Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Top 20 Albums of 2005

After scouring through my music collection of the past 12 months and organising them into a coherent structure after much re-arranging, I present to you the top 20 albums of 2005.

#1 - Sufjan Stevens - Illinois

Illinoise is Sufjan Stevens’ second offering in his attempt to record an album for all 50 American states. Taken as a whole, the album sounds like a stage musical history of Illinois, sung with enthusiasm, and full of flourish and energy and a cast of characters that include the Blackhawk tribe, Abraham Lincoln, Al Capone, steelworkers and small-town heroes. Perhaps most surprisingly, considering its depths of knowledge and research, most of the album was recorded by Stevens in Queens, New York. But to its credit, Illinoise is always accessible, and never academic--if he can tackle such diverse topics within the course of just one album, then Stevens is just the musician to attempt the remaining 48 states.

#2 - The Decemberists - Picaresque

The Decemberists' third full-length release takes the fanciful lyrical subjects and defiantly non-rock musical and infuses them with muscular and electric sound. The combination provides singer/songwriter Colin Meloy and crew with their first true masterpiece, an album that not only fulfils, but exceeds, the promise of their earlier records. Meloy's pet obsessions with historical romance and the sea get their due, culminating in the nearly nine-minute suite "The Mariner's Revenge Song," but the true highlights, however, are the sarcastically jaunty Kinks-like shuffle "The Sporting Life," a first-person tale of dishonour on the playing fields set to the record's most insidiously catchy tune, and the churning opener, "The Infanta," where Meloy's linguistic over-achievements mesh surprisingly well with Chris Walla's assertive, harder-edged production.

#3 - Prefuse 73 - Surrounded by Silence

Surrounded By Silence should have been re-titled Bedroom Producer Gone Wild. What’s not to adore about laptop sound alchemist Prefuse 73 (Scott Herren), who, like RJD2 and Diplo, crafts rare soundscapes that Bjork fans, backpack rap dukes and Pluto natives adore. Unlike Vocal Studies, where there appeared to be some cohesive links between tracks, Prefuse goes a bit collabo crazy here, with over a dozen multi-genre guest vocalists and emcee’s. when Herren sticks to what he does best, that is, building brilliant found sound collages, and digitizing any thing he can get his hands on, the results are gorgeous; "Expressing Views Is Obviously Illegal" carries that distinctly Prefuse-esque boom bip, as does "Pagina Dos" with it’s seductive banjo playing parts. A stimulating listen.

#4 - M83 - Before The Dawn Heals Us

This is effectively a solo work, Anthony Gonzalez having split from his long time collaborator and friend Nicholas Fromageu, but rather than forcing him to curb his ambitions and look within it seems to have expanded his horizons and now it seems he's stretching as far as he can, trying to lay his hands on all those vistas in his head. Employing choirs, muscular live drum tracks, huge banks of swirling guitars and interweaving between pure instrumentals and vocal pieces some of this music is Wagnerian in its scope and apocalyptic ambience.
Some will label this album pompous and overbearing and it is, but it's also capable of creating a glowing shroud of sound amidst a milky way of emotion. I can understand why the City scape on the cover because with Before the Dawn Can Heal Us Gonzalez has created gaudy neon lit wondrous edifice of his own. And that s stunningly beautiful too.

#5 - Death Cab For Cutie - Plans

Plans is a shockingly beautiful and mature album from a group that itself is still maturing. Death Cab for Cutie is that rare band that aren’t afraid to tackle the big thought, to wrestle with the complex, never black and white realities of human interaction. From its soaring beginning to its somber end, ‘Plans’ is the sound of growing up, of gaining friends and losing them, of realising, perhaps for the first time, the weight and consequences of every decision we make, of every heart we touch. It is an album about growing old that can grow old with us.

#6 - Jaga Jazzist - What We Must

I can't say whether or not Norwegian pop fans are smarter than their American counterparts, but Jaga Jazzist's commercial success in their native Norway suggests that they at least have sturdier attention spans. It's difficult to imagine a wordless fjord of post-rock, jazz fusion, ambient electronica, and outlying points cracking the hook-happy American charts, but that's just what the influential dectet's 2002 sophomore album The Stix did upon its release in Norway. Only Coldplay and Queens of the Stone Age separated it from the top slot.
Those of you who like your instrumental music to be fractured and shrouded might prefer the aforementioned Shining and write off Jaga as boring; the rest should find ample rewards in What We Must's effortless sonority and memorable arrangements. And if you're like me, you're dreaming of a gigantic antenna powerful enough to pick up radio signals from Norway.

#7 - British Sea Power - Open Season

Brighton's British Sea Power are a band that perhaps shouldn't exist in the 21st Century, but a listen to their fine second album Open Season ought to be enough to convince you that it's a good thing they do. BSP are antiquated in sound as in style – mid-'80s in empathy with post-punk-touchstones Echo and the Bunnymen and the Teardrop Explodes. It's a keen sense of the theatrical and the absurd, however, that ensures tracks like "It Ended On An Oily Stage" and "To Get To Sleep" are anything but museum pieces: frontman Yan overcomes his slightly limited range by investing every utterance with Box Of Delights wonder, imploring the listener to "drape yourself in greenery/become part of the scenery" on 'North Hanging Rock'. That's rock'n'roll the British Sea Power way: live fast, die young, leave a good-looking corpse.

#8 - Lou Barlow - Emoh

After numerous releases with Dinosaur Jr, Sebadoh, and The Folk Implosion, 'Emoh' is the first proper solo album release from Lou Barlow. Recorded in various studios including Lambchop producer Mark Nevers', the album sees Barlow update the lo-fi sound he is known for giving it a fuller, lusher sound. Largely acoustic, but swathed in cellos, electronic hums and drum machine rattles, this is partly a return to the heart-breakingly sweet ballads of Sebadoh's masterpiece 'Harmacy', whilst still acknowleging the luscious indie-tronica of later Folk Implosion. Opener 'Holding Back The Year' sets the tone perfectly; a guitar strums beautifully whilst Lou's typically honeyed vocal melts your heart all over again. If you've ever loved anything by Dinosaur Jr, Sebadoh, Folk Implosion or Sentridoh, or even if you've never heard of them, this is a must. Acoustic indie-pop simply doesn't get better than this.

#9 - Laurs Veirs - Year of Meteors

With her band The Tortured Souls, singer/songwriter/guitar player Laura Veirs recorded her new record, Year of Meteors, in Seattle in February of this year. She calls the album "a road record", drawing inspiration from being in constant motion for much of 2004, touring in support of the critically acclaimed Carbon Glacier.
Produced by Tortured Soul band member, Tucker Martine, Year of Meteors' lyrics include dream-like images of sky and sea, punctuated by guitar bursts, handclaps and melodic keyboards and strings. She has a relaxed and freeflowing style completely all of her own. Sometimes verging on the melancholy, sometimes on the quirky, sometimes on the inspirational but always simple, fresh and straight forward songwriting.

#10 - Broken Social Scene - Broken Social Scene Ltd

Expectations are a bitch. After Broken Social Scene stumbled out of the incestuous Toronto alt-rock scene with Feel Good Lost-- a postrumental refrigerator-hum stiff of a debut-- few would have guessed this group of scruffed-up bohos had a veritable classic lurking in their collective consciousness. Looser and slightly kinkier, Broken Social Scene indulges in the pop eccentricities and keen melodic ears of more than a dozen Canadians who take willful pride in their ability to lock together into one solid unit and make good on the sum of their unique individual talents. This album has enough ideas to keep a lesser band productive for years. The song ecstatically encapsulates Broken Social Scene's heightened ambitions and flawed Icarus journeys, conflating into a bold, brash love-in infatuated with its own bumps and bruises.

#11 - Jack Johnson - In Between Dreams

For a man who gets his biggest kicks surfing the waves and strumming his guitar on a lonely beach in native Hawaii, singer-songwriter Jack Johnson has carved out quite a remarkable career on the mainland. His 2003 album, On and On, went platinum on the back of hit single "The Horizon Has Been Defeated." The follow-up, meanwhile, seems destined to shine even brighter. The drifting chords and soft voice are still in place, only now Johnson's instinct for melody has sharpened alongside his ability to self-edit. These small concessions make third album, In Between Dreams, his most conspicuous, particularly on tracks like the three-minute relationship drama, "Sitting, Waiting, Wishing," and "Breakdown," a song he originally recorded for Handsome Boy Modeling School's White People album remade here to reveal its full stripped-down loveliness. Imagine all the coconuts it will buy.

#12 - Wilderness - Wilderness

Wilderness deploy spacial, dream-like atmospheres and ominous ethereality over cymbals that shimmer and splash against tom-heavy drum patterns. Brooding, artstruck guitars ring out from the depths, echoing the swirling neo-psych of Echo and the Bunnymen and the Teardrop Explodes. Rising, falling, and lifting again, Johnson's silvery howl rides the band's iridescent, rainswept instrumentation like a cresting tide, obscuring lyrics that alternate between abstract expressionism and fatalistic, anti-political rhetoric. On cursory listens, many listeners could find the album beautifully lush. As these songs begin to settle in deeper, his vocal topography unexpectedly yields tons of melody where there initially may have seemed to be very little. If Wilderness aren't quite kings of the mountain yet, it might just be that few others have yet traversed their fertile domain.

#13 - Bell Orchestre - Recording A Tape the Colour of the Light

Recording a Tape the Colour of the Light is everything instrumental post-rock should be and nothing it shouldn't: it sounds live but hardly loud and is brimming with sound but uncrowded. Renouncing formulaic bombast, Bell Orchestre dazzles by finesse, not force. Call it blank slate music-- oceans of negative space awaiting colonization-by-imagination. The music combines a driving rhythm section with strings and horns. Bell Orchestre gallops across rich, rustic landscapes. Like Lumen or Explosions in the Sky, it's all a bit fantastical, but the band goes easy on the symbolistic dalliances. Bell Orchestre is all about freeing our neural pathways, not directing them. Recording is designed to underwhelm. It rewards repeat listens and nurtures those lulled by its intoxicating spumes. Whether the album achieves its titular synesthesia is debatable, but Bell Orchestre tap into a wide, mesmerizing range of the spectrum.

#14 - Foo Fighters - In Your Honor

Having publicly declared In Your Honor, the Foo Fighters' fifth full-length since their start in 1995, the Physical Graffiti of the band's oeuvre-- hence, the Foos' definitive artistic statement-- frontman Dave Grohl understands the sudden need for gravity. The two-disc In Your Honor is Grohl at his most pensive, purposefully distanced from his all-American prankster persona, attempting to build a legacy that extends beyond the shadows of Nirvana and Kurt Cobain. In Your Honor is Dave Grohl claiming ground. Disc One features loads of thundering guitars and manic drum breakdowns, classic Foo structures (brash verse, anthemic chorus) and aggressively contemplative lyrics. Disc Two is a surprisingly eclectic success. The Foo Fighters are strong, neat, and clean. So we wonder: Can a steady, hard-working everydude from northern Virginia make transcendent art? Sure. Does Dave Grohl? Sometimes.

#15 - Hood - Outside Closer

Outside Closer is the followup to Hoods previous release Cold House, an album of electronic/indie/abstract hip hop fusion and the album that did kid-A better than kid-A. Closer outside follows in a simillar vein and while the electronic/indie fusion is still the main order of the day Closer outside takes a step away from the microscopic glitch beats of cold house and has a more organic feel. Despite not having the presence of the abstract rapping mentalists clouddead this time around the production has an almost hip-hop feel to it. The beats this time are more reminiscent of Four Tets choppy acoustic sounding style with glitchy, scratchy electronica gives way to lush strings then come the fragile guitars and vocals before cold houses final secret weapon a of rapidfire gibberings courtesy of clouddead is unleashed, there has been nothing quite like it before or since and simply has to be heard to be believed.

#16 - Patrick Wolf - Wind in the Wires

Patrick Wolf began to dabble in recording at age 11, recording violin, junky analog organs, and homemade theremin on his four-track. At 16, he left England to form the raucous Mason Crimineaux in France and won over Capitol K, who would release Wolf's solo debut, the bombastic, uncontained electro-folk grab bag Lycanthropy, in 2003. Wind in the Wires, which boils off the excesses of his debut and simmers in elegant pools of glitchy beats, found sound collages, crackling electrical sounds, and gothic shadows. But to focus only on the broader traits is to miss what makes Wind in the Wires so outstanding: Wolf festoons his songs with strange, understated details that ratchet them toward the mysterious.

#17 - Bonnie Prince and Matt Sweeney - Superwolf

Superwolf, a new collaboration with guitar freelancer Matt Sweeney, sees Oldham at his squirrely best, squeaking out his finest songs since 1999's I See a Darkness. Superwolf marks Oldham's first official partnership with Sweeney, whose credits include a predictably brief stint axe-grinding in Billy Corgan's Zwan. Oldham has always been uniquely capable of making colossal leaps in tone between breaths, and from track to track Superwolf nobly maintains that practice, drifting gracefully from classic-rock stomps to whispery dirges. Oldham's quivering pipes and Sweeney's fragile guitar coalescing into a soft, droning, and tremendously pretty whole. Soft and subtle, Superwolf is the kind of record that unwinds slowly, and is best enjoyed over multiple listens and, unsurprisingly, many glasses of wine. Oldham and Sweeney mew coquettishly, stroking their guitars, cawing bizarre stories about love, death, and body parts: theirs is a rancid and beautiful landscape.

#18 - MF Doom & Dangermouse - Dangerdoom

If you listen to Doom, you expect the ludicrous, and The Mouse and the Mask is his most ludicrous to date. Possibly in reaction to the rampant comedy skits on rap records in the last decade, Doom and Danger go all out, calling in the Aqua Teen Hunger Force to help craft the best funhouse hip-hop since De La Soul Is Dead. Danger Mouse displays a deft hand on the sequencer and a taste for whimsical soundtrack samples. Doom loves themes, as he's shown on Mmm... Food and his King Geedorah project, but never has the concept of an album had him sounding quite this chipper.Danger Doom won't change your life. It's not as revealing as Doom's other work, and Danger Mouse's big, Technicolor productions here are a little too trivial to be immortal. But for what it attempts-- which is basically a comedy record with no-joke skills-- it exceeds expectations.

#19 - Minotaur Shock - Maritime

'Maritime' take a naval theme as its core imagery but despite a few moments of kitsch and whimsy, is not overwealmingly gimmicky. Rather, it is an album of textures and incricate melodies, drawn out of an pallette of electro-style synths and some live instrumentation. Things are quieter on the second half of the album, and take more patience, but almost all the tracks evolve into something quite subtly special. In a genre of music that is often overearnest and esoteric, this is highly accessible but no less complex.

#20 - Caribou - The Milk of Human Kindness

The Milk of Human Kindness sounds once again like an album from a band without a past, a band ready to take risks and go where the music needs to go. The contrast between The Milk of Human Kindness and Up in Flames is certainly less pronounced than the jump from the debut, but the feel here-- clearer arrangements and better songs, both more expansive and comparatively sober-- is new to composer Dan Snaith. Where Up in Flames referenced spiraling psychedelia, this record is more controlled, carefully choosing its moments and arranging peaks for maximum impact. They've been digging into the past to find the best bits and combining the new ways, reinforcing the idea, suggested at on earlier Manitoba material, that his particular genius is curatorial rather than strictly inventive. However he does it, he's created another thrilling, excellent record.

Well folks, I hope that you'll heed some of these reviews and make some of these fine records part of your collection. See you next year for another Top 20.

Coming Soon: Top 20 Movies of 2005!


Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Command & Conker

The Conker kick-off yesterday was a good result for fun and a bad result for me. Alas, I was beaten by my co-worker but there was some great smashing action and everyone enjoyed playing or watching. Today is the 2nd round leading to the quarter finals on Wednesday. There's still a chance for victory however because of a wildcard rule in the semi's and possible droppage of players. Bring it on.

I also visited the City Hall market again and purchased some cheese, smoked and cherizo sausage. The cheese was a little gamey but the smoked was delicious and the cherizo is going to be eaten for lunch today. I also bought some wheat crackers last night and brought in the cheese I had picked up on Saturday for lunch this week which will be washed down with cranberry juice. Mmmm. Of course I couldn't pass up the opportunity for special burgers and there was a stall selling kangeroo, springbok, boar and other kinds of bap filling meat of unusual variety. They were also selling aligator fillets! I would have bought some but it was pretty pricey and I'm saving my money for consecutive return trips to munch my way through bratwursts, crepes and sweet pastries.

Lou and I started playing Call of Duty 2 last night and it's difficult but rewardingly challenging. This time around you are playing the Russians and begin by holding Stalingrad from the invading German forces. Unfortunately, your comrades dress very much like the Nazis and occasionally I will shoot the crap out of my commanding officer and have to repeat the mission. Nevertheless, it's a small blight on an otherwise improvement over the original. The sounds are amazing and when the bullets are whizzing overhead, you really appreciate the niche bunker you're hiding behind trying to take pot shots at opposing forces sticking their heads above the rubble.

Tune in tomorrow for more conker debacle and nonedescript babble.

See you then folks.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Sausage Fest

The Beer Festival was better than last year with, I believe, a wider selection of various ales, stouts and assorted beverages. Around 8 of us met on Friday afternoon and got stuck in, leaving at mid-day close at 4pm. I stupidly bought 10 pints worth of tokens. Not even George Best could have stuffed 10 pints in him in 3 hours and I wouldn't come close but boy did I try. Needless to say, some of us were worse for wear on leaving and by 6pm it felt like midnight and I wasn't the only one ready for bed. Nevertheless, we struggled on regardless and Lou and I crawled into bed sometime nearing 1am. I awoke in the middle of the night with the mother of all hangovers. Cue stumbling to the kicthen and fumbling for 2 nurofen and back to bed until Saturday afternoon.

With the onset of winter, the warmth of the bed becomes more and more appealing and I have found myself sleeping longer as I know the rest of the house will be cold. In warmer times, I would put on a dressing gown and watch Saturday Kitchen over coffee and toast and cast my jealous eye at Keith Floyd who would be somewhere in the Mediterranean soaking up the rays and cooking up some delicious meal on the side of a mountain with locals looking on in wonder.

I still had 5 tickets left from the previous day but there was no way I could face another barrage of beer. Early afternoon, Lou and I hooked up with Brian and Jude at the City Hall as there are food stalls set up until the depths of December. Most stalls were selling chocolates, cheeses, meats and treats and I bought some wild boar and pheasant sausages and a selection of cheeses.
I am going back for more today!
Town was packed with Xmas shoppers and I followed Lou around trying to find matching hat and scarves but nothing seemed to work with the coat I bought her for her birthday so we ended up leaving with nothing but meat and cheese.
I was still reeling from the beer festival punishment and anything attempted became a real chore as I was utterly exhausted. I wasn't in the mood for doing anything and was on autopilot from early evening, climbing into bed around midnight more knackered than I can ever remember being in a long time.

Today we're beginning a conker tournament in work and I'm looking forward to a trip to City Hall at lunchtime for crepes and more sauasages!

Find out if I won tomorrow!

Friday, November 25, 2005

Belfast Beer Festival 2005

It kicked off yesterday but the Belfast Beer Festival is back again this year and we're all taking half or full days off work to attend!

Last year was a great event and together we sampled over 30 ales, stouts, ciders and god knows what.

This year there are over 120 beers available with 50+ served every day until close on Saturday evening.

Fortunately I still have the beer list from 2004 with gradings from 0-5 so we can avoid the bad stuff and concentrate on whetting our lips with past favourites and new and exotic fermented carbonated beverages.

Hope to see everyone there for the start of a great weekend.

See you Monday!

Egg Drop Soup & Chicken Vicious

Last night Brian bammed up some delicious soup and super hot and spicy food. Here's the breakdown:

Egg Drop Soup

INGREDIENTS [serves 6]:

8 cubes chicken bouillon
6 cups hot water
2 tablespoons cornstarch
2 tablespoons soy sauce
3 tablespoons distilled white vinegar
1 green onion, minced
3 eggs, beaten


In a large saucepan, dissolve bouillon in hot water. Mix cornstarch with a small amount of water, and stir into bouillon. Add soy sauce, vinegar, and green onion. Bring to a boil, then simmer, stirring occasionally. Gradually pour the beaten eggs into the saucepan while stirring. Serve at once.

Chicken Vicious


2 teaspoons vegetable oil
4 skinless, boneless chicken breast halves - cut into 1 inch pieces
1 1/2 cups distilled white vinegar
1 cup white sugar
1/2 cup soy sauce
1 tablespoon red pepper flakes, or to taste
2 tablespoons garlic powder, or to taste
1 tablespoon onion powder, or to taste
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1 (8 ounce) package button mushrooms, sliced
1 cup frozen green peas
3 green onions, chopped
3 teaspoons cornstarch
2 tablespoons cold water


1. Heat oil in a large heavy skillet over high heat. Add chicken pieces, and fry, stirring, until browned. Pour in the vinegar, soy sauce, and sugar; stirring to dissolve sugar. Season with red pepper flakes, garlic powder, onion powder, and ginger. Reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer for 15 minutes. Taste the sauce at this point and adjust seasoning to taste. The sauce should be very sweet. If it is too tart, add more sugar; if it is too sweet, add more vinegar.

2. Once the sauce is to your liking, add the mushrooms, peas, and green onions. Simmer gently over low heat for another 5 minutes, until the mushrooms shrink a bit. Stir together the cornstarch and water, and stir it into the sauce. Continue to simmer until it reaches the desired thickness.


Thursday, November 24, 2005

The Constant Gardner

Instead of dinner at the folks on Tuesday, we had a family outing to see The Constant Gardner.

It's based on the John le Carré novel of the same name and directed by Fernando Meirelles responsible for the amazing City of God.

The Constant Gardner concerns a British diplomat played by Ralph Fiennes who is stationed in northern Kenya.

His wife, a political activist, is murdered in dubious circumstances and he embarks on a personal quest to find out who was responsible uncovering more than he bargains for as the cover-up goes much further than anticipated.

It is certainly a slow burning film, the first half hour drifting along introducing you to the characters, especially the relationship between Ralph Fiennes and his wife before turning into political cover ups and the gritty reality of life in Africa.

The material is nothing new in terms of political espionage and a central character after the truth. In fact, The Constant Gardner is not unlike a serious version of the comedy action film Sahara starring Matthew McConaughey.

It is a gripping film and will no doubt be nominated for an Oscar. I would highly recommend checking it out.

I would give this film 4 petunias out of 5.


Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Crouching Steak, Hidden Gas

No post yesterday as I was at a training session at the BT buildings near Airport Road. It's a very 90's building using that light pine wood look with huge glass panelling for the reception. We were led down a corridor with training suites on either side and into the café which reminded me of a beer hall in Munich minus 90% of the atmosphere and 100% of beer. However, they served real coffee from percolators instead of that acrid foul tasting granulated nonesense which gets big marks in my book. They also had a selection of scones and biscuits. Oh to work in a place like this. I would soon put on weight faster than a bear getting ready for hibernation.

The training itself was for MS Publisher. I don't use the program and I wasn't going to go on the course but I fancied a day out and there was a space available. Turns out that it's very much like Pagemaker with the added advantage of having numerous templates and features. I wont bore you with the details but it's very easy to use. Whether or not I'll use it much depends on what I will be asked to do but in the past, my Pagemaker skills have been self-taught and used to help other people rather than do something for myself.

Our trainer was from Canada and very loud and talkative like an American. Turns out he's a fan of Family Guy and we spent lunchtime beginning conversations with "Did you see that episode where.." and "Do you remember that scene where..." over a very delicious meal. If you thought a fine selection of scones was the culinary peak then think again because lunch was a toss up between chicken and ham pie or a steak ciabatta. Oh the angst of choice! I settled for the steak ciabatta with a cous-cous salad. If there's a training session for something here again then sign me up!

That morning I purchased £20 of gas credit at the Spar on Great Victoria Street. For some reason the cashier put the transaction through in 5 £4 payments. What did I care as long as I had £20 on my card? Well, turns out that when I put my card in the meter, nothing transferred. I returned to the shop this morning and was told that the transaction was unusual but they could not verify that £20 was on my card and that I would have to contact Phoenix Gas!
I phoned Phoenix Gas and was casually told that my card was faulty and that I would have to replace the card at £4 and purchase another amount of gas credit. If I posted back the old card and receipt, I would recieve a re-embursment. As to how they knew my card was faulty, I have no idea but for the sake of my sanity I have posted them the card and receipts along with a letter explaining everything and will have to waste an hour or more after work picking up a new card, registering it at my meter and then return to a shop and purchase credit with it to transfer it on the meter again. All very annoying.

Watch this space tomorrow for a follow-up and a review of Constant Gardner.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Oh The Horror

On Friday night, Lou and I watched The Changling. It's a 1980 horror film starring George C Scott who plays John Russell, a composer and music professor, whose wife and daughter he loses in a tragic accident. Seeking solace, he moves into an empty mansion that is possessed by a child-like presence that demands justice for it's murder in life. Following a seance, Russell puts together the clues to help him track down the details surrounding the death of the child in order for it to leave the house and move on to the next world.

The film itself bubbles along at a fair old pace but lacks something to give it anything more than a watchable performance. I'm sure that there is a great film in there but it gets lost in it's own inertia and the effects look pretty dated. But worry not my friends because it is getting the Hollywood remake treatment! Oh yes, no film pre-1990 will remain untouched by idea-bereft Holywood and a schlock retuning will be winging its way to the silver screen in the next year or so. In the meantime, you can get your original fix so you don't have to watch a poorly crafted re-jig.

I would give this film 3 wheelchairs out of 5

On Saturday, Secret Santa was chosen evening and now the nail-biting begins as everyone racks their brains as for what to get their allotted friend. We also met Brians new girlfriend for the first time and it turns out that she went to the same primary school as Lou. Photo albums were brought out and finger pointing and giggling ensued as to where said people was now and anecdotes regarding old classmates. It makes you think about what happened to your own friends when you were aged 5-11 and where they are now. Married with children, living abroad, perhaps still living in the house they were born in. I would quite like to have a reunion and find out.

Sunday was a very relaxed affair spent watching Babylon 5 and finishing Quake 4. I hate games with ridiculous bad guy end fights. They always take place in a big square room with pillars to hide behind and the boss is taller than an office block. The big gun you pick up on the last level is just what the dude hates and his minions have left behind a huge cache of weapons, health and ammo. Thanks guys!

I also watched Notting Hill on channel 4. This film has some of the worst soppy lovey dovey songs in the history of chick flicks. I think I would have enjoyed this film if they had used some decent tunes. It also sufferds from Fast Forward Secondary Character Syndrome where in a series of montages, all the background characters have their own little triumph for that real feel-good push towards the ending credits.

As such, this film gets 1.5 foppish grins out of 5.

Hope you had a good weekend. See you tomorrow.

Friday, November 18, 2005

Throw The Book At Him

I don't know if you have a "book man" in your work but every month we get a new box of goodies to look through. The contents invariably contain one of the following:

- cuddly toy that sings/moves/irritates
- book of cats
- stationary set for (6)5 year olds
- useless gadgets i.e. plastic torch
- pop up book

Anyhow, these items are primarily aimed at children and spinsters with 10 cats. I don't know whether there's an overwhelming population of children or creepy old women in your work but how about something for everyone else? I suggest the following:

- DVDs/PS2/PC games
- books of actual interest i.e. bestseller list top 10
- beer/wine making material
- good gadgets i.e. USB pens

If this could be pulled off I'm sure his profits would soar like opening the pages of useless pop up books that he can't shift because no-one wants to hear Scooby-Doo noises when trying to learn how to read. What's that Shaggy? The letter "A" and the number "9"? Have a scooby snack!
We're also getting close to Xmas and the cuddly toys now play annoying sing-along carols with the added hilarity of a chipmunk on vocals. Someone find me a shotgun.

At least it's Friday. Have a good weekend and catch you at the usual place on Monday.


Thursday, November 17, 2005

Melanzane Alla Parmigiana & Tomato-Stuffed Red Peppers

Last night I made Melanzane Alla Parmigiana & Tomato-Stuffed Red Peppers. It seemed to go down well and I was pleased with the result. Here's the breakdown:

Melanzane Alla Parmigiana [serves 6]


3 large aubergines
1 onion
2 cloves garlic
1 tsp oregano
2 tins plum tomatoes
1 tbsp red wine vinegar
handful basil
4 handfuls of parmesan cheese
150g mozzarella


Slice aubergines into 1cm thick slices and grill both sides until charred and remove to the side. Meanwhile cook the onion, garlic and oregano for 10 minutes and then add the tins of plum tomatoes and simmer for 15 minutes before adding the basil and red wine vinegar.
Pour the mixture in layers into an eartenware dish i.e. sauce followed by parmesan then aubergines until the top layer which should be finished with mozzarella, breadcrumbs and oregano. Cook at 190C until golden and crispy.

Tomato-Stuffed Red Peppers [serves 6]


3 large red peppers and cloves of garlic
18 small plum tomatoes & basil leaves
Olive oil
Red wine vinegar
6 wedges of goats cheese (40g each)
6 tbsp breadcrumbs


Preheat oven to 200C. Halve peppers leaving stalks for decoration. Halve the tomatoes and place 5-6 in pepper halves covering them with garlic. Cook in the oven for 35-40 minutes. Remove and place basil leaves on the tomatoes, goats cheese on top and cover with breadcrumbs and parmesan if required. Return to oven until cheese melts and the breadcrumbs are crisp.



Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Demons & Painkillers

Tuesday evenings are generally spent at the folks having dinner. Last night was no expception. However, we were all in a bit of a rush so take-out food was required. One satisfying Indian meal later and it was home time. But before we left, my mother dispensed gifts for the winter weather. Mothers are always over-protective and she had known that I had been suffering from flu-like symtoms for the last couple of weeks and so had ordered some "medicine" for me, namely in the form of "Flu-Buster" and Royal Jelly. Not one of the listed ingredients had been tested for RDA under EU regulations.

I did some research. Turn out that Royal Jelly "should be regarded as potentially dangerous because they cause allergic reactions." [Source]
The Food Standards Agency [Source] state that risks are small but why risk it in the first place?
Now, as for "Flu-Buster"...

In other news, points really do mean prizes, and by prizes I mean bottles of wine. At least that's what we cashed in our Nectar points for last night. For the last few months we've been wondering what's on the card but have forgotten to ask at the checkout. Last night however, after passing over 3 bottles of wine at the Sainsbury's off-licence, we were asked if we were saving our points. I cautiously replied no, to which she told me that if we were not then this transaction would cost 7 pence. Yes please!

When we got home we decided to watch Dracula, the 1992 Coppola film.
I hadn't seen the film in years but it was still very watchable. I had forgotten that Tom Waits was in it and he always plays oddball side characters down to a tee. I would imagine that he prefers these roles because acting is secondary to his music but it's a perfect balance.
As usual, however, Keanu Reeves acting is atrocious and his English accent is pretty darn awful but when compared to Winona Ryder, it's not that bad. Besides, most of the view time is spent drawing your attention to the wonderful Gary Oldman who rarely turns in less than a great performance.

I would give this film 3.5 bats out of 5.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Into Oblivion

As you may know over the last few months I've occasionlly been talking about Oblivion, the new Elder Scrolls game from Bethesda. After a brief research yesterday I noticed that the release date was November 25th which is only 10 days away!

I was also looking at the minimum specifications required to run the game and they are quite high:

Operating System: Windows XP
Processor: CPU Pentium 4 2.4GHz or Athlon64 3000
Video Card: Geforce FX 5700 or Radeon 9600 or higher
CD-ROM: CDRom 52x or DVD Rom 16x

Operating System: Windows 98/2000/ME/XP
Processor: Pentium PIII 800 MHz Processor or AMD Athlon
Video Card: NVIDIA GeForce 2™ or ATI Radeon™ 7000 or higher
CD-ROM: 4X or Faster

Luckily my new machine will be able to run it at recommended - yay! Unfortunately I will be entering a hibernative type state taking away my ability to move from the computer for periods of up to 5 hours and only then to scavenge for food.

What is it that causes people [generally males aged between 16-24] to turn into computer game addicts? In extreme cases, this had led to death. But this is not confined to earth. You can clearly see below that what the military found in Aliens was an advanced species wiped out because they could not break away from their computer.

In other news, Lou and I watched Return of the King [extended version] last night. Spurred on by the showing of The Two Towers on Sunday evening, we had watched The Fellowship of the Ring that afternoon and yesterday decided that you could not watch the first 2 parts of a trilogy and miss the conclusion. Having read the book before the Fellowship screened in 2001 and now re-reading it, there are a lot of scenes I would have shot differently to Peter Jackson. Personally I feel that there is some great material in the book that has been changed when the original material was just as good if not better at explaining background story and character development. However, the overall feel of the movies remains intact and if you have read the book you will no doubt fill in the whole story in your head as the trilogy progresses. It is still a masterpiece in cinema history and will remain a favourite down the generations.

I would give the trilogy 5 hobbits out of 5.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Moving On

I spent Saturday afternoon helping Brian and Colin move house into their new place which is only a couple of streets down from where Lou and I live. It's defended by a steel door at the front requiring a password to enter which leads on to a courtyard of which their flat overlooks.
The living room is very spacious and adjoins their kitchen which has the envious applicance of a dishwasher. How many arguments a year would be quashed by this mighty kitchen saviour?

Luckily it only took a couple of runs using Lou and Jill's car and the whole deed was accomplished within 2 hours leaving the afternoon open for us to get some shopping done of which we decided to go to the Abbeycentre because they have a shop that sells frames and our living room is in desperate need of wall adornments. Several hours later and Salvador Dali's 'The Metamorphisis of Narcissus' was up on the wall. However, it cuts out the D and S either side so some careful scissor work may have to be applied to add aesthetic quality.

That evening, Keith and Colin hung out and we watched the very bizarre and less than satisfying film, Stay. It stars Ewan McGregor and Naomi Watts in a drama thriller concerning a young boy that McGregor is trying to save from committing suicide. However, the boy seems to hold certain powers that are slowly revealed throughout the film leading to the final scene where the truth is told. Although the direction is excellent and scenes are beautifully blended together, the plot is very obscure and I for one found it difficult to comprehend what was going on. I was hoping that the final scene would explain everything but I was still as confused about it as I was before. Having looked up an explanation for that "Oh, I see" relief, I feel that it could be explained better to the audience who have sat through 2 hours of convoluted plot only to to be given a cryptic explanation instead of the hard hitting truth.

I would give this film 2 imaginary worlds out of 5.

Sunday was spent in 3rd gear, cruising through the morning into the afternoon before taking a run to Belvoir Forest Park for a long walk. It was a very autumnal afternoon: cold, crisp, blue sky, leaves on the path, children wrapped up in scarves, couples walking their dogs. I haven't been there in years and I had forgotten how big the place was, especially along the river which seemed very placid, almost like it was getting ready to hibernate along with the fast fading memories of warmer summer days.

Friday, November 11, 2005

Itchy & Scratchy

Do you ever get those annoying itches you can't scratch? I've thought about this and there's 3 that really irritate:

1. The eyes. This is one you can work at but it doesn't matter because 3.4 seconds after a satisfying rub, it'll only itch again causing your eye to water so you can either walk around like you're crying from a single eye or rub it so hard it looks like you've been stoned on one side.

2. The throat. This one can be solved by swallowing really hard which doesn't really work or you can combine this by making a noise like "achzhaczhzchaczh" in the hope that combined relief will help but it just mkaes you look like you're coughing up a hairball and slighly insane.

3. The crack. Yep, that's the itch that's just a little too far up your butt to scratch in public. Oh sure you can writhe about in your chair but it just looks like you have piles. The only way to solve this is take 5 minutes out and lock yourself in a cubicle. Wash, rinse, repeat if necessary.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Vegetarian Frittata & Lemon Chicken Fajita

This week keith cooked up a vegetarian frittata and a lemon chicken fajita. This is a really good no mess, good eatin' meal that hit every spot in the room [that being stomachs].

Vegetarian Frittata


6 beaten eggs
Sautéd onions
Assorted vegetables [peppers & courgettes]
Cheese [200g]


Sauté all the vegetables and onions and place in an flat casserole dish. In a bowl, beat 6 eggs with 1/2 cup of flour. Mix egg and flour mix with vegetables. Cover in cheese and cook
until the eggs have set.

Lemon Chicken Fajita [for Vegetarians]


Oven-roast vegetables [parsnip in this case]
Quorn chicken pieces (2 bags)
Soft cheese [100g]
Sautéd onions (finely chopped)


Oven-roast the vegetables, sauté the onions and warm through the Quorn chicken.
Add milk, oven vegetables and soft cheese. Mix and heat until cooked through.
Wrap in tortilla's and serve.


Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Go For Launch

Today is the launch date for the website I've been working on. It still requires a fair bit of work behind the scenes but the main look and feel of it is there. Unfortunately there is still an awful lot of content links to be added over the coming weeks so my job is not yet over.

There are signs that the harsh winter we've been predicted is beginning, not least with strong winds, heavy rain and cold mornings when the chill seems to pervade all the layers you've protected yourself with and the distant memory of being snug in your bed dissipates with every stride.

I dreamt last night that I was on the island of Lost. My brother was there too and we decided to leave because it was boring. Only in my dream it wasn't an island - it was a peninsula! All that time and they could have just walked home! Of course it wasn't that easy as "home" looked flooded like Louisiana and there were zombies in the water. In some places they were being used as buoys for some odd reason - I guess corpses float right? In others they just drifted for the most part face down, a few with that pale gaunt look, their large black eyes waiting for some chance of fresh flesh getting close enough to sink their foul teeth into.

Anyway, who cares about my bizarre dreams? I think the only reason Lost featured in my subconcious thoughts is because it's back on TV tonight after a 3 week soujourn and one of the main characters is killed off. Who will it be?

In other news, the Christmas menu is floating around for choosing courses. We're dining at James Street South. Motor Mouth is back in work after her 3 month holiday, sorry, bereavement period and thank the gods, she isn't going because there's nothing on the menu that she likes. What a freaking peasant - she eats gravy & chips every lunchtime and always orders chicken & chips when we're out. I've largely been avoiding her since she returned but I shared a room with her yesterday over lunch and she was blah-ing and f-ing about this and that. With any luck, she'll choke on a chicken wing or something. Heimlich Maneuver? What's that?

Links #12

Sorry to fob you off with more links but I'm really busy. Launch date is tomorrow.

Drum Machine - Cool flash animation [requires sound]

Michael Jackson does Super Mario - The Moonwalk is back!

Imagine - Even better than scribbler - Draw!

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Links #11

This week may be light on posts due to impending deadline work and the fact that I will no longer be at my cosy little desk, hiding behind cold coffee and a 1" thick partition. Hopefully these hyper-mega-super-monkey-links will keep you busy. They are:

Post A Secret - Got a secret you want to tell the world? Make a postcard and send it in!

Scribbler - Turn that doodle into a work of art!

Angry Alien Cartoons - Watch classic movies reduced to 30 second re-enactments by bunnies.

Monday, November 07, 2005

40 Year Old Virgin

40 Year Old Virgin stars Steve Carrell, star of the American remake of The Office. His character is, wait for it, a 40 year old virgin. What’s funny about that? Nothing actually, but the film is more about love and romance and how relationships work, and of course the lack of one all your life leaving you a virgin at aged 40, before your co-workers begin to meddle in your private life in order for you to get laid. His co-workers of course have their own backgrounds and quirks, typical of these sorts of films but played well by everyone to bring the film together to be more than the sum of its parts.

Steve is a technician at an electronic shop and through a series of mishaps, ends up working on the shop floor. Egged on by his colleagues, he gains a new self confidence and makes an impression on Trish, a customer, played by Catherine Keener. She plays the single mother role to a tee, allowing for some great dialogue between them. In fact, the dialogue is the best feature of 40 Year Old Virgin and contains some hilarious lines especially from Steve’s boss Paula, played wonderfully by Jane Lynch, who someone should really put in more central comedy roles.

The film is a non-stop cringe-laugh-out-loud journey from start to finish and is certainly more comedy than romance but I would imagine both sexes will enjoy this film equally. If you’re looking for a great comedy, then 40 year old Virgin will push all your buttons.

I would give this film 4 virgins out of 5.


Sunday, November 06, 2005

Architecture In Helsinki

Architecture In Helsinki played the Students Union as part of the Queen’s Festival. The strange thing is that they played in the Speakeasy, a student’s bar with a door fee of only £5. Needless to say, the place was packed, and from the feel of the crowd, they were only there to get drunk and have a good time, the band being a side attraction. Therefore, for those of us who were there to see the band, it was a bit of a letdown as they were always out competed by the background noise of a hundred conversations.

However, they still played with enthusiasm except for perhaps the lead vocalist who was clearly not enjoying the audience’s full attention. This begs the question as to why Architecture In Helsinki was relegated to playing there in the first place. If it was £12 at the Spring & Airbrake, I would have paid the money and I’m sure they would have made the same money from fans paying a higher fee in a proper establishment than an average Saturday night student crowd who couldn’t care who was playing so long as there was something being played.

Nevertheless, we enjoyed ourselves and were also pleasantly surprised by support band Oppenheimer – a great local band who a CD of would have been purchased except for the fact that they had ran out and only had £7 t-shirts to shift. Unfortunately t-shirts don’t play well on my hi-fi.

Saturday, November 05, 2005

Goodbye Lenin!

Goodbye Lenin! revolves around Alex, a young man living in East Germany under a socialist regime both inside and outside of the house as his mother is a firm believer in the system and spends all her hours dedicating herself to the state. He, however, longs for change and the end of this way of life for him and his countrymen. He is also reaching an age where he becomes fascinated by the opposite sex and has eyes for one girl in particular, Kathrin, whom he spots at a march against the government in 1989.

Unfortunately his mother, delayed on her way to a social event because of a protest, spots her son being arrested after getting caught up in violence of which he was not participating [he was following the young girl] and collapses on the spot. He is however suddenly released from an impending prison stretch because his mother is not only respected in the regime but has in fact fallen into a coma. He bounds himself to her bedside every day until she should wake up.

8 months later she awakes from her coma but a lot has changed as it is now 1990 and the Berlin Wall has fallen. The doctors warn that she should not be allowed to become excited as this may cause another heart-attack. Therefore, Alex makes the decision that she should not know that the Berlin Wall has come down and that Germany is unified.

The film then deals with Alex’s attempts to prevent the knowledge of the outside world from reaching his mother as he feels responsible for her condition. He must conceive more and more outrageous ways of preventing the outside into her life. The film handles this well and every scene is as believable as it is hilarious and also incomprehensible.

If you are looking for laughs, look no further than saying hello to Goodbye Lenin!

I would give this 3.5 tsars out of 5


Friday, November 04, 2005


Deadbirds is director Alex Turner's 3rd movie and unfortunately it's his worst [according to IMDB]. I haven't seen his first two directional flicks but I have seen Blood & Donuts, a film where he was the cinematographer and has recieved less than favourable reviews which I think were a little unjust but the film does suffer from an extremely slow plot movement focusing instead on unnesscessary character development.
Unfortunately, Deadbirds suffers from both lack of character attachment, slow plot movement and is also confusing to the viewer.

Deadbirds concerns a band of outlaw confederate soldiers who rob a bank and take refuge in an abandoned plantation. However, as the night settles in around them, supernatural forces within the house manifest themselves to reveal a dark and gruesome past. The initial concept seems sound but as the film progresses it quickly falls into clichéd territory and formulaic horror plotlines which is very disappointing and general apathy sets in where you don't care who dies as long as someone does.

An interesting side-note is that the film was shot in 30 days on the set of Big Fish after it wrapped up. However, a low budget movie is no excuse for being lazy and unimaginative. The title itself is confusing as there is only one dead bird in the film and it doesn't refer to something only the viewer knows and the characters are unaware of - I'm not sure why it was even called that. Secondly, the background as to why the plantation was haunted is skimmed over without going into great detail and there is general confusion as to why the dead return as beasts. Huge pink beasts, one of which the characters come accross on the way to the plantation which is simply ignored even though it is clearly not any animal that is common to the region, or earth in general.

Unfortunately this film falls down in almost every area under critique. It will neither excite nor astound and the plot is both predictable and dull, taking its cues from clichés in previous films of similar genre before it. Come back Saw 2, all is forgiven!

I would give this film 2 slaves out of 5.


Thursday, November 03, 2005

Halloween Photos

Here are the photos from Friday night [clicky click for slightly bigger version!]:

How we all felt the morning after...

The Evil Wizard Colin

It's not every day you see a hobbit being assimilated.

Relaxing after a hard days Ghostbustin'

The fight you've all been waiting for: Green Goblin vs The Undertaker

On your marks, get set, snooze!

Agent McKnight - the Beer is Out There...

Give me coat or give me beer.

This is not the beer you are looking for....

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