There’s a danger: reading my blog and reading the book: that one could come to the impression I am in some way obsessed with Momus, that I have a Jed Maxwell style room filled with long-lens photos of him and a full chest tattoo of his face: this is not really the truth. You could patrol my house and barely realise a Momus fan lives there at all, unless you rifled through the books or CDs. I do, in fact, like things other than Momus. I know this is a shock. Here are ten recommendations, which is difficult because you lot probably like many of the same things I do anyway.
I’ve waxed enthusiastic about it before, but it bears saying again: Taskmaster remains the best, simplest, most efficiently entertaining idea on television now. The formula is simple: make comedians do ridiculous tasks in a thoughtful manner. It works best when they are reduced to fury by the task confronting them, and the enjoyment gained is restricted only by the quality of each series’ line-up. Bob Mortimer, for instance, a joy in every scene, others less so. But even with the least interesting guests, the dynamic between the hosts and victims ensures drama right up there with the events on Squid Game (albeit for lower stakes).
The New Pornographers
When I’m not Momusing, I love a bit of prog or indie. When I’m not ELPing or listening to Clor, I love a bit of what I will annoyingly call PowerPop. The New Pornographers is a “supergroup” formed over twenty years ago including Neko Case, Dan Bejar and A.C. Newman. They are purveyors of great songs, melodic powerhouses with abstruse lyrics which nevertheless hold emotional depth. Twin Cinema and Mass Romantic are probably the top drawer of their albums, but all are worth a listen, with the possible exception of the two completed without Bejar’s input most recently.
Speaking of what is relentlessly called power pop, Scott Miller’s legendary intelligence and esotericism fed the astonishingly good output of his West Coast outfit Game Theory, through a series of albums in the 80s, produced by Mitch Easter and inspirational to a young me. Scott went on to front The Loud Family and there was a final Game Theory album – Supercalifragile, featuring guests including Aimee Mann and Anton Barbeau. Tragically this was completed and released following Miller’s suicide at the age of 53. An engineer and software developer, Miller was also a musical genius, evidenced by the tape editing and audio trickery of Game Theory’s cult classic Lolita Nation and his later work. In addition to this he wrote Music: What Happened?, an incisive and musically literate history of music from 1957 to 2011 told in capsule reviews of the best songs from each year. It’s out of print but worth finding, and Game Theory’s albums are finally available in re-released and expanded editions from Omnivore Recordings. I’ve done playlists for each year of Music: What Happened? Which can be found on YouTube by searching for Thranjax.
I probably don’t need to tell you about Brian O’Nolan, the 20th Century Irish writer also known as Flann O’Brien and Myles na gCopaleen : but in case you haven’t read him, At Swim-Two-Birds and The Third Policeman are surreal classics of the comic form, ranging through the unreal and dreamlike via strangely coherent fantasy settings. Their influence can be felt in the work of many more recent writers, and the tv series Lost was influenced by its plot. Modern sci-fi texts such as Black Mirror clearly contain themes present within his work. Nolan’s nom-de-plume Myles wrote a column for the Irish Times containing odd musings, reviews and tirades, these are compiled as The Best of Myles, a book which you simply have to have, a masterclass on the form.
Worst Foot Forward
A podcast of wonder, an in depth look each episode at the worst examples of a given category, usually chosen by patrons. Categories have included Worst Pirate, Worst Horse, Worst Door, Worst Tree, Worst Opening Ceremony, Worst Race, Worst Sci-Fi Movie, etc... there are over 200 episodes and they seem to get better and better. The hosts are actor/comedian Barry McStay and comedian Ben Van der Velde with an expert guest each time. Each topic brings fascinating tales from the unlikeliest of subjects and is a celebration of noble failures. I heartily recommend it, not least because I’ll certainly throw Momus’ hat in the ring for Worst Pop Star. (Also the best, of course: that’s the contradictory and dualistic nature of his work).
Another great podcast: Tim Worthington talks to a guest, usually a writer, comedian or broadcaster, about things they remember that no-one else ever seems to. For instance, 70s Public Information Film “The Finishing Line” featured in one episode. Captain Zep, Space Detective is often mentioned, Quattro soft drink, Del Amitri’s first album, fears over Giant Hogweed, all these are dissected along with countless other tv programmes, films, food, drink and fads. But also there are films and books which the guest cannot actually identify, and Tim tries to work out what these were. So if you have a sudden nostalgic feeling for They Came From Somewhere Else, this is the place to quench it. To be clear, this is not a rose-tinted look at the past, unpleasant issues are also raised, but always with humour, and the enormous knowledge, enthusiasm and research ability of Mr. Worthington.
With the original PC game Portal, released as part of The Orange Box in 2007, Valve had themselves an unexpected hit, and Portal 2, the brilliant sequel from 2011, expanded the original’s game play and universe to create one of the greatest computer games ever made. Portal 2 is about... well, portals. You have a gun which shoots orange and blue holes in surfaces, which are then connected, go in one and come out the other. You use this mechanic to escape from rooms – test chambers – controlled by a lunatic AI. This could be as dry as ditch-water, but the plot is engaging, the talking characters – your human is silent – are hilariously witty and the environment is full of gags as well. The game includes music and songs by Jonathan Coulton and The National as well and the whole package is ideal for fans of Douglas Adams or the more sci-fi leanings of Terry Pratchett. It’s unlikely you haven’t tried Portal 2, but if you haven’t, well, you know. Do.
Jonathan Creek may be to blame for this: I love locked room murder and crime mysteries, impossible crimes and the like. I have no interest in the psychological reasons for crime or the problems faced by the tortured police detective, I want the sudoku like contentment in working out how a crime was committed and who is the only possible culprit. Give me a floor plan and a train timetable and nirvana awaits. The Van Gogh of this art form was John Dickson Carr, who wrote the né plus ultra novel of this type, The Hollow Man. (Although not his best work in my opinion). Agatha Christie and Conan Doyle hardly touched the genre, and partly thanks to that the best of these books and stories are hard to uncover. The best of them mix a macabre or otherworldly hint of diabolism into the mix, and there are countless compilations (usually edited by Robert Adey or Otto Penzler) which can introduce you to the form. Or there is a short radio documentary about them by Miles Jupp, another enthusiast, here https://huffduffer.com/ahope1/426101
John Robinson Week
An introduction to John Robinson Week →
John Robinson Week, The Excerpts →
Talking Momus All The Time (Interview with John) - Part 1 →
Talking Momus All The Time (Interview with John) - Part 2 →
John Robinson's Teethgraters and Stuff... →
John's Momus book, Famous For Fifteen People is available now here
Main Image on this page: Brian O'Nolan
Based in Scunthorpe, England. A writer and reviewer, working as a Computer Science and Media Lecturer and Educator. Sometimes accused of being a music writer called John Robinson, which is not helped by being a music writer called John Robinson.
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