are celebrated for promiscuity while teenage girls are punished.  It's a very knowing film, fully aware of it's clever post-modernism, but enjoyable for being more intelligent than most teen flicks.

With apologies and credit to Laura from Make Do and Mend, from whom I have shamelessly stolen the layout for this post as I liked it so much on her blog!

Monday, 2 April 2012

Music Monday: Metronomy

A tweet appeared on my feed last Saturday morning: "It's a Metronomy, English Riviera kind of day."  Very true: all the sunshine last week kept the album on almost-constant play, with ocassional breaks for some equally summery Beach House.  With end-of-the-pier organ sounds and seagulls and dodgems in the video, everything in The Look is redolent of an English summer (minus the rain).  Of course, the sun didn't last long but, now that my summer dresses are out of their suitcase and Metronomy are top of my CD pile, there is no going back.