Sunday, July 29, 2007

Encyclopedia of Life

It's possible to having fleeting moments of scepticism when it comes to user-generated content. Sometimes, the last thing I want to see is other people's videos on YouTube; and the great mass of commentors on The Guardian's Comment Is Free make me want to instigate revolution; oh yes, and I've been burnt by Wikipedia, and the episode with the Dolphins*.

But this: this is genuinely fantastic. The only trouble being, it doesn't actually exist yet. Nevertheless, if they can get even a small fraction of this project off the ground, it will become a breathtaking resource. I'd be keen to know a bit more of the detail of who gets to edit (Professional biologists, right?), but otherwise, where do I sign up?

*When, in the course of writing a feature on songs about various mammals (why? Search me), I had cause to use Wikipedia for some facts, and found myself reading some mentalist screed about our dolphin overlords, come to rule the world, etc.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Bat For Lashes

I absolutely hate it when this happens. I got the Bat For Lashes album Fur and Gold a good six months ago. Yet for some reason, I only listened to it last week. Actually, I know why. Too much music. Too many new albums, too many old albums, too many mixes, too many MP3s, too many damn podcasts. Make it stop. Except you don't want it to stop, because you might miss an album like this.

I think the problem must have been the initial reviews damned it with faint praise: "Bjork-lite", "Batty by name, batty by nature", "weird". I should have known then that this was laziness of the first order (I've never been lazy when it comes to describing music, no sir, no way). It's true up to a point that singer Natasha Khan has a singing timbre not a million miles from Bjork's - but to compare to Bjork suggests a similarity of styles that really isn't there most of the time (especially not in later Bjork).

What is similar is a sense of listening to something both precious and mysterious, full of meaning that can't quite be grasped. "Creatures of mercy/Shoot them down, set me free," sings Khan with the kind of conviction that Bjork brought to songs like "Isabelle" and, especially, "Pagan Poetry". And "Tahiti" has the same crystalline beauty of Vespertine's best songs. But mostly I'm hearing the magic and sensuality of Kate Bush. In other places, there's a similarity to Goldfrapp's first album; plush and romantic, full of harpsichords and plucked strings, sinuous Theremins and harmonies, kettle drums, spoken word interludes.

Either way, the album is like stepping into the kind of dream I would have when I was young, full of forests and wolves and hunters and danger.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Just finished reading Sarah Waters' "The Nightwatch". Terrific book with a novel structure: The story starts in 1947, before moving to 1944 and the so-called "mini-blitz" before ending with 1941, the Blitz proper, and the first meeting of most of the characters. So, by the very way it's put together, the story continually reveals information about what's gone before. Featuring: Christian Scientists, conscientious objectors, dentists moonlighting as abortionists and a whole gaggle of friends of Dorothea.