Not entirely sure why, or what the distinction between here and there will be, but nonetheless, here you go: http://laurasnapes.tumblr.com/
I am talking on some panels in the coming months…
Tuesday March 27, Rough Trade East: The History Of NME book launch
Friday May 4, Leeds Munro House: Live At Leeds Unconference
If you are in the business of sending me press releases, then my new work email address is laura at pitchfork dot com. Use this information wisely.
It’s with both sadness and excitement that I am leaving NME on March 30, 2012, to go and be Associate Editor of Pitchfork. I started working at NME in July 2010, and had my first review for them published in January 2006; it’s no exaggeration to say that I have learned most of what I know about music writing from that magazine and the brilliant bunch of weirdos who work/have worked there, because god knows I was appalling when I wrote those early reviews. And if they hadn’t given me a job, I would still be at university now, miserable and pretending that I gave a shit about early 20th century Austrian agricultural literature. (No joke, I once took that module. Be very, very glad that you weren’t born on a farm in Austria in 1912.) So, thanks NME.
However, I am also unspeakably excited to start working for Pitchfork, as of April 2. I mostly wanted to write this post to say that 1) I am not moving to America, and will be working from home, and 2) I will no longer be using this website as a portfolio for previously published work (for the most part), as the vast majority of what I write will now (only) appear online. I’ll keep using it for other thoughts, bits that don’t fit anywhere else, and ill-formed ponderings about books I’m reading.
Thanks for reading.
Cornwall’s contribution to wider popular music isn’t exactly notorious for the right reasons, but around 2005 – 2008, it felt as though something was happening that could finally, thankfully consign Reef, acoustic surf crustery and Thirteen Senses to history.
Out of Truro College came I Say Marvin (previously Marvin & The Gayes before a lawsuit put paid to the name), a wickedly spitty post-punk group in thrall to DFA, Test Icicles and !!!, with a frontman called Sam Power and amazing call-and-response breakdowns of “I SAY MARVIN! YOU SAY GAYE! MARVIN! GAYE! MARVIN! GAYE!” As wilfully offensive teenage spunk goes, they had it down. Crammed into tiny, shitty pubs like Truro’s The Swan week after week, tearing at the walls whilst watching this band felt incredible, like we finally had a bit of flipping culture to call our own.
Elsewhere there was Rosie & The Goldbug, who are probably still angrily brandishing their black and white stripy socks and baroque sheet music in Marina’s direction. Probably my favourite local band, however, were My Elvis Blackout, fronted by Harry Pitts (with names like these, how could Harry and Sam be anything but snotty punk frontmen?), who FINALLY put their debut album on Soundcloud yesterday.
Perhaps to you it sounds a bit dated, and it’s almost certainly about five years after they should have released it (some fool conceived the Cornish Live Music Awards, making a previously ace scene competitive and bitchy, record labels came calling to the south west, chewed up some very naive bands, and left the place in tatters for a while, basically), but listening now, it still sounds like that first thrilling, rude awakening to The Fall, The Cramps and garage rock. It reeks of snakebite and sweat and crumpled, baggy roll-ups made outside daggy local pubs.
I Say Marvin and My Elvis Blackout played one amazing show at The Swan in around 2006, 2007, which I reviewed for the local paper. “Some day they’ll scrape the sweat from the ceiling and sell it for millions,” I think I wrote (the clipping’s at home in Cornwall). Obviously I was wrong, but listening to MEB’s album now feels like drinking a heady slurp of that effervescent adolescent effluvium all over again.
Sharon Van Etten – Peace Sign
Bill Callahan – Baby’s Breath
The inconsequential thoughts I wanted to note down about these two songs have come undone since I discovered that Bill Callahan isn’t actually singing what I thought he was in ‘Baby’s Breath’. It’s taken me nearly a year to realise that… I thought the lyrics went, “And each day I looked out on the lawn/And I wondered what all was gone/Until I saw it was lucky old me/How could I run without losing anything?/How could I run without becoming me?” In fact, it’s “How could I run without becoming lean?”
Mishearing be damned – I’m going to keep pretending that’s what he says, I love the lyric. Every new start or break with the past brings with it the delusion that you could change your personality, start afresh, conceal the disagreeable parts and emphasise the best bits, though it rarely works out that way. The inescapable tethering to one’s character is something that Sharon Van Etten explores on ‘Peace Sign’, the second song from her last album, ‘Epic’. (Its successor, ‘Tramp’, is out on February 6, and it’s stellar, a magical record.) She sings:
“I woke up, I was already me/I was somewhat afraid I was something/Peace Signs/I told you I could no longer see/I was right in the fire, I was on my knees/Peace Signs/Take it back, I felt no longer used/I had nothing to do, I was so you/Peace sign, I was already you…”
And later in the song: “When I woke up I was already me/And I am not afraid I am something/Peace Signs…”
Whereas for Bill, realising the limitations of his personality is a sort of fate, for Sharon – who’s spoken at length about the abusive relationship that inspired her first two records – waking up feeling defined by herself is a matter of renewed confidence, a thing to be celebrated. Sharon’s never been a weak artist – her debut ‘Because I Was In Love’ is quiet, but by no means meek or small – but ‘Tramp’ is her most forceful, cohesive record to date, wrought through with lyrics that wield control over shifting, difficult perspectives, and moving in and out of her own personality with easy grace. It’s my favourite album of the year so far. Here’s the first song to be taken from the record.
I read and loved All Quiet On The Orient Express at the end of last year, and having now completed The Restraint Of Beasts, it’s not unreasonable to assume that there’s a certain formula to Magnus Mills’ novels. However, it’s one in which I imagine I’ll find a great deal of pleasure for a good few more of his tomes. Both of these darkly hilarious tales see their protagonist(s) getting stuck in the bizarre rituals of rural British locations, unable to escape, and wrought through with a sense of foreboding that makes The League Of Gentlemen’s Royston Vasey look like Last Of The Summer Wine’s Holmfirth. In The Restraint Of Beasts, a pair of Scottish itinerant fencers and their foreman are sent to England in the pissy wet depths of December to erect high-tensile fences for a series of increasingly overbearing clients. They hammer in posts all day, come back to the damp caravan where the three of them sleep amid unwashed dishes and festering clothing, then spend the night in the pub, looking at women and finding their popularity waxing and waning depending on which locals they’ve been dealing with. Their lifestyle is unrelentingly bleak, but Mills’ sense of timing and dialogue induces much mirth, and never places any judgement on his characters for their lack of ambition, non-existent hygiene, or the far darker situations in which they accidentally find themselves…
I wouldn’t normally pick up a Hollywood film star’s autobiography, but despite appearing in one of the most feted films of all time as the titular Annie Hall, Diane Keaton’s isn’t your average starry memoir released just in time for Christmas. In fact, there are parts of the book where she almost seems embarrassed of her profession, blushing through the page as she admits that she and Warren Beatty once had a thing, and barely paying lip service to her involvement in Allen’s films apart from Annie Hall. As a massive fan of Father Of The Bride 1 and 2 and Baby Boom (highbrow to the max), I was sad that she didn’t go into detail about them! But it’s understandable why she doesn’t – in entirely non-self-pitying fashion, Keaton is open about the lack of success in her later years, the failure of certain projects, and puts her role as an actress secondary to that as her role as the daughter of Dorothy Hall, whose lifelong-kept diaries are included throughout to provide a counter-point of view to Diane’s. If these often ring sad or raw for the reader, it’s important to remember that that’s entirely secondary to the effect they have on her daughter, whose own recollections are equally frank – revealing that she suffered from bulimia, for example. To a certain extent, it almost doesn’t matter that Then Again was written by a famous film star – it’s fascinating as a look at the art of keeping a journal (particularly as someone who’s never kept one), and the contrast of Dorothy and Diane’s parts allows mother and daughter to exist on their own terms, not remembered through the other’s filter. The use of Dorothy’s diaries is particularly moving given that she succumbs to Alzheimers in later life, with her final hours recounted by Diane in detail that’s horrifying and heartbreaking, but told with trademark dignity.
I’m not much one for making new year’s resolutions, but one thing I do want to do in 2012 is read a lot more. I’m really mercurial about reading – sometimes I’ll chomp through three books in a week, other times I’ll be lucky to read that many in three months. I thought I’d keep a record of everything I do read so that I can feel well proud of myself at the end of the year when I’ve ploughed through, like, 30 books. My awareness of what’s coming out in the book world is limited to the obvious – the Franzens of this world, etc – so any recommendations on tomes I might like based on what I’ve read will always be most welcome. I’m definitely no literary critic, and will largely be writing these posts quickly and without the careful consideration I’d give to an album, so hold back on any desire to get your inner F R Leavis on and call me out for being rubbish at reviewing books. Thanks!