Monday, 30 May 2016

Thursday, 26 May 2016

Geek Syndicate Review: House Of Penance #2

I took some time away from chronicling the new Game of Thrones season with a review of Tomasi and Betram's House of Penance #2. It's a title that is shaping up very nicely indeed. Check it out.

Monday, 23 May 2016

26th January, 1820

My review of "Book Of The Stranger" is up now at Geek Syndicate.

Wednesday, 18 May 2016

No Apologies For The Infinite Radness 1.1.12 - "Underneath The Weeping Willow" (Grandaddy)

A moment of rest amid the tears and histrionics. Music's Eye of Harmony, at least for me.

The stresses are still there, the endless underlying scratching at our brains, appearing here as the nervous jitter of the opening piano line that never actually goes away. But it's boxed in by the rest of the song, a gorgeous slow progression of warm chords and the warmest, prettiest vocal Jason Lytle has given us to date.  It's not exactly a happy song, but it is a hopeful one, about sleeping through the rough hours in a place you love until you wake up in a better mood. About letting your sadness quietly slide away to somewhere else. Sleep is the great healer, so long as you know you are sheltered. That you can be safe.

I bought "The Sophtware Slump" almost precisely 14 years ago, in the run up to the last exams I ever took. The capstone - or gravestone - for four years of my life. I was a fizzing mess, running on cola and coffee, snapping at everyone, trying to deal with a change in my medication that didn't so much improve my foul moods as concentrate them into shorter, more vicious bursts.  Every evening I would play this song as part of a ritual to at least try and stop bubbling over. The fact that after all that, every time I hear this song I still feel calm is astonishing. It's not that the song escaped being coloured by how I first encountered it - it might make me calm, but it's an exhausted calm, like the climb-down from an adrenaline high. But the accompanying manic sadness never surfaces, transmuted every time by what I'm hearing. Like the weeping willow herself, the song does all the crying for me.

And I can be happy again.

B side

Tuesday, 17 May 2016

11th December, 1936

My review of "Oathbreaker" (which I forgot to give a score to; let's say 3/5 again) is up now at Geek Syndicate.

Friday, 13 May 2016

Remember Tokyo: How Do You Measure A Year?

(Thanks to Sion for the photo)

A few hours later
Our birds are home and sulking
And I get called in.

"Can you explain this?"
Asks the PM, who I kept
Far out of the loop.

I take a long, deep breath.
"This about nicking POTUS?
Our role's off the books."

"Jakarta ran it,
Jakarta lost him to Seoul.
But we're in the clear."

"Sounds thrilling," he says.
"You must tell me more sometime.
"But what I meant was..."

He turns on the news.
"LIVE: Japan assassinates
US president."

Friday Talisman: Queenie

My camera phone refused to focus on this one, presumably because her hideous evilness was simply too much for it to bear. But is it really fair for the game to label her as "evil" in the first place? Can't nice people enjoy hanging out with spiders?  Spiders are awesome: they eat all the terrifying bugs that do so much to ruin life on this planet.  I think they'd do better in a democracy than a monarchy, but that's not really any of my business. As an ally of spiders, it is not my place to judge.

Monday, 9 May 2016

Friday, 6 May 2016

Remember Tokyo: Our Nuclear Winter Of Discontent

As Westerners say
With pleasing efficiency
I just lost my shit.

"How fucking perfect.
Just who the hell needs zombies
When you have the States?"

I tune out replies
Heard one Yank cheer mass murder
And you've heard them all.

Thursday, 5 May 2016

PCC And Me

When it comes to policing
(As oppose to vote-fleecing)
Politicians add nowt, I'm afraid.

So straight off I've conceded
PCC's just aren't needed
And the choices? A a piss-poor parade.

But I'd ask it be noted
That I have indeed voted
Though claims there's no point are well made.

For it still seems my duty
To wipe democracy's booty
So the shit-stain of Tories might fade.

No Apologies For The Infinite Radness 1.1.11 - "Raining In Baltimore" (Counting Crows)

If there was ever going to be an act to appear twice in this first, none-more-wallowing-in-whiteboy-misery chapter (and this will be the only one) it was always going to be the Crows. Here we have another almost ridiculously sparse musical landscape dominated by Duritz's choked vocals. Only Charlie Gillingham's utterly beautiful accordion reminds us there's even other people in this band. We're in familiar territory here, both lyrically and emotionally, but somehow "Raining in Baltimore" manages to be even more filled with alienation than "Round Here" was. At least there Duritz could compare his feelings of not fitting in to those of various other outcasts and oddballs. Belonging through not belonging was a group activity.

Here, there's no-one around but him. It was bad enough when the circus was somewhere you risked falling, but now even that possibility for change is gone. It's just one more abandoned space now, one more place he can't go anymore. When people stop visiting the circus, it's time to pull the top down. You've had your fun, but it's time to admit it isn't working anymore.

Once you know the back-story to the Crows song "Anna Begins" from the same album - American boy meets Australian girl on long holiday in Europe, and they fall completely in love despite both having to return home come summer's end - it's very hard not to see "Raining in Baltimore" as a sequel to that song. The desire for travel to be back with his love is obvious. Duritz needs his sunburn. He needs his plane ride. But it's more complicated than that. Australia is about 10 000 miles from the States, not 3 500. Duritz isn't thinking of the girl across the Pacific right now, but the one that was once across the Atlantic.  He misses a time as much as a place.

Sure, he says he needs a phone-call, to connect to her in the present, but their conversations don't go anywhere these days. It's the same territory over and over again; nothing to talk about but how the weather is getting worse. If he can't get a sunburn, he'll settle for a raincoat. Something that will let him function in the present. Because yes, the past just isn't working any more, but right now isn't going any better. And so here he sits, watching his memories fade, with nothing and no-one around to replace them.

I ran into this song - absolutely cannoned into it, really - at exactly the right time, which is to say: exactly the wrong time. It was exam term of my first year in university, and I was having a hard time dealing with the separation from my girlfriend back home, who was studying for her A-levels.  Six weeks passed without us seeing each other whilst we trudged through our respective revision calendars. Neither of us had a reliable mobile. I'd phone her house from a payphone in the middle of a hallway, my mind addled by hours of equations and theorems, and hope her parents would tell me she was in.  Sure, it wasn't 3,500 miles, just 40 or so.  But when you have no car, and she has no car, and you both have exams, and you're both young as hell, that feels fucking far enough.

Looking back though, just like Duritz, things were already starting to shut down. Eight months of me being in my new home more often than my old one had taken its toll. The relationship was bleeding to death. Slowly, a few drops of blood at a time, but it was still dying. The following summer was all awkward silences and pointless sniping while we tried to figure out why what used to work didn't anymore. The break-up arrived about a month after her results did. I know now I wasn't missing her so much as I was missing the functioning relationship we'd had before I'd had to leave. Which didn't make breaking up hurt any less, obviously.

It was another Counting Crows that got me back on my feet after that, actually. But I'll tell that story some other day. The sun came out eventually, it almost always does. Sometimes, though, I still want to listen to the rain.


Monday, 2 May 2016

15th January, 1966

My piece on Game of Thrones 6.1: "The Red Woman" is up now at Geek Syndicate.

Sunday, 1 May 2016

Crucible Final Prediction 2016

OK, so it's a fraction late this year. Still, 18-14 to Selby, I reckon.  He might struggle today, but you never count out a fox, as Tomsk keeps reminding me. Plus, if I had the hopes and dreams of the largest country in the world resting on me, I might play below my best too. Even if, as has been obvious of Ding this tournament, his best is very, very good.

ETA: I should add that whilst my money is on Selby, my heart is with Ding. The chance to finally break the English language's stranglehold on this tournament is finally within the game's grasp. There's obviously great honour in being the first Asian player in the world final [1] but to see that turned into a win would be utterly glorious.

[1] More than that, actually; Ding is first player in the final to come from outside both the British Isles and the Commonwealth, though the two South African finalists (Rensburg and Mans, neither of whom won) played during the 33 years South Africa was outside the Commonwealth.