Thursday, 3 January 2013

2012 as it appeared in my ears and eyes

So, here's my review of 2012, written a couple of days into 2013. Obviously, magazines tend to publish these around late November, while yer average website will be posting by the middle of December. But I like to leave it until the dust's settled, at least partly because I can't give up on the idea of discovering one last Good Thing before the year shuffles off. Now it's done, I feel able to reveal...

No more splitting into Kerrang!/non-K! lists; with writers' Top 20s only published on the website this year, it seems time to combine my traditional two lists into one...

1. Swans - The Seer

2. ...And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead - Lost Songs

3. Orbital - Wonky

4. Neurosis - Honor Found In Decay

5. Gallon Drunk - The Road Gets Darker From Here

6. Dragged Into Sunlight - Widowmaker

7.  Hot Chip - In Our Heads

8. Purity Ring - Shrines

9. Why? - Mumps, Etc

10. Earth - Angels Of Darkness, Demons Of Light II

11. Jon Spencer Blues Explosion - Meat & Bone

12. Kendrick Lamar - Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City

13. Grimes - Visions

14. Black Breath - Sentenced To Life

15. Six Organs Of Admittance - Ascent

16. Gojira - L'Enfant Sauvage

17. Carlton Melton - Photos Of Photos

18. Necro Deathmort - The Colonial Script

19. Torche - Harmonicraft

20. Future Of The Left - The Plot Against Common Sense

TOP 10 TUNES OF 2012

1. Angel Haze - New York

2. Six Organs Of Admittance - Waswasa

3. TNGHT - Higher Ground

4. ...And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead - Pinhole Cameras

5. Orbital - Beelzedub

6. Neurosis - Casting Of The Ages

7. Hot Chip - Look At Where We Are

8. ...And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead -Up To Infinity

9. Gallon Drunk - A Thousand Years

10. Necro Deathmort - Endless Vertex

GIGS OF 2012 (alphabetical order)
This list might not make it look like it, but I definitely went to fewer shows in 2013. Just trying to balance my life a bit better, and make sure that Anna doesn't take last billing after gigs, band stuff, writing, work, etc. Seems like DIY punk shows and Colin's TST gigs came off the worst of it, which I shall certainly endeavour to change in 2013. Already plenty to look forward to, with tickets sorted for Metz, Ghost/Gojira, China Drum (!), Swans and Muddy Roots Europe in Belgium, plus a bunch more shows coming up, but before all that... here's a bunch of gigs which, at this rate, you'll be reading about on this blog in about ten years...

Anacondas @ The Hope
 ...And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead/Maybeshewill @ The Scala

Anthrax @ Download 
Bellowhead @ The Dome 
Broker @ The Hope
Burning Times @ The Green Door Store
Carlton Melton/Working Man Noise Unit/Jungfrau @ The Prince Albert
Crypsis @ The Prince Albert and The Cowley Club
The Dillinger Escape Plan @ The Concorde 2
The Dirt Daubers @ The Prince Albert and The Haunt 
Eagleburner @ The Prince Albert
Earth @ The Haunt 
Faustus @ All Saints Centre, Lewes 
Fucked Up @ The Haunt
Future Of The Left @ The Haunt
Gallon Drunk @ Sticky Mike's Frog Bar
Ginger @ Download
Gnarwolves @ The Hydrant and The Green Door Store 
Gojira @ Islington Academy
Hawk Eyes @ Download
Kraken Mare @ Bar 42, Worthing
Kylesa/Circle Takes The Square/Deafheaven/Ken Mode @ The Haunt
Larry & His Flask @ The Hydrant  
Latterman @ The Green Door Store
Th'Legendary Shack Shakers @ The Haunt 
Lesbian/Manatees/Blackstorm @ The Prince Albert
Meshuggah @ The Concorde 2 
Metallica @ Download
Neurosis/Godflesh @ The Forum
Orbital @ The Corn Exchange
Pettybone/Trieste/State Icons/Witch Cult @ The Green Door Store
Ramesses @ Sticky Mike's Frog Bar
Rolo Tomassi @ The Concorde 2 
The Sadies @ The Hydrant
Sea Bastard @ The Cowley Club, The Haunt and Sticky Mike's Frog Bar
Shearwater @ The Haunt and Sticky Mike's Frog Bar
Sleep Committee @ The Green Door Store and The Hydrant
Sloath @ The Cowley Club
Spiers & Boden @ The Komedia
Touche Amore @ The Hydrant
Devin Townsend @ Download
Turbonegro @ Download
While She Sleeps @ Download




Given that my 2011 telly round-up gave top billing to The Killing, it seems fairly predictable that The Bridge would similarly tickle my fancy for Nordic Noir. But while Scando-gloom has become something of a cliched viewing pleasure for Guardianista types, The Bridge immediately justified any pre-release hype, while displaying as many of its own idiosyncracies as it did similarities with its predecessor. Yes, it was set in Copenhagen... but also in Malmo, the titular construction being the one linking Denmark and Sweden. Yes, it had a socially awkward female protagonist in Saga Noren, with a distinctive mode of dress (leather trousers replacing patterned sweaters, though not, one suspects, on Scandophile Radio Times readers)... but she shared lead duties with burly Danish fella Martin Rohde, an earthy counterpoint to her unworldly character. Martin has a fantastic laugh - not a sound you hear often in The Killing, and a clue to the fact that The Bridge has moments of genuine humour amidst the gloom.

The killing element of The Bridge appears to be a less personal one than in, er, The Killing; as in the latter's second series, we're in serial killer mode here, but in The Bridge each of his atrocities is designed to highlight a different element of society's inequalities. These are fed through journalist Daniel Ferbe, a brilliant portrayal of a talented but arrogant hack; breaking away from The Killing's political characters, the rest of The Bridge's curious array of characters include a social worker (who looks amazingly like a 70s porn star), a homeless woman, Martin's family, a guy Saga picks up on one of her romance-free sex trawls, a dying millionaire and his wife and plenty more. It's not always initially clear how, or whether, these people are related to the case, and when a character's relevance has passed, they simply fade from view. There are long stretches of the first episode which seem to have little to do with the murder case, making it feel more like an arthouse film than another The Killing, but this is another series which tightens its grip slowly. In the Saga/Martin double act, it's also got one of the best non-romantic male-female teams in telly since... jeepers, help me out here!

The Killing also returned for one last round of darkened warehouses, Machiavellian political plotting and tenacious, driven perpetrators. Like the second series, this could have more accurately been called The Killings, as we were once again dealing with a vengeful serial killer. To be honest, when a character got booted off a rooftop with a noose round his neck early on, I was kinda longing for the first series, with its meditations on grief taking precedence over Big Eye-Catching Murder Scenarios. But The Killing III actually held together better than the second series, with the parents of an abducted child providing the human context slightly missing from the middle instalment and a more charismatic bunch of politicos (though I had a soft spot for II's Thomas Buch). And while sticking with the ten-episode formula of the second series, this managed to cram in the most complex plot of all, with the murderer/abductor trying to learn the truth behind a previous abduction/murder...

As the last series, this was also significant as a send off for Sarah Lund. Appropriately, her mother and son are the only other recurring characters (besides amusingly stern-faced top cop Brix), and possibilities are laid throughout for her post-series happiness, with hunky old flame Mathias Borch in the picture and a grandchild on the way. Does she get her happy ending? Does PM Kristian Kamper do the right thing? Does businessman/father of abducted child Robert Zeuthen put his family first in the end? Is justice visited upon the original perpetrator? Well, clearly I'm not going to tell you. You'll just have to wait for the last moments and that distinctive, tense music to sound for the last time...

Oh, and a little bit of trivia: the guy playing the PM's brother/advisor Stoffer is better known in Denmark as a stand-up, which is why I found a picture of him doing this. Crazy guy, right?


Nearly left off this list for the simple reason that it feels like ages since it screened, but Sherlock was in fact on the box in January 2012. The character of Sherlock Holmes is obviously about the place a lot these days - in Guy Ritchie's Downey Jr-starring version and the Jonny Lee Miller US TV incarnation - but it's Miller's Frankenstein co-star Benedict Cumberbatch who's made the character his own, with this second series even better than the first. Lara Pulver (a bit lacking in Spooks, but much more convincing here) and Russell Tovey gave excellent support in the first two episodes, while Martin Freeman's Watson and, especially, Andrew Scott's feverish, dementoid Moriarty, continued to make the strongest of impressions upon the legendary characters they portrayed. The re-tellings of old stories crackled with invention, Holmes' deductions proved ever more brilliant, and the series went out with the sort of cliffhanger designed to stay in people's heads for the eighteen months or so that we'll have had to wait by the time the third series airs later in 2013.


So, last year I gave props to classy, talent-laden Brit crime drama The Shadow Line... and this year I'm doing the same for classy, talent-laden Brit crime drama Line Of Duty. They even share a word in the title, for God's sake... But who cares if I'm becoming predictable; this was a rip-roaring tale of corruption and deceit with fine performances from some of telly's best actors (Lennie James, Vicky McClure and Martin Compston chief amongst them). The heavy-handed allusions to the evils of red tape occasionally grated, but were offset by regular excursions into massively OTT ultraviolence, with throat-slitting and finger removal a speciality. Throughout was a sense of things slipping massively out of control for everyone, but particularly James' Tony Gates, a good cop making some very bad decisions. Line Of Duty was also notable for being just one of the places Gina McKee popped up this year (see also: Secret State, Hebburn), and for the inclusion of a 13-year old character seemingly written to justify every Daily Mail complaint about feral youth.


Bit of a surprise, this one. The first series of The Hour looked great, boasted fine lead turns from the very good-looking triumvirate of Romola Garai, Dominic West and Ben Whishaw, sterling support from the likes of Anna Chancellor, Burn Gorman and Julian Rhind-Tutt and a snappy theme tune... but it still didn't convince. Initially hampered by everyone claiming it was going to be a British Mad Men (spoiler: it wasn't), it turned on a slightly soggy espionage plot which neither convinced nor gripped. Series 2 shifted its attentions to a vice ring and immediately did both. All of the above returned (save Gorman), and were joined by an excellent, scene-stealing Peter Capaldi as well as, bizarrely, people from The Inbetweeners (Hannah Tointon) and Skins (Joe Cole, looking set to corner the market in blank-eyed, baby-faced thugs). With a beefed-up role for Oona Chaplin as West's wife and a greater sense of personal involvement for all concerned, The Hour upped its game to become must-watch telly, its final episode a genuinely tense conclusion to the year's most-improved show.


The link between all the shows on this list is conspiracy, whether political or corporate, in the police or by master criminals, or in the two Nordic examples at the top of the list, a combination of all of the above. So let's end with some knockabout slapstick comedy... or just continue to plough into the darkness with Secret State, which opened with Deputy PM Gabriel Byrne surveying the destruction wreaked upon a Northern town by an industrial accident and only got more oppressive from there. Byrne aside, top turns came from Gina McKee (again), Charles Dance, Rupert Graves and Ruth Negga. One of Byrne's few allies was a drunken conspiracy theorist, but one of the messages you could glean from the narrative was that, actually, those conspiracies are probably true, everyone's out for themselves and a knotty collusion of big business, the banks, military top brass and venal politicians would do whatever it takes to keep their wheels greased and the government in their pocket. Happy New Year!

Oh, and one of Byrne's other allies was his security guard, who was played by Finchy out of The Office. Sadly, at no point in proceedings did he challenge anyone to a shoe-throwing competition over 10 Downing Street.


The first half of Series 7 ultimately proved too hit or miss to merit a Top 5 placing. OK, there were no total stinkers (Dinosaurs On A Spaceship came closest), but the decision to make stand-alone episodes rather than the more typically Moffat story arc didn't pay off. Dinosaurs and A Town Called Mercy didn't expand beyond their remits (Dinosaurs On A Spaceship and Dr Who Goes Western, respectively), despite decent turns from David Bradley as Solomon and Adrian Scarborough as Kahler-Jex. Of the remaining three episodes, The Power Of Three was a clever take on alien invasion, but the opening and closing stories were the clear standouts. Series opener Asylum Of The Daleks afforded us a teasing glimpse of future companion Jenna-Louise Coleman; as if preparing the waters, Moffat gave her all the best lines, with the teasing relationship between her and the Doctor leaving the Ponds in the background. Much of the series seemed to emphasize the Ponds' "normal" life, with the introduction of Mark Williams as Rory's Dad (a good thing, except when riding a triceratops) and their considering the possibility of quitting as the Doctor's companions. By the end of The Angels Take Manhattan - a great period piece, with a noir feel and a bunch of twists - it's clear that this emphasis was there to render their departure as poignant as possible. Yes, as far as I can figure out there are definite loopholes in the conclusion (which I can't discuss without massive spoilers), but after a series where even Moffat occasionally seemed to tire of his beloved Ponds, this was a suitable send-off. And, after what might be the best ever Christmas special  - and the first since The Christmas Invasion introduced David Tennant to feel like a significant part of the ongoing story rather than a guest-starry stand-alone - the second half of Series 7, unravelling the mystery of Jenna-louise Coleman's character(s), looks set to be a massive improvement.

Yeah, I watched, and thoroughly enjoyed THE GREAT BRITISH BAKE-OFF: got a problem with that?  HEBBURN was a sweet-natured sitcom, occasionally predictable but with a rare charm. Only saw one episode of A TOUCH OF CLOTH, but it was a genius, Airplane/Police Squad demolition of modern cop shows. 24 HOURS IN A&E continued to make most other reality TV shows look even more inconsequential than ever, the stories it told making NHS cuts even more unforgivable. To someone like myself who hadn't read the novel, PARADE'S END was faintly incomprehensible throughout, but gave us lots of posh actors acting their ruddy socks off. BIRDSONG was more comprehensible, similarly posh, and pretty great. THE SECRET OF CRICKLEY HALL was a dumb but fun ghost story, almost let down by a couple of really shit bits in the last episode; Suranne Jones was ace, though. Was THE LAST WEEKEND too unpleasant (and too full of unsympathetic characters) to be enjoyable, or was it just unpleasant enough? Still not sure. REVENGE was kinda fun, like a re-booted Dynasty with murderous intent, or 90210 gone evil. Only got half way through it, though. Like some sort of idiot, I totally missed The Thick Of It and Getting On.


Really, what were they thinking? It's impossible even to type the premise of this show without involuntarily raising an eyebrow, but here goes...

All fairy tales are real, and all the characters live in a parallel universe to this one. The evil Queen out of Snow White gets a right cob on about Snow White and Prince Charming looking set to be happy ever after, so she conjures a curse upon the whole kingdom, which results in everyone getting transported to our world - specifically, a made-up town in Maine (called Storybrooke - geddit?). "Snow" and "Charming" get it particularly bad, as their Earthly incarnations are a mimsy school teacher and a dithering idiot (I think we're supposed to be on their side, but I prefer the Queen to these wet losers). Everyone's lost their memory except the Queen, who's now called Regina (geddit??) and is the Mayor of Storybrooke, and Rumplestiltskin, played by Robert Carlyle, who gets to camp the fuck out in his Magic Land incarnation, all scaly skin and saying things like "Everything has a price, dearie" all the time. In Maine, he's an antique dealer/landlord called Mr Gold (geddit???).

Now, Regina has adopted this kid, who is really fucking irritating. He's got a storybook (with some unsuitably adult content, frankly) and has somehow come to the conclusion that the people around him are the displaced characters from Fairy Town. He also reckons that his real mum is the daughter of "Snow" and "Charming", making her the Chosen One, whose arrival in Storybrooke at the age of 28 (oh yeah, time has stood still in Storybrooke for 28 years, nobody except this precocious kid has aged and NOBODY'S FUCKING NOTICED) will break the curse. So he goes to find his mum Emma, who's out living in a proper city, convinces her to take him back to Storybrooke, and so it goes.

I think I read that some people who worked on Lost are behind Once Upon A Time, and if so, they've half-inched the episode structure where events in the present day share viewing time with pertinent flashbacks. So as events in Storybrooke unfold (painfully slowly), we get filled in on the fairy tale backstory. Back in Fantasy Kingdom, everyone dresses like they're in a bad 80s pop video, and the "magical" special effects and make up are like a bad 90s TV series.

So, I watched every episode of this, and I'm still not sure why. Emma, played by Jennifer Morrison (House), is quite a kick-arse heroine - in fact, with Regina, the flashback version of Snow and even, yes, Red Riding Hood, this is a show which prioritizes strong female characters. While not on the ridiculous level of Lost, there's also a tendency to leave mysteries hanging in a rather enticing way, so that you put up with some lame episodes to get to the truth of what's going on. And, occasionally, there's a flash of the darkness that lies behind all fairy tales. There's a second series due. I'll probably watch it.