30 August 2006

Stephen Malkmus: Stephen Malkmus

When Pavement broke up, every member went in completely different directions. Bob Nastanovich owns horses, Steve West is a stonemason, and Stephen Malkmus, Pavement's driving force, is doing what he was born to do: make music.
The stereotypes for solo albums like this are inevitable - it's only for fans of their band, it won't be as good as the band... and although it's definitely not in Pavement's league, Malkmus has turned in a new direction with new band the Jicks, with a new take on songwriting. He seems to want to write songs properly for a change. No nonsense, like on 'Type Slowly' (Brighten the Corners) "One of us is a cigar stand and one of us is a lovely blue incandescent guillotine". Another example is Stereo. Contrarily, in the singalong 'Jenny and the Ess-Dog', Malkmus narrates a simple love story of a couple who can't make up the distance between their years, as he poetically puts it, showing perfectly understandable songwriting. In a couple of other tracks, such as the insane 'Jojo's Jacket', we get a taste of Malkmus simply going wild, focusing of the catchiness of the tune more than anything else. Malkmus uses things like percussion, effects pedals, and vocals more creatively in this album, but it just doesn't quite hit you in the same way as Pavement. Of course, it works... in 'The Hook', we have cowbell, shakers, and a drumkit; when you're singing about pirates anything goes. Later, in the slower 'Vague Space', probably the album's highlight, we get wah-effects, steel drums, and keys.
The album does have its letdowns, the boring 'Trojan Curfew', and album opener 'Black Book' fails to excite in any way.
I'm glad I decided to show interest in Malkmus' work, after he abandoned Pavement to basically do it all himself. Some songs just wouldn't've worked with Pavement, fans will know what I mean. (An example of something that really belongs on a Pavement record is 'Discretion Grove'). And is it just for these fans? I think not. Many people will prefer this coherence to Pavement, but personally I'm not one of them. This is the sound of an artist trying to do something new, but struggling in these new surroundings. Only slightly, I hasten to add.

PS: Handy linkage. Wikipedia article, Amazon profile, and a professional review.

12 August 2006

The Duke of Ediburgh Award

First off, here is a link to an interview I conducted for Cube Magazine, about the Duke of Edinburgh award. (You may have already heard this.) This will tell you all you need to know about the award. Incidentally, I hate the sound of my voice as well... (and the picture). I know that this is rather long. 17 minutes long. If that's too much, you could also look at the Duke of Edinburgh Award website.

However the point of this entry is really to document my experience in the Silver award. I've finished 3 of the sections: expedition, skill and service. I have to do physical for a year. For my skill I played violin (nothing new there), and neither did I have to change my lifestyle to do Badminton for my physical, so I really had it easy in the award. For my service I did Environmental work, which was actully rather fun. All my friends in the award did this with me as well. And then we get to the fun bit: expedition.

Expedition is where you get shoved out in the wild somewhere. We visited the Dark Peak, then White Peak, then the Yorkshire Dales. All 3 are of course obnoxiously hilly areas, usually painted with heaps of bracken and heather and stuff. The odd small town (except in the Dark Peak, our first practice, as we started off fairly near our home town. Whilst you're out in the wilderness you can't use other people to help you to reach your goal. Simply put, you can't use shops. (This did in fact go out of the window on our 2nd practice, but we got away with it.) But it also means you have to sleep in a cold tent, cook your food, and not get lost or tired. And we had to walk 16 kilometres each day, for three days.

1st practice:
This was very easy. I was nervous of screwing up somehow but since we camped in our Group Leader's back garden, things went fine. We were allowed a huge camp-fire - slightly more pyromanical than ones boy scouts make - and we messed about with that until midnight, for some even later. We all regretted it the following morning of course. Walking got much harder, my muscles ached. At that point I was thankful that this was only a two-day practice as opposed to the three-day 'real thing'. We did have it easy. Despite this we got lost and ended up walking a couple of K further than our route, but more unfortunately we detoured through a cow field. I reckon our pre-expedition training was to blame for the irrational behaviour of two of our campers. Cows are not, contrary to their reactions, scary. And there were legions of them on the walk. In this particular field the cows seemed especially interested in our troupe. There's one of us who you'd expect to do something stupid in this situation, and he didn't let us down. He started running, startled the cows, and caused someone else to panic and attempt to jump over a barbed wire fence. He tried to clear it. Needless to say it left his legs worse for wear, especially since it took us a couple of minutes to get him down from there.

2nd practice:
Think of the most horrible weather conditions you could have to do the expedition in. You immediately think blizzards, thunderstorms, horizontal hail... but it was the sun was never going to submit on this practice. It was boiling. It made us way slower. We had enough water and such but walking in that heat was draining. At least it was only 2 and a bit days... Our route wasn't great; lots of uphill struggles. But we still managed to beat the other 2 groups to the campsites each time. Not a lot happened on the walks, to be honest. We ended up going to several shop we saw, and stopping in a children's park at one point (great fun), but otherwise it was all about making it to the next checkpoint. The most inspired thing that happened was when we took a shortcut (which we had been allowed, actually) and ended up at a tranquil green at the edge of a little village. We were there for over an hour, playing cards and... talking about the ducks. (That was actually pretty funny.) At the campsites we were pretty damn bored. It was during the World Cup, and we missed England getting knocked out. However there were people in caravans who watched it and told us the score. It's unavoidable, even in the middle of nowhere.

The main expedition:
This turned out to be trickier. I had definitely got myself dressed for the occasion though. The weather was supposed to be even worse than #2. It wasn't, but it was still rather hot, and we had the full 3 days to cope with. In fact, we set off a day before we set off walking. We slept in a youth hostel that night, the advantage being something along the lines of 'not having to get up early to catch public transport into Skipton at 4AM, not as if it'd set off at that time, because we can't get a damn lift'. Yep, we caught a bus, 2 trains, and theoretically another bus - but half of us (me included) were stuck at the bus stop waiting for a lift from our group leader when it turned out that the bus only accomodated about a dozen people, most of whom were citizens. So maybe we were annoyed by then, but for me the youth hostel was alright. The food was pretty good and we got a good night's sleep, I reckon. Also we'd gone on a walk up to a cave, which was awesome. There were some great plunge pools and perfect climbing rocks. It wasn't such a bad idea in terms of wearing us out, even if the cave was a couple of kilometres away. Well worth it. The next day we proved our awesomeness. We had to get ourselves on top of Malham Cove. There are 2 ways, shown in this diagram. Guess which we took... The first day did indeed go well. So did the second. We were used to this now; the practices were well spent. And actually, the next campsite was where we had most fun. It was quite hot, but we coped fine walking this time. However it gave us a fantastic excuse to go and throw ourselves from a fantastic rope-swing we found into the river. Good times. In the third day we rushed to the end, taking a few shortcuts that we were apparently encouraged, by the group leader, to take. This was because we'd done 2K extra on the first day. There was fun to be had yet, however. Even after we'd found another set of ducks (these were after bread), even after we'd walked, we visited the train station. In Leeds train station, we had... problems. My friend had the ticket, and 4 of us (out of 16) went into the ticket-only conveniences bit. 20 minutes later, we realise that the others are stuck outside. Ah well, it was altogether an amazing experience, I definitely recommend the award to anybody with an award group in their area.

Thanks for reading. Feel free to share your camping, or D of E, experiences.