Singles of the Week

(Muso’s Guide, 10 May 2010)
The world of the single is a curious one. For some bands, the only difference week to week seems to be the track name – the song quite literally remains the same. To that end, Gorillaz have unleashed the new wave of their anti-charm offensive, in the form of ‘Superfast Jellyfish’. Like ‘Hot Tub Time Machine’, it is one of those titles that makes you turn to the sky askance, but within the satiny folds of its three plus minutes, the band’s trademark sound makes a welcome return, the refrain of “Superfast jellyfish” repeating to fade – formulaic but addictive.
Speaking of formulaic, here’s Lee Ryan – the boybander with a penchant for opening his mouth and sticking his foot right in it. Blue found fame with a series of inoffensive pop singles that were shaft of pap but tip of pure urban influence. Sadly, Ryan has evaded the harmonious net that captured his ex-band, and ‘Secret Love’ is the epitome of his post-Blue period pseudo-erotic electronic blandishments – all asinine lyrics and keyboard-heavy dance beats. It’s the opposite of erotica, and leaves as unpleasant a taste in the mouth as edible knickers. If underwear as food interests you try checking out sexually unhinged Brightonites Eighties Matchbox B-Line Disaster. A band back in the early noughties who defied all taste and style, they still somehow just worked. Led by wild-eyed Guy McKnight, their rock-swathed venom was a delight indeed, all menacing stairs and songs about having sexual relations with mothers. On ‘Love Turns To Hate’, the surreal guitars call to mind behemoths like The Cramps, while McKnight’s squally vocal drips rock’n’roll excess and a type of mania. Nice to have them back on the airwaves.
Far from her non-conformist image, Kelis fits into the urban-tinged songbird slot better than she would like to acknowledge. The well and truly acceptable face of radio-friendly unit-shifting, ‘Acapella’ reinvents nothing other than her bank balance, but it is a diverting enough ditty. Peppered with the sort of “you complete me” lyricism that makes Renee Zellwegger’s career, “Before you/My whole life was acapella” is the message – now relishing the symphony of love, Kelis seems unable to keep herself down, and the euphoria makes this a perfectly placed summer radio hit.With American style streaming through the speakers, Fugative is a 16-year-old artist with pretensions of being the new Justin Timberlake. Except from Essex. Naming such diverse influences as Timbaland and Pharrell Williams on his MySpace page, ‘Crush’ is an uptempo rap from start to finish. Featuring a female vocal on the chorus, it’s got more than a hint of the Blazin’ Squads about it. If that sounds horrific, well, it is. Slightly better is the next release. Back in the day, ‘Truth Hurts’, as produced by DJ Quik, made a great play for best western pop song with eastern influences in ‘Addicted’. It’s been a long time in coming, but new release ‘You’ by Gold Panda steals its ethnic crown. All sultry hipsway and eastern promise, there’s a touch of class to the London producer’s emission, and it’s a pleasure that bears repeated listens.
If Eugene McGuinness decamped to the US of A and fashioned an artist in his own image, Dan Sartain would be out of a job. Because there’s a unique quality to his voice and intriguing darkness to his lyrics which make this Yankee singer songwriter the very essence of post- Jack Johnson musicality, and make ‘Atheist Funeral’ a striking guitar record. From the sublime to the slightly ridiculous – the whiff of privilege, the implication of education – Princeton made a bold move in naming them after an Ivy League institution, after Vampire Weekend’s deck shoes and Hollister schtick garnered them wedgies at every gig they played in 2009 (possibly). There’s a knowingness to ‘Shout It Out’ which is a little grating, and the fake handclaps only serve to underline the chasm between this sort of light hearted pop and that of, say, Paul Simon on Graceland. With a hint of Gorky’s, though, there is something a little more off-kilter in the veins of Princeton, and the track does end up bringing a smile to the stoniest of faces, fading on, “I love you, let’s shout it out.” Bless.Less worthy of our sentiment are the next band. If there was a space year 1984, think how crazy that would be. Jumped-up youngsters in turned-up jeans with bequiffed heads and an Oxford Compact Dictionary would make their way to gigs of jingly jangly guitar power pop like ‘Heartbeat’ played by angry young doppelgangers tired of not having a job and putting off girls with their questionable personal hygiene. This is Blighters. They’re not as good as The Smiths.


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Berlin: The historic city that’s frightfully modern

(, March 30, 2010)

It is true in travel that if you’re prepared to take a chance, you’re sure of finding some pretty incredible places to holiday. Travelling to Berlin may not be considered taking a chance – it’s bound to be interesting, at any rate – but if you’re looking for a holiday that’s as engaging as it is fun and as educational as it is anarchic, there really is no contest.

Flying from Bristol with Easyjet made the airfare pains minimal – a mere £104 for two return – and landing at Berlin Schoenefeld was a pleasant surprise. Like many airports attached to Britain by low-cost airlines, Schoenefeld is not the main stop-off for the city, but unlike some – Ryanair’s Frankfurt Hahn springs to mind – the trip into Berlin proper is really quite painless. Situated to the south west of the city, a speedy train delivery cost about 6EUR and was safe and comfortable.

Trains, and public transport in general, are really something that the Berliners do very well. Excellent value for money and always on time, we sped to our destination, the BaxPax Hostel in Kreuzberg (Skalitzer Str. 104). Notable for its proximity to the Gorlitzer Str bahnhof, the hostel boasts a set of ‘themed’ rooms, each decorated to emulate a country. Having booked into ‘Denmark’, we were treated to a bright red room with white cross painted on the wall – not exactly high-class, but a good-humoured bolt hole for those so inclined. At just 272EUR for two for five nights (around £245, or £48 per night), the hostel didn’t have to be up to much, but it was incredibly clean and very friendly. There’s a bar, which is always packed with hostellers, and the obligatory bunking rooms, but there are also, like ‘Denmark’, ensuite rooms with quick access to the kitchen and a delightful balcony.

As far as cities go, Berlin has had its fair share of press. After all, it swandived from being the focal point of the Second World War into the dubious honour of being one of the world’s divided cities, split down the middle for the Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany) and the German Democratic Republic (East Germany). Our week was packed with loads to do because of the sheer volume of history there.

Brandenburg Gate
(Credit: Mark Thomas)

Recommended are walks around the Brandenburg Gate (Pariser Platz 7)  and the Reichstag (Platz der Republik 1). It’s entirely free to enjoy these magnificent edifices from the outside and, on a good day, visitors should take in the Tiergarten (Mitte). An urban public park, it’s gorgeous when the leaves are green and – at 210 hectares – a really great hangout in the sun. Unfortunately, it was a bit gloomy in March, but impressive nonetheless.

Checkpoint Charlie
(Credit: Mark Thomas)

There’s plenty of information about the infamous – now defunct – Berlin Wall, and it’s really up to you how much you want to spend to find out the real story. The Mauermuseum (Friedrichstraße 43,10969) costs 12,50EUR for an adult, but there’s a fantastic billboard-style exhibition wrapped around Friedrichstraße – and its centrepoint, Checkpoint Charlie – which tells you all you need to know – and juxtaposes some great shots of the exact street in times of peril, which are breathtaking in the modern era.

A real highlight of the trip was the Stasimuseum (Forschungs- und Gedenkstätte Normannenstr. Ruschestr. 103, Haus 1). As the former offices of the East German Ministry for State Security (Stasi), the entire office complex has been preserved in incredible detail. The offices where Minister Eric Mielke took the decisions which were to make his ministry a feared attack dog for the communist state look dated now, but the luxury is still evident. There is a full and frank display of the tools of the Stasi spying trade – think bugged ties and cameras in bird houses – as well as a historical context for the events which led to the rise – and fall – of the GDR. The best bit is the price – all of that intrigue for just 4EUR per person, but the smart money will make a 5EUR investment in the English language guide for maximum effect.

Pergamon Altar

(Credit: Mark Thomas)

Of course, no one should leave Berlin without a visit to the Museuminsel (Museum Island) in Charlottenburg. Containing the Altes Museum (Old Museum), the Neues Museum (New Museum), the Alte Nationalgalerie (Old National Gallery), the Bode Museum and the Pergamon Museum, the complex is a UNESCO World Heritage site and has been pushed by the German government to be renovated and refurbished with construction of an underground complex that will link the five museums together by 2015. A ticket for all five will set you back, but we took a difficult decision and went to the Pergamon Museum at 10EUR each. In the event, seeing all of the museums to their fullest would have meant at least another week’s stay in the city, but the exhibits in just that one – including the Pergamon Altar and replica of the Babylonian Ishtar Gate – made what was truly an experience which will endure.


Staying in Kreuzberg, we had our share of delicious dinners.

Cool kids’ hangout Kreuzburger (Oranienstraße 190) offers burgers and chips in a pub-like atmosphere – just the thing for the weary traveller, and not at all pricey.

Rissani (Spreewaldplatz 4/6) brought a bit of the souk to the city, with amazing schwarma with houmous and chapattis for just 5EUR each – a steal and far too much for one mouth!

Café do Brasil (Mehringdamm 72) will enchant the cheapest of diners, with its Monday to Wednesday (6pm-11pm) all you can eat buffet. Delicious, great value and packed with incredible flavours.

Those looking to go native will love Zur Letzten Instanz (Waisenstr. 14-16) – a little further afield in Mitte. A gorgeous traditional German restaurant – dating back to 1621 – it’s truly the only place to sample real German treats such as Schwein Eisbein (pig knuckle, not for the faint hearted) or the Berlin speciality boulette (large meatball). A little pricier, but for a blowout meal for two, with drinks, change from 50EUR isn’t a bad way to celebrate a holiday in one of Europe’s most astonishing cities.

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Humanzi – Kingdom of Ghosts

(AU Magazine/, March 27, 2010)

Album review

An Irish band of some repute, this gloomy Dublin four-piece have kept fans dangling for the best part of four years in the wait for this, their follow-up to 2006’sTremors.

As with most second albums,Kingdom Of Ghosts is tainted – or perhaps blessed – with the sort of dark and doomy ‘challenges’ that musicians like to wave around ‘difficult’ records like burning flags.

Thanks to the notoriety and success which followed their debut, the band have been able to decamp to Berlin to write and record Kingdom Of Ghosts, and, like Iggy and Bowie before them, they have found a heart of darkness in the city. It bleeds through each track on the record, from opener ‘Hammer’ to the ear-splitting ‘Baby I’m Burnin”.

‘Hammer’ swaggers in like Nine Inch Nails wearing a cloak made of Marilyn Manson, all 1970s glam rock and repetitive riffs. The New York Dolls vocal of Shaun Mulrooney is soaked in reverb and fuzzy guitars, with each crash of the cymbals heralding an aural anarchy.

The post-war isolation of the German capital makes sub-three minute grinder ‘Just Like Bukowski’ throb with violence, with the vocal “Jesus, I’m joking” delivered with all the grace of a gob in the face.

High point – and 2009 single – ‘Bass Balls’ boasts thundering drums and angular riffs, with another disruptively bawled vocal. The result is a sound that layers metal over metal with no thought for sensitivity or harmony, which is where the record does fall down.

The deliciously dark ‘Black Sunrise’ is almost a Trent Reznor lullaby, the charging guitars marching forward like the Soviet invasion. The epic ‘Neu Tune’ clocks in at more than seven minutes and takes in Primal Scream and U2 on its way to the DDR, while ‘Step Into The Shadows’ starts with a bastardised ‘The Model’ riff before seguing into The Horrors-style hubris and anguish.

At some points Kingdom Of Ghosts does sound as if Humanzi have regressed all the way back to 1976, but there is enough in the way of industrial electronica to place it firmly in the last decade. It’s a pick ‘n’ mix of gothica – all decked in blackest black, of course. Kirstie McCrum

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Freecycling – The Second-Hand Swap-Shop That’s Kind To The Environment

(Little Green Women, March 17, 2010)

Anyone who grew up in the 70s will doubtless remember the car boot sale of old – loading up on all that gaudy household junk so you can stand by your car in a field until you’ve made some cash off it – only to realise you’d bought almost as much to bring home with you again.

With the advent of Ebay, there are those who believe selling their used goods online is the way to cash in car boot-style in the 21st century, but the market has long since been flooded.

Enter the tenet behind the 2003 American set-up of Freecycle – ‘one person’s trash can truly be another’s treasure’. The UK network works under the assurance that it’s ‘changing the world one gift at a time’ and it’s certainly making waves amongst the online community.

So it goes that Freecycle is a grassroots, non-profit movement who give and get stuff for free – in their own towns. It’s all about reuse and keeping good stuff out of landfill. Local Freecycle groups are moderated by a local volunteer, and the array of loot available may astonish even the most cynical of users.

Local Freecyclers are proud of the service, and feel lucky to have such a great system in place.Freecycler Frances Roche can’t speak highly enough of it.

“Over the last three years I have received no end of things, and I know they would have cost me a lot of money if I had gone out and bought them,” she says. “Being a single mother, I know I wouldn’t have been able to buy a lot of the things I have been kindly given.”

Freecycle works in much the same spirit as Ebay, in that trust is implied in your compliance with the group, and anything from bags of clothes and old Beanos to teapots and tumbledryers is fair game.

Another Freecycle member Stella told Little Green Women, “I have recently had the sad job of clearing a relative’s house. It’s a heartbreaking job because everything in the house has a history which we may or may not know. However, it’s heartening to know that what we didn’t need is going to be useful to others. I would love to know whether the person who collected the wooden wardrobe doors managed to turn them into a sideboard…!”

A story behind every handover has made for the best of times – and even some lasting friendships.

Negatives are thin on the ground, although there is a general feeling that there are those who may be labelled ‘timewasters’ in any transaction.

June says, “My experiences have been varied. I have found homes for some unwanted items and received some very useful ones. I have had polite transactions, and some people who never showed up when collection was arranged.”

Joining Freecycle has doubtless given lots to the many and seems like a one-stop shop for value, but for Little Green Women, the biggest boon has to be finding new uses for waste. Sign up today!

How to beat the pack

There are numerous Freecycle updates every day – you can sign up for those to be emailed directly to you or just log in and peruse what’s available in your group at your leisure. Keen Freecyclers will probably subscribe to updates, but the quicker the draw, the less disappointed you will be, so keep an eye on your inbox!

Edinburgh Freecycle has 5383 members.

Go to to find out more

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Girlyman – Everything’s Easy

(Morning Star, March 7, 2010)

Album review

This title’s a bit of a misnomer here.

There’s no end of heartache, heartbreak and loss in US four-piece Girlyman’s fifth release.

Opener Tell Me There’s A Reason has more than a little folk country accent to its harmonies.

From there on in the whole record makes a virtue of its innate quaintness.

This is not to knock the music. The silken harmonies are exemplary, with a depth and imagination in the lyrical imagery which cause heart palpitations.

Other stand-out tracks include House Song, a tragically sad diary entry by female vocalist Ty Greenstein while True Enough boasts a soft and sweet vocal intro and a languid line courtesy of male vocalist Nate Borofsky.


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Cirkus – Medicine

(Morning Star, February 28, 2010)
Album review
There was a distinct slice of the 1990s pop scene that Neneh Cherry owned – her recognisable sultry vocals smouldered their way through her early solo career and memorable collaborations.

So CirKus is lucky indeed to boast her among its ranks, but then it was a concept dreamed up by her husband Burt Ford.
A world of trip-hoppy weirdness, where regular sounds are distorted in their hall-of-mirrors production, CirKus are nothing if not experimental.
On Hardly Breathing, the relentless rhythm punches through the vocal, while on ’80s-style Johnny iCon there’s La Roux-style pop with a truly luxurious voice.
The high point has to be the title track, a mature and inspired European trip-hop track with warmth and heart, in which the “the sun comes shining through/the sun for me and you.”
Definitely the star of the show.

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Emily Breeze – The Penny Arcade

(Morning Star, February 7, 2010)
Album review
Bristol-based Emily Breeze’s PJ Harvey-flavoured vocal ushers in a new age of wonder from the off.
Like a skiffle band stacked to the rafters with double bass and slick percussion, Monday’s Right Hook opens the record.
It is barnstorming stuff.
And it has all the pugilistic force of the dreaded start of the working week.
But in this case, Emily being Emily, it only gets better.
And how.
The fighting talk of the opener mellows on Badlands, which is all acoustic guitar and smokey singing which brings to mind Tanita Tikaram.
But through torch song Lost Highway and the title track, Emily brings a depth to the slower tune that bruises and burns the heart.
With courage in her near-growl and an all-round great set of tunes, The Penny Arcade is set for definite success.
A big thumbs up to this one

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