Monthly Archives: March 2011

Gwangju Blog articles aggregated

This here's Gwangju

I am a staff writer for Gwangju Blog and write five articles a month. I rarely publish them here, since they are pretty niche. Instead, I’m going to post monthly links to what I’ve written. This is a bit late, since I’m leaving in a month, but ho-hum, here are March’s:

Gwangju FC vs Pohang Steelers: K-League Preview

Korean Culture Minister Visits Gwangju

K-League Update: Gwangju Lose

Gwangju FC Get Off To Perfect start

K-League Preview: Gwangju Kick Off At Home to Daegu

King Creosote and Jon Hopkins – Diamond Mine

Kenny Anderson, aka King Creosote, gets credit for many things, but his most notable feature is perhaps his most overlooked. He is rightly and universally hailed for his sterling work at the helm of Fence Records. Reference is often made to his prolific nature (according to Wikipedia, this is album number 45). The wit, sometimes sardonic style of songwriting he deploys is usually a popular caveat amongst reviewers, too. Yet, buried beneath all these hyperbolic overtures, lies the shimmering beast that is his voice. KC’s falsetto, the smoothness and beauty of his delivery, is more remarkable than any of the above and thankfully, it’s not something that escaped the attention of Jon Hopkins.

Producer and electronic / ambient musician Hopkins, for his part, is another star on the rise. He recently co-wrote and performed the Brian Eno album Small Craft on a Milk Sea and recorded the stunning soundtrack to Monsters, a British sci-fi movie from last year. Diamond Mine isn’t his first collaboration with Anderson: indeed, none of these songs are originals, having appeared in some form or another on a King Creosote album of yore. The familiarity, though, has bred brilliance. Hopkins has selected his six favourite tracks and set about reworking them to accentuate Anderson’s astonishing vocals. His role here is perhaps more subtle than what he’s been used to recently, but no more important. This album is a (quietly) roaring success.

Anderson has gone on record as saying that this is “a Fife record. The songs are rooted here, and it is as charmed an existence as Jon makes it sound”. True enough, the tracks are expansive and filled with solitude. There’s an idyllic quality that suggests Hopkins has captured the very essence of what Anderson has spent 45 albums trying to convey. First track proper ‘John Taylor’s Month Away’ is a tale of an old fisherman from Anderson’s home village of Crail, who “quashed any romantic notions” he had about a life at sea. It is simple and exquisite. Stripped down and reassembled with an accordion and a gentle 4/4 backbeat, it takes on a completely new form.

The theme of parochialism returns throughout the record, enveloping it in a sense of warmth that’s often lost in the studio. Lisa Elle from Dark Horses joins for harmonies and her soothing presence is most striking on ‘Bats in the Attic’, another highlight. On ‘Bubble’, the input of Hopkins is perhaps most noticeable: the fabricated percussion clicking along under Anderson’s vocals; but there is nothing here as radical as their first collaboration, Hopkins’ achingly beautiful remix of ‘Vice Like Gist Of It’ from KC Rules OK?

If there is to be any complaint lodged, it’s that with only seven tracks on Diamond Mine, the listener is left hungry for more. Given the fertile nature of their work, both together and alone, I think we can safely assume we haven’t heard the last of Creosote and Hopkins.

Play: KC & JH – John Taylor’s Month Away

Written for The Line of Best Fit

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This week, I’ve been mostly reading… {week 4}

It’s been a pretty insane few months. Already in 2011 we’ve had three huge earthquakes, a nuclear disaster, two successful revolutions and more in the offing. Trying to keep abreast of everything that’s going on is tough and it’s something I feel the news agencies are struggling with as well. When I visit the BBC website, I am often shocked by what they select as their headline piece. Last week, they ran with the news that a US aircraft had been shot down over Libya, without any casualties or fatalities. Was that really the most important story in the world at that moment?

It certainly wasn’t the most important story in Britain. I know many people in the UK are infuriated by the military action in Libya, not because they don’t think it’s a worthy cause (this shocking video of a woman struggling to tell the media about her rape at the hands of Gaddaffi’s troops is harrowing), but because of the financial cost . The government are making cuts left, right and centre, but yet they can afford to fire dozens of missiles at Gaddaffi’s troops at just under £1,000,000 a pop.

As always, Johann Hari in his column in the Independent, captures the mood of the nation brilliantly (not least the 250,000 who took to the streets of London in protest yesterday). It’s the week of the budget, in which George Osbourne announced sweeping cuts, claiming that the national debt needs to be addressed. As Hari points out, though, the national debt has been higher as a proportion of GDP for 200 of the last 250 years. For me, the shock doctrine outlined by Naomi Klein is in full force here. The Tories are using the shock of the 2008 financial crisis to force through policies they have been seeking to impose for many years: cutting the welfare state, destroying the NHS, reforming every bit of Keynesian policy they can. It’s a horrible thought.

I didn’t post anything here about Japan last week, but this week I was directed to an article on the Reuter’s Blog which I was fascinated by. It’s entitled Don’t Donate Money to Japan, and behind the sensationalist headline is a lot of logic. Japan has more than enough money to deal with the fallout from the disaster (however great that may be) and the article bemoans the campaign-centric nature of charities in the mainstream. It is more beneficial to give your money to organizations that do not raise money for specific campaigns, but which take donations all year round and distribute them where they are needed most. Perspective is important here and whilst I would never belittle the Japanese disaster, one glance at the current state of Haiti after last year’s quake speaks volumes.

There was a great feature on Chews Wise the other day called GMOs and the Myth of Feeding the World. It addresses the problem of overpopulation and more specifically, how we will feed it. It takes a rather more skeptical look at it than many mainstream media outlets, pulling together figures to suggest that the problem and the solution may be very different to what we have been told. What resonated most with me was the current situation with bio-foods. We are creating these grains and not using them to feed people, but livestock. In doing so, we are wasting “the annual calorie needs of more than 3.5 billion people”. It’s shocking, and things like this are making me readdress my own consumption habits.

Another thing I’ve been thinking about a lot more is my own ancestry. I was a guest speaker at Gwangju’s International Centre recently, where I spoke about growing up in Northern Ireland. In my research, I read lots about the polarized cultures at home and was surprised to read this article in Prospect Magazine which says our heritage may be very different than we thought. Myths of British Ancestry implies that the Celts were not the most prominent people in Western Europe and that a lot of our culture stems from the Basques. It’s a really interesting read.

I’ve been reading a lot of the New York press lately: Village Voice, The New Yorker, NYT and this week for the first time, I was directed towards an excellent piece in the New York Observer. Sexless and the City tells us about the current sex-free state of the young, trendy professionals of the City. Too busy taking coke to shag… it’s a sorry state of affairs, but maybe it will help deal with the old overpopulation problem I just mentioned…

I wanted to finish up on something beautiful and it’s a series I always keep an eye out for. The BBC produces the ‘images of the week‘ every seven days (funny that) and this week’s pictures are amazing. Enjoy!

(Kinda) Weekly Reading (and Listening) List #3

This one seems to have slipped away of late for various reasons, but mostly because I’ve not been reading as much online as I was in January. This week, I have, and so I thought I would share some of the best bits with you. Of course, lots of it has been Japan-centric, as presumably with most people this week. I am not going to provide a list of tsunami articles and pics though, as it probably wouldn’t be in the best taste. Instead, this week’s heavily parenthesized version is plucked from altogether more eclectic news sources, garnished with some free music, too.

Let’s kick off with the launch of The Blizzard. Growing up, I used to devour football and music magazines. Shoot and 442 for footy; Select, Q, Mojo and Uncut for tunes. The publishing landscape has changed so much of late, though, and every time I have picked up a football magazine over the past five years I’ve been disappointed. The decline of the industry has been blamed solely on the consumer, but the publishers should harness some of the blame, too, even if their hands are often forced.

Magazines are too often filled with shite and not enough effort is devoted to in depth analysis. Whilst I can understand the necessity of advertising, it confused me for a long time why there was no football magazine devoted to the ‘thinking man’. The best coverage was reserved for the broadsheets and more recently, the internet. Blogs like Zonal Marking, The Equaliser and In Bed With Maradona have grown in prominence and have become an essential read.

Through the advent of Twitter, these guys have been getting the recognition they deserved. ZM’s Michael Cox is now a regular guest on the Guardian’s Football Weekly podcast and has columns in their print edition and on many mainstream websites. It seems the social networking tool has also been a huge factor in the development of just the magazine we have been crying out for, The Blizzard.

Edited by tactical guru Jonathan Wilson, “The Blizzard is a quarterly publication -part book, part magazine.” Its editorial team is a Who’s Who of the football Twitterati, featuring everyone from Marcotti to Horncastle, Brassell to Honigstein. The pilot issue (zero) is available to download for a ‘pay what you like’ fee and is superb. The articles are lengthy, but worth spending the time over. Here’s hoping they gather enough steam to keep this thing going.

Staying with football briefly, there was an excellent piece on the aforementioned In Bed With Maradona website this week about a Swedish footballer, Anton Hysen, who came out to the media recently. It’s scandalous that there is still such a homophobic shadow over the sport, to the extent that footballers are forced to remain in the closet. The tragic example of Justin Fashanu is cited in the article, who’s own brother even disowned him when he announced his sexuality.

I get too excited by bizarre historical overlaps and the Rebbe of Sinn Fein article that appeared in the Jewish Daily Forward (of course) fascinated me. It’s the story of Chaim Herzog, a Jewish Rabbi, who became inextricably linked with the Republican movement in Ireland in the 20th Century. Despite the anti-Semitic protestations of Sinn Fein founder Arthur Griffith, he stood by the party, even to the point of becoming fluent in Irish.

A superb feature ran in Slate this week about hugging, or rather, disdain for it. I Don’t Need A Hug bemoans the acceptance of hugging as a way of greeting people in the States and it’s something I can relate to. The article states that hugging should be reserved for those whose arms you actually want to be in and I have to agree: hugging everybody belittles and demeans the sentiment that it should convey. It got me thinking, and there have certainly times when I’ve awkwardly been drawn into a hug by someone I don’t even know. It’s time for a revolution, folks.

Over on Project Syndicate, a great resource for anyone interested in, eh, anything, former World Bank head and Chief Economist to the Clinton administration Joseph Stiglitz writes intriguingly about the Mauritius Miracle. Now, I am always a bit skeptical when I read of miraculous financial turnarounds in countries considering the reports are often inaccurate (Chile in the late 70s, Soviet Blog post fall of Communism and I guess because of the artificial wealth it was built upon, The Celtic Tiger of Ireland), but Stiglitz’s is an opinion I trust and value. His brilliant book Globalization and Its Miscontents is one of the first books I read on the topic and is a polemic indictment of the IMF, World Bank and US Foreign Policy written from the inside. Based on his depiction of the social policy and living conditions in Mauritius, we in the West could learn a lot from the tiny island nation.

For aesthetic value, The Atlantic’s feature on the Origins of Bathroom Signs is well worth checking out. For scary stats and figures, have a look at Scientific American’s Creationism Controversy: State by State map.

I’ve been delighted by the amount of free music available online recently. More and more musicians have been streaming full albums upon their release, obviously hoping to attract a purchase. NPR have been leading lights on this front for a long time and they are currently streaming the new Mountain Goats album, All Eternals Deck in its entirety. You can also hear full lengths from The Joy Formidable and The Dodos on the site now. The Strokes are streaming their new album on their website, but the best two streams are reserved for two fine Scottish acts.

Withered Hand’s name has been everywhere this week, with his struggles to gain a visa for the USA in order to play SxSW. I’ve been loving his album, Good News, for a long time now and since he’s releasing it in the US this month, he’s streaming it it for free on his Bandcamp. FOUND, too, are an Edinburgh based act I’ve been a fan of for years. They’ve released their new album Factory Craft on Chemical Underground and it’s been great to see them getting some recognition in the national press. You can stream the album on their Bandcamp, but don’t forget to buy it, too.

The Savings and Loan – Today I Need Light

Music + memory = volatile cocktail (bi-products = delusion and confusion)

Some music reminds me of places that I have never been. Every time I listen to certain songs, I think of people that have never heard them or an instance occurring years before the song was even conceived. Regardless though, the best music will stir memory of some sort, accurate or not. I’ve been playing the debut album by The Savings and Loan for the past few months and my lack of words on the subject haven’t been out of lack of inspiration, more down to caution.

Every time I play Today I Need Light, I jump to another conclusion, follow another train of thought, chase another memory; each one of them as wonderful as the last. This record is dripping with nostalgia and haunted by shadowy flashbacks. The members are Glaswegian, but when I hear their songs, I’m constantly reminded of my time in Edinburgh. There’s a darkness contained within the gravely vocals of Martin Donnelly that evokes the dimly lit streets of Auld Reekie in winter. Cavernous. Gothic. Celtic.

At times whilst listening, I’ve also caught myself regressing to thoughts of my childhood. I’m unsure of the ancestry of the band, but I feel like I’m tapping into shared experiences of Catholic schooldays, rainy, dark holidays and being forcibly steeped in Irish culture, not seeing the good in it until I escaped. The obvious connections are Catholic Boys In The Rain (possibly my favourite track on here) and The Star of the County Down. The former is a Nick Cave-like ballad noir that sends me spiraling through drizzly days of yore. The latter is a reworking of a traditional Irish song that I was surrounded by in my youth. Donnelly and (Andrew) Bush have rejigged it in ethereal fashion, turning a showband tune into a funeral march. It’s extraordinarily powerful stuff.

The arrangements here are simple: acoustic guitar and piano, occasionally embellished. Donnelly’s voice is centre-stage and it’s been a long time that I’ve heard one so effective and moving. It’s the sparseness and the spaces between the tracks, the sounds, the lyrics that make this album so captivating. Donnelly is a poet. He can be dour and abrasive (clichéd, I know), but it’s impossible to listen to this album without appreciating the regret, the passion and the melancholy that live within it. The songs are postcards from a spectacularly evocative mind and each one should be treasured.

I received this album via Dropbox in December, but a formatting problem meant that for a long time I could only listen to individual tracks. In the two months before I gleefully received a hard copy in the post, I was forced to manually play the record, track by track. Frustrated: I resorted to listening to each track on repeat, maybe four or five times, before moving onto the next one. It’s an unorthodox approach, sure, but one which has led me to appreciate the uniform strength of Today I Need Light. With not a weak track on the album, this goes down as one of my favourite releases of the past couple of years.

Buy Today I Need Light from Song, By Toad

Play: The Savings and Loan – Swallows

Video: The Savings and Loan – Catholic Boys in the Rain

Dustin O’Halloran – Lumiere

It’s ironic that the only thing the human race can be relied upon to do consistently and in unison – growing old – is the one thing many of us would prefer to avoid. Too often, signs of ageing are viewed with suspicion and contempt; a sign of weakness. But with maturity, comes many accepted virtues that radically change how we view the world and how we live our lives. A fleck of grey in your hair may be enough to send you hurtling towards the pharmacy, but realizing you’re not the kid who piles his plate sky high with swill at a buffet anymore brings gratuity, too. The awareness that less is sometimes more is arguably the most pleasing facet of growing older. Taking infinite pleasure from things you scorned in the past, like sitting still, or a nice hot cup of tea becomes an essential, guilt-free part of life.

And so, over the years, such changes affect our listening habits too. Our childhood ears are filled with kaleidoscopic, Kool Aid coloured sugar trips. Our teens are often soundtracked by angsty, loud and raucous noises, until most of us diverge. If you’re reading this, the chances are you have followed some meandering indie path that will continue well into later life; as have I. But as the years roll by, this sense of less is more becomes increasingly prominent on my musical radar. Lyrics no longer earn the primacy they once did. A clever arrangement can pack just as much feeling as a turn of phrase and if a picture is worth a thousand words, then what price a devastating chord change?

Berlin based American composer Dustin O’Halloran is skilled in the art of extracting emotion. His compositions are subtle, yet powerful. Lumiere, his first release for FatCat’s 130701 imprint, glides along over nine tracks, pushing buttons, suggesting sentiment, but never forcing one in particular. The album is a chameleon: whatever your mood, listening to this will allow you to wallow in it. Whilst this could masquerade as background music for any purpose, there is a deceptive intensity here that warrants continued listening,, a trait shared across the finest contemporary composers, from Richter to Arnalds, from Chauveau to Muhly. Only once you’ve been sucked in, do you realize the depth of the rabbit hole you’re occupying.

From the opening track, ‘A Great Divide’, O’Halloran raises the concept of thaw: the icy tinkling of light percussion, washed over, like daybreak, by the warmth of rising strings and sparse piano. It’s evocative and it’s brilliant. Even having played this album through the freezing, dark winter, the suggestion of spring is never far from the listener. Throughout, there is the uncluttered feel of a new start, breaths of fresh air and life. ‘We Move Lightly’ is loaded with hope and anticipation: the rising piano arpeggio being drawn towards something special and invigorating by the strings that surround it. The simple, sextet of notes that marks the climax of album centerpiece ‘Fragile No.4′ is breathtaking.

That O’Halloran conveys all of this so minimally, is startling. What he does seems paradoxically raw and contained. The tracks of Lumiereare bursting with ideas and swathes of passion, yet are kept in check scientifically and methodically. As a singular piece of music, you’ll have to go a long way to find one more engulfing than this: this album will consume you.

Written for The Line of Best Fit

Play: Dustin O’Halloran – We Move Lightly

An apologetic update

No matter how good my intentions, it always seems to be this blog that bears the brunt of my neglect when I get busy. Sometimes, it’s out of laze or lack of motivation; lack of inspiration of ideas. This time, though, I’m happier to report it’s been due to other creative commitments. The past few months have been hectic and exciting. I have continued my writing and am currently a staff blogger with Gwangju Blog. I am contributing regularly to Gwangju News and The Line Of Best Fit and also randomly featured in other publications.

The past four or five months have also seen me take my first steps into the world of radio. I appear weekly on the English speaking radio station in Gwangju and the surrounding area of Jeollonamdo, GFN (Gwangju Foreigner Network). I’m not quite sure who listens to it, or how many, but I’m grateful for the experience. It’s never an area I had considered in the past, but it is certainly one which I’ll investigate further when I return home. I speak weekly about online developments, the internet and viral videos. Occasionally, I get the chance to spin some tunes, too.

Last month, I was also invited to give a talk in the Gwangju International Centre. Public speaking is something I was never that comfortable with in the past and so, it was a challenge. I chose to speak on ‘Growing Up In The Troubles’. I’ve been surprised at how little people knew about Northern Ireland here… it seems that many Americans aren’t versed in any history or current affairs other than their own. The Koreans, too, can be insular, but with the similarities between the Korean peninsula and Ireland, they seemed to find the topic interesting. I spoke for 45 minutes, with a 15 minute Q & A session afterwards and so spent a full week in preparation. I hope it was worth it. You can watch a ‘highlights reel’ compiled by the GIC below.

The past few weeks also marked the first times I have ever been interviewed. For his excellent website the Clear Minded Creative, Milo McLaughlin thought my chosen path was worth speaking about and I was greatly honoured that he featured me there. You can read the piece here. Because of my contributions to Gwangju Blog, News and the radio show, Hughie Samson, a Canadian writer in the city, ran a profile of me on the site. You can read that piece here.

For both, I found it slightly unnerving, but also insightful. I am so used to firing off questions to folks I’m interviewing without giving a cursory thought to the fact that they may find it tricky, or feel uncomfortable. If they delayed, I got frustrated. I think having completed these two projects, my attitude will slightly change and I hope to become more patient in such situations.

I have also been training for my first marathon, which takes place next week in Seoul. I have been meaning to blog about running and how it has changed my life for some time and will try to do so once (if) I’ve completed the marathon. But it has been a big part of my life for the past six months and the past two, in particular. It can be quite time consuming and energy zapping, but equally inspiring.

I will update the blog more regularly through March and I hope April, but after that, I will be on my travels for a couple of months in Australia. Thanks for reading!

Oh No Oh My – People Problems

Five long years ago, Oh No Oh My’s eponymous first album was warmly greeted not only for the brightness of its sound and the crispness of its hooks, but also because of its unusual release. It was (and upon revisiting, still is) a breezy, unselfconscious effort that impressed throughout. It beggars belief that they didn’t garner label interest, but the record was self-released, to near uniform critical praise. And unlike similarly successful DIY acts (Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, say), it seems as though the penny yet to drop where Oh No Oh My are concerned.

Half a decade later, the follow up, People Problems, will be the first release on tiny imprint Koenig Records and despite (or in spite of) their perceived industry snubbing Oh No Oh My have shown the character and poise to record a sophomore album that’s awash with quality and depth. People Problems continues the disjointed momentum laid by the EP that bridged the five year gap and turns out to be the best thing the Austin band have ever released.

With the scenesters’ embrace of Robyn and Sally Shapiro, Vampire Weekend and Ra Ra Riot leading the line from Brooklyn and everyone from The Pains of Being Pure at Heart to Waaves channeling the ghost of C86, it could be argued that pop music has never been closer to the fore of indie circles than it has over the past few years. Perhaps appropriately, then, People Problems is unashamed indie-pop in the mould of The Shins and The Little Ones. The record is bookended by two of the finest tracks to have passed through these ears in 2011. ‘Walking Into Me’, is a tremulous, head-of-steam driven opener that defies anyone to keep their toe in one place. The concluding ‘Summerdays’ is wistful, beautiful and Wrens-like.

The pair set the watermark high, but the route the band takes between them is consistent and scenic. The bounciness of call-and-response led ‘Again and Again’ segues into the introspective, string-laden brood of ‘I Don’t Know’. There are echoes of the Tragically Hip’s finest moments (‘You Were Right’) and the occasional flicker of acoustic simplicity (although the welling orchestral conclusion to ‘So I Took You’ is nigh on Sujan-esque). It’s a pleasure cruise, for the most part, but if there is one complaint to be made, it’s that the album is somewhat top loaded.

Tracks like ‘Should Not Have Come To This’ and ‘Circles and Carousels’ struggle to earn their keep amongst the others, but should be considered oversights, rather than bloopers. People Problems doesn’t tread new ground; rather, takes to the beaten track with a rose tinted Polaroid camera, snapping moments we’ve all loved over the years, recycling them into a cut ‘n’ paste scrapbook full of memories. Where their journey takes them next remains to be seen, but the spirit of indie-pop is alive and well within the ranks of Oh No Oh My and for that, we should be thankful.

Play: Oh No Oh My: Summerdays

Written for The Line of Best Fit