Thursday, 26 January 2012

Wembley And Austria Here I Come!

Yep, I'm off on my holiday in 2 days time.  Skiing with friends in Soll, Austria.  It's pretty exciting.  A week off work, snow and sunshine.  I've just finished packing and am basically ready to go.

I haven't been skiing since 2008 so who knows what I'll be like this time, especially the first few days.  I'm hoping it'll be just like riding a bike, or not like riding a bike at all really as skiing is nothing like that.  Oh,
 well, you know what I mean.

I haven't had much time to think about it this week what with the football on Tuesday night.  Cardiff City are going back to Wembley again!  A really enjoyable game as the pressure was off really.  I didn't really mind about the result (Wembley is so old hat for us Cardiff fans these days!) and was just after a good performance, which we got.  The ball just wouldn't go in the net for the winner and the game inevitably went to penalties.  It didn't look good when Miller missed our first but then Tome Heaton saved their first two and by the time Whittingham has scored his it was 3-1.  The whole ground exploded when their next penalty blazed high and wide.  Great feeling following a really good night.  Hats off to the Palace fans too who never stopped singing for their team.

So another Wembley trip to plan, but not before a week of skiing.  It's a tough life!

Monday, 23 January 2012

Album Review: Howler - "America Give Up"

"America Give Up" is the debut album from Minnesota's Howler, a 5-piece rock band probably unhelpfully tagged as yet another "Next Big Thing".  They have featured in 2012 lists in among others the NME, and, err, The Sun.
They have the pedigree however.  Signed to Rough Trade last year and with an acclaimed EP under their belt they are getting quite a few comparisons with The Strokes, and I can see why.  If you are a fan of spiky guitar rock, with cool, drawling vocals then this is for you.  The immediate reference is The Strokes (and opener Beach Sluts would fit comfortably on 2001's This Is It), but this is more than a pastiche of rock 10 years ago.  On tracks such as Back To The Grave and America they filter earlier US rock, particularly The Velvet Underground and you can easily see them covering Sweet Jane at their live gigs.  There's also a whiff of the Jesus And Mary Chain on the amazing Too Much Blood.
The album then takes a more upbeat and immediate slant with Told You Once and Back Of Your Neck, which should in all honesty both be massive hits and be used in TV shows and ad breaks up and down the land.  Told You Once could easily take the place of Chelsea Dagger by The Fratellis as the go-to piece of music for sports producers everywhere.
I hope they break out, I really do, and this album is strong enough to do that.  It's immediate and cool, catchy and interesting.  American rock has gotten good again, with Howler now joining The Drums and Yuck as new exciting bands to keep an eye on.  I'm off to see them play live on Friday at Buffalo Bar in Cardiff and am hoping for big things.

"I Told You Once" Video -

Saturday, 21 January 2012

The Late, Late Show - Cardiff City 3-2 Portsmouth

You'd never leave a film 10 minutes before the end, or leave the last 50 pages of a book unread.  So why do so many supporters leave grounds with time left to play?  "I want to miss the traffic" they moan.  At about 85 minutes through the game today it was still 2-2.  Cardiff had not long equalised through Mark Hudson's header and a winner was a real possibility.  However there they went on cue, the early leavers were off.   good chunk of fans starting heading for the exits. So that made it even more satisfying when Craig Conway stepped up to beat the Pompey keeper with a low drive from 30 yards out.  Cue mass hysteria from our fans and a great 3 points tied up.

This was a game we should have won far more comfortably though.  City battered Portsmouth for long periods of the first half after going ahead early with Kenny Miller's great strike from a tight angle.  It was a proper £1M goal.  He is really proving his worth now.  He's worked hard from the first minute of his debut, but his class in front of goal is really starting to tell.  Should have been another goal at least after that with good chances for Blake and Taylor especially.  It took a rare error from Marshall who spilled a routine shot to give Pompey the equaliser.  So we went in to half time a little deflated.  City then gave away an easy goal at the start of the 2nd half and the Portsmouth fans had reason to get louder.  They had a drummer with them in the away end who did not stop for the whole game.  It also happens at each of their home matches.  It's horrible.  And annoying.  If he was near me that drum stick would be right up his..(well, you know where).

City kept pushing though and came through Portsmouth's fouling and time wasting to grab the win.  Hudson (who is just getting better and better this season) popped up to grab the equaliser with a header from a cross and then Conway got that winner with less then a minute to go of injury time.  Conway has taken quite a bit of stick of late from the fans, and has been dropped for Joe Ralls in recent games.  He's not the quickest and will never beat a man on the outside, but he keeps going and never hides.  His place also seems to be under threat as Mackay looks like he might be set to sign a winger / striker soon.  Chuffed he got the winner today though.

So a much needed win to keep the pressure on West Ham and Southampton, and good impetus to take us in to Tuesday and the Cup semi.  And of course a further warning to those trying to beat the traffic by leaving early, you never know when a goal may come!

Friday, 20 January 2012

A Game Of Thrones Review

It's not often I come to a book after having watched the film or TV series.  It's usually the other way around, with me incredibly disappointed and frustrated with yet another poor adaptation of something I have loved.  I'm looking at you, Hitchhikers Guide To The Galaxy.  And you, The Beach, don't think I haven't forgotten about you.
So this was something of a novelty, having loved the HBO TV series from earlier this year but at the time being totally unaware of the books (yeah fanboys, unforgivable I know).
I am happy to say that the book is of course better than the TV series (although for once I think a genuine discussion can be had to argue that the show is on a par and does it justice in every way, but that debate is for another day.

Game Of Thrones is the first book in the series A Song Of Ice & Fire by George R R Martin.  There will be 7 in total with 5 already published.  It is set in a fictional land of the 7 Kingdoms Of Westeros.  Fantasy fans will immediately feel at home with many conventions followed.  There are hand drawn maps before the Prologue as an example.  Through the eyes of eight separate characters (each chapter is named after one of these eight), it follows the battle for power in Westeros.  The medieval / middle ages type setting brings to mind England of the 15th century with many competing factions vying for control of the crown.  

Given the basic battle for power plot you get plenty of political machinations, backstabbing, double crossing and deviousness.  I loved all of the characters, especially the ones that are the archetypal "evil" ones.  I get the feeling that these are the authors' favourites too.

This is a huge book, in size, scale and ambition.  There are dozens of characters, mythologies introduced, family histories revealed and landscapes described.  I have to admit that having the TV series still fresh in my mind helped enormously.  I was able to read pretty quickly given that I knew the plot and characters already.  I can imagine a new reader having to double back quite a bit to remember who exactly Renly Baratheon is again.  Although new readers will have the luxury of not hearing Sean Bean's northern tones in their head every time Ned Stark speaks.

So much happens in this one book and the 850-plus page length just flies by.  I am really looking forward to what happens in the rest of the story and I have no idea right now how it's going to go.  Events from the first book mean that anything is up for grabs and no one is safe.  I love that feeling in a book.  I think this series will be a major part of my reading this year and I'm looking forward to being in this world and with these characters for quite a while.