Friday, October 26, 2007

The Arcade Fire

Arcade FireContinuing the tradition of getting into bands only 3 or 4 years too late, I am now going to go on about The Arcade Fire at some length as if I was into them first, completely ignoring the fact that they passed me by. First some background.


The Arcade Fire are a Canadian band with formidable line up of musicians playing a wide variety of instruments. They look like the cast of Witness carrying violins and hurdy-gurdys. They have released two albums to critical acclaim and have a reputation for stunning live shows.

Why are they worthy of a mention?

Their music has an anthemic and quasi-religious quality which leaves one quite breathless. Sometimes music sends a shiver up your spine, but this stuff is more potent than that - it gives you a shiver that won't go away. I don't think it's an instant fix. I think you have to listen to the albums a few times and then have a go at the live versions on YouTube and you may see what I mean. Songs like Crown of Love or Wake Up from "Funeral" or Ocean of Noise from "Neon Bible" are prime Arcade Fire fare.

Is it just me?

Well no it isn't. They seem to have a devout following including celebrity endorsements from David Byrne, U2 and David Bowie. Neil Hannon of the Divine Comedy said

Arcade Fire is the best band I have heard in the last five years. They are the best new thing I have heard in centuries. It is great when a band comes along and you really weren't expecting them, or anything sounding like them and I love that record to bits. I play it over and over.

See Arcade Fire pictures here


Sunday, October 21, 2007

Things that go beep in the night

I am writing this, dear reader, at an unfortunate hour because of inanimate objects. I have been plucked from a delicious sleep by a beeping sound and now I can't get back to sleep. This isn't the first time this has happened, and I'm beginning to want someone to pay for it. Allow me to explain.

The Digital domestic phone

In my bedroom, I have one of those new-fangled DECT digital phone extensions. The trouble with it is that the base station seems to make the handset beep every so often, for no apparent reason. I've tried everything to make it stop doing it, but the only remedy is to unplug the base-station at night. This is fine as long as you remember to plug the thing back in again the next morning, otherwise the handset loses its charge. Then, it will beep in the middle of the night to inform you that it is running out of batteries. It does this loudly, and every two minutes. I am forced to carry the item to the other side of the house to get it out of earshot. This doesn't work because the beep is so loud that it can still be heard. I then have to separate the phone from its ailing power source just to silence it, because I can't plug the base station in or that would start beeping too.

The mobile phone

That was tonight's events, which have happened several times before. The other night, I followed this sequence again in a half-sleep, my dander rising with each disturbance. It concluded with the phone, and its base-station, in pieces being stuffed into the linen basket when I realised it wasn't the phone that was continuing to beep; it was my mobile phone. It was cheerfully beeping to tell me that it too was short of batteries. I was forced to inform it that I didn't care about it, or its lack of power and that if it told me again, I would be forced to stamp on it.

The Washing machine

My washing machine beeps to tell me that it has finished its cycle. That's helpful. Or it would be if it left it at that. Oh no. It beeps every minute thereafter, for ever. What's the point of that? After the first beep, I don't care. It means you can't leave the wretched thing to do its thing at night, or it will beep all night. It's a little too big stamp on, but if it does it again, I will do my level best to.

Roy Mallinson's Helicopter

Right on cue, here comes our local Mayor's nocturnal crime-fighting initiative. A helicopter that chases petty criminals from the air with a big torch. It seems to hover over my house just roaring away because some spotty oik has stolen a packet of jaffa cakes from Bell's Stores. It makes me, quite literally, bellow at the thing (while shaking my fist) to tell it that unless the crime is rape, murder or treason, I don't care to be woken up about it.

In conclusion

If you beep when I am asleep, I WILL stamp on you. This applies to any machinery from a mobile phone all the way up to helicopter. If you are the CEO of Motorola, Bosch or whoever made that fricking helicopter, I hold you personally responsible for making your respective machines so noisy. I will find you, and then I will stamp on you.

Good night.

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Thursday, October 18, 2007

Are CDs dead?

One of those old-fashioned recordsI was reading a blog post recently which postulated, amongst other things, that CD was a dying format. I would have to agree in the long term, but I think it has some life in it yet. Let's look at the advantages:
  • It is pretty cheap. CDs used to be at least £15, now they are 3 for £10 in some cases
  • They contain high-quality, uncompressed sound with no copy-protection (DRM)
  • They come with a little booklet that tells you all about the music you have bought, sometimes with lyrics and a bonus DVD of extra content
  • Professionally produced CDs (unlike home-burned discs) are an excellent archive medium, as CDs have been available for 25 years

They are not ideal; you have to rip them to play them on your ipod, they can scratch, they are cumbersome by modern standards and you can't cherry pick your tracks. The iTunes/download model is very appealing, especially if you need your music fix quickly.

OK then, is the music industry dead?

The music industry is on the cusp of a revolution, with its established names realising that live performance is the best way to make the highest return on your back-catalogue (see Prince, Genesis, The Police etc). Music is being distributed in many ways, sometimes side-stepping the recording industry altogether (like Radiohead's latest album or Prince's newspaper deal).

Where does that leave the up-and-coming musician? It is easier and cheaper than ever to make and record music - it is no longer for the privileged few who have access to thousands of pounds worth of studio equipment - but making a living from your music is going to be tricky in the future as people expect the music to be given way, "shared" or broadcast. Although the music industry is almost universally reviled as the evil corporate overlord, it does provide the creative people with a means to create their works without starving to death. Who's going to provide that in the future? MySpace? YouTube? The Spice Girls?


Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Radiohead - In Rainbows

Radiohead - In RainbowsLast week I pre-ordered Radiohead's new album, In Rainbows, from their website and today an email arrived and I downloaded the album as a zip-file of MP3 files. The odd thing about this transaction was that
  • It was between me and the band, not between me and Amazon, or me and EMI records. There is no record shop, no music label, no distributor, no plugger, no A&R men.
  • There was no fixed price for the music - I was left to choose the amount I wanted to pay, anywhere between 45p and £100
  • The music has no copy protection associated with it. If I was minded, I could give it away.
  • Unlike other music download services, like iTunes, I can't pick and choose tracks. Nor can I listen to thirty second snippets before I buy. In fact, I had to pick my price without having heard any of the tracks in advance

One drawback of this purchase was that the music came with no album artwork at all, which is a bit tight.

Is this going to change the way we buy music in the future? It is already possible to record music without a record company or recording studio and to give it away for free. But if you want to make a career out of it, you have to make some money from the sale of your music. Perhaps iTunes could come up with an "unsigned bands" section which would allow a band to sell their wares directly to the public, with Apple taking their cut for distribution and copy-protection services.


Sunday, October 07, 2007

The Ape Annual

The Ape AnnualAt this time of year, kids annuals appear in the shops and these hardback reading feasts are snapped up for childrens' Christmas stockings. Here at the Ape, we have been busy compiling a compendium of the Ape's blog posts into a a downloadable PDF file.

The first installment The Ape Annual 2006 is available now. It runs to 119 pages and documents the period between March and December of 2006. This precious archive document includes the first recorded occurrence of Post-it note art and all manner of nonsense.


Friday, October 05, 2007

Ronnie Hazlehurst is dead

Frank Spencer - from Some mothers do 'ave 'emI was watching BBC Breakfast the other morning when it was announced that Ronnie Hazlehurst had died. Mr Hazlehurst was the sound of BBC TV theme tunes in the 1970s, with highlights including "Are you being served?", "The Two Ronnies" and "Some mothers do 'ave 'em". In the piece on the news, they stated that he had also co-written "Reach (for the stars)" by the now-defunct S-Club 7. "I didn't know that", I said to myself.

Well it turns out the the BBC, Grauniad, Telegraph, The Times and Reuters were taken in by a vandalised Wikipedia page. Hazlehurst had nothing to do with the song, but some lazy journalist had just cut and pasted from Wikipedia without checking. More details here.

In other Ronnie Hazelhurst news, it turns out that the clever devil wrote the theme to "Some mothers do 'ave 'em" by translating the title into morse code and then making the dots into quavers and the dashes into crochets. Read mor(s)e here.

Needless to say, everything that you read on The Ape has been rigourously fact-checked and can be unimpeachably trusted.

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Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Nigella Lawson: Public nuisance

Nigella LawsonIn recent weeks, I have settled down on a Monday evening to watch BBC2 where Nigella Lawson, the original English Muffin, prepares some delicious food while sprinkling over a selection of outrageous double-entendres. In this series, Ms Lawson portrays herself as a lazy housewife who can't be bothered to cook proper meals and has to make shortcuts.

In last night's episode, things took a bizarre twist with our heroine purporting to be continuously in need of food, so much so that she had to take pre-prepared snacks with her wherever she went. She ate noodles on a bus, soup in a taxi and then some crunchy sugary stuff in the back of another taxi. If everyone followed her example, chaos would ensue - with full picnic baskets being unpacked on the back seat of the bus and tupperware being passed along on the underground.

Perhaps next week will see Nigella preparing food to be taken on a package holiday. It could be called "Snacks on a Plane".


Monday, October 01, 2007

Premier League All-Stars

Sky's latest pretend-football tournament "Premier League All Stars", where teams of two ex-professionals, two-celebs and two fans from each Premier league team battle it out in a six-a-side knockout competition, concluded last night. Middlesbrough romped home against West Ham in the final, with the winner provided by ex-top-40-botherer Alistair Griffin.

The team included former Boro legends Bernie Slaven, Craig Hignett, Jim Platt and Mikel Beck. Expect an open-top parade through the town to celebrate.

Read more of this proud sporting achievement here.

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