Saturday, 1 May 2021

UndergRound Up of the Year, Part 2....

The Mummy returns! Agent Rob back from the undead!

Welcome back (no) one and all for Part 2 of Braw's UndergRound Up of the Year, Agent Rob's much delayed (ultimately should-very-unwell-have-been-cancelled mis-) guide to 2020. “An equal not a sequel”, as Braw favourite John Cleese said of (the then absolutely critically mauled to pieces) Fierce Creatures. (Indeed, here's hoping Mr Cleese spent his lockdown working on the second part of his autobiography with that same ethic in mind, as opposed to wasting his twilight talents gleefully twatting the endless hordes of Twitter trolls to one side....) Will it again be a tale of two brackets? With films hitting home box office while television mostly struck out, let's see how music, books and comics fare (fair?) as it's 'seconds out' for (underg)round two(-oh-two-oh)....

The Orb this week.... are just the medicine, man....

There's no doubt that music saved Agent Rob's (underGroundhog) day these past12/13 months. Thanks in part to Dr Alex Paterson – didya know it's actually Duncan Alexander Robert Paterson? - and co(horts) there was plentiful prescriptions on offer, be it the time to take a long bath in the loopy 90's ambient throwback of Chocolate Hills' rather wonderful 'Pail of Air' (why not an actual Orb?) album or a moment to drift off into (inner) space thanks to The Orb's surprisingly timely 'Abolition of The Royal Familia', an album that cannily tapped into the lockdown vibe* while very much following the (free)formula of 2018's 'NSOOB' only bigger and better, eschewing the latter's rather flabby and shapeless midsection for something agreeably phat and dubby around the middle, languid and agreeably unhurried, cushioned by much tasty and tinkly ambient noodling.

*....and not only was there that slice of prescient action, but the Royal Familia 'Guillotine Remixes' album somehow managed to drop on the very day that the Duke of Edinburgh passed away. Uncanny....


Duende India Collective - Escapology (Epically Orb Mix)

As if that wasn't enough, Agent Rob also booked a trip on Auntie Aubrey's third set of The Orb remix 'Excursions Beyond the Call of Duty' at the very end of the year, wallowing in a (surprisingly) solid selection of knob, er, twiddling and, um, tweaking. That's 'ambientertainment' for yer....

"And we stare straight into nothing, but we call it all the same"

There's no denying that being cooped up at home or office in 2020 inspired Rob to hit the (mental) road, roaring off into the brainset(?) to the sounds of The War On Drugs and their particular brand of widescreen cosmic US radio rock.... and to a lesser extent there was fellow acolyte Kurt Vile's slightly patchier, slacker take on the genre with Mac De Marco's wholly slacker take bringing up the rear view. While Rob finally got around to (WODrugs influencer) Bruce Springsteen's raw and pointed 'Nebraska', it was the granddaddy of them all Bob Dylan who graced us with his simple, shimmering (and ultimately transcendent) 'Murder Most Foul' from his 'Rough and Rowdy Ways' album....

27 years.... Quite an eye opener....

Elsewhere Thousand Yard Stare delivered their first album in 27 years, the spiky 'Panglossium Momentum', while Cornershop took a little less time to produce more of their spritely, wry and slyly political agit-pop on 'England is A Garden'. Team Crippled Black Phoenix motoriked on too, releasing the accomplished – that's really Rob's way of saying he's still not quite worked out if he really likes it yet - 'Ellengaest', while Capitol K served up more of his worldly homegrown organic techno on the tasty 'Birdtrapper' and an unexpected winter salvation came in the shape of Wu-Tang Clan's chilly, first post-Ol' Dirty release, '8 Diagrams'....

Bang! Ace shot through the bleeding heart....

The most momentous, er, moment in the musical calendar was without a doubt the 19th of August 2020, the day that Agent Rob, after a two and half year break (having had his heart broken by Sam Sweet's 'Hadley Lee Lightcap' book, a vivid, lyrical account of simply scraping by as a member of the band Acetone*) finally plucked up the courage to again delve into their warm, wistful and pretty much perfectly formed body of recorded work.... all the, ahem, 'hits', as it were.... And here's a fairly freaky full circle of sorts given that, unbeknownst to Rob until he took to researching(!?)/typing this article, Pitchfork wrote in their review of the (highly recommended) 'Acetone 1992-2001' compilation, “But if Acetone are not a name that gets dropped with any regularity these days, a survey of the contemporary indie-rock landscape reveals a number of artists striving for a similar zen state. From the slow-dissolve soundscapes of the War on Drugs to the window-gazing ruminations of Kurt Vile to the lysergic twang of Mac DeMarco, there’s a healthy appetite today for patient, clock-stopping music that, if only for a moment, can pull us out of a world where 24/7 news tickers and obsessive-compulsive feed-refreshing set the pace of modern life.” Now howzabout that? Uncanny again....

*if only one person discovers the wonders of applying a daily dose of Acetone to their life then this entire blog will have been worth it....


The old roads best travelled....

With Boobs of Doom taking something of a hiatus in 2020 – only four albums, c'mon! - following on from 2019's dozen doses album extravaganza, it was over to fellow Scot Fordell Research Unit to up the release ante on Bandcamp. Pick of his bunch (so far) has to be 'Old Roads', with track 1, the epic sweep and swoosh of 'Funeral Rites For Mahler' getting the earth moving under Agent Rob's feet every time. (His tumbling CCTV soundtrack 'Etches of Pain' album on Invisible City Records comes highly recommended too....)

We've actually made it quite far this time around without mentioning Poland (until now!) but here's a fascinating (vinyl) cut salvaged (along with several colourful others) from the 'Archives of the Eastern Bloc'. What you're looking at is actually a record.... and not only that, it is in fact a Hawkwind record…. Silver Machine AKA Srebrna Maszyna.... (and, deemed top billing, there's Popcorn AKA Prazona Kukurydza by, er, Hot Buter)....

Not a bunch of DIIVs....

How do you make gig of the year in 2020? Easy.... you are Agent Rob's ONLY gig of the year. Lucky for DIIV they were just ahead of the Covid curve – Rob recalls thinking of the growing pandemic and raising a wry eyebrow when the support band's singer announced, “your country is sick!” Luckier still the band've cleaned up their act considerably since their last visit to Glasgow, a performance that was as wan and as hollow as frontman Zachary Cole Smith's smack sharpened cheekbones. (That it was at the frankly dire SWG3 venue didn't help matters much either as every band struggles against the dud acoustics, muddy sound and lack of any discernible atmosphere.) Placing saucer-eyed Gollum-cum-guitarist Andrew Bailey centre stage – he never missed a note/beat, mind! - the band powered through deep cuts from their 'Deceiver' album (with older tracks from their previous lp 'Is the Is Are' sounding sparse and half-formed by comparison), delivering a genuine (finally) coming of age performance. Here's hoping they spent 2020's lockdown wisely and have only been cooking up new tunes....

Don't be a mug and support live music....

Of course, with gigging strictly off the menu, totally down the pan and quite frankly up the spout the whole (live) music industry has been thrown into crisis (by way of the wolves). If anyone reading this has not done so then please consider heading over to make purchases/donations at #wemakeevents – some nice mugs and tote bags to be had, perfect for Rob's middle-aging demographic – or Save Our Venues, where you might pick up a nice t-shirt you can wear without embarrassment (while you, er, half-heartedly mow the somewhat neglected, mostly moss ridden lawn)....

"Yes he did, he does, he really did like it." (pic. Tom Sheehan)

As we seamlessly segue from music to books singer Tim Burgess cropped up with his autobiography, shedding more light on the decidedly dark death of The Charlatan's keyboardist Rob 'The (90s) Hammond King' Collins, – 25 years ago this June! - with some additional bleakness to round out the grim details courtesy(?!) of the Rockfield: The Studio on the Farm documentary....

Second Crumbling.... Ian Browned off with Reni circa '95....

Meanwhile Simon Spence did his best to get under the prickly skin of those perpetual enigmas The Stone Roses in his War & Peace biography. If anything it got Agent Rob back listening to their startling debut - such a considered, spacious sound and genuinely unmatched song dynamics – as well as hopping online to unearth the 'Schroeder Mixes' of 'Second Coming', seemingly 90% finished before John Squire's coke habit buried the songs under two years of over and over and overdubbed guitars. The updated edition even covers their initially well-intentioned but ultimately well-flogged – official iPhone covers, really?! - 2014 reunion....

Leaf it out, Ian!

However, in contrast to Tim Burgess embracing the lockdown online via his Twitter Listening Parties – still not enough to tempt Rob onto that life-vacuum however – and releasing his 'I Love The New Sky', a charming album of quirky alt-pop, fellow Mancunian singer Ian Brown planted his feet firmly in the disbeliever camp with his 'plandemic' protest song 'Little Seed Big Tree', diverting enough in the swaggering spring sunshine of 2020, but harder to say it was rooted in any sort of reality come the year's decidedly sticky end....


If Rob was pushed and shoved to pick a book of the year it'd have to be Robert Silverberg's Nightwings, a short, well realised and wholly immersive Science Fiction (with a decent dash of the fantastical) novel. Of course, H. G. Wells couldn't fail with his excellent The Invisible Man (surely ripe material for the best Studio Ghibli animation never made), as elsewhere Emily St. John Mandell took us on a pre-pandemic ride with her Station Eleven (thus sparing us Agent Rob's Unearthly Science Fiction outtake about the 'last Mars bar man'....), the Strugatsky brothers entranced with the sprawling, immersive The Doomed City while JG Ballard predicted the rise of English nationalism, foretelling the build up to Brexit, his canny fingers on the quickening pulse for what was his final novel, Kingdom Come....


Any excuse....

Lawrence Durrell's TUNC, with it's 70's setting but dense 50's literature stylings often suffocating the telling, still impressed with it's strange SF-esque plot, while Tom Baker tackled his Fourth Doctor (Who) in the enjoyable (salvaged from a never made film of) Scratchman. It's inevitable that the towering 1984 by George Orwell should rear it's ugly, impassive head – Big Brother really is watching you – prompting Agent Rob's inevitable retreat into the comforting primordial stew of Ballard's The Drowned World - with such an affecting, poetic conclusion - before finishing right back where he started with a third book by (his favourite author of 'straight fiction') William Boyd, the epic The New Confessions, a beginning fitting for the end....

And Rob's favourite sentence of the year is from Michael Moorcock's bracing boy's own adventure omnibus A Nomad of the Time Streams, taken from book two, The Steel Tsar, “His smile was a soft, deceiving thing lying upon the pitted surface of his head like a red slug.”....


The most curious book (discovery) of the year has to be a copy of Space-Travel Stories, a 1969 Moscow publication 'for the 9th form of the secondary school', Compiled by L. Fomin and designed and (nicely) illustrated by B. Trofimov. All the (translated) stories therein are adapted and it features Asimov's Little Lost Robot and John Wyndham's Meteor among lesser/completely unknown others....





Nothing like holding a book in your hands and knowing it's quite likely the only copy in existence anywhere. Bonus points surely have to be awarded to this completely obscure Russian publication for allowing the word 'bisexual' to slip undetected into the 'vocabulary' at the back....


With From Hell (in color) finally wrapped up for good this year Agent Rob turned his attention to Alan 'The Original Writer' Moore's early 80's work on Miracle/Marvelman, fighting his way through the initial stodge of the wordy Warrior tales into the truly creative enlightenment, but no less boggy let's be honest, of the Olympus/Eclipse era. Still no word from 'The House Of Mouse/Ideas' on Neil Gaiman and Mark Buckingham concluding their proposed 90's stint on the book tho....


With a little cash to splash (just in time before the crash) Agent Rob said 'Hiya!' to his local comic shop and duly order a copy/doorstop of this wonderful, evocative 1970's comic-cum-magazine as previously spied bending the shelves at Ice Station Zebra. Needless to say, with it's wonderful comic strips and fascinating articles it was a fung kung smash hit (on the wallet)....


Aha, and we're back on Polish soil again, Agent Rob swiping his dictionary to make a start at the collected tales of the lewd and crude Jez Jerzy, the Poles very own underground/overground comic strip sensation – it did make the leap into film in an agreeably vulgar 2010 adaptation....


Another drawing discovery was the stunning work of German Peter Knorr, illustrator of several eye-popping children's books, wholly immersive affairs with gentle narratives, invitingly quaint environments and recurring characters inhabiting each warm and wonderfully-realised scene – highly recommended purchases (as the tiny online galleries do not do the sheer attention to detail justice)....


If all that wasn't enough to break your continental fast how about some lovely chunky and stylish illustrations (courtesy of Jan Baranowicz) from Waldemar Bonsels 'Pszczolka Maja I jej przydogy' (otherwise known as 'Maja the Bee'), an 1981 KatowicePoland again!! - children's book that caused quite a buzz when Agent Rob unearthed it in the Eastern (housing) Bloc 'Archives of Doom'....





Tytus, Romek i A'tomek and creator....

Polish comics had a sad loss this year (January 2021) with the passing (at the ripe old age of 97, mind) of Henryk Chmielewski, the creator/writer/illustrator of 'Tytus, Romek I A'tomek', a strip that ran for over 40 years across countless books and publications, seeping into the national consciousness in all that time (Tytus gracing MediaMarkt's promotions only last year). Although not the slickest of comic strips – the art has a somewhat clunky, innocent charm, eandearingly simple – there's no denying that this Jadek (grandfather) of Polish comics acheived an incredible artistic lifetime's, er, achievement.... 


And so 2020 proved to be a year that pulled no punches - obviously sincere Braw sympathies to those of you reading who have been affected by Covid-19 - and the pop-culture punches suckered more than most given we lost a plethora of icons, among them a James Bond, (THE James Bond!) two (UK) Avengers (and some time iconic Bond Girls), a Python, a Goodie, Emperor Ming (THE Merciless), a (US) Avenger, a Supervillain (THE Supervillain) and (clocking in/out at 104!) Spartacus himself....


Maybe 2021 will be the year that Braw Books finally gets back to doing what we do best – although you'd be forgiven for thinking that's NOT publishing the finest (and funniest) underground comics (collections) in Scotland (and, let's be honest, elsewhere)....


Plans are still afoot for the long awaited/delayed/drawn out John Stark: Secret Agent comic – Agent Johnny even predicted the pandemic with his canny 'Lockdown' story (title) on his 2018 cover (although the script itself, later drawn by a drunken Agent Rob in Poland(!), didn't appear until the summer of 2020 when John, er, actually remembered creating it, um....). Beyond that (which is just about beyond us!) who knows.... Hopefully we'll (soon) see some blogs delving into the existing range of Braw Books as well as the return of regulars such as Sketch Sunday, Philip K. Dick and From The Vault (and the associated drift of Eclectic Dreamzzz). We did provide a handy users guid to the revamped Life In The Buckfast Lane tho....

In the meantime – and it is particularly mean, this relentless forward charge to oblivion – there's always an occasion to download our fantastic and free Braw Books PDF sampler here>>

Congratulations! You have reached the end of 2020 (and, indeed, already made it 1/3 of the way through 2021)! All that remains to say is to 'keep well' (in preference to the wholly misguided 'stay safe' nonsense that peppered the pandemic promos here in the UK) and we'll see you after a short summer break (following on from Agent Rob's completely unwarranted winter one....
 
And last, but never least, our Braw pick of the year? Well, this 1963 film certainly gave this weary old RIDE fan a bit of an unexpected surprise....

Billy Liar - Twisterella

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