Author Archives: Tim Hall

Haken – Affinity

Haken Affinity Haken are one of the best of the current generation of progressive rock bands. They combine the required level of instrumental virtuosity with a degree of songcraft and compositional skills unmatched by most of their peers. The band came of age with their third album “The Mountain” when they transcended influences from Zappa to Gentle Giant to created a clear musical identity of their own. After the rather more experimental EP “Restoration”, they’re back with their fourth full-length album, “Affinity”, and it might just be the best thing they’ve done.

The album begins with clanking electronic effects building towards a barrage of percussion. Though it’s the album’s title track it’s more of an extended intro to the first song proper, the towering “Initiate” which combines pummelling progressive-metal riffery with delicate shimmering vocal sections. That sets the theme for this record; razor-sharp riffs combine with anthemic soaring vocal lines and gorgeous harmonies with the dynamics to make the disparate elements work together.

“1985″ more a more conventional prog-metal with its spiralling riff and parping keyboard solo, and “Lapse” even takes on something close to a dance feel at the beginning. The fifteen-minute The Architect, the longest track on the record, forms the centrepiece of the album, a multi-section prog-metal workout with staccato riffs, an atmospheric jazzy instrumental section and a huge anthemic climax. In contrast other songs display a less-is-more simplicity. The elegiac Red Giant is a stately thing of beauty, and the nine minutes of the dreamy slow-burning closer Bound By Gravity ends the album on another high point, based around simple repeating patterns that build in intensity into a vast sonic cathedral.

It’s perhaps not quite as eclectically varied as “The Mountain”, but as a consistent and coherent record it’s perhaps an even stronger work. There is slightly less emphasis on complex song structures and relatively few solos. It’s really the vocal harmonies that stand out on this record, with all the band contributing to the backing vocals.

The result is something that’s clearly identifiable as progressive rock, but reinvented for the twenty-first century rather than a reverential pastiche of the music from a generation ago. It’s the sort of thing that should appeal as much to those bought up on Muse or Elbow as to old-school fans of Pink Floyd or King Crimson. This is state of the art modern progressive rock at its best.

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Ken Livingstone and the Anti-Semitism of the Left

This is the state of British politics in 2016

Anti-Semitism is of course no laughing matter, and the Labour Party have done the right thing and suspended him. But Livingstone and his apologists have doubled down and insist he’s done nothing wrong.

If you make no distinction between a nation’s government, its people, and those worldwide who share the same ethnicity, you are a racist. It really is that simple. Trying to deflect the issue by pointing out all the horribly racist things Boris Johnson has said in the past just doesn’t wash. That’s classic “whatabouterty”; as my mother always said, two wrongs don’t make a right.

When the left have adopted a form of radical identity politics in which everyone is classed as either “Privileged” or “Oppressed” on the basis of their ethnicity, gender and sexuality, it’s hard not to see a connection with the rise of anti-Semitism, something that always used to be associated with the far right. Jews, like Gay Men, have been moved out of the “Oppressed” category because a minority of them have become wealthy and successful, and some very old and very dangerous bigotries have been allowed to come back to life.

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If we sacrifice the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport in a Wicker Man on May Day, will the musicians and actors stop dying?

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Award shortlists or end-of-year polls are valuable if they end up highlighting something interesting or quirky that might otherwise have slipped beneath the radar. If all they do is validate a predictable consensus, what exactly is the point?

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Booky McBookface, by Noah Ward

So Vox Day has managed to crap all over the Hugo Awards for the second year running, flooding some categories completely and getting stories with titles “If You Were An Award, My Love” and “Space Raptor Butt Invasion” on the ballot.

What muddies the waters is that Day has also taken some reputable authors who deserved to get nominated anyway and covered them with his stink, I feel for Alastair Reynolds, who’s novella “Slow Bullets” has made the nominations and now risks becoming a political football.

This year it’s important to note that The Sad Puppies, run this year by Kate Paulk and Amanda Green, did not run slates as such, with recommendation lists that ranged from two or three entries in some categories to as many as ten in each of the fiction categories. At no point did they recommend five and only five nominations for any category.

The heavy overlap between Vox Day’s and Brad Torgersen’s Rabid and Sad Puppies slates last year obscured the fact that it was Vox Day who really did the damage. Wherever the two slates differed, it was Vox Day’s choices that made the ballot. This year there is no room for any doubt who the villain is, and I’m going to assume anyone who continues to blur the difference between the Sad Puppies and the Rabid ones is either ignorant or has an agenda.

I’m not a Worldcon member, but that’s not going to stop me giving unsolicited advice. So here’s my off-the-top-of-my-head recommendations.

First, ratify E Pluribus Hugo. This is ought to be such a no-brainer than anyone that attempts to argue otherwise is not to be trusted. It won’t fix everything, but it will make it harder for any well-organised minority to swamp the ballot.

Second, think very hard about the wisdom of repeating last year’s block no-awarding everything tainted, throwing good people under the bus in an attempt to preserve the purity of the awards. That stank when they did it to people like Toni Weisskopf last year. The garbage from VD’s cronies you can no award to oblivion if it’s as awful as it sounds from the titles. But remember that burning down The Hugos is VD’s goal, and no-awarding deserving nominees like Toni Weisskopf or Alastair Reynolds gives him what he wants.

Third, recognise that the Sad Puppies and the Rabid ones are very different things, and try to build bridges with the some of the first of those groups, or at least avoid rhetoric or behaviour that further deepens the divide with anyone who’s not an actual acolyte of Vox Day. The mass no-awarding of last year did not help in that regard.

One problem with the Hugo Awards in recent years seems to be the lack of any consensus about what they’re supposed to represent. Do they represent the very best of science fiction and fantasy as a whole, or do they represent the favourites of a far narrower subset of fandom? Are they really publicly-voted awards, or closer to juried awards with an unusually large jury? And above all how much are they American rather than international?

At the moment they’ve neither quite one thing or the other, and that’s one root of the problem.

You could argue that the world of SF/F is now too broad and too diverse for a single set of awards to serve as a Gold Standard, there need to be alternative awards created for different crowds, and new awards like The Dragons are a step in that direction. So complaining that “Heroic Engineer” stories never get Hugo nominations is like complaining about the lack of rock and metal in the Mercury Music Prize when the Kerrang awards exist.

Only once Worldcon decide exactly what the Hugos are and who they are supposed to be for can they treat Vox Day as damage and route around him. At the moment he is still outmanoeuvring them, rendering last years Hugo Ceremony a pyrrhic victory.

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RIP Prince

As with Bowie, I was never a huge fan, and don’t even own any of his records. But there was still a palpable sense of shock when I heard about his death in the queue outside the venue for The Heather Findlay Band at The Boston Music Rooms.

Prince, like Bowie, was one of the giants, and speaking to some band members after the gig made it clear he’s hugely respected by musicians regardless of the genres they work in. This quote from Chantel McGregor, who has frequently covered “Purple Rain” in her live shows says it all.

2016 has been an awful year; it’s almost as if The Grim Reaper has traded in the traditional scythe for a combine harvester.

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Boris is the British Trump

Boris Johnson’s attack on Barack Obama belongs in the gutter, says Nick Cohen in The Spectator, not mincing his words.

I am therefore writing with the caution of a lawyer and the deference of a palace flunkey when I say that Johnson showed this morning that he is a man without principle or shame. He is a braying charlatan, who lacks the courage even to be an honest bastard, for there is a kind of bastardly integrity in showing the world who you really are, but instead uses the tactics of the coward and the tricks of the fraudster to advance his worthless career.

Boris doesn’t care whether Britain leaves the EU or not. It’s all just a means to an end in his ambition to become Prime Minister. He has no underlying principles whatsoever; everything he says or does is based on cynical calculation around what he thinks his audience wants to hear.

The parallels with Donald Trump run far deeper than the terrible hair. If Boris thought being a massive racist would gain him support, he’d be as racist as Trump. The fact that he isn’t says more about the British people than it says about him.

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Panic Room launch live DVD crowd-funding campaign

Panic Room have announced a crowdfunding campaign for a Live DVD on PledgeMusic, which will be recorded at Islington Assembly Hall on June 18th.

Options range from £22 for the standard DVD though £45 for a signed deluxe editon of the DVD with your name in the credits to all sorts of exclusive extras.

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How come they trust us to decide on Britain’s future in the EU when they can’t even trust us to name a boat?

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Virgin Trains East Coast

Virgin Trains East Coast HST at York

I know I take a lot of photos from this vantage point, but here/s another one; An HST set led by power car 43239 in the new (ish) Virgin Trains East Coast livery.

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