It’s A Long Walk Up To Burslem

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My first professional football match of the year turned out to be quite entertaining viewing for a neutral, as I spent an uncomfortably cold Sunday afternoon at Vale Park for this FA Cup 3rd Round tie between Port Vale and Plymouth Argyle. I had actually put at least some degree of forward planning into this having booked train tickets to Stoke earlier on in the week, and as research told me that there was a bus stop near the station that would go relatively close to the ground I booked a day pass for the bus too. However, upon arrival at the bus stop, I was less than impressed to discover that it was a half hour wait until the next bus and, as the website I’d taken the directions off also specified that it could take up to an hour to get out to Burslem on the bus anyway, I thought I might as well walk it. I’d barely made it half a mile into the three and a half mile trek when another bus went past, a whole lot earlier than it should have done. Oh well.

Around an hour later, I finally arrived at Vale Park after what was a surprisingly pleasant stroll through a not-surprisingly unpleasant city. I collected my pre-paid ticket from the office in the club shop smoothly enough, but that was just about the only part of the pre-match experience that went according to plan; I drew considerable ridicule from the obviously accustomed Port Vale fans as I attempted to enter the stadium not once but twice through the wrong gate. If they’d only do what we do at Chesterfield and print the gate numbers on the ticket then this would have all been avoided, but alas it was not to be. Anyway, I finally made it into the ground and headed up to the upper tier of the BetBright stand which was all unreserved seating. Given that it was now only five or so minutes before kick off the pickings were slim, so I popped myself down on a spare seat at the back next to an old man who, much to my delight, was incredibly vocal throughout the entire match.

The game started at quite a lively pace and both sides were clearly up for it, and it was the visitors who came closest to scoring early on as Tope Obadeyi hit the post and Chris Neal tipped the rebound shot from Lewis Blanchard out for a corner. The corner was poor and Vale launched a counter attack that resulted in Andres Gurrieri conceding a free kick just outside the Argyle box on the left. The free kick was delivered perfectly by Jennison Myrie-Williams onto the head of Gavin Tomlin who nodded past Jake Cole to put Vale 1-0 up and spur them on. The second goal, coming 21 minutes later, was pretty similar. Another cross from the left was this time met by the head of fan-favourite Tom Pope for 2-0. Half time came soon after, although not before Richard Duffy was taken off injured. A comfortable first half from the home side, then, and I was quite happy to see that Port Vale actually allow you to go out and smoke at half time – they’re only the second Football League ground I’ve been to where this is possible.

As the temperature dropped and dropped, I tried in vain to warm up with a coffee before the second half began. If you’ll pardon the cliche, this really was a game of two halves; whatever John Sheridan said to the Plymouth players at half time obviously worked and six minutes after the restart Argyle had one back – Lewis Alessandra ran with the ball down that oh-so-popular left hand side and Chris Neal made the poor decision to come charging out towards him. Alessandra played the ball across the penalty area for the unmarked Reuben Reid to calmly place it into the unguarded net. Game on, and I was beginning to sense that the Devon side had more to offer. Indeed, they pressed and pressed with Vale not getting a look-in – this, combined with the decidedly poor standard of refereeing invoked considerable anger from the home fans (BBC Sport state that Vale committed an astonishing 18 fouls), and when Plymouth grabbed their inevitable equaliser on 74 minutes the atmosphere in three quarters of the ground fell flat. Yet another break down the left was capped off by the youngster Ben Purrington dinking the ball over the once-again outrushing Neal into the far corner. The supporters surrounding me (particularly the aforementioned old man) were irate beyond belief at this point, whilst the impressive contingent of Plymouth fans who had made the long trip up north were dancing behind the goal. Argyle even had a chance to really rub salt in the wounds (very) late on, only for Gurrieri’s driven shot to come cannoning back out off the post. The final whistle went and Vale Park erupted in a chorus of boos, with the fans heading straight for the exits before the players even had a chance to thank them for their support.

I didn’t reckon I could make it back to Stoke station in 55 minutes, so instead I jogged (yes, jogged – that is not a typo or blatant lie you see before you) down to Longport station instead (thank you so much Google Maps) to take the train back across town before changing and heading back to Manchester. An enjoyable day out indeed, although I imagine the majority of the 5511 present weren’t feeling the same as they filed out into the light rain on a chilly Staffordshire evening.

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5 Favourite Albums of 2013

Well I know there’s a week left of the year, but I’m not really expecting any more big records in that time (although music industry, if you wish to read this as a challenge then be my guest!) so I feel comfortable enough writing this now. It was a pretty good year for music and there were a lot of incredible releases this year that I personally think everyone should hear. So in no particular order, here are my five favourite albums from this year.

Streetlight Manifesto – The Hands That Thieve

VR614The tag of “my favourite band” is one that’s generally pretty flexible, but I think if I had to choose one in a properly long-term sense it would be Streetlight, and in April of this year they put out this simply magnificent album. It was pretty much all I listened to for about a fortnight after it came out. There aren’t, in my opinion, any bad tracks on this one; lyrically it’s a masterpiece and the tunes are catchy as hell. I feel that even people who aren’t necessarily big fans of the genre will find something they like out of its ten tracks, and as such I’d recommend this to near-enough anyone.

3 picks: The Littlest Things, The Hands That Thieve, Your Day Will Come

Toh Kay – The Hand That Thieves

tumblr_mm97g4HDSO1sncn6xo1_1280This choice could be seen as a little bit of a cop-out, but Tomas Kalnoky’s acoustic companion to the aforementioned release is an excellent album purely on its own merit. Despite the virtually-identical title and the fact that the tracklist is exactly the same, THTT’s take on the original ten songs is completely different – the slowed-down nature practically makes them take on different meanings to their original forms. This is always the album I go to when I need to concentrate on something nowadays, as the soft guitars are perfect for getting into a decent headspace.

3 picks: With Any Sort Of Certainty, If Only For Memories, Ungrateful

Los Campesinos! – NO BLUES

CoverAs you might be able to guess if you’d read my glowing review of the LC! show I went to a few weeks ago, I’m a pretty big fan of the band and I might even stick my neck out and say that record number five is the best they’ve ever done. If you listen to their debut release and then this one straight afterwards, you’ll really see just how far they’ve come as a band soundwise. The lyrics are up to their usual high standard and due to the catchy nature of the tunes they’ll end up stuck in your head for quite some time. Certainly not one to miss.

3 picks: Cemetery Gaits, Glue Me, Avocado, Baby

Drenge – Drenge

2013Drenge_album_packshot600G080813You could be forgiven for claiming bias on this one given the fact that Drenge are a band composed of two people who I know, but that doesn’t take anything at all away from this year’s exceptional debut release. The heavy guitar sound is almost genre-defying, and the macabre lyrics are an excellent antithesis to a lot of contemporary music. The two-man setup has drawn comparisons to The Black Keys but I wouldn’t let that put you off: this sound is a world away from theirs.

3 picks: Backwaters, Nothing, Fuckabout

Less Than Jake – See The Light

See The LightNot a lot I can say about this one that I didn’t already say in my review posted back in November, but the long and short of it is that this album sees LTJ back to their brilliant genre-defining best. It’s a thirteen track rapid-fire assault on your ears that, unless you’re some kind of boring automaton, will just make you want to dance. If you like brass instruments, catchy choruses, and songs that above all else convey important life messages, do yourself a favour and listen to this.

3 picks: Jump, Do The Math, American Idle

So that’s that, then – five albums released in 2013 that I felt deserved special recognition. Go out and listen to them all. With the exception of the Toh Kay album (which was unfortunately cancelled by the record label before being leaked by someone in the know), they’re all out there on Spotify which I know like 97% of people use so no excuses!

Happy holidays to you all, and if I don’t post anything else before the 31st then have a happy New Year too!

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Daisy, Daisy

Recently, Brand New played two special discography shows over in the US; the first of the two featured The Devil & God Are Raging Inside Me and Daisy, with the first two albums Your Favourite Weapon and Deja Entendu following on night number two. Now, judging by the explosion of backlash on a variety of social media sites (this Tumblr is probably the best at summarising it), a whole lot of people weren’t really happy with this because it’s generally a pretty widely accepted fact amongst fans of the band that Daisy is their worst album and obviously people who had paid a lot of money (resellers had tickets going for around $300!) to be at the first show felt a little cheated at not hearing what they wanted (or, it would seem, felt they deserved) to hear. I felt compelled to write this because the disparaging Tweets etc. that I was seeing following this gig angered me somewhat.

I can certainly concede that Daisy is the worst album that the band has produced. Objectively speaking it is a musical departure from the sound and substance of the three records that preceded it and especially does not play particularly well to their strengths (lyrically speaking above all else). However, also objectively speaking – and here’s the crucial difference, ladies and gentlemen – Daisy is not a bad album. It is just not very good as a Brand New album. If you look at Daisy as an album in and of itself, without considering the artist, it’s a pretty sweet record. It’s a great piece of post-hardcore and if someone told me it was a new release from someone like D.R.U.G.S I’d totally believe them. At the Bottom and Sink are both brilliant tracks. The thing with Daisy is that it’s not as accessible an album as YFW, Deja, or The Devil & God and is such a jump from the resonatingly angst-ridden songs (especially of the first two albums) that it’s understandable that people wouldn’t really want to hear it live.

And if that were the end of it, I could probably stomach it. “They played all of Daisy live last night, and people didn’t like it. They wanted to hear YFW and Deja, man.” That’s really not a problem, people can think that if they like and I can’t do a damn thing to stop them. It’s when they start bringing in all this garbage about being “entitled” to hear the older stuff. I’m not going to list any specific examples (the aforementioned Tumblr takes care of that quite nicely) but basically people think that just because they’ve been there from the start, that they helped get the band to where they are today, that they can start acting like spoiled kids if they don’t get what they want in return. That’s the stuff that makes me mad, and is pretty symptomatic of the culture of entitlement and instant gratification that we live in today. These people have taken tickets that other fans who would have been grateful just to hear the band play live at all could have bought instead (it is my understanding that tickets for Brand New are like gold dust in the US, as yet another Tumblr can testify) and to be honest they don’t deserve them. They might consider themselves the “true fans” but that’s just an outright lie – true fans wouldn’t walk out halfway through a show just because the band didn’t play what they wanted to hear.

Rant over.

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The To Do List (2013)

I was really quite excited when I first heard about this movie, due in no small part to the

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fact that the cast list included a number of actors and actresses that I really liked. Though the concept is a little bit cliched, I had no doubts that the stellar roster of talent would be able to make it one to remember. Unfortunately, however, that wasn’t really the case for a number of reasons.

I’ll start with what was definitely the most jarring aspect of this movie: the cast. So many big names turned out to be both a blessing and a curse here, as the movie is centred around 16 year old Brandy Clark, played by 29 year old Aubrey Plaza. This is a trend that is evident throughout, at its worst when you consider that Rusty Waters (supposed to be around 18 in the film) is played by 34 year old Scott Porter. This age divide created a feeling of uneasiness from start to finish and definitely made The To Do List something of an uncomfortable watch.

The story, too, was definitely lacking. The retooling of American Pie‘s “lose your virginity before college” to look at a female perspective is interesting in principle, and even though Brandy, Wendy, and Fiona have a level of camaraderie similar to Finch, Oz, Kevin, and Stiffler, the swimming pool setting makes this movie feel a lot like The Way Way Back minus the heart, and unfortunately this lack of depth is something that is present all the way through, and the somewhat casual approach it takes to the sex (ish) scenes creates more discomfort than it does humour.

That’s not to say that The To Do List is completely without merit, however. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the absolutely fantastic performance of Bill Hader as the down-on-his-luck pool manager. The man delivers every line absolutely perfectly and with no disrespect, just looks like that sort of loser down to a tee. Rachel Bilson, too, is a scene-stealer every time she steps on camera, and Alia Shawkat and Sarah Steele deserve special mention as well. The writing, although largely shallow, is also very funny on occasion and there are some brilliant cameos too (Jack McBrayer is especially fantastic).

All in all, then, The To Do List is a mixed bag. I’d find it difficult to recommend purely on merit, but anyone who has seen and liked members of the cast in other things should probably still give it a go. Not bad but not great, the stellar cast would have benefited more from a story that didn’t make their real ages seem quite as jarring.

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Live: Los Campesinos! @ Gorilla

“Don’t put this in your blogs,” says Gareth with a resigned smile. The Wales-based six-piece have just finished playing As Lucerne / The Low, the track with the lyrics that provide the title of the band’s fifth studio album NO BLUES, released back in October. The power supply to one side of the stage has just failed rendering half of them useless, and the frontman is filling the dead air with a little light chat as the venue’s technicians try and get everything sorted out. Within a couple of minutes everything is back to normal, and it’s on with the show.

This was actually the fourth time I had had the pleasure of seeing Los Campesinos! live, but as it was the first non-festival performance I’d seen I was understandably excited for a gig in a more intimate setting, not least because the aforementioned new album is a masterpiece of the genre and I was very much looking forward to hearing some of the new songs played live. As the band launch into By Your Hand, taken from 2011’s Hello Sadness, I am already satisfied that the anticipation that had been steadily building in the weeks leading up to this would not have been in vain.

The band clearly benefit from the longer stage time that a devoted tour brings, and this is reflected in a setlist that spans all five of their records, seguing effortlessly from album to album, sound to sound. NO BLUES is, of course, healthily represented – 7 of its 10 songs are belted out before the night is over – alongside the classics (including one-time Budweiser advert soundtrack and fan favourite You! Me! Dancing!) in a set lasting around one hour and twenty minutes. Each and every track sounds absolutely on-point; LC! are one of those bands who are so gifted at reproducing their studio sound on stage and this is no different here.

The atmosphere in Gorilla is also a contributing factor to the overall impressiveness of the show. Fans of all ages, clearly passionate about the band onstage in front of them, respond to everything Gareth says with rapturous applause and cheering (save for a smattering of boos as he re-emerges on stage wearing a United shirt), and as encore closer Baby I Got The Death Rattle comes to an end, the masses pour out into a chilly Mancunian night with smiles on their faces.

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Less Than Jake – See The Light (2013)

This Autumn, Less Than Jake returned to the scene with their first original album since 2008’s GNV FLA. As one of my favourite bands not just in the genre but across music as a whole, I was naturally very excited by the news of its impending release. After hearing My Money Is On The Long Shot, the first track released back in early October I was already fairly confident in Noisey’s assertion that See The Light was going to be a return to form for one of the genre’s most ever-present groups, as both GNV FLA and in particular In 

ImageWith The Out Crowd before it, while not being bad albums by any stretch of the word, were certainly something of a departure from their earlier sound that was oh so pleasing to the ears.

And once I got hold of the album, it was little time before the initial predictions were ringing true. The album’s opener Good Enough wastes no time in leaping straight into those halcyon brass tunes that were so sorely underrepresented in their previous two outings, and the vocals are still as catchy as they ever were. Certainly a promising start. My Money Is On The Long Shot then leads into Jump, which sees Chris and the boys turning up the guitar riffs ever so slightly as they implore you to “step to the edge and take the jump”, whilst the lyrics on a whole already begin to paint a picture of this album’s underlying theme – one of refusing to settle for a dissatisfying existence, of battling to change your station in life should you so desire.

For The Love Of Punk were very astute in their review as they noted that the catchy tunes and shouted choruses bely a much deeper meaning, and this is at its most evident in the simply brilliant Do The Math and Give Me Something To Believe In, Inc. – proper genre-epitomising anthems that manage to be fun and upbeat whilst simultaneously conveying an important message. Other standout tracks (which says a lot about their quality given the generally high standard of the whole album) are American Idle and album closer Weekends All Year Long, both emphatic in their driving home of the point that it is important to make the most of the time you have; don’t get bogged down by trivial routines, chase the satisfaction that you know you deserve.

See The Light, then, is, above all else, a purely great album. It’s a quality that’s difficult to quantify, but LTJ have definitely achieved it here. It’s pretty much objectively their best work since Anthem came out a decade ago, and it’s the closest they’ve come to recapturing the sound of 1997’s seminal Hello Rockview. In short, it’s a striking return to form and one that fans of both band and genre would be doing themselves a disservice to ignore. At thirteen tracks it’s a sufficiently meaty offering, but the fact that each track averages out around 2:45 long means that even if you find one you don’t like, you’ll be on to the next one in no time.

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