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Last night, I watched an American basketball game (NBA) on free-to-air telvision.

This is the first time I've seen NBA on FTA Australian TV since ... *thinks* ... probably 1998?


It was on the Ten SD2 channel (simulcast with HD I assume), and I've read that when they launch their 24 hour sports channel in a couple of days (which, it appears, will replace SD2), they'll also have 3 live games per week screening there. Bickety - as they say - bam.

I've been wanting to watch NBA games on TV for so long. Throughout my school years they used to screen 1-2 games per week as well as recap/highlight shows, and I've missed them so very, very much.

Oh, and last night's game? Miami Heat vs Detroit Pistons, with a superhuman performance by Dwyane Wade (rapidly becoming a new favourite player) pushing the Heat over the line for a last minute 5 point victory. Great stuff.

Now, if they can get the NBL back on the telly I'll be set.


Mar. 21st, 2009 08:19 am
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I've completed my 2001 listening project and made my list. Now to start writing up all those little synopses. Expect a series of Top 40 listy posts soon.
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Last night I played my first game of indoor beach volleyball, with [ profile] ataxi, [ profile] dafwarg and [ profile] dunq. I haven't played volleyball of any kind since high-school phys-ed, and had never played it on sand. It was really great fun! I'm already looking forward to next week's game.

I was decent at it in high school, and found that it all came back to me quite quickly, so I generally managed pretty well. And we won, which is always nice :)
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I just want more SwanCon people to pick a book/show/film/comic/game they're a big fan of, think about an aspect of it they find interesting, shape that aspect into a question to give it a strong topical direction, and then run a panel on it.

It sounds obvious, but it doesn't happen enough.


Mar. 8th, 2009 09:31 pm
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Just a quick post to say I really liked it. A few dot points follow, cut for some light spoilers:

Read more... )

I need to re-read the book. Over the years my information retention from reading has improved from "fucking terrible" to "kinda bad but not too bad", and I last read it about 5 or 6 years ago, so other than major plot points I couldn't actually remember much. It did make watching the movie kind of interesting, though, having vague recollections reignited every 10 minutes or so.
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I'm about 3/4 of the way through my 2001 listening (running a little behind schedule!) and I've got to say - despite hearing a handful of great albums, based on my sample space this year hasn't impressed me anywhere near as much as 2000. Although there's a few albums showing some early promise that might become favourites with a few extra listens.

Some of you will be happy to know that this time it'll probably only be a Top 30-40. I haven't heard enough top-tier stuff to really warrant a full 50.
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Something I've been thinking about recently...

I'm getting tired of comic book movies (and I suppose sf-action in general) where there's no key villain for the first 90% of the film, so they create one at the end using the following formula:

1) There's a kinda morally corrupt (if not just plain evil) character who's been lingering throughout the film so far. The film may have made a poor attempt at making him look like a good guy so that the writers can go "Ooh, twisty!" when...
2) ...he attempts to use the same technology that is responsible for the hero's power.
3) It goes horribly wrong, he becomes PURE EVIL.
4) He and the hero have a rushed, climactic fight, because the writers didn't know how to end the movie without having the hero punch something big for ten minutes.

With the questionable exception of setting up a main villain for the sequel (in which case the climactic fight scene isn't really necessary) it strikes me as a really boring and unimaginative way to end a film. And it's resulted in a couple of films I otherwise really liked having kinda underwhelming finales.

What do YOU think?
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So, I'm on a "2008 in Film" panel at SwanCon, so I'm going to try to watch all the big releases I've not yet seen (as well as a couple of interesting looking small-release films) before the con. This is the list I've managed to put together so far:

TCoN: Prince Caspian
The Dark Knight
Iron Man
Indiana Jones & tKotKS
The Incredible Hulk
The Forbidden Kingdom
Speed Racer
The Eye (US Version)
Star Wars: The Clone Wars
X-Files: I Want to Believe
Hellboy 2

Spiderwick Chronicles
Kung Fu Panda
The Happening
Diary of the Dead
Stargate: The Ark of Truth
Sleep Dealer
Synecdoche, NY
City of Ember
The Mummy 3

Have I missed anything? To go on the list, it needs to be released in Australia during 2008, sf/fantasy/horror/spec, and preferably limited to theatrical releases. You can mention non-theatrical stuff if you want, but limit that only to stuff you thought was really good, as there's boatloads of shitty straight-to-dvd stuff that I'm obviously not going to bother with in such a short timeframe, and that nobody attending the panel would care about anyway.

Music rec

Feb. 25th, 2009 11:20 am
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Hey [ profile] conradin, you should check out Jaga Jazzist if you haven't already. Really good electronic/jazz that's similar in places to Amon Tobin. The album I've heard is called A Livingroom Hush. I reckon you'd really like it.
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So, does anyone want to go on a Lost panel (general discussion) or a Heroes panel (regarding character development) with me at SwanCon? It'll be mega fun!
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The final five! Thanks to everyone who's been reading this list :)


Ringo Shiina - Shoso Strip
(Japanese pop/rock)

Before she went on to form the awesome jazz-funk group Tokyo Jihen, Ringo Shiina carved out a very respectable career as a solo artist. Her debut, Shoso Strip, is everything a great pop/rock album should be - exciting, exuberant, creative and very, very catchy. Ringo Shiina's powerful, emotionally-charged vocals are a wonder to behold, and the little experimental tweaks in the instrumentation keep things vibrant and interesting throughout, making these 13 tracks pass a lot faster than you'd expect from the album's near hour-long runtime. The surging finale is a major highlight, but nothing can compare to "ギブス" (aka "Gips"), whose chorus is so uplifting it should lift the roof off your house.


Comets on Fire - Comets on Fire
(psychedelic-rock, garage-rock, noise-rock)

Comets on Fire's self-titled debut album is a riotous storm of psychedelic garage-rock, layered with huge, fuzzed-out riffs that are played hard and heavy, effects pedals left, right and centre, and vocals so raw and rocking they'll shred your speakers apart. When it comes to pure, floor shakin', foot stompin', air guitarin', jumping-around-like-a-madman hard-rock bliss, there's few albums that deliver on such a high level. It's the sort of music that inspires you to want to play it in your car with your windows down and the volume up, despite the knowledge that people who do this look a bit silly. It's not exactly a complicated album, but believe me when I say it's a hell of a lot of fun.


Deltron 3030 - Deltron 3030

Futuristic geek-hop that constantly delivers the goods, thanks to Dan the Automator's kick-ass production, Del tha Funkee Homosapien's stoned-out delivery, Kid Koala's expert turntablism, a series of A+ guest appearances and the huge number of SF/tech/geek references littered throughout the album (Microsoft, William Gibson and mecha all get mentions, to name just a few). Most of the songs establish various overarching details of the album's futuristic setting, however there is a loose story running throughout - Del plays a freedom fighter battling the galaxy-wide regimes of a dystopian future while participating in a series of intergalactic rap battles. This plotline is tied together nicely via a sequence of entertaining snippets and interludes, which drive the narrative forward and infuse the album with a feeling of real cohesion. It's absolutely one of the decade's best albums, and sets the bar impossibly high for its oft-delayed sequel.


Jackie-O Motherfucker - Fig. 5
(free-folk, americana, improv)

On Fig 5, Jackie-O Motherfucker take an overtly exploratory approach to the soulful twang of Southern folk and Americana, in which their improvvy, jam-band stylings are driven along by multiple guitars, touches of banjo, varying percussion, harmonica, free-jazz and even some sparse sampling. Their takes on traditional classics "Amazing Grace" and "Go Down, Old Hannah" are filled with real warmth and beauty, while "Your Cells are in Motion", with its propulsive rhythm and looping guitar lines, is a personal favourite. It's refreshingly unique and utterly captivating stuff - a strikingly original album which is by far one of the best I've heard this decade.


The Microphones - It Was Hot We Stayed in the Water
(lo-fi, experimental, psychedelic-pop, folk, noise-rock)

Warm, lo-fi instrumentation, intimate vocals, incredibly creative songwriting, some delightful guest-appearances by Mirah (who featured earlier on this list) and downright exceptional analogue production wizardry by head-Microphone Phil Elverum all come together flawlessly to make this aquatically-themed effort the best Microphones/Mt Eerie album (yes, I think it's better than The Glow, Pt 2), the best album of the year 2000, and, at time of list-making, a top-5 contender for my favourite album of the decade. It stands as an ecclectic tapestry of sonic concepts that constantly evades easy categorisation no matter how much you try to pigeonhole it, and is utterly emotionally gripping to boot. There are no fewer than five tracks here that I'd put on a "Best Songs of the Decade" shortlist, and "The Glow" - the album's utterly magical centrepiece - is one of about three songs I'd consider for the #1 spot. It Was Hot We Stayed in the Water is simply a marvel, an album that's hugely appealing not only as an inviting work of deeply human art, but also an awe-inspiring network of musical ideas to deconstruct and examine. On either one of those levels, very few albums can match it.
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ZOMG we've reached the Top Ten!


Ghostface Killah - Supreme Clientele

Perhaps moreso than any other hip-hop album I've heard, Supreme Clientele sounds like a spectacle. The production is robust and attention-grabbing, with sampling that hits like a Mack truck, while Ghostface's emcee work is punchy, rapid-paced and utterly commanding throughout, giving the whole production a real sense of being larger than life. Just check out the explosive, widescreen openings to songs like "Nutmeg" and "Apollo Kids" - it's not uncommon for rappers to open up a song sounding like they're ready to conquer the world, but rarely do they sound like they're going to do it so effortlessly.


Amon Tobin - Supermodified
(drum 'n' bass, electronic-jazz)

The opening three tracks on Amon Tobin's third work of electro-jazz are the best thing he's ever recorded, with "Get Your Snack On" burning up the floor, "Four Ton Mantis" adding some cool funk and "Slowly" bringing it all back down again for some wonderful smooth grooves. It sets the bar almost unrealistically high for the rest of the album, but throughout Supermodified Tobin proves time and again that he's up to the task, resulting in one of the decade's best and most creative electronic albums.


Alamaailman Vasarat - Vasaraasia
(prog-rock, metal, hard-rock, klezmer, experimental-rock)

Vasaraasia is downright mind-boggling - prog-rock meets avant-garde meets klezmer meets metal meets whatever-else-they-could-squeeze-in, making for one of the coolest, strangest hybrids I've heard in a long while. At times this is darkly subdued, moody and kind of noirish, and then the heavy guitars surge in and the album starts to completely rock out, conjuring up images of rabbis with flying-v guitars, playing their own unique brand of ... I don't know ... jewish-metal? It's absolutely mental, but it's also staggeringly original and really, really great.


Electric Wizard - Dopethrone

An exceptionally cool album of Sabbath-worshiping doom-metal that rocks slow and hard, and is so completely stoned out of it's gourd the band members could probably hardly stand up while they were recording it. If you find something appealing in the idea of music where the guitars are so ridiculously down-tuned that they'll drill you into the ground through the sheer power of bass alone, then Dopethrone is most definitely the album for you. It's just deliciously evil music - like wading through a vast expanse of hellish muck, only to be bludgeoned to death with a gigantic electric guitar. Only, you know, in a good way. This last bit probably goes without saying, but it needs to be heard with both the volume and the bass way up.


Common - Like Water for Chocolate

Like Water for Chocolate contains some of the more intellectual, thought-provoking hip-hop I've heard, not just because it contains "serious" content, but also because Common has an incredible knack for structuring and delivering his lyrics in a manner that makes them stick, over and over again. Just check out this line from "The 6th Sense" - "I'd be lying if I said I didn't want millions / More than money saved, I wanna save children / Dealing with alcoholism and afrocentricity / A complex man drawn off of simplicity / Reality is frisking me" - just one excellent snippet from an album full of them. What's more, his flow is amongst the smoothest, mellowest and most charismatic I've had the pleasure of hearing. This is a standout album that's got a decent chance of appealing to non hip-hop fans as well as those who dig the genre.
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Radiohead - Kid A
(experimental-rock, electronic)

Everyone seems to disagree on which Radiohead album is the best, but I reckon Kid A has to take that crown. Borrowing heavily from Brian Eno, Can and Aphex Twin, Thom Yorke, Johnny profuGreenwood and co crafted a concise and hugely enjoyable album of unsettled ambiance and electronic rock. Admittedly, I've come to realise that it's not quite the earth-shattering, 5-star masterwork that I once considered it, but it's still a damn fine album, easily one of 2000's best.


Jackie-O Motherfucker - The Majick Fire Music
(experimental-rock, improv, free-folk)

The Majick Fire Music is a more sparse and controlled, less jammy work for JOMF, although it still ranks amongst their very best work (I'd say it's second only to Fig 5). The opening trio of "Extension", "Bonesaw" and "The Cage" are great, moody, longform tracks which show plenty of discipline and patience in the manner in which they're played, while the closer "Black Squirrels" (one of the album's few looser tracks) is a genuine contender for the single best song in the band's catalogue.


The Mountain Goats - The Coroner's Gambit
(singer/songwriter, lo-fi)

One of John Darnielle's last true lo-fi recordings, The Coroner's Gambit tends to trade places with a couple of his other albums as my favourite Mountain Goats release. Prior to this, Darnielle had always been a very capable wordsmith, with a staggering volume and frequency of output, but his songwriting was simply sharper at this point than ever before. It's hard to miss that there's a real tension and urgency in his delivery, even moreso than usual, and when he bellows "You can arm me to the teeth - you can't make me go to war!" on "Family Happiness", it makes for one of the most intense moments in the entire (enormous) Mountain Goats discography. There's plenty of similar moments littered throughout the album, making this one of his most satisfying, emotionally-gripping releases.


Broadcast - The Noise Made by People
(dream-pop, electronic)

The Noise Made by People is a fantastic work of tranquilized clockwork electronics drifting through hazy production, which come together to create a sound that's consistently dreamy and vivid, kind of an alternate-future version of the Velvet Underground. This foundation is built upon by Trish Keenan's flattened vocals, which give the album a lovely "sleepwalker" vibe and place it as the perfect soundtrack to being lost in the city at 3am.


The White Stripes - De Stijl
(garage-rock, blues-rock)

This is definitely my favourite White Stripes album. It's catchier, more consistent, more economical and has more highlight moments than any of their other releases. While they'd venture into more ambitious and experimental grounds with their subsequent releases, De Stijl (along with their debut) proves for me that Jack and Meg are most in their element when they keep things simple and focus on writing kick-ass garage rockers.
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The Cracow Klezmer Band - De Profundis

I'm afraid I'm a bit clueless when it comes to specifics of the klezmer genre, so I'll quote Wikipedia for this one: "Klezmer is a musical tradition which parallels Hasidic and Ashkenazic Judaism". Basically, if you imagine the sort of music you'd think of when someone says "stereotypically 'Yiddish-sounding' music" you'd be on the right track. What I can say with authority is that this is really beautiful music. De Profundis boasts plenty of emotional pull, and some of the higher string sections in particular are utterly haunting.


Shellac - 1000 Hurts
(math-rock, noise-rock)

On 1000 Hurts, Steve Albini's brand of crunchy math-rock is creative, humourous, visceral and totally unrestrained. The album is double-bookended by it's best tracks ("Prayer to God", "Squirrel Song", "Shoe Song" and "Watch Song"), but it's all really great stuff, punchy and immediate throughout. The lyrics to "Prayer to God" are some of the most intense and darkly amusing you'll ever hear, while Albini's manic cries at the beginning and end of "Squirrel Song" - "This is a sad fuckin' song. We'll be lucky if I don't bust out crying!" and (after describing what sounds like some sort of large scale squirrel invasion) "This isn't some kind of metaphor, Goddamn, this is real!" - are downright classic.


Einstürzende Neubauten - Silence is Sexy
(minimalism, experimental, pseudo-industrial)

Einstürzende Neubauten's eighth release is one of those albums that's incredibly tricky to pigeonhole - a mixture of subdued industrial instrumentation and spoken work vocals, delivered via a minimalist aesthetic and a highly experimental mindset. Silence is Sexy is occasionally creepy, but it's also injected with wry humour and a sense of playfulness that gives it a really accessible feel. Very creative and highly engaging.


Neko Case and Her Boyfriends - Furnace Room Lullaby

Alt-country that's delivered with real gusto and confidence, with exceptional musicianship throughout. Case's vocal is a pretty amazing display of emotional range and control, hauntingly tender on the softer moments but booming with conviction on the big notes, with songwriting that shows an impressive command of the craft. Despite its modernisation of the country sound, there's something undeniably old-fashioned and authentic at Furnace Room Lullaby's core, making it the sort of album that'll easily trigger feelings of wistful nostalgia in anyone who has a soft spot for the twangy stuff.


Reflection Eternal (Talib Kweli & DJ Hi-Tek) - Train of Thought

Train of Thought is one of the most well-balanced hip-hop albums I've ever heard. Even across a very generous 20 tracks, Talib Kweli and DJ Hi-Tek keep the album constantly engaging and entertaining, avoiding the kind of dips all too common in albums of this length. Hi-Tek's production is admirably solid, with his beats providing a solid backbone upon which the songs are built. There's no doubting, though, that Kweli's rapping absolutely steals the show here, with his memorable lyrics and expert wordplay making for one of the most creative and professional performances the genre has to offer.
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I just submitted a couple of panel ideas to the SwanCon site. Thought I'd post 'em here to promote awareness and perhaps get some feedback.

Changing the Heroes

Across their personal storyarcs, many of the characters of Heroes tend to be morally fluid - with heroes falling from grace to become villains, villains facing moral crises that lead to self-doubt, characters making decisions which lead them down uncertain pathways, and some simply never shifting away from moral ambiguity. Are these character transitions plausible and elegant, and what do we, the viewers, think of the methods the writers are using to enact them?


TV series Lost is scheduled to conclude after two "mini seasons" of 17 episodes each (the first of which recently commenced in the US). In recent times, the show has arguably gained a newfound sense of direction, and this definite time limit suggests that The Survivors and Others are finally headed towards some sort of climactic endgame. This panel will encourage open discussion on the current and previous seasons, as well as speculation on future events.

I don't think we've had panels specifically about either of these shows at a previous SwanCon, although I could be mistaken. I suck at panel titles, so any suggestions of better titles are welcome.
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Dirty Three - Whatever You Love, You Are

Whatever You Love, You Are, the fifth album by Australian veterans The Dirty Three, is a fantastic work of sorrowful post-rock. The rough, emotive strings are as moving as ever before, making for a sextet of songs that leave an emotional imprint on the listener like a punch in the gut. Above all else, though, the 13 minute centrepiece "I Offered It Up to the Stars and the Night Sky" is a thrilling piece of music that's nothing short of extraordinary.


D'Angelo - Voodoo
(soul, r&b)

Voodoo, the long-delayed sophomore effort by D'Angelo, is a wonderful melange of silky vocals, bubbling basslines and sensual grooves, the whole production cloaked throughout in a dreamy, smokey haze. I've long held the album's big single "Untitled" as a major personal favourite, with its undeniable passion and truly spine-tingling finale - it effortlessly ranks amongst the year's very best songs.


Gaiteiros De Lisboa - Dançachamas
(Portugese folk)

Gaiteiros De Lisboa play a vaguely Celtic-sounding form of Portugese folk music, and as far as I can tell this album sounds as though it was recorded at a live performance. There's plenty of passionate, chanted vocals, with some amazing pipe sections dominating the instrumentation. Speaking of which, supposedly these guys play using custom-crafted instruments, adding to their unique sound. Dançachamas is simply one of those discoveries that's taken me into completely unfamiliar territory, and it's really quite breathtaking.


The Letter E - No. 5ive Longplayer
(instrumental, post-rock)

An album of precisely played and inofensively pretty instrumental pieces, that layer intricate acoustic guitar lines over mellow percussion, along with unobtrusive selections of brass, cello and accordion. The guitar playing here is always impressive, utilising complex time signatures ("Alushta", for example, alternates between 7/4 and 12/4) and frequently employing several separate melodies that weave their ways around one another to form a dense and cohesive combination, one which impressively balances being both fascinating and endearing to the listener.


Tin Hat - Helium

On Helium, instrumental trio Tin Hat draw their inspiration from a wide variety of styles - including tango, flamenco, bluegrass, classical, jazz and blues - and channel them through their own chamber-folk style. By doing so, they come up with a generous helping of exquisitely and expertly played genre reinventions, which allow the listener to experience a fresh perspective on some well-covered territory. Adding in a Tom Waits guest vocal on the closing track is the icing on the cake.
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Like several of my friends, I've been trying to lose a bit of weight lately. My method has been to eat a relatively normal quantity of healthy food each day (pretty much the same sort of food I was eating before), but instead of having it as breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks, I'm having breakfast and then basically "grazing" throughout the remainder of the day. I like this way of eating, as I feel satisfied all through the day, rather than getting really hungry right before meal times, and I also get to eat a wider variety of foods. Combined with a reasonable amount of swimming recently, it's been working well and I've lost some weight.

My current aim is to get under 90kg, at which point I'll decide if I want to lose some more. I started out in early-January, and my weight had typically fluctuated between 95 and 102kg for a few years before that. Anyway, I'm down to 92kg at the moment, which just happens to be the magic number that puts me back into the healthy weight bracket of the bmi. Woo!

Anyway, just thought I'd share that little milestone.
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Jill Scott - Who is Jill Scott? Words and Sounds Vol. 1
(soul, r&b)

Appealing and slinky contemporary soul/r&b that boasts a level of enjoyment and replay value that belies it's apparently simplistic sound. Scott's voice is lovely, expressive and very smooth, while the instrumentation and production is quite elegant, all graceful strings, soft percussion and subtle piano lines. A very pleasant surprise indeed.


Ryan Adams - Heartbreaker

Having first heard Adams' more recent, scattershot efforts like Cold Roses and Jacksonville City Nights (which weren't bad, they just weren't that great either), I found myself really pleased with Heartbreaker. It's a well-balanced, constantly great album of alt-country tunes, all of which turn the genre's twangy cliches up just enough that it constantly rides on the good side of the line between lovable and outright cheesy. "Come Pick Me Up" is especially great - a "screw me over and I'll ask for more" anthem that's become a new personal favourite.


Godspeed You Black Emperor! - Lift Your Skinny Fists Like Antennas to Heaven

The opening dozen minutes of Lift Your Skinny Fists Like Antennas to Heaven (aka "Storm" parts 1 and 2) is quite possibly the best stretch of music on any album released in 2000. The build up and crescendo of Part 1 and the soaring midsection of Part 2 are so uplifting, powerful and beautifully played that, even after dozens (probably hundreds) of listens, they send a huge shiver down my spine. The remainder of the album is a little overlong and unfocused, making it my least favourite effort in the Godspeed catalogue, but there's so many good bits hidden throughout it's near 2 hour runtime that it still stands head and shoulders above 95% of post-rock.


Quasimoto - The Unseen
(experimental hip-hop)

With its pitch-shifted vocals, near-incomprehensible background murmurs, bountiful sampladelic weirdness and severely fractured structure, The Unseen, Madlib's debut under his Quasimoto alias, presents a brand of abstract hip-hop so liquid and hazy, it feels as though it must have been recorded direct from Quas' weed-fueled dreams.


Tim Perkins and Alan Moore - The Highbury Working
(spoken-word, electronic, experimental-rock)

Comics madman Alan Moore rants his way through an impassioned spoken-word narrative of the secret, mystical history of London's Highbury area, backed by Perkins' boggy, noirish instrumentation. As a renowned author, Moore obviously has a way with words, and there's a certain delight to the way he delivers lines like "Highbury wasn't at Death's door, it was halfway down Death's passage, hanging up its coat." His voice seems like an awkward fit for a music album - his vocals more or less match the way he talks the rest of the time, as though he's speaking through a thick layer of mud while someone walks along his vocal chords - but it works, and as the story unfolds his delivery becomes increasingly intense. By the time the triumphant finale of "The Angel Highbury" hits, it's become downright thrilling.
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