Jun 28, 2022

Eight tracks that deserve a Running Up That Hill revival

Kate Bush

I have enjoyed watching Kate Bush's Running Up That Hill get a new lease of life thanks to Stranger Things. 37 years between number one singles gives hope to us all.

However, I can't help thinking a better song could have ridden this wave of revival. It's a cracking tune and all, but here is a list of eight tracks that definitely deserve a Kate-style comeback.

Ash: Sick Party

At the end of Ash's album 1977, there's a hidden track featuring the band vomiting in their studio. Felix's classic house track Don't You Want Me kept Ash's Girl From Mars out of the top ten, so maybe that's what they're thinking about when spilling their innards. I can think of no better song that sums up current society than the sound of musicians delivering pavement pizza.

Aphex Twin: Milkman

This mid-1990s track features a rare moment of intelligible vocals on an Aphex Twin track. The song is about how someone wants the milkman to pop round so they can breast-feed from the milkman's wife. It's a classic 1990s track in that it's disturbing, performatively weird, and lazily misogynistic. Let's get it to number one for 47 weeks.

Jake Paul: It's Everyday Bro

I haven't heard this song by Jake Paul. In fact, I have absolutely no interest in Jake Paul. I know he used the n-word, has called Covid a hoax, has faked a marriage, has used a riot for clicks, has been accused of sexual assault and has a brother who has used suicide for laughs. Somehow, he feels like the hero this rotten world deserves right now. Give him a Grammy.

Muse: Supermassive Black Hole

This song was everywhere when it came out. We were all humming it. But now? No-one can remember how it goes. Go on. Sing it. You can't, can you. The place where it should be lodged in our memory is now a void. Amazingly, the song has become its own title. Musical antimatter that, upon returning to number one, will suck in all the gravity from our hopes and dreams.

Sam And Mark: With A Little Help From My Friends

Clearly better than the Beatles' version, this Sgt. Pepper classic scored Sam and Mark a number one single in 2004. It denied Ronan Keating a fourth solo number one single. This means Sam and Mark are the greatest entertainment duo in history, and that includes Danger Mouse and Penfold. I wish they could be my friend. By the way, I am high on spice right now.

The Teletubbies: Cha Cha Slide

The fact these multicolour morons have never done a cover version of DJ Casper's exorable party song is entirely irrelevant. This imaginary song wot I just made up deserves a revival in 2022. Christmas number one! This year's big charity hit! The subject of a miming scandal! Let's make the Teletubbies notorious for a track that doesn't even exist.

Axomrph: kebb sn Onfule Xb

See? That's just letters. It's not even a thing. I just ran my tongue along my keyboard and it came out. Let's get it to number one. Put it out on marbled vinyl. Stick it in all the Spotify playlists. Have an oompah band perform it on Good Morning Britain. Here, let's write the disappointing follow-up single. *drops my trousers and slaps my wang across the punctuation keys*

Orbital: Halcyon

Seriously. It should be number one. Why did it never get to number one? It's clearly deserving of number one. I was joking all the other times. But this really should be number one. Please make it number one. Who do I speak to about getting this to number one? Hello? Can someone help me? I need to actually get this to number one? Hello? Anyone? Number one? Hello?

Further Fats: No-one wants songs about the moon these days (2017)

Further Fats: Here are Aphex Twin's biggest hit singles (2019)

May 31, 2022

This got me: the infuriating pizza pop

A line of dominos (the tiles, not the pizza)

There’s an advert that is getting on my wick. It’s twisting my melon. It’s doing my noggin in.

I don’t want to mention the brand because I don’t want to give them clicks. It’s a pizza company. They’re named after the table-top game in which you link together spotted tiles. You know the one. Stand the tiles vertically then watch them fall over one after another. Yes. That pizza company.

The advert appears when I watch YouTube on my mobile phone, or on any device that hasn’t got an ad-blocker. It’s maybe only ten seconds long, but it’s a lot. A LOT. I’d embed it for you, but I can’t find it on YouTube. Let me describe it.

It leads with rhythmic music: staccato percussion that sounds like a woodblock pinball machine. Cue a meaningless montage of pizza images. Once the rhythm has looped, it adds on more percussion, as if a drum kit is trying to hump another drum kit. More meaningless images. As it reaches its conclusion, it coalesces into an urgent tick-tick-tick climax.

And then it commits a cardinal sin.

The final sound is meant to be one last percussive hurrah, like the closing bwoom in the Countdown clock music. The sound is someone popping their mouth with a finger. Like you do when you’re imitating a balloon pop. Puffed cheek, pursed lips, finger in and *pop*. Except the finger-pop is not in time. It comes in slightly early, just before the 1-beat of the 4/4 rhythm. It’s meant to sound offbeat and syncopated, but it just sounds like a mistake. Jarring enough for me to vomit up my pizza.

I know commercials are meant to be in-your-face. And this kind of straight-jacket techno is not unusual in idents. There’s another advert that’s meant to feel trip-hoppy but it just sounds like someone’s copied-and-pasted from sample pack. An audio shrug. I get it. Remember the Babylon Zoo advert disappointment in which the glorious spacy techno turned out to be indie sludge? Electronic music succumbed to capitalism a long time ago.

But this ad is infuriating. It has me jabbing the ‘skip’ button in the same way I dive for the tuning button whenever the Archers theme tune comes on. Not that I listen to Radio 4 much anymore: I’m a podcast earwigger because I’m cool and trendy.

I’m also annoyed at their “We got this” slogan. While recognising the importance of not being prescriptive about grammar, especially when it comes to representing idioms from minority cultures, this is just dumb. That phrase is nothing to do with pizza or what they do as a company. It’s ad execs throwing a scrabble set into a toilet bowl and apple-bobbing for the fewest letters possible.

I’m also annoyed that I’ve ordered so much pizza, I’m being bombarded with pizza adverts left, right, centre and everywhere else. Serves me right for accepting cookies. Computer cookies, that is. The last thing I need after a pizza is even more dietary trash.

So there you go. My rant about an advert. This blog provides cutting edge content. Next up, I’m going to write a diatribe about people commenting on YouTube vid***POP***

See? It’s annoying, isn’t it. 

Apr 30, 2022

Chemical bother: Covid finally got me

I finally caught Covid-19. Despite daily baths in 5G and regular hot tubs with Bill Gates, the bug finally got me.

I had Covid for 18 days, followed by a week of fatigue. Pretty much wrote off the whole month. This has been the worst April since R Kelly knocked Block Rocking Bears off the top of the charts. 

How did I catch it? Good question, thanks for asking. I got Covid at a book launch. A book launch! This proves that books are evil and must be stopped before they destroy us all.

Those 18 days were so weird. The NHS website lists 12 distinct Covid symptoms. I had every single one, some lasting a couple of days, others lasting longer. An ever-evolving patchwork of ailments,layering over each other for extra annoyance.

Of course, I'm lucky. I'm fully jabbed and I made it through to the other side in one piece. But it's not an experience I'm keen to repeat. The brain fog, the isolation, the lost weeks. It's the most upsetting thing to happen since Boyzone knocked Setting Sun off the top of the charts.

All those extra antibodies have now made me immune to almost everything. That's how virology works. Science. As soon as I finish this blog post, I'm going to stick my head in a wasps' nest and shout "ha ha, you can't get me, you buzzy berks". 

I'm perhaps most sad to report that Covid hasn't given me any super powers. It's not like being bitten by a spider and turning into Catwoman or something. Levitating, flying, instant sexual allure - none of this seems to be working

What can we learn from my Covid experience? Good question, thanks for asking. Nothing. There is nothing to be leaned from any of this. Human gets ill. Human has rubbish time. Life is pointless. Fish fingers are good for testing whether your sense of taste has returned. Fish fingers are pointless. 

Apr 7, 2022

I am a Mancunian and yes you can taste my honey

Bee design on a yellow wall

I am, it has been rumoured, a Mancunian. This means I was born in Manchester, which famously invented Vimto, the computer, and mouthy lead singers who say "sun-sheeiiine" instead of "sunshine".

What Manchester might not be as famous for is the apiarian emblem of the worker bee. The Victorians invented this when their graphic design department was trying to come up with something to represent Manchester's industrial ambitions. They made a coat of arms with bees buzzing around the globe. Cute, if impractical for international trade.

There are bees everywhere in Manchester. On the street furniture. Sprayed onto walls. Actual bees. I do like the symbol of the bee. It reminds us of the mill workers in the olden days who used to dress in stripes and suck on flowers. Even today, if you squeeze a Mancunian, a little bit of honey comes out.

Other cities' emblems are much worse. Birmingham is just a pile of spaghetti to represent its road system. No sauce, no nothing. London has a corgi driving a red bus. And Glasgow has a man screaming into a drain. Lovely, but not as good as Manchester.

This vague bee blather was inspired by this bee design on Manchester Metropolitan University's student union building. It doesn't quite work because the lines are too thin, and are lost amid the brickwork. But I like the idea of students getting bee-indoctrinated. I imagine tannoy announcements calling people "busy bees" while everyone works in hexagonal hive pods.

I'll leave you with one of my favourite bees. This is Are You Okay by Mason Bee, who is not a bee but is also very much a bee. Enjoy.

Further Fats: There goes the hear: Manchester has enough gigs (2011)

Further Fats: The cowardly Arena attack won't stop Manchester buzzing (2017)

Mar 31, 2022

17 interesting postman trousers: a contractually obliged blog post

A picture of a hippopotamus

I haven't blogged all month. And I'm okay with that. Blogging is yesterday's news, like reel-to-reel tape recorders, castles and the Bubonic plague.

Of course, I started the month with good intentions. I had lots of blogging ideas. So many great ideas that if I listed them now, you would cry well into the night. But like an over-worn pair of underpants, they slowly sagged at the seams and fell to the ankles of lost memories.

Still. Here I am. Blogging. I'm sat on my sofa with a half-eaten pack of Fruit Pastilles and my washing machine chugging away in the background. I genuinely don't know where this blog post is going. I should come up with a click-bait title. Fat Roland blogs: what happened next will amaze you. 17 interesting things I found in my toilet. You won't believe what my trousers just said to the postman. That kind of thing.

I feel itchy when I don't blog. I've been doing it most of my adult life, so even if I'm just being silly about Ed Sheeran or MC Hammer or whatever, it definitely feels like some kind of foundation stone. An unbloggy Fat Roland is a sad Fat Roland.

But I'm not sad this month. I've been a busy boy, so I'm going declare this past month a blogging holiday. And all the weeks I didn't blog before that: they were blog hols too. And blog holidays are allowed. The only reason why I'm writing this post now is so I've published something in the month of March, and I don't look back in a few years' time and feel disappointed at my blogless month. But hey. I'm still on blogging holiday. Look, I'm wearing a sombrero and drinking a pina colada. Holiday.

Tomorrow is different. Tomorrow is April. I need to get back to blogging in April. If I'm not posting sixteen blog posts a day throughout April, I am a failure of a human being. Every blog post will have complex diagrams and be translated into four different languages. It'll all be in 3D and also rendered as a liquid. It's going to be the best wordings on the internet ever. No pressure.

It's weird how well Blogger works for me. I'm not interested in its custom domains or its new themes. I just want a nice plain design that I can Photoshop into looking a bit better. It's immediate and encourages play: a sandpit of a writing environment. Blogger has served me well for the past, approximately, 17 and a half years.

Okay. I've written some words. I'm going to put a picture at the top. What would you like? A hippopotamus, you say? Sure, you can have a hippopotamus. That's do really well in the Google rankings. Ahem.

Further Fats: Defending blogging against Blogger (2010)

Further Fats: Blog your spleen out (with added Balki) (2014)

Feb 28, 2022

What is the best track on Orbital's green album?

A collage of Orbital Green album covers

Orbital's first album Orbital was called the Green Album because the cover was green. Actually, it was quite a yellow hue of green, but Quite A Yellow Hue Of Green was never going to catch on as a nickname.

The album was released in 1991 and still holds up today. That said, this diamond is a little rough. Primitive production, percussion with all the grace of a sledgehammer, loops where you can easily see the join. I caught onto the Green Album a couple of years after its release, and even then I remember it sounding dated. In a charming way.

Like a lime-liveried "go" light, the Green Album started something special. And not just because it had the stone-cold classics Chime and Belfast. Music production was about to advance at light speed. Along with their NME-recommended Brown Album two years later, the Green Album launched Orbital's transformation into stadium-filling techno gods, changing the face of techno album production.

Okay. Serious talk over. Because I have to reduce things to lists or binary choices, it leads me to the question. Just what IS the best track on Orbital's Green Album? Let's have a bit of fun and rate each track according to how close it is on the colour wheel to its own cover colour, Quite A Yellow Hue Of Green. We'll be using the UK track listing.

1. The Moebius
We start off pretty strongly. This is a solid blue. Not bland Tory blue: it's Star Trek science officer blue thanks to its sample of a Next Generation episode. It's a metallic delight, all clanks and whirring machinery, part of that taken from the opening percussion in Mad World by Tears For Fears. Extra kudos for the mobius introducing a circular theme that would repeat during the band's career.

2. Speed Freak
Speed Freak feels pretty far from yellowy green. I love the bassy bouncy orchestral stabs, and the splashy snares would return on The Brown Album. But the yelps and exclamatory interventions sound a little try-hard. The parpy theme that drops midway through is... okay. Speed Freak is a throbbing purple. No. Wait. There's the whole acid bit later on. It's a tastefully muted purple, almost fruity.

3. Oolaa
Oh crumbs. The great thing about Oola, apart from its intensity, is the rising acidic line that feels like a precursor to the ecstatic brass on Impact (The Earth Is Burning). Amid the enthusiastic synth washes in the tracks closing cacophony is a discordance that has always slightly bothered me. Therefore, this is not yellowy green. It is orange. A pleasing orange that would look good on a racing car or a cat. 

4. Desert Storm
Desert Storm is the slow one. It writhes, it snakes, it plods along in a dubby way that isn't entirely unlike (a) the loping gait of the titular beasts in the 1970 film it samples, Beneath the Planet of the Apes, and (b) an Andrew Weatherall production. It feels less like an Orbital track than the rest of the album. The fact this was track-listed instead of Satan or Choice means this is pink. Not just pink. A blushing pink.

5. Fahrenheit 303
This track is somewhere between a burnt orange and a deep brown. Crumbs. There's not a lot of yellowy-green in this part of the album, is there. The jazzy keyboard riffs and knowing guiro scrapes are pure Jools Holland. Or Adamski on a bad day. Somewhere inbetween. The squiggly acid completely saves the day, as does the moody bass that closes out the track.

6. Steel Cube Idolatry
Dave Angel did a cracking Mutations mix of this track. But we're not talking about that. Cube is clanky and clumsy in a really good way. The unsettling vowel utterations sound like a diva trying to escape from a drain. Ace. It all feels adjacent to found sound, which makes me fond of the whole thing. This is not far from green. A blue. A dark block blue, so not something you'd decorate your bathroom with.

7. High Rise
Now we're talking. This is another blue, but it's more than that. It's bluey-green. High Rise is often overlooked, but it's one of the few tracks on the Green Album that stops me in my tracks. It's Belfast-soft yet Steel Cube-hard. Nicely underplayed acid blurps, tickly synth scales, loops ratcheted into hypnotic repetition, and those rolling snares. PLUS a random key change. This is all the Orbital I need.

8. Chime (Live)
Although not the single version, this is their crossover hit. It got them onto Top of the Pops in 1990 and it's still in their live set today. Does it hold up? Of course it does. The electronic take on church bells. The suspended chord line. The flanging. The stuttering percussion. The cool-ass acid. Even the hand claps. Almost the yellowy-green of the album cover. Banana yellow. Lemon yellow. Very yellow.

9. Midnight (Live)
Yellowy-green! We're at yellowy-green! Even though Belfast is still to come, Midnight is the staggering highlight of Orbital's first album. Such omen. So potent. The minor chords and staccato hi-hats set a moody scene before we're plunged into a swirling, exotic world of deep, deep techno, all beautifully structured. Even the playful low-pass knob twiddling is great. A song I can play again and again.

10. Belfast
There's not a lot to say about Belfast that hasn't already been said. It's beautiful and balaeric and most definitely a light shade of green. If Midnight is yellow-tinted, this is perhaps lime. Pretty dang close. Its clubby beach vibes and choral sampling are hugely hooked into the zeitgeist of the time: think Future Sound of London, Energy 52, The Beloved, Rhythim Is Rhythim, even Enigma.

11. "I Think It's Disgusting" (Outro)
This is just a run-off track, so not worth rating despite this loopy coda idea being emulated in many smokers' beats albums later in the decade. Okay. It's red. This is a red track. And a lovely red it is too.

So there you have it. Orbital's first album rendered into colours with the quality of content rendered as proximity to the album's cover art. Bet you never expected to be reading something like that today, did you.

In summary:

A cheerful colour strip representing the colours in the article


Feb 17, 2022

A finger of Fudge is not enough

Finger of Fudge advert image: "only 10p"

I felt a bit unsettled the other day. Something at the back of my mind, niggling me like an annoying puppy or a ghost. I get these moments more frequently as I get older, and I have to stop to assess my general state before continuing with my day.

I realised I was fretting over whether a finger of Fudge really was just enough to treat a child, or whether or was just a bit stingy, what with increasingly affordable modern gadgets available on the high street.

You know how the advert goes, right? If you're reading a Blogger blog, you're totally old enough to remember the song in the Cadbury's Fudge commercial. Supposedly, a finger of Fudge is "just enough until it's time to eat", which is essentially advocating chocolate dessert before the meal.

And do you know what? I'm in favour. It's a long time since I've fingered a buffet, but I love going to an All You Can Eat place and alternating between sweet and savoury. I reject John Shuttleworth's philosophy in I Can’t Go Back to Savoury Now that you can't return to a shepherd's pie once you're halfway through a treacle sponge. Mix and match. Use the same spoon for both.

The Fudge song describes the chocolate bars as "very small and neat", which is true. They are incredibly small, which brings me back to my main concern that they're too small. Not quite enough to give anyone a treat. You'd have to follow it up with a Boost or a Toblerone or an entire chocolate egg. Sorry, did I type "or"? I meant to say "and".

So anyway, that's what's been bothering me recently. The miserable months of January and February are definitely getting to me. The highlight of the past few months was when I ate Mentos and drank Diet Coke and didn't explode. Harrumph. What an insufferable drudge. Why can't we have six Augusts?

I need a new project. Maybe I should watch some Cadbury's adverts to get some ideas. I could become a drumming gorilla. Shove a flake in my mouth dead sexy-like. Perhaps I should become a Milk Tray man, parkouring over wheelie bins without dropping a single Hazelnut Swirl.

Jeez. Next time I get a niggle in the back of my mind, I won't stop to think about it. Did I want to be writing about Fudges? No, I did not. Damn you, brain.

This post is not sponsored by a chocolate company. Honest. *jumps naked into a bath of Minstrels*

Further Fats: Spoons! Marshmallows beware! and other conspiracy theories (2006)

Jan 22, 2022

Electronic Sound 85: blowing my alpine horn

In issue 85 of Electronic Sound magazine, I do a deep dive on the new Bonobo album. Meanwhile, in my column I take on cancel culture while my fictional self blows a horn. All pretty normal, nothing to worry about here.

The Bonobo review is the lead review in this latest edition, which is always a nice spot to be in as a writer. You'll have to read the magazine to find out what I think, but I can tell you it contains the phrase "frozen fish aisle". I also review the latest album by Pan Daijing ("a forest of startled birds") and Arca's new clutch of albums ("witches and queerness").

This month's column has me getting outraged about cancel culture. "Are you telling me I can’t prance around as glam-rock Brian Eno, complete with unbuttoned motorbike jacket and feather shoulder-pads, while hooting Van McCoy's ‘The Hustle’ on the alpine horn?" And yes, that ended up being my illustration for the column, with added conkers for eyes. It'll all make sense if you read the column. Probably. Ahem.

Elsewhere in the mag, in gubbins that wasn't written by me, there's a piece about the Hacienda's design, a chat with Suicide and their "battered old keyboards", Tim Hecker talking about writing soundtracks, and a piece about the ace new electro-pop project Telefis. And loads more.

85 issues, 85 columns. Good grief. Incidentally, Erasure's Oh L'amour only got to number 85 in the charts when it was released, only surpassed by Dollar's cover version in 1987 and Erasure's slightly weedier remix many years later. All the best things are number 85.