Category Archives: Old Post

Posts imported from the old Blogdrive site for continuity reasons. These posts may display somewhat quirky formatting!

Mission Accomplished

Last night I finished work on ‘Monkey Horses at the Ocean’s Edge’, which brings the Monkey Horse sequence (about which I’ve also spoken a little bit here) to a conclusion! A tetralogy encompassing rock, indie, folk, and lounge/elevator (?!), it also encompasses folklore, internal monlogue, wildlife documentary, and, now, omniscient narrative. Finally, it encompasses Sam Taplin and Max Jones (on the first track, already released and audible here), and hopefully another guest star whose name I can’t yet reveal because I haven’t actually asked her yet…

I’ll be giving these tunes, including the new one, a pretty thorough work-out on the tour that I’m doing with Jamie “The Magic Lantern” Doe in November (details very soon). And we have a few shows coming up around Hallowe’en to celebrate the anniversary of the Spooky EP, at which the first Monkey Horse tune is likely to make an appearance! Stay tuned for details of those shows..

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New Record Details

Conceived as a way of testing out the Dapper Swindler’s new recording studio in Hackney, Last Days in the Capital is a tiny record collecting songs (and other materials) that I wrote in the moments leading up to my move away from London at the end of July. We’ve been recording it in dribs and drabs on my return visits since, and it’s now my pleasure to hint at some of its contents:

1) Silent Shrove (Dancin’ on the Night Train)
2) Monkey Horses in Strange Climes
3) Settling Out

As well as these, there will be bonus music, video, writing, and illustration – it’s not a record so much as a scrapbook of things, all of which I hope you will consider downloading! It’ll be a digital-only release, and we hope to have it out in the next month or so (we’ve one track left to record).

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Silent Shrove

Well, it took six months, but we finally put together fOwl 17, otherwise known as ‘Silent Shrove’. It’s a silent movie with an entirely original soundtrack, devised and filmed in one day on a budget of zero pounds to celebrate the annual fiesta of pancake-making love that is Shrove. Please enjoy, and circulate it amongst your companions if you find it sufficiently compelling…

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In which I stir the foetid waters of your excitement by bitching about iMovie

The latest episode of fOwl – and the first for almost a year – is nearly ready. I think you’ll find it worth the wait: the Dapper Swindler and I have put a lot of effort into this one, and I really think it shows. Beyond previous hints and your knowledge that this year’s Shrove episode isn’t out yet, I don’t want to reveal anything other than that it should hopefully be out by the end of this week.

It should have been out much sooner. Not just because of our usual shilly-shallying and our strange breed of perfectionism (we have quite low standards but absolutely refuse to relesase anything which doesn’t meet them), which you should by now have come to expect from all FaceOmeter and allied projects, but also because of the shortcomings of iMovie. iMovie is certainly the worst piece of software I’ve ever had to use in any context, with the possible exception of LotusNotes. But LotusNotes, whilst perhaps worse constructed, never cost me this much time. At every stage from initial video edits to final mixdown, iMovie has exerted itself to make life as difficult as possible for its users. This goes significantly beyond standard PC-to-mac illiteracy, although the problem at the root of it is the same as the one you see in numerous mac products (usually to a far lesser extent): the program can only envisage one specific kind of end-user trying to do exactly one thing, one thing only, and trying to make it do anything else, however insultingly basic, is often the work of several hours.

I won’t recount the whole saga. Suffice to say that I’m never using the software again. The final pisstake happened when we finally uploaded our finished movie file to youtube on friday and the audio sync went off because iMovie files don’t talk to youtube properly. I can’t fathom this, but there is apparently a fix, and we’re working on it. Why don’t we just release it anyway? Well, audio sync is kind of important in a silent movie.

OH SHIT IT’S A SILENT MOVIE I’VE SAID TOO MUCH

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Kartesian Duelism

This blue shell flies towards its target – the racer in first place, for those of you unfamiliar with the genre – at ground level, up the centre of the track. It takes out any player who gets in its way en route. Mario Kart 7 is a game where you can (and will) get blue shelled when you’re in 6th place. Like all the previous entries in the series, then, it’s brutal, but brutal in a way that makes you sort of respect it, even as you cough up your own lungs in stunned horror at how unfairly decimated you just got.

About two weeks after getting myself a 3DS and Mario Kart 7, I’m tending towards the conclusion that it’s the best entry in the series so far – not a declaration I make lightly. It’s a cautious yet adept realisation of a formula which Nintendo have been tinkering with for decades, and I think it purifies the two sensations that Mario Kart games have always been at pains to make you experience, namely that (a) the game hates you, but (b) it’s possible, just possible, that you might beat it in spite of that hatred if you just do ONE more race..

For the rest of this short review I’m going to assume that you know about Mario Kart and accept that it is a fabulous, deep, and multi-faceted thing, not remotely a child’s game in which cartoon characters race little golf buggies around giant pinball tables. I understand that this will alienate between 3 and 7 of my 8 regular readers, but I’ve decided to take a stand here, and will even use sentences like “Red shells have been nerfed slightly in this edition”.

Red shells have been nerfed slightly in this edition. Trailing items are much, much more effective than in Mario Kart DS, where holding bananas out behind you was only ever a partial guarantee of safety, and fake items may as well not have been there. In MK7, you’re almost totally safe from reds if you’re trailing (greens, of course, can still flummox you amidships, if cannily flung), but the price you pay for this is that you’re out of action for far longer if you do get hit. Both in terms of downtime and reacceleration speed, blue, red, and green shells are far more punishing than in earlier games, and this, along with the new items, serves to do what Nintendo always wants to do, which is condense the pack and  make gameplay more insane.

New items? Yes! The favourite here is definitely the fireflower, which has been begging to be in a Mario Kart game since the beginning, and is cunningly integrated here – it’s a rapid fire weapon which can be shot either forwards or backwards, but you only get ten shots and they’re quite delicate in terms of size and range, so you still need quite a bit of skill to master it. Most importantly, it makes the original 16-bit shooting noise from Super Mario, which is awesome (and just one example of the level of attention paid to aesthetic details which make this game stand out).

Items have been taken away, as well. After its absence from Mario Kart Wii, I had no hopes of seeing Boo as a powerup again, which is a shame because he was a favourite from the DS version. More surprising is the disappearance of the fake item, which was a total staple of previous versions of the game for me. For a while, I thought this would prevent me from wholeheartedly loving this game, but I swiftly noticed that bananas, from a distance, are small, thin, and yellow, and can be placed amidst groups of coins to create a similar effect. It requires more skill, but that’s never a bad thing.

Ah yes, the coins. We haven’t seen these since Mario Kart, and they’re beautifully adapted for the twenty-first century here, quietly adding a whole new layer of subtlety to gameplay without ever making you feel crowded. You can hold a maximum of ten. Each one you hold slightly increases your Kart’s top speed, and each one you pick up after 10 gives you an infinitesimal speed boost, meaning that there’s always an incentive to drive the perfect line around the track and get them all. Calamities knock coins out of you as well, so there are always plenty lying around after a lightning strike.

There are lots of other things to talk about with MK7 – the customisable kart option, the flying sequences, underwater sections, use of 3D, selection of classic levels, design of new levels, unlockables, how AI works, and much besides – but conversation of any of these things all amounts to the same point, which is that this is a far deeper game than its predecessors. I can already tell (I’m at a two star rating and angling for three) that it’s going to reward replay even more than Mario Kart DS (which, it might be worth pointing out, I bought in the summer of 2006 and am still playing frequently).

By far the most important aspect of the game in this respect is the multiplayer, which Nintendo stumbled over in the DS and even Wii versions and which they’ve now finally got right. Mii integration no longer feels like a gimmick, online pacing is as fast and fully functional as local play, communities and friend lists are a good way of finding new players, the stat tracking is nice, StreetPass is a genuinely clever and satisfying bonus feature (again, less gimmicky than you’d think), the ghost data exchange (including challenges via SpotPass) is a whole game by itself, and, despite the slightly
lengthy waits between levels, the rivalry remains kind-spirited and victories as satisfying as defeats are hilarious. Racing against humans, for the first time, is more interesting than racing against the computer. I’ve already developed some fun relationships with a few online players based on my respect at how badly they’ve swindled me, which is an impressive thing in an internet community which offers no means of direct communication between its members.

Inclusiveness is Nintendo’s thing these days, and a nice thing about Mario Kart (although it seldom feels like a nice thing in practice) is that anybody can win. It’s true that if you’re good you’ll win more often, but anyone can get creamed, by anyone, any time, and this game provides even more ways of making that happen than any in the series so far. It’s an egalitarian approach to conflict and sports culture which I respect even as I decry the game’s failure to respect my obviously superior skills. And the fact that Waluigi is absent as a playable character (the only thing that keeps this game off 10/10 for me – he’s replaced by Metal Mario, a detestable figure) and ginger is still not a recognised hair colour for Miis (I simply do not understand why they haven’t corrected this) elevates the feeling – never distant for anyone who plays Mario Kart for more than six minutes – that this game is out to get me personally. But deep down, you see, you want to be got. Getting my third star will involve more swearing and cursing and gnashing of teeth even than the Wii version cudgelled out of me. I’m going to hate the game and myself so very much by the time we’re done. I can’t wait.

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Recipe Time

Perhaps you’ve ever wondered how to cook FaceOmeter and the Dapper Swindler’s ‘Beef and Things Taginealoo’? Fortunately it is our pleasure to reveal the secret recipe for the first time. This recipe was perfected just now in the heartlands of the South Downs, and I particularly like that it’s really simple, quick, cheap, and easy to prepare. It’s only a five-step method, perfect for working mums!!! Enjoy!

You will need:
800g-1kg Lean Beef
500g Shallots
1 Large Onion
2 Tomatoes
3 bulbs Garlic
17 Cloves
Two Veg Stock Cubes
A Beef Stock Cube
Olive Oil
Red Wine
Red Wine Vinegar
Tomato Puree
3tbsp cinnamon
3 springs rosemary
2 nutmegs
Handful of Black Pepper corns
12 bay leaves
Black Pepper
Salt
1 packet dried apricots
2 aubergines
2 corgettes
2 large potatoes
8 carrots
2.5tbsp cumin
1.5tbsp turmeric
1.5tbsp dried coriander
1tbsp paprika
10 chopped mint leaves
1tsp dried chilli flakes
5tbsp Yoghurt
Brown rice, washed
700ml water
A splash of Ale

Method:
1. Make a Beef Stifado; cook at 130degrees C for five hours.
2. In another pan, fry off about half of the remaining spices with bay leaves until they make a pleasant paste. Add the stifado to the paste along with the vegetables, apricots, some stock, the water, and so on. Put in more spices.
3. Return the contents of the pan to a large casserole dish. Place in the slow oven of an aga and leave for twelve hours.
4. Scrape blackened contents of casserole dish into large saucepan: add ale, wine, more water. Simmer on a very low heat for two hours.
5. Move to a moderate heat, bubble for 45 minutes, and serve over rice with a dollop of yoghurt.

OFFENSIVELY SIMPLE

NB. We did actually do this

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Casa di Elgar

Early morning of day 2 in Elgar’s house, an absurd tumbledown high-ceilinged studio with many a nook and cranny secreted somewhere inside an enormous shrub in the south downs. An aga in the kitchen, a ping-pong table in the rec room, and a £20 note bearing the face of the man himself (his moustache makes forgery harder, apparently*) in a small glass case beside my bed. Yesterday was successful: worked all day on a new tune called ‘Summerhouse’, which I’m pretty happy with. I haven’t done a song-in-a-day since ‘OK, so that happened’ in 2009, and this really did come out of nowhere – I had a hummed melody for it (which I sang into my phone last week, walking down to Shepherd’s Bush after being inspired at a Kimya Dawson concert) but the rest all happened between 8:30am and 7:30pm. It’s a good feeling. Then The Dapper Swindler turned up, hitting the studio like some kind of industrial hammer. We jumped repeatedly off a small trampoline into a pile of exercise cushions, and then wrote another new song from scratch. This is a very slightly sillier number called ‘Sebastian and the Snickers’. Hard to imagine that today could equal yesterday in terms of productivity, especially with so much countryside still unexplored around here. But as I type, everyone else is still asleep and the day fizzes with potential. Let’s see what it brings…

*this is awesome, but also apparently oft cited as a reason not to put women on banknotes, so I’m conflicted.

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The Peninsula

Yesterday, on our way back from being almost the sole audience of an excellent stand-up comedian near Oxford Circus, my housemate and I strolled over to the Greenwich Peninsula terminal of the new cable cars to see if we could get a sunset ride over the river. We’ve been watching them build the things for a year, and they opened yesterday, but despite the perfect weather they were already shut for the day by the time we got there (a second attempt at 7am this morning we abandoned due to bollocks weather).

With the moon up, we strolled barefoot over the recently cut grass of the long meadow which seperates Millennium Village from the O2. For those who’ve never been there, the Greenwich Peninsula is an almost literally unbelievable place – part futuristic mecca, part police-state nightmare, part mario kart level, part overgrown-parking-lot, part warehouse. Periodically there’s bungee jumping there, or chairoplanes. Mostly, though, there’s a bus terminal, and some cable cars. In the exact centre of this incomprehensible mess sits the weidest thing you could possibly put there – a totally normal (and quite pleasant) pub (The Pilot Inn), with a quiz night, a cheese counter, and a beer garden. Inside, you’re at the end of any nice-ish residential street in the UK. Exit, and there’s the Millennium Dome glowering at you over the treeline, the futuristic (?german-looking) flats of oval square on the other side, parkland all around, the meridian laser-beam just visible in the distance. At least sixty buses an hour drive straight past this pub on their way to the North Greenwich terminal; none stops anywhere near it.

Though it’s an environment that could drive a casual observer completely insane (I’ve watched it happen), I’ve gradually grown extremely fond of the peninsula. It’s testimony, in my view, to the ultimate inability of corporations to really decide what happens to urban space. You can’t control reception!, as we English-student types often chant. The place is a distillation of the fragments of various grand projects, of which the Millennium Dome is only the biggest and most obvious. It exhudes a charm entirely aside from the spirit in which they were planned (although dependant on it). What will the ‘Emirates’ Air Line look like in ten years, or Millennium Village in twenty? Futuristic, corporate visions like these die young, transformed by the people who actually use them into something different, richer, more dynamic. Greenwich Peninsula is a theme park made out of the failed and expensive dreams of people trying to make us see the world a certain way. Its incoherence, sharpened increasingly over more than a decade, becomes part of the counterargument. From the curvacious, wooden primary school which sits near its heart for no reason to the equally unexpected four-ish storey high sculpture made of what looks like giant aluminium pins, this is an environment which, seen a certain way, profoundly challenges the unitary, authoritarian voice of its constructors. More voices, more ideas, inexplicably more, it says. Heteroglossia. There’s unity in difference. Embrace the nonsense.

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A Six-legged Sequence

It’s always good to have a day where you complete everything on your to-do list, and today I not only cleaned my room and watched an episode of Game of Thrones (a third consecutive one with almost no pointless nudity/sex! Go HBO!), but I also finished a song I’ve been trying to write for a little while, ‘Monkey Horses in Strange Climes’. For those of you who haven’t been PAYING GODDAMN ATTENTION, this is the third of four songs in the Monkey Horse sequence, which I’ve been coming up with over the last couple of years and which is now coming to fruition.

‘The Gallop of the Monkey Horse’, which came out last hallowe’en on the Spooky EP, describes the horrifying myth of the creature itself. It was written and recorded with Sam Taplin and Max Jones, and you can listen to it here (buy the record, even!).

I felt that the Monkey Horse had been hard done by in that song – it can’t help being a monster! So to show its softer side, I gave it a baby. What quicker way to make a character sympathetic? ‘Child of Monkey Horse!’ was written last October and will probably be on my next solo full-length album, Why Wait for Failure?, in 2013 or so.

Then comes today’s effort – ‘Monkey Horses in Strange Climes’ – which follows the monstrous duo on an epic journey away from the persecutions of their home forests and towards a brighter future. This will be on Last Days in the Capital, the not-even-EP which I’m planning to put out next month (to the eagle-eyed: yes, this means the songs will not be recorded in the order you’re ideally meant to hear them in. Never mind).

I don’t want to say too much about the final, as-yet-unwritten song, ‘Monkey Horses at the Ocean’s Edge’, but obviously it gets pretty Gormenghasty. It will only be on the special Monkey Horse digital download mini-EP, which will include the other three songs as well, and which will be out “at some point”.

While I’m waiting for inspiration to strike on that one, it’s good to think that I can focus on some other songs. Taplin, Tattersdill, and Jones have some new irons in the fire, and I’ve not been pulling my weight there – plus, of course, there’s the prospect of finishing Vibe, Drill, and “It”, as well as an even more exciting maybe-project that I don’t even want to tell you about yet…

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End of an Idea

Hey Guys! As followers of this blog will undoubtedly be aware, its been my pleasure for the last almost-two years to run Bright Idea, the open mic at Railroad Café in Hackney. Bright Idea was never a staggering success in terms of numbers, but it’s virtually always been a really positive and fun experience to get together with some friends and strangers once a week and play songs, tell stories, read poetry, and all the rest of it. Unfortunately I’m leaving the capital pretty soon, so the Bright Idea of two weeks from now (June 27th) will be the last. There’s another between now and then, June 20th, which will run as normal.

Please do come down – it’d be great to go out with a bang (like all the best lightbulbs). Those who have been will know that our open stage is unparalleled in London for intimacy of venue and diversity of performers. That’s a bold claim, especially given our fairly low average turnout, but I really do believe it – we wanted to make it more or less like people playing in our sitting room, and that’s what happened.

If you never came along, these next two weeks are your last chance! There’s a facebook event for the last one here: please invite people and come along yourself. It’s the beginning of my last days in the capital (a short record about this is coming your way shortly) so it’s essential to do justice to the time spent here so far and make this a night to remember! I really hope you can make it. 20th and 27th June, Railroad Café, Morning Lane E9 6LH, 8:30PM+, £2 in.

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