alexsarll: (default)
I remember doing one of these with 52 entries, an album which had really impressed me for every week of the year. Last year, 20. This year - a Top Ten. Wow. Obviously there were lots of other albums with brilliant bits (Her Parents, Teeth of the Sea), ones which were pleasant enough backdrops (Ejecta, Edwyn Collins), ones which were only moderately coasting (British Sea Power, no pun intended). But when you're summing up and trying to make 'almost as good as an Elcka comeback album might be' (Filthy Boy) sound like a warm recommendation, you know it's time to hack and slash the list. Honourable mentions to Lady Gaga, Mike Patton and Monster Magnet - who, if still a long way from their imperial height, have made stuff a lot more worthy of ear-space than most of their work in the interim. Dishonourable mentions to David Bowie, Adam Ant, Suede, Justin Timberlake and George Pringle. Between them, each has made music that gave sparkle to a decade. Together, they've convinced an old triskaidekaphobic that 2013 was indeed destined to suck.

Read more... )
alexsarll: (Default)
Went to 333 last night for the first time since it was still vaguely cool. It's a lot better now it isn't, although there were still residual traces of venue-that-thinks-they're-it cluelessness. The ground floor has become essentially a normal pub called the London Apprentice, to the extent that I was wandering baffled around the frontage looking for where the venue entrance had gone to hide, and had to be assisted by one of the Ethical Debating Society (who are much tighter these days, though seemed surprised to hear it). Then there was another band who had a keytar in their favour but not much else, before The Murder Act who were looking very striking and sounding more so, somewhere between Gallon Drunk and One More Grain. After which we pissed off to drink cans in the street because we are that cool. Q and I, both having recently been touched for funds by our alma mater, got a picture complete with cap in hand, which we may or may not send them by way of explaining our refusal.

Other gigs seen since I last posted about gigs seen:
[ profile] augstone in acoustic troubadour mode on Upper Street, on the day when Upper Street was haunted by a most unpleasant smell. No connection, I should add. At least, not so far as I'm aware.
Brontosaurus Chorus Dom's new band, who were a bit loud for the 12 Bar, supporting Rebekah Delgado and her sexy weeping angels.
The Gonzo Dog-Do Bar Band, whose Bonzos tribute bafflingly omitted 'Sport (The Odd Boy)' in spite of the show coming right before the Olympics. Still, they finished with a damn fine 'Mr Apollo', and generally did justice to songs which can easily lose the appropriate strangeness. [ profile] martylog's Mystery Fax Machine Orchestra supported, with a very eerie new song about allotments the high-point.
The Thlyds - or rather a tribute - in a show which can be heard here. If The Thlyds did not exist, it would be necessary to invent them - a voice for disaffected young Britain which, crucially, isn't the risible Plan B. 'Let's Have A Riot' at the Olympics fell a little flat, what with us doomsayers having been proven wrong for once - but the rest was brilliantly sneering.
Gyratory System, in the perfect venue of the Social, which is to say a fashionable breeze block. They sounded - or more than sounded, felt - like a burning robot factory - but with a groove.
Thee Faction, incendiary in another sense of the word, and Joanne Joanne, an all-female tribute can work it out. But only the early stuff. More punk than Rhodes, Taylor and le Bon ever sounded on record, but that works.
Keith ToTP and Dream Themes. I've written about them both plenty on here before. Whatever it is they have, they've still got it.


Feb. 13th, 2012 08:14 pm
alexsarll: (bernard)
Not that I ever documented everything on here, because I am not that flavour of insane, but I do miss the old entries which, taken together, formed almost an encyclopaedia of oneself. Now it's just glimpses from the window of a speeding train, while the passing observations, the news and the baiting get spat out on Facebook instead. At least the Timeline over there, for all the inevitable complaints, mean that one has an archive of sorts again. So. What to report in this particular fragment? There was snow, wasn't there? And fine snow, of whose methods I approved: come down heavy for a couple of hours; turn Highbury Fields (my favourite part of London for snow) into a wonderland just in time for me to walk across it to Glam Racket in my big new boots, with Kate Bush in my ears and flakes settling on my shoulders; stick around one more day so that there can be snowball fights and snow Daleks on the Parkland Walk; and then off. The odd snowman can still be seen here and there, slowly shifting form like Ovid went monochrome, but there are no pavements of miserable slush, no desperate clinging on. I appreciate this sense of timing in a weather condition, and hope other seasons learn from it.

Oh yes, and I went to the Windmill - where I could also have been tonight, but there's only so much time and energy for jaunts to the wilds, and I must to Putney later this week. The Indelicates have a new song, in which Simon sings about disgust. I think he may inadvertently have nicked the intro from Jeays' 'Arles', though he denies it, and if he keeps telling his bandmates that since they don't know it, they'll just ruin it if he joins in, then I shan't complain. Pop needs more scorn.
alexsarll: (crest)
Yes, well. Not a vintage year, was it? I've only got a Top 20, which I think is the least since I started doing these. On the plus side, that means it's feasible to write a little bit about *why* each album is ace, something I never really had time for before.

And let's mix things up and do it countdown-style )
alexsarll: (crest)
Another delicious day off, so I should probably update this thing while there's a slightly greater chance of anyone reading it. Plenty of good gigs lately - the final Vichy Government show and the first for Quimper was a fine passing of the torch, or 'passing of the torture' as Mr Chilton creatively misheard it. There were some bands in between, but the less said about that the better - though I was amused by this review: "blended with a cover or two (my favourite had to be Red Hot Chili’s ‘Give it Away’), which not only kept the whole crowd engaged, but completed energised.". Which is not technically untrue, if you count the aforementioned Mr Chilton running upstairs, screaming about the horror, as 'energised'.
And then, a couple of nights on, Keith TotP, gloriously shambolic as ever, and Kit Richardson (who was much better than I expected from an unknown quantity singer-songwriter, and even got away with covering QotSA's 'No One Knows'), and the Indelicates. Who are always very good, but with a few of the more seldom-played songs breaking up the familiar set, were simply jaw-dropping.

John Brunner's The Jagged Orbit is not on the same level as The Sheep Look Up, let alone his masterpiece Stand on Zanzibar, though it forms part of the same project: a prismatic view from c1970 of the dystopian near future ie now. But, though it's didactic in places, though the whole emphasis on race war and apartheid was mercifully mistaken, elsewhere it demonstrates the same prophetic gifts as those greater books. Here is "this incomprehensibly complex modern world where the forces of economics and macroplanning ruled with the impersonal detachment of storm and drought", a world of veils on Western streets and churnalism in place of news, of casual psychopharmacology and near-ubiquitous diagnoses of newly-created mental illnesses. Hell, Brunner never quite managed to predict the Internet - though at times you can sense him groping mere hair-breadths from it - but he still managed to see that the world of the future would need what we now know as the spam filter. Though I'm sure that my friends who work in TV would have some bitter words with his shade regarding the sections on making a TV show: in the second decade of the 21st century, computers mean the editing process takes a matter of minutes!
Interestingly, although the nicked-from-John-Dos-Passos-then-improved narrative technique of Sheep and Zanzibar isn't fully realised yet, there are sections where Brunner shows his workings, pasting in an article (often from the Guardian) from the papers of his day, usually one ending with recommendations for avoiding future escalation of the problem it describes. That'll be a chapter. The next chapter, titled "Assumption regarding the foregoing made for the purposes of the story", will read in full: "Either it wasn't done, or it didn't work."

Spartacus: Gods of the Arena avoids the traps of a prequel well. Yes, there are characters you know can't die, and others you know won't be sticking around - but there are still plenty of bad things that can happen short of death, especially in a show this wickedly inventive, and there's more than one way for a character to exit the stage, even with death so close at hand. It's very much in the same vein as Blood and Sand - though there are times when you wonder if they feel the parent series was, somehow, slightly lacking in the sex and gore department. The one real revelation is that the guy who plays Crixus can in fact act, and had just been very good at playing a complacent lunk when that was where the character was.


May. 16th, 2011 09:18 pm
alexsarll: (bill)
And so the summer of superhero films kicks off with Thor, and we now seem to have reached the point where - thank the Allfather - a lot of the genre mainstays can be taken for granted. So rather than going through the standard plot beats and the origin and blah blah blah, Kenneth Branagh can stitch together a culture clash comedy, a conspiracy thriller and a high fantasy take on Shakespeare's histories, and it's still a viable blockbuster, even with near-unknowns in the lead roles. Both of them perfect for their parts, as well - Thor the affable dickhead, and a plausibly devilish Loki (and the idea that Hiddleston initially wanted to play Thor is baffling - if it were ever even remotely plausible then he must be an even better actor than he seems). The support includes some more familiar faces, almost all of whom seem perfectly at home in their roles - Idris Elba as Heimdall owns the role as well as winding up Nazis, Anthony Hopkins is a perfect Odin. The Warriors Three are a slight misfire: Hogun was always The Other One and the guy from Ichi the Killer can't change that; and even Titus Pullo was never going to convince as Volstagg when I'd so recently seen Orson Welles' Falstaff. Great Errol Flynn-ing from the guy playing Fandral, though.
And what do they do with all these ingredients? Smart things. Like, having the Earth action take place in a New Mexico town, because that's jeopardy enough and it makes a change from all the big cities that usually get imperilled, and besides there's Asgard for all that, and Asgard looks amazing - just Kirbytech enough without feeling like a clunky homage. And speaking of the comics references, spoiler ) in the post-credits sequence for which surprisingly few people stayed around. And it felt properly cosmic - stripping out the comics' usual compromise with christianity, when Jane Foster gasps 'my god' at the sight of Thor, you know it's meant literally. It helps that the whole thing looks and sounds so solid, right down to those end credits with Yggdrasil as a nebula. These are not aliens who've been taken for gods - they are gods.
Problems? Well, the Warriors Three I've mentioned, and Sif's not much better. Indeed, the female roles generally are a bit thin, except for Kat Dennings as Darcy, a character who if she was in the comics, I completely missed. Dennings is also in Defendor, an altogether less glitzy superhero film I watched this week. Essentially it's Kick-Ass with one quite plausible change: the would-be superhero is not an idealistic kid, but a mentally ill middle-aged man. Played with a brilliant mixture of anger, confusion and faith by Woody Harrelson. Well worth a look - but, let's be honest, not a patch on the punching-right-through-monsters fun of Thor.

On Saturday two places I've been past hundreds of times finally became places I'd been into. The Finsbury Park Nando's first, and later - after 'The Doctor's Wife', which was glorious in concept, and mostly in execution too, yet seemed oddly slow in places - the Unicorn. Which sits along the 29 and 253 route in that nowhere territory that is neither Camden nor Holloway, and which turns out to have the atmosphere and prices of a pub in at least Zone 4, and to feel oddly like a venue from a dream - "I was watching my flatmates play in a band, but when I turned around, we were all just stood in the corner of a suburban pub". And for all that I am now the non-musical inhabitant of the Maisionette Beautiful, the Indelicates album on which I am part of the backing choir is now available. And, regardless of my small contributions, very good indeed.

I picked up Edward Hollis' The Secret Lives of Buildings in the library more or less at random, but it's a fascinating read. Hollis is an architect by trade, but is fascinated by the great lies and false dreams of architects - the ways that buildings never quite turn out how they were supposed to, and that even if they do, people get in the way. And that then people get to a point where they start trying to pin down the authentic form of a building that never quite had one. It's psychogeography of a sort, I suppose, but nothing like the wandering, gonzo style with which the field has become almost synonymous. From the Parthenon to Vegas and Macao, it pieces together the story of humanity through what we've dreamed and built and repurposed.
alexsarll: (crest)
The TV version of The Walking Dead is very, very well-done but - for my purposes - entirely pointless. I'm way further on in the story than this early, funny stuff. I want to know what happens to Rick next, not see a variant edition of what happened to him way back when. Perhaps if the comic ever ends and I'm not getting my regular fix, I'll come back and watch the DVDs, but for now? Surplus to requirements. Obviously I'm glad it exists, earning the creators money and getting new people into the comic, and I'm not faulting the craftsmanship, but I won't be persevering, and I suspect that after this experience I also won't be bothering with the TV Game of Thrones.

It was a good weekend for picnics, but I also made one deeply peculiar trip to Acton (which is essentially a small provincial town that happens to be on the Tube). I assumed the pub the Indelicates were playing would be something like the Windmill, but it was a quiet, wooden pub downstairs with the gig in a function room up top, and at first I thought I had inadvertently wandered into a private party for children. I briefly thought I might not be the oldest person there, before realising that the chap with the impressive 'tache was the promoter's dad, and he was going downstairs for a nice quiet pint. The supports were both fairly generic, but that's forgivable in teenagers, and they had good enough voices that hey, maybe in two bands' time they'll be worth another listen. I got ID'd, simply because they were IDing everyone, but my weary, disbelieving glare was apparently sufficient proof of age, so I got my black wristband OK. The DJs did play some young people's music, but a lot of it was stuff like Cornershop, which I suppose is the same to them as the Clash were for clubs in my teens. And then there was the bit where a girl who didn't like the moshing came to stand with us, and we were a bit puzzled at the proximity until we realised she was swallowing her pride and going to stand with the grown-ups where it was calmer...I mean, as if I hadn't been feeling old enough already from having met my Cthulhuchild in the afternoon (and presented him with a cuddly Cthulhu - you know how some third-rate religions don't like their deities depicted? That's 'cos those religions' deities know they don't look cool enough). And it hit me during conversation with Simon that I have now lived for longer than there was between the end of World War II and my birth. Bloody Hell.
So the set...I think it was the first time I've seen 'Roses' live, and it didn't disappoint. Given the crowd I was surprised they didn't play 'Sixteen' or 'We Hate The Kids' (even though these were clearly nice kids, they could have done with the warning about their peers and their future). The absence of 'Jerusalem', though, made perfect sense, given most of the crowd would have been too young to vote in last May's debacle.
In summary: dear heavens I felt old. But cool old. Mostly.

The Runaways is not entirely free of the standard rock biopic and My Drug Hell tropes. But coming straight after attempts to watch Synechdoche, New York and Outkast's Idlewild, both of which have a bit of novel surface detail but are otherwise almost wholly cliche, it at least felt lively. Yes, I may be biased in favour of a film which has scenes of punked-up, drugged-up sapphism set to songs from the first Stooges album, but I still wouldn't have expected two Twilight alumni* to be quite so convincing as Joan Jett and Cherie Currie. Svengali Mick Foley isn't bad, either. Well, he is - he's a diabolical sleazeball, but still someone I could see myself taking as a management guru, especially when his heckler drill for the girls in the band is so reminiscent of the wrenches scene from Dodgeball.

*Of whom Dakota Fanning was also Satsuki in Totoro, which when you see her using her impossible platform boots to crush up pills for ease of snorting, and inevitably looking like a great ad for drugs while she does it, is really quite wrong.
alexsarll: (crest)
Yes, it's that time of year again; I think I've heard everything that's coming out (and the Duran Duran was really not worth waiting for), I've listened back to the ones I couldn't make up my mind about, and then I've started juggling positions and seeing which orders made sense. Nonetheless, this list is of necessity provisional; I completely missed until this year the arrival of at least two albums which should have been in 2009's top 20, by Circulus and George Pringle. It should also go without saying that like any such list, it is entirely subjective. And Number One is really not going to surprise anyone to whom I've talked about music in the past couple of years. So without further ado, the chart rundown )...and there was a 30-40, but halfway through putting in the HTML for the italics, I decided no, all of those are either too samey or too patchy. They had lovely moments, but they weren't great albums. And moments don't make albums. A lot of my favourite songs this year - Big Boi's 'Shutterbug', Robyn's 'Dancing On My Own', My Chemical Romance's 'Na Na Na', Shrag's 'Rabbit Kids', Underworld's 'Between Stars' - were from albums other people really rated, but which to me sounded like more than half filler. Then you had Spoiler Alert!'s 'Booster Gold' and Mitch Benn's 'I'm Proud of the BBC' (an EP track and a stand-alone single, respectively), and Gaga's 'Telephone' from a 2009 album. I don't buy the whole death of the album line, mind; there have always been great singles that hunt alone, or live on patchy albums. But I have found that when an album isn't physically present, it can no longer nag at you from the corner of your eye. When it's not even digitally present, when there's only access to it - on Spotify, most especially, with its refusal to tell you what you were doing even the five searches back that it used to manage unless you specifically note an item at the time - then only a song itself, lodged in the brain can remind you about an album, remind you that you were briefly very impressed, pull you back. And it doesn't happen as often as I would have expected. Is that determined by the music the year had on offer, or is it a general thing? No idea. But looking back at that list, thinking about all the albums that didn't make it, an awful lot of music this year has sounded tired. That is not in itself a bad thing - tiredness is an emotion which, like any other, can set the tone for great art. But not all of them were accomplishing that transmutation and, even when you think about the ones who were...well, it's not the best of zeitgeists, is it?
alexsarll: (bernard)
Finally saw Four Lions and...well, in terms of British comedy hitting the big screen, at least it's not Magicians, but it's not Chris Morris at his best, is it? It's not even Chris Morris doing his best War on Terror work. I noticed at the time that none of the reviewers seemed aware of Smokehammer (now, alas, hosting only a tedious cut-up Dubya speech) or the excellent newspaper pull-out 'Six Months That Changed A Year'; some even said explicitly that Morris was 'finally' making his 'first' comment on the terror &c situation. Lazy hacks. So yeah, it's...alright. Obviously I laughed, but I didn't find myself transfixed like I did by The Day Today, Brass Eye, Jam or Nathan Barley. And as so often, I watched the deleted scenes and wondered why they'd been left out. One explains why Waj is even part of the team in the first place, which given his consistent idiocy in the final cut had been puzzling me; another exposes the brilliantly self-contradictory apologist logic by which the Twin Towers attack was supposedly an inside job, but Osama is still a revolutionary hero.

That was definitely a full moon weekend just gone, one of the nasty, tetchy ones where nothing quite works out. Not even the music; Lily Rae fled the stage after a couple of songs because of some sound problem only she could hear, Jonny Cola & the A Grades seem to have dropped their two best songs permanently, and The Melting Ice Caps' band incarnation looks like it's also here to stay. And not that they're a bad band by any means, but there are plenty of good bands, whereas what David was doing at the solo shows was unique. Mr Solo was in band format too, and even the Indelicates' great-as-ever set was slightly marred when, doing the handclaps from 'ATF' with another member of the backing choir from the recording, we were getting evils from other audience members. They don't know. They weren't there.

If anyone is desperate to see my thoughts on the Doctor and Jo Grant's guest appearances in The Sarah Jane Adventures, I already did most of it in the comments over on Diggerdydum. But in summary, isn't it brilliant/mental/a comment on the DVD era that a show for the under 10s can make a big deal out of using a character not seen since 1973, and get how she would have ended up so very right? Typically for Russell T Davies, half the fanservice made no sense whatsoever and nor did the plot, but he got some great emotional moments in there. And because that just wasn't quite enough Doctor for one week, I also watched Tom Baker in Warriors' Gate, one of only two Doctor Who stories I have ever given up on*. But that was many years ago, before I'd seen enough European films to cope with what is essentially Last Year at Marienbad, except starring furries, who in one of the time-zones have been enslaved by Dad's Army. All executed, because this was 1981, with much the same visual effects you'd find on a TotP performance of the same vintage. Obviously.

*The other is The Chase, the sixties story where it first became apparent how lazily and boringly overused the Daleks were going to be. That one doesn't get a second chance, at least not without company and alcohol.
alexsarll: (Default)
Does that massive new tower at Elephant & Castle have a name yet? I got my first proper look at it vaguely finished over the weekend and assumed it must be the Cheese Grater what with the wind turbine holes and slope making the top of it look exactly like a cheese grater, but no, apparently that's the one at Leadenhall. It certainly deserves a name, I rather like it.

I love music, but I've never felt I had much to contribute by making it. I'm very happy to write effusive posts on here about bands, or appear in their videos (another of which has just gone up), but they told me at school that I wasn't musical and I know this story is meant to be about horrid teachers failing to spot one's astonishing potential but no, in my case they had a point. Since coming to London, I have been in one band (for a given value of the word) for one night - The17, with Bill Drummond. I thought I'd best leave it there, because how do you top being one degree from the KLF?
By being on the next Indelicates album, apparently. [ profile] augstone passed on an invite so I headed up to Walthamstow with him, his fellow Soft Close-Up David (who was also in the same The17 performance as me, as it happens), [ profile] keith_totp and [ profile] thedavidx, to all of whom a recording studio is pretty much a second home. I just tried my best not to a) break anything or b) lose my cool, even when I realised that Denim had recorded there. And Baxendale! And The Long Blondes! And that we were singing along as a sort of backing choir for Philip bloody Jeays (not physically present)! It's not as if I'm going to be individually audible or anything, but nonetheless, I'm on the next Indelicates album. Bloody Hell.

Otherwise, it's been a relatively quiet week and weekend - albeit also very pleasant, with Friday in the Ewok village and Sunday's barbeque managing a decent amount of cooking before the downpour, plus Prom Night on Saturday, the first time I've had a solid reason to wear a bow tie out after watching Matt Smith rock one in Doctor Who (and remember how ahead of time we thought "Geronimo!" was going to be his catchphrase and that it would soon get irritating? By my reckoning he's now said "Bow ties are cool" just as often as "Geronimo!"). Good little episode on Saturday - yes, it essentially stitched together three Buffy episodes ('Normal Again' for the basic premise, 'The Gift''s "What makes you think the other world is any better?" "It has to be" and the demonic ringmaster performance from 'Once More With Feeling'), then borrowed evil geriatrics from Hot Fuzz with a zombie film twist, but the seams didn't show, and even if they never used the name, the villain was the ruddy Valeyard! And still, those wonderful central performances - for the second week in a row my favourite bit in among so very many choices was a little, gestural thing, when the Doctor thinks the baby is due and adopts that panicked wicket-keeper stance. And because the BBC is utterly marvellous, it also gave us a penultimate Ashes to Ashes which has left me with no clue how they're going to resolve this, but a burning need to find out. I think I'm going to be a bit late to Nuisance tomorrow night.
alexsarll: (seal)
More than the usual weekend dose of Doctor Who; on Friday, after catching my first seven elephants (including James Bond elephant!) and a brief stop at Poptimism, I was one of the five Doctors at Are Friends Eclectic?. The eighth, obviously, because his TV career may not have been great but his outfit was the best. There may have been certain breaches of the First Law of Time and the Blinovitch Limitation Effect. AFE is great.
And then on Saturday, 'Vampires of Venice'. For some reason I hadn't got that excited in advance of this episode, in spite of having already seen the library card business. And there was plenty more to love, mainly in the interplay between the Doctor, Amy and Rory - the bouncing up and down with excitement, "let's not go there", hushing, combat deployment of Your Mum gags. But ultimately, it dragged a bit, resolution by Adam West-style climbing was anticlimactic, and how did it make any sense at all that a species change should be easier than a sex change? Not a disaster by any means, but a flawed mid-season entertainment. It's weird how even with Moffat in charge, Who is never consistently perfect. Perversely, I think it's somehow right that way.

Saturday: another Keith TOTP/Indelicates show. I've run out of things to say about these except that I swear 'I Hate Your Band' and 'Savages' get even better every time. Some Thee Faction-style intra-band ideological controversy when Simon said "our drummer's had to go to emergency homosexual rehabilitation camp"; this surprised me if only because Julia let him get away with "she said 'snatch'!" again. There was another band in between whose set seemed to last about 26 years, of which the first song was OK. They tried to flog us vinyl afterwards and I could quite legitimately reply "I don't buy records from people who diss Tesla". This on a night when I'd already discussed unicycles with the Vessel. I love my life. Would have hung around to give Black Daniel another chance, but my presence was required for dancing to pop at Don't Stop Moving. Mmmm, pop.

Strolled over to Hampstead yesterday for a combined birthday/engagement/welcome back to Britain drinks. Saw two puzzling things en route. One was a life-sized model camel which I somehow missed last time I went to ALE MEAT CIDER, even though it's just down the road. The other was a street sign where the legitimate N7 had been crossed out and graffiti added: 'N19! w@nkers'. I've heard about these youth gangs going by postcode affiliation, but they seem not really to have grasped how the system works. Terribly sad. Though as a Shield/Sons of Anarchy fan, I have to wonder whether these N19 loyalists call themselves One-Niners.
alexsarll: (Default)
The new Indelicates album is available for download on a 'pay what you want' basis. Which, for those of you who've never heard them before and need enticing, does include 'free'. Given it's the best album of the year so far, and I'd be very surprised if it weren't still the best come December, I think that's a pretty good deal. Hell, even if you can't spare the time to check out a whole album on my say so, just try one track: I would link to the beautiful, bereft acoustic version of 'Savages' except that's album-exclusive, so just for a change I'll recommend the disgusted Weimar cabaret stomp of 'Be Afraid Of Your Parents' instead.

Dean Spanley is an utterly charming film which I think will be loved by anyone who owned a dog as a child, especially if he was one of the Seven Great Dogs. Sam Neill, excellent even by his own standards, is an Edwardian clergyman who, when plied with Tokay, reminisces about his past life as a dog; Peter O'Toole, more cadaverous and cantankerous than ever, is the narrator's father. That narrator being Jeremy Northam, who makes for an excellent straight man and stops the whole enterprise capsizing into silliness, because this is a strange tale but emphatically not a silly one. It's based on a story by the great Lord Dunsany - though not one I know, so I can't speak to its fidelity or otherwise except to say that it definitely feels like Dunsany.

This lengthy David Simon interview - mainly about his new show Treme but of interest to any fans of his work - makes me realise how much I miss good lengthy pieces from the days when the Guardian's Saturday mag was slightly less flimsy. Compare and contrast this Jonathan Ross interview from the weekend, and note how much of the conversation is skimmed over, sketched in, especially when Ross talks about comics. This would not have been abtruse stuff - he's a smart man who realises he's evangelising to a general audience - but there's no space for it. What we mainly get, even while the paper tries to distance itself from the tabloid agenda, is a reprise of the Mail-defined talking points. Yes, from another angle, but wouldn't moving beyond them have been even better?
alexsarll: (magnus)
Back before torrents and LoveFilm and dirt-cheap (or any) DVDs, it was a lot harder to see films that ween't in the local video shop and were stubbornly refusing to show up on TV, meaning that some of them were the exclusive preserve of the cool kids. At junior school it was Freddie and Jason (and I've still never seen any of either's films), shading into the more violent end of action films (I'm well up on my Arnie now, even if I've still yet to see Robocop). Which itself, as we got older, gradually started morphing into the more obviously 'cool' films, and as I was morphing into a slightly cooler child, this was when I started to see some of the status films, like The Hunger and Withnail & I. But one film I was slightly too late to the party to catch was the transitional Hardware - a film with sex and violence and a killer robot, but also featuring cameos by Lemmy (a cabbie), Carl McCoy of the Nephilim (the inspiration for Antony Johnston's Wasteland) and Iggy Pop (DJ Angry Bob, "the man with the industrial dick", who we need on 6Music stat). Because I live in the modern world, on Monday I was finally able to sit down and watch it, but divorced from its context as a badge of having Arrived, it's not very good.
(And then the next day I went to Stationery Club to talk about notebooks, which I think makes an even better point about the collapse of 'cool' as a currency in an increasingly niche social economy)

Wednesday: I do the Bloomsbury museums, for the first time including the Cartoon Museum, currently hosting a Ronald Searle exhibition. The guy is 90 and in spite of having suffered terribly as a POW of the Japanese, he really doesn't look it; the only hint of weakness comes when he misquotes Molesworth but if there's one man alive who can be forgiven that, it's Searle. He seems to subsist pretty much entirely on champagne, which I suppose could explain it.
In the evening, one of my very favourite bands, not just brilliant but generationally important, are playing in aid of an unimpeachable cause. By which I am of course referring to the Indelicates' anti-Digital Economy Bill show at the Monarch, charging a princely fiver. The support, alas, are not good - even Lily Rae is for some reason not on form, and when I say that Akira the Don had a tiny child on keyboards, I'm not making the usual joke about how young bands are looking nowadays - it was an actual tiny child. But when the Indelicates come on, who cares what has gone before? Simon explains how this atrocious piece of lawmaking has nothing to do with helping starving artists and he should know what with being a starving artist. And they play 'Savages', which I have previously said will be the greatest song of the new decade unless something better than humans starts making music, and even then it will be a dazzlingly apt note for the species to bow out on - "The brave new futures we have seen, filled with beautiful machines. The greener pastures, clearer skies and none such as you and I". [ profile] kgillen was there too, and while I was writing the above I saw a link he posted regarding the music of one Emily Howell - who is a computer, and confirms me in that belief.

Nonetheless, out to another gig last night - Brontosaurus Chorus at the Wilmington, whose new songs 'Sandman' and 'Scissormen' confirm that someone has been at the Vertigo comics, which is always to be encouraged. There have been concerns that the show might sell out, as the headliners have been supporting Editors. I join in the chorus of mockery - what kind of world do we live in where supporting a bad Joy Division tribute means you can sell out your own gigs? Then I realise that the band in question are The Strange Death Of Liberal England, whose 2008 mini-album I rather liked. Watching them, however, they don't add much to the music's strangeness and yearning and British Sea Power echoes (the clue to that bit is in the name, isn't it?) and in one sense actively subtract from it: the singer has a ginger Afro. I decide to stick with the sounds in future, and head out.
alexsarll: (bill)
Saw two of my favourite bands over the past few days - also, incidentally, the two bands I think of whenever some fool asks why young bands aren't addressing the issues of the day. Any time you see such a diatribe, remember the options: the writer is unaware of The Vichy Government or The Indelicates, and hence too ignorant for anything he says to be worth attention; or else the writer could not understand their lyrics, or did not consider them sufficiently political because they made no mention of 'Tony B Liar more like', in which case he is too stupid for anything he says to be worth attention. Both bands are confident enough that their sets were pretty much stripped of the old favourites, and both are creative enough that it barely registered because the new stuff is at least as good. Where matters diverged was in the support. The Indelicates had England's finest chanson man, Philip Jeays, solo and even better that way, wowing an incongruously young section of the audience; a particularly melodic and vaguely Springsteen incarnation of Keith TOTP & his etcetera; and the increasingly lovely Lily Rae. Vichy, on the other hand, were lumbered with one Joyride. Given they caused only sorrow, and stayed in one place (the stage) when we really wished they'd depart, I wondered whether this name might be cause for a Trade Descriptions case, but apparently not. Ripping off The Fall and the Mary Chain as ineptly as I've ever seen, and that's saying something, they managed to be thoroughly rubbish in spite of having one member in a Girls Aloud t-shirt and a song with the chorus "I'm the Bishop of Southwark, it's what I do".

Just finished Max Adams' The Firebringers - At, science and the struggle for liberty in nineteenth-century Britain, which is a frustrating bloody book. The main problem I had was no fault of Adams' - he overlaps quite a bit with Richard Holmes' Age of Wonder, which I'd not long read. But the comparison does show how Holmes' 'relay race' structure serves him brilliantly, while Adams lacks restraint and tries to tell too many stories at once, breeding confusion and occasional repetition. I was mainly reading the book in so far as I wanted to know more about John Martin, the painter who "single-handedly invented, mastered and exhausted an entire genre of painting, the apocalyptic sublime". I've loved his work ever since I saw his final great trilogy, Judgment, in what is now Tate Britain - it hangs there still, though very badly situated. He was big news in his time, though critical opinion was not kind then and is even less so now; as far as I'm concerned he still sits only a very little behind his friend and contemporary Turner as one of the best painters, never mind British painters, ever. Adams, on the other hand, likes him more than the critics but less than the Regency public. Then, for whatever reason, he has attempted to make this a group biography - perhaps because he was told they sell better now, on which more later. So we also get the other Martin brothers: Richard the soldier (his autobiography is alas lost, so he mainly appears in 'mights'); Jonathan (yes, confusing, but in an age of high child mortality it happened a lot) the religious maniac who set York Minster ablaze; and William, who started as inventor and ended another lunatic, riding around on a self-designed velocipede with a brass-bound tortoiseshell as a helmet, selling pamphlets about how he'd been swindled, a few of the stories true but most sheer paranoia.
Except the Martin brothers are still not enough, so they become a spine for 'the Prometheans', an undeclared, unrealised movement united in their desire to free mankind. Their membership includes Shelley, Godwin, the Brunels, various politicians...or does it? Because Adams' definitin of Promethean ideals seems more Procrustean; obviously most of his posthumous conscripts don't quite fit it, for which they are ticked off. Shelley was too extreme in his declarations, hence unpublishable and useless - but the Reform Bills were too timid and compromised. There is still good stuff to be salvaged from among this historical kangaroo court, but it's a trial.
And then, of course, the publishers clearly told Adams that The Prometheans wouldn't sell, so the title had to be dumbed down to The Firebringers. It's a bit of a mess, but not an uninteresting one.
alexsarll: (seal)
Watching a passable Nabokov travelogue/documentary yesterday, mention was made of the (twice) near-burning of Lolita at the back of Vladimir's house on Seneca Street. And that Wire book I'm reading had made mention of how hard a time David Simon had convincing HBO to make the show, and even then, its survival beyond the third season was by no means certain. And I started thinking, that's what I'd do with a gate between alternate worlds. Not save or conquer parallels that had gone awry, just take people through the stuff that never got made, or never survived. There's plenty we're missing, too - the full runs of Aztek and Big Numbers, more than half of The Canterbury Tales. It would be a productive cultural exchange, and you could make a fortune in the process. Win/win.
(Of course, there'd be a 'Library of Babel' problem where once you started looking you'd find an infinite number of slightly different versions of each lost classic - and indeed, of each extant one. And you'd go mad trying to find the best of them all. This is my problem, even in my daydreams I'm overwhelmed by the endless ramifications of everything)

Saturday night: finally a purpose to the existence of The X Factor manifests, as it delays the start of Soul Mole, meaning I can after all go see the Indelicates. Briefly I wonder whether this is such a good idea - they were so very perfect the last couple of times I saw them, surely this can only disappoint? See parenthesis above; I think too hard sometimes. They are bassless, and have a questionable backing track for 'Savages', so in that sense they are imperfect. But, somehow it still works, feels different not worse. When you're operating within the field of greatness, there's a lot of variation possible without diminution. Support is Keith TOTP, who is very loud and covers 'Lonely This Christmas' while wearing a black Santa hat emblazoned with 'Bah Humbug'. Good stuff.
Then on to Soul Mole for the usual dance-'til-feet-hurt-then-keep-dancing fun. I think it may now be the club I've been attending longest? If so, it richly deserves that.
On my Sunday trip to [ profile] beingjdc's annual festive bash, the first bendy bus has a bit of a spasm and the back doors won't shut. The driver tries to fix the bus by...turning it off and on again. It doesn't work. Their end cannot come too soon. The two I got yesterday behaved rather better, admittedly, as I made a late visit to the bafflingly-redesigned 12 Bar to see that rare beast, a Soft Close-Ups show. The promised elephants are absent, but as well as their own songs (and while 'Ditch The Theory' remains my favourite, 'Fireworks' is rapidly closing on it) we get a rather beautiful cover of 'Life on the Crescent'. As a Devant song, I know a lot of people love it, but I never quite felt it fit the band. Here, it belongs.
alexsarll: (bill)
Stringer Bell is going to be in Branagh's Thor film. And we already knew Titus Pullo was involved, probably as Volstagg. I SAY THEE YAY. And speaking of things HBO, while the final Generation Kill did editorialise a little, while I don't think it's ever going to be as beloved as The Wire, that was an extremely good series - maybe even more so than The Wire it did a brilliant job of humanising the characters you hated, showing why they were such utter dicks, with even Godfather getting his moment at the end.

To my amazement, the proposed internet laws in the Queen's Speech were even worse than expected. If you've not been keeping up with the minutiae: the Government commissioned a report, Digital Britain, on how to reconcile the interests of the creative industries with those of net users. This report said that while unlicensed file-sharing was indeed rather naughty, internet disconnection was too draconian a penalty even for the guilty, never mind how many innocents would also be punished (Mum and Dad for the kids' filesharing, or a whole town for one illicit movie). So obviously, because we know how the government regards facts as dangerously subversive (just ask Professor Nutt), Peter Mandelson elbowed the relevant minister out of the spotlight, countermanded the report his own government had commissioned (they obviously didn't appoint a tame enough investigator, Hutton must have been busy), and countermanded anything sensible in it to put three-strikes disconnection back on the agenda. And, we now learn, so much more.
This in a world where Rupert Murdoch, until recently New Labour's bestest pal, talks about putting a pay wall around the websites of his various ghastly papers while stealing content from Edgar Wright. But you can bet that even if that happened two more times, even under the new rules, News International wouldn't get disconnected. In spite of how even musicians who don't make nearly as much money as they should would rather be ripped off online than live in a country which thinks disconnection is acceptable. The only consolation is that the relevant bill is profoundly unlikely to make it through before Goooooordon Brooown loses the next election. Not that I expect the other flavour of scum to propose anything better, you understand, but sometimes delay is the best you can hope for. After all, the horse might talk.

The Black Casebook collects a dozen strange Batman stories from 1951-1964, which is the period when the comic was as stupid as the old Adam West TV series, but without having to worry about the limited budget. So, Batman could be turned into a hulking monster, or find himself on an alien world called Zur-En-Arrh - which, if you've read Grant Morrison's run on the character, should explain why this collection has been put out, and why I was reading it. He contributes an introduction (although one which disagrees in some respects with the contents - he mentions 'The Rainbow Batman' when the book instead has 'The Rainbow Creature'. All the campy old elements are here - Bat-Mite and Ace the Bat-Hound - and by no sane standard are the stories or the art any good. Even the ideas are not so much "mad, brilliant ideas" as half-formed and hurries, born of desperation. Mainly it serves as a testament to Morrison's own talents, going back over the history of Batman and managing to find resonance even in these stupidest of stories which most modern writers would prefer to forget about.
Also, I know it's hardly novel to suggest Batman and Robin came across as a bit gay back in the day, but this book opens with 'A Partner For Batman' where you really can't avoid it. Robin has broken his leg just as Batman is about to train up a new Batman-type for an unnamed European country. Except Robin is convinced this is just a cover story and Batman wants to drop him in favour of Wingman! Cue such lines as, while Batman carries the injured Robin like a bride, "Batman's doing his best to sound gay. But I can tell his heart isn't in it!". And, from one onlooker, "A man is better than a kid any day!". Poor discarded twink.

Haven't had the energy or the funds to be out and about so much this week; even daytime wanders have been a bit sub-optimal, like yesterday when Highbury was deserted and instead of relishing this, I just wondered if it was anything to do with how very tentacly those red-leaved plants look once the leaves are finally gone. But, this just makes me look forward to tonight's Black Plastic all the more. Makes the weekend feel like a weekend, something which can rather slide when one is away from the habit of the working week.
alexsarll: (crest)
It always used to be - perhaps still is if you catch me off guard - that asked when I'd like to live, I'd instantly reply 'the twenties'. Yes, as a rich person, obviously - just like anyone who thinks we've never had it so good is obviously thinking of themselves rather than a Third World peasant, just like nobody ever said Rome and meant as a slave (well, except maybe a few serious submissives). But a while back a doubt dawned and has been niggling ever since - were the twenties rich any different to the arses clogging the gossip mags I spurn? Do we just romanticise them through distance, the same way classic pirates seem sexy while having your yacht seized by Somalis with automatic weaponry is distinctly less so? DJ Taylor's excellent Bright Young People - The Rise and Fall of a Generation: 1918-1940 is doing nothing to convince me otherwise. Yes, in America the gilded twenties produced some artists of genuine stature - the Fitzgeralds, Dorothy Parker - but over here we mostly ended up with never-was-es like Stephen Tennant and Brian Howard, always just about to write masterpieces which somehow never quite materialised. Of the books written from and about the scene which did appear, most are now only ever read as research for social histories like this one, and even those which survive for wider public attention - which basically means Evelyn Waugh's Decline and Fall and Vile Bodies - are still principally known for reflexive reasons just as they were at the time; like their subjects, we read them to be at once scandalised and fascinated by the thinly-veiled documentary of the times*. Times which only produced these books. Which we only read because...and so on. If Waugh had kept his powder dry on the topic until Brideshead years later (assuming he'd somehow supported himself in the meantime and not become another Tennant or Howard), would literature be much the poorer?
But mostly, what was written about them was the gossip mags, the disgust/obsession of the middle-market rags, the same we see nowadays. "The reader's curiosity, in fact, was almost bovine. It went only so far. It wanted, above all, to be reassured that the grass it ate was grass, that the people presented for inspection, whoever they might be, were worth reading about." Consider the junkie Brenda Dean Paul, the radio news following her escapades with the same urgent irrelevance as Amy Winehouse or Pete Doherty gets from the websites and tabloids. And never mind Winehouse, she couldn't even claim such nugatory cultural achievements as Doherty, being an 'actress' in the loosest possible sense (but then, she did exist in a time before ITV drama, so that at least could have changed).
Understand: it's not Taylor taking this line - he laments the decline of the Bright Young scene into a parade of wannabes and ever-increasing efforts at novelty, but the wondering if there was ever anything there in the first place is just me. Similarly, the modern parallels are if anything underplayed. Though the book being a couple of years old, there's one at least which couldn't possibly have spooked him like it did me. Describing a Punch satire of the scene:
"Losing sight of Lady Gaga for half an hour, the interloper eventually finds her with her arm round the waist of 'a young heavyweight in horn-rims dressed as a baby', listening to a hollow-eyed girl ina tutu and an opera hat who is singing a song with the refrain 'It's terribly thrilling to be wicked'."
Of course, counterpoint all this with the worries of parents about how the Bright Young People were wasting their time, refusing to acknowledge the serious side of life and you realise - if they had, they'd still have been wasting their time. What else could they have done? Gone into business and been wiped out by the Crash. Gone into finance, and caused it. Gone into politics and achieved about as much at the rather duller masquerades of the League of Nations as the Bright Young People did at theirs which at least had plenty of cocktails - or stayed in domestic politics and as like as not been damned forever for going along with appeasement. As a wise man once said: "Yes, you may be wasting your life. But it's your life to waste. Hell, no matter what you chose to do, you were wasting it anyway. And that you have the chance to doom yourself in such a way...well, that's glorious." Or as an even wiser man put it, "There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so". The good times are good times because of what they become as a half-memory which itself becomes an aspiration. Sometimes it's better not to meet your heroes, not even in a group biography.

*On the other hand, while I rather like the look of The Noughties Were Sh1t ("This blog will chart the worst of the noughties. The rubbish new genres, the horrible new trends, the idiot popstars, the dullard celebrities, the pitiful movements and the squandered promise of a rubbish generation. Think of it as a process of truth and reconciliation. We must make sure that the fucking noughties are never allowed to happen again"), I'm conflicted in the awareness that even aside from having myself had a pretty good decade - I may be a victim of the economic bust having never really got the benefits of the boom, and yet compared to a decade ago I live in a much better place with more friends and more avenues of entertainment - that site is the work of one of the best bands of the decade. A band whose driving force is disgust with that decade. And so the contradiction spirals on.
alexsarll: (bernard)
Boris scrapped his first bendy buses today. His reign has now justified itself, and anything else is just a bonus.

If you ever find yourself having a terrible moment of clarity about the gigging scene, wondering whether it isn't just a terrible parade of narcissists and special needs cases taking the name of art in vain - seriously, go see an open mic poetry night and your worries will vanish in an instant.
The band-based elements of the evening worked rather better (OK, shambolically - but entertainingly so, particularly the version of 'Unity Mitford' which, courtesy of a clown's guitar, ended up somewhere between Slash and 'My Lovely Horse'), and one of the Indelicates-affiliated poets (plays god in The Book of Job - The Musical, apparently) had his moments. And afterwards, after one of my occasional forays into roadieing (roadying?), we met some very generous but totally lost fruit thieves. But the open mic stuff...OK, if you do take the advice in the first paragraph, be aware that you do so at your own risk.

There's an art exhibition underway in the 'phone boxes behind the Royal Academy - because apparently that's where rejected pictures for the Summer Exhibition get left. It's pseudonymous, perhaps for legal reasons, but...well, some of the booths are quite shiney on the inside, shall we say. I like the postcard reading 'email mum' in among the tart cards, but possibly the most powerful contribution is the way that one of the booths has an overwhelming smell of stale urine - undoubtedly a comment on the degree to which Marcel Duchamp's urinal has at once defined and limited so much modern art. Right?

A lot of people have suggested - I hope in jest - that unemployment would see me getting into daytime TV. Even before the age of the DVD box set, I had quite enough reading and wandering to catch up on that this was never going to happen, but I was looking forward to some classic "films so sad they're only shown when the country's at work", and until this week I'd been disappointed. Sure, there were some Powell & Pressburgers, but I already have those on DVD (having got into them, if memory serves, through a screening of A Matter of Life and Death last time I was dole scum, a decade back), some Miyazaki I've already seen on Film4, but this week there was finally something new (well, old, obviously, but new to me). First, Jimmy Cagney in Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye. My policy of attempting any film which has given the Flaming Stars a title doesn't always work out - I think the only real great I ever found that way was The Day the Earth Caught Fire, and plenty were abandoned in short order - but this is a nice, nasty little gangster flick of the old school, all greed and brutality and innocence led astray in a world where, Production Code or no, it's clear there was no other choice. And then on Thursday, Frank Capra's Lost Horizon, the original Shangri-La story, which influenced everything from Iron Fist to Neal Stephenson's Anathem but has a tragic, terribly real escapism all its own, Ronald Colman the great diplomat who finds an earthly paradise away from all the struggle of the outside world - but can he bear to stay there, and if he does, what will it cost him? So seductive, and so much more topical than whichever catchpenny nonsense is being shown in primetime about the State of Things, with the inhabitants of the happy valley perplexed by the pointless avarice of the outside world: "Look at the world today. Is there anything more pitiful? What madness there is! What blindness! What unintelligent leadership! A scurrying mass of bewildered humanity, crashing headlong against each other, propelled by an orgy of greed and brutality."
alexsarll: (crest)
"Chris Bryant, the new Foreign Office minister, who is gay, has started writing personal letters of congratulations to British diplomats who show public support for gay rights. He is praising them for such support even if it draws anger from national governments or local homophobic groups." Which is splendid news I'm surprised I've not seen more heralded, even if it is coming from one of the same ministers who recently tried to score some fairly cheap points with distinctly nebulous accusations of Tory homophobia - particularly weak given that, while Labour may have made progress with civil partnerships and the like, their consistent appeasement of homophobic monotheist scum has dented whatever pink kudos they should otherwise have earned. Of course, if they really want to cement the gay vote, Gordon could always come out. Not that I have any idea whether those rumours were even true, but if not it'd be even funnier watching him try to fake it.

I'm in Devon at the moment, wrestling once again with the most erratic cursor of our age. But before heading down here (maugree Sunday's efforts to beat previous records for One Of Those Days), I spent Friday confirming that the Landseer may be considerably more pleasant under its new management, but remains too expensive to be a viable local watering hole, and Saturday listening to country, and then watching the Indelicates. Now, I may previously have mentioned that they're a bit good, but I somehow failed until this unfairly truncated and thus blisteringly, magnificently angry performance to realise that they are, quite simply, the best band of our generation. My only regret is that [ profile] thedavidx wasn't quite drunk enough to do a Jarvis during their closing cover of 'Earth Song'.
alexsarll: (pangolin)
Not a dream, not an imaginary story, but the episode of South Pacific from two weeks ago (I forget where, reprised in the last couple of minutes but the whole show is pretty awesome). Nature is mental.

Didn't see as many bands/people as planned this weekend, as a combination of late-running gigs and inexplicable (though possibly weather-based) tiredness left two-stage plans looking untenable. So sorry to [ profile] catbo and Artery, though if the latter are reading this I'll be surprised and slightly creeped-out. Saturday was the ever-eccentric Barnacles (who, by leaving their sailor hats at the gig, contributed to a later outbreak of camp posing and eventually Benny Hill impressions) followed by an 18 Carat Love Affair whom the sound-mix left rather less shiny than usual - though it seemed to suit the megaphone monster apparently called 'Truman Capote' which has now been added to their set. In between, we hid in the Famous Cock, whose emptiness on a Saturday night can't all be down to the Victoria line having another weekend off, and might instead owe something to it being a contender for London's most character-less boozer (the L*rr*k doesn't count - that has a soul, and its soul is despair). Afterwards, realising the Newington Green plan is no longer going to happen, we danced to Britpop classics, AC/DC and the Inspiral Carpets. Yes, in 2009, though in our defence it was 'Saturn V'.
Sunday sees Jonny Cola torpedoed by equipment issues. Then there are two other bands, one of which has pretty enough personnel that I give them three songs rather than the usual one-and-a-bit to impress me, before deciding instead to hang outside and take a brief trip to Gosh (Beta Ray Bill!). Then the new New Royal Family, playing 50/50 their own hits (I have already forgotten the 'Rules OK' dance routine) and rock'n'roll classics, [ profile] thedavidx in an excellent Teddy Boy jacket. Unwisely, I have by this point decided that yes, maybe I do want a drink. I really didn't. Between this and the venue's eau de vomit (thanks, smoking ban!) I only manage two songs of the promising Last Army before departing.

Simon Indelicate on the music industry's woes; probably the best short piece on the subject I have ever seen, and we haven't exactly been short of them these past few years, have we? Contains bonus comment on why 'piracy' is a bloody stupid term to use for the illegal copying of data.

January 2016



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