Simian Substitute Site for July 2022: Brass Monkey Graphic Design

Brass Monkey Graphic DesignMONTH END PROCESSING FOR JUNE 2022

Books: I know, we really should have finished listening to Janelle Monae's The Memory Librarian by now. You'll recall that this time last month, we'd made it through two of the five stories in the audiobook, and were feeling a little dissatisfied with it all. We drifted away from the night-time audiobook routine for about two weeks, and if you've been paying attention you'll probably have worked out why that is. But we've now heard the third and fourth stories, and they're a big improvement on the first two. For a start, they're shorter, and much more story-driven: for another, they both add an interesting wrinkle to Monae's dystopia by considering how memory - the major theme of the book - is all a matter of perception, and how time can alter that perception in unexpected ways. In Timebox (co-written with Eve L. Ewing), a couple discovers an unusual feature of their new apartment, and it threatens to tear them apart: in Save Changes (co-written with Yohanca Delgado), two sisters trapped in their flat with their renegade mother experiment with ways of escaping their situation. With all the backstory out of the way, these two tales can relax and present some smart science fiction ideas along with characters you seriously care about. I'm slightly disappointed by the bait-and-switch of having Monae herself only read the first story, though: Bahni Turpin's reading style for the rest of them is a downgrade by comparison, though she calms down a bit as the book progresses. I may report on the final story next month, or I may have moved on to something else by then.

Radio: Oooh, now there's a category that rarely gets used around these parts. Although a couple of months ago, we listened to an audiobook that was just a repackaged old Radio 4 comedy series, Hordes Of The Things. I haven't experienced much radio comedy in the last couple of decades, which is surprising given how much of it I used to consume as a teenager. (Mind you, you could say the same thing about Birds Eye Steaklets.) So for me, there's a nostalgic tinge to settling down in front of the wireless to listen to Damned Andrew, a four-part sitcom co-written by and starring comedian Andrew O'Neill. It's safe to say that nobody else could have created a show like this: the story of a non-binary vegan metalhead who accidentally opens up a portal to the underworld while drunk and has to somehow close it again. It sticks closely to the Hitch-Hiker/Hordes fantasy comedy template, with complex sound design and a narrator tying the scenes together (although you feel that Alan Moore - yes, that one - could have been given a bit more to do in the role). We're halfway through the series at the time of writing, and I'm finding the pacing a bit off-putting - sequences where there's too much happening crash into other sequences where there's not much going on at all. You feel that the story (surreal diversions and all) is taking priority over the jokes: there are jokes, with at least a couple of great big laughs per episode, but the show could use a few more. Still, it's a series with a voice all of its own, and I'm keen to see how it develops over the rest of the run.

Video: Actually, the idea of 'video' as a category for a review feels almost as obsolete as 'radio' these days. But I can't be bothered setting up a new category for Things You Watch At Home On Streaming, so it stays. Beyond The Infinite Two Minutes is a Japanese film released in the UK by the good people at Third Window, whose last big hit was One Cut Of The Dead - a low-budget bit of silliness built around a huge sequence shot in a single take. So you can see why they snapped up Two Minutes, an even lower budget bit of silliness that's entirely shot in a single take (or so it looks, anyway). The premise of Junta Yamaguchi's film is simplicity itself: the owner of a cafe discovers one day that the monitor in his upstairs room is showing events happening in the downstairs cafe - not live, but what will happen two minutes into the future. You could imagine a decent little sketch being whipped up from that idea, but Makoto Ueda's script gets a full 70 minutes of inventive joy out of it, adding more and more complications as characters try to work out how this glitch can be exploited. You can enjoy it as a story, and simultaneously marvel at the feats of split-second timing required by cast and crew to make it all work. Coincidentally (or not), Third Window are releasing an older film this Monday with another Makoto Ueda script, entitled Summer Time Machine Blues. I think we can see a theme developing here.

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BrewDogging #77: Reykjavik (or C.I. part 1)

Still Life With Board Games. (You'll have to translate the neon for yourselves, I'm afraid.)Sunday 5th June 2022

The last trip we made to a BrewDog bar outside the UK was Hamburg, which was two and a half years ago. The last trip we made to a BrewDog bar outside the UK by plane was Seoul, which was over three years ago. It's quite possible that after all this Covid nonsense, we've forgotten how to travel.

It's certainly the case that we've forgotten how to book Heathrow Express tickets three months in advance to knock them down to an acceptable price - we didn't realise that until it was too late to do anything about it. Still, it means that we start this adventure with our first ever go on the new Elizabeth line, which is currently just a rebranding of the pre-existing slow trains between Paddington and Heathrow (but will eventually connect fully with central London and the East End badlands). The trains look nice, though they're really just Overground carriages coloured in purple.

We get to the airport long before our flight's due, because you've heard the stories - aviation is broken now, and Heathrow is in a permanent state of chaos. But once we've got there, we whizz through check-in and security at a satisfyingly high speed. Our bags aren't so lucky: the baggage conveyors break down literally as we're checking in, and appear to be down across the entire airport. "Just leave the bags on the floor there, they'll get on the plane," we're told. It's a less than reassuring start, both to our journey to Reykjavik, and to a travel article that mysteriously has the words 'part 1' in its title.

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Simian Substitute Site for June 2022: Monkeys

MonkeysMONTH END PROCESSING FOR MAY 2022

Books: You've heard the album, you've seen the "emotion picture," now read the book. Or, in our case, listen to it. The Memory Librarian, And Other Stories Of Dirty Computer is Janelle Monae's latest excursion into her own personal sci-fi universe: a dystopia in which people's memories are erased to remove all traces of deviation, where deviating from the traditional gender binary is possibly the worst crime of all. For the book version, Monae's collaborated with five other authors to produce five stories set in her world. We're two stories into the audiobook so far, and neither of them has quite worked. The Memory Librarian itself (co-written with Alaya Dawn Johnson) opens the book, and is so crammed full of worldbuilding that it doesn't leave enough room for anything much to happen. Monae reads it nicely, though, something you don't appreciate until Nevermind (co-written with Danny Lore). Set on a retreat where a group of renegade women are hiding out, there's plenty of incident and character to go around. But it's read by Bahni Turpin in a curiously over-emphatic style, which makes you feel like you're being read this gender-progressive Afrofuturist fable because it's good for you. "Did you see, children? Neer is using non-binary pronouns." Still, the multi-author, multi-narrator anthology format means that anything could happen in the remaining three stories, so hopefully I can report back next month on how the rest of the book plays out.

Music: It's the textbook definition of a superspreader event: two and a quarter thousand people in the London Palladium, and The Divine Comedy are about to launch into the chorus of National Express. I'm afraid that by now you've missed their 2022 European tour shows, ruthlessly built around the recent Charmed Life compilation: as Neil Hannon described it, "no weird stuff, just the... [long pause, dramatic air quotes] ...'hits'." So rather than bang on about how predictably brilliant a show it was (other than to show you a cheeky video of Perfect Lovesong, featuring the best sight gag of the night), let's talk about Super Extra Bonus Album, which I tangentially referred to here two months ago. It's a traditional dodge that when a band releases a greatest hits album, they add at least one new song to it, to force the long-term fans who already have all the records to buy it anyway. Charmed Life takes this even further, adding an entire limited edition ten-track CD, made up of discarded sweepings from the cutting room floor. Which makes it all the more galling that it's the most consistent set of songs Hannon has released in years, with the first (I'll Take What I Can Get) and last (Those Pesky Kids) being particular highlights. It's an all-killer-no-filler set constructed from actual filler, and if you've got Spotify you can listen to it right here.


Telly: It's always struck me that Brooklyn Nine-Nine is underrated as sitcoms go. Its sit may have been a bit standard - a New York police precinct has wacky adventures - but the rock-solid ensemble cast was always its secret weapon. They came together as a perfectly well-oiled machine from episode one, and stayed that way for seven years. But just after the end of season seven, George Floyd got murdered, and all of a sudden an American police force became a tricky subject to make fluffy jokes about. Two years later, the eighth - and final - season of Brooklyn Nine-Nine has made it on to E4 over here, and we can now see how the writers had to rip up their original business-as-usual plans and come up with a new approach. To be honest, I wasn't sure they could pull it off, and even had the hashtag #DeFunThePolice all ready to go on Twitter. But after a tonally awkward opening episode, where the squad is hit by Covid, Black Lives Matter and a resignation in rapid succession, it quickly settles into an elegant two-pronged approach. One is to directly address the unease with current American policing, with the introduction of John C McGinley as a police union boss representing the morally compromised side of the force: the other is to have entire episodes set completely away from the precinct, sending the characters off on road trips and odd side projects. Somehow, it all still works, and there are a good few laugh-out-loud moments per episode. If they can sustain it for the series finale in a couple of weeks, it'll be quite an achievement.

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BrewDogging #76: Bath

Got to confess here, this guy was drinking with his partner virtually the whole time we were there, but I waited until she went to the loo so I could get a picture with this whole Hopperesque lone drinker vibe.The pandemic has, among other things, made it clear how rigid a calendar this site works to: there are certain milestones that take place at the same time every year, except for the years when we’re not allowed to do that. Edinburgh in August and London Film Festival in October are the big dates: the Japan Foundation Touring Film Programme in February too, to a lesser extent. And then there’s Easter, when The Belated Birthday Girl and I have made it a thing that we spend part of Easter Sunday watching a film made in whichever part of the world we find ourselves in at the time. In recent years, that’s tended to overlap conveniently with our ongoing quest to visit as many BrewDog bars worldwide as we can.

Except, again, for the years when we’re not allowed to do that. So Easter 2020 was spent in London watching 28 Days Later for grim infection-centric yoks, while Easter 2021 – and I don’t think I mentioned this at the time – was also spent in London, this time watching Rocks. (It's alright. End of review.)

Easter 2022? Well, we’re on the move again. We have a trip out of town, a relevant film, a BrewDog bar, and even a bonus city thrown in on top.

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Simian Substitute Site for May 2022: Chiki Monkey

Chiki MonkeyMONTH END PROCESSING FOR APRIL 2022

Books: Well, maybe not. The audiobook project took a slightly odd turn this month, as we listened to two things that advertised themselves as audiobooks, but were actually both Radio 4 programmes originally broadcast over 40 years ago. And Patrick Magee (who would have been 100 years old on March 31st this year if he wasn't dead) was the star of both! I have fond memories of the comedy show Hordes Of The Things from its original 1980 broadcast, although even at the time it seemed like a blatant attempt at taking the formula of The Hitch-Hiker's Guide To The Galaxy and applying it to Tolkienesque fantasy. It's still got its moments (after all, Andrew Marshall and John Lloyd both have decent form as comedy writers), but these days it feels a lot more like a series of sketches linked together by Patrick Magee's fruity narration, and what seemed to me in 1980 like an incredibly bleak ending has all sorts of back doors sewn into it for a second series (which never happened). One year earlier in 1979, Magee read Flann O'Brien's The Third Policeman for A Book At Bedtime, and his version has obtained a new lease of life thanks to my internet pal Paul Duane bunging it up on Soundcloud. It's massively abridged - the commercially available audiobook, read by no less an authority than Bishop Len Brennan, is three times as long as this one. As a result, you can't tell how many of the lurches in the plotting are down to O'Brien's wickedly surreal wit, and how many are down to shoddy editing. But there's enough brilliance here to lure me into reading the whole thing, which I suspect was always the point of A Book At Bedtime. I won't be able to do all the voices as well as Magee does here, though.

Music: I know I did one of these last month, but I've already got another batch of ten tunes going through my head. Some are new releases: some are older ones that have come onto my radar because of things that have happened over the past month. As ever, YouTube links in the text, Spotify playlist below it.

  1. Thanks to my self-imposed one-link-per-playlist-entry limitation, you'll have to search this site for yourself to find where I reviewed the 2000 comeback gig by The Art Of Noise. This was the opening number of their set, It hadn't been released on record at the time. It finally came out this month.
  2. A less dramatic delay here: I saw Simon Love play a short acoustic set back in 2019, where he premiered this new song and promised it'd be on his next album. That album finally came out this month too. 
  3. I've already linked to the video of this old Mondo Grosso tune as part of this year's Japan Foundation Touring Film Programme reviews, as it shares a director (Takeshi Maruyama) with the film Spaghetti Code Love. Worth watching if you haven't seen it yet, anyway. Or even if you have.
  4. It appears to have taken the prospect of World War 3 to bring Pink Floyd out of retirement and make a record with their Ukrainian chum Andriy Khlyvnyuk of the band Boombox.
  5. I saw my first Pitchblack Playback event this month, in which the classic David Byrne and Brian Eno album My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts was played over a cinema sound system with all the lights turned off and the audience wearing eyemasks. This is one of the bonus tracks from the special edition, which has been in my collection for well over a decade but hadn't really registered with me till I heard it blind, as it were.
  6. It's generally accepted that Ukraine will get a sympathy win at Eurovision this year, which is a shame because Norway's entry from Subwoolfer - a masked duo who may or may not be Ylvis in disguise - deserve a shout. We'll see how they get on on May 14th.
  7. What's that American candy that advertises itself as 'two great tastes that taste great together'? Well, it's Reese's Peanut Butter Cups, obviously, because asking rhetorical questions on the internet that have factual answers doesn't work. But you can see why it came to mind with this benefit record by Jah Wobble and The Ukrainians.
  8. Coming in a couple of weeks - a report on what we did during our Easter holidays. Part of it involves the discovery of Manchester outfit Riot Jazz Brass Band, whose live show is a thing of beauty and includes this excellently daft thing.
  9. Is it a bad idea for Roxy Music to be going back on tour after all this time? I have a horrible feeling it might be, though I'd be happy to be proven wrong. Still, it reminds me of how shocked teenage me was to discover they'd written a song about blow-up dolls.
  10. Finishing up with another video that I've already linked to here, in the context of my review of Alex Winter's film about Frank Zappa. Lovely, though, innit?


Theatre: I've been waiting 13 years to see Jerusalem, ever since its debut at the Royal Court back in 2009 and all those reviews saying it was the best play of modern times. Nothing could quite live up to that level of hype, really. Sure, the performance of Mark Rylance as Johnny Byron - caravan dweller, bullshit artist, and unofficial leader of an entire community of misfits - is as glorious as everyone has always said it is, and all the more notable for Rylance (for the most part) eschewing his usual ultra-naturalism for a huge larger-than-life swagger. It also helps that even though it's the sort of massive lead performance that has the potential to reduce the rest of the cast to mere background scenery, Rylance uses his star power generously to elevate the contributions of everyone else involved, from second-billed Mackenzie Crook to the lowest urinating tortoise. But Jez Butterworth's script - like the one for Jerusalem's follow-up, The Ferryman - tries that bit too hard to do absolutely everything in a three-hour timeslot, and its pacing falls apart in the third act. I spent far too long admiring the ambition of what Butterworth was doing, and not enough getting emotionally involved with it. Still, if you can find some way of getting hold of a ticket before the run ends on August 7th, your opinion may differ. 

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