Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Against Love

Laura Kipnis' catchily titled Against Love: A Polemic came out in 2003, but I've only just read it, so you're getting a review of it anyway.

Kipnis is the professor of media studies at Northwestern University, and has a back catalogue filled with the sort of stuff that sends most people fleeing to the hills. I've never seen her 1985 documentary Ecstasy Unlimited: The Interpenetrations of Sex and Capital, and with a title like that, I can't say I want to.

Against Love, however, is a rather more digestible proposition, at least if you heed the warning in the prologue about the nature of polemics. It's apparently a more populist version of material originally floated in a more academic format, but chances are you'd rather read it in this form. Despite the title, Against Love isn't an attack on love as such. Rather, it's an attack on love as presently conceived in modern society. Not that Kipnis wants to return to an imagined golden age - far from it. She's just not concerned about past errors when there are so many present ones to skewer.

It's a polemic, according to the prologue, because our notions of love are so fundamentally ingrained that nothing less is going to do the job. Labelling the book as a polemic gives Kipnis licence to go blissfully over the top, press arguments far beyond their logical stopping point, boldly assert the slightly dubious, and generally throw things out there because they're interesting ideas even if she doesn't necessarily believe them. It also means that you can still run with the book even when it lurches into its dodgier pet theories.

Nonetheless, the book is more than just an academic exercise in winding people up. It is, quite legitimately, a 200-page sustained broadside on our expectations of love, from the ground up.

Broadly speaking, and leaving aside all the curlicues and embellishments, Kipnis' central ideais quite straightforward. Our society has extremely strong ideas about the paradigm human relationship (gay or straight). You will find a partner. You will marry them, either legally, or de facto by staying with them for life. You will be faithful to one another. You will love each other for as long as you live. This relationship will be a source of joy, comfort and support to you. Crucially, this is perceived not merely as "the way we do things" but as a fundamental expression of human nature.

Kipnis' central challenge is to say that this isn't a fundamental expression of human nature at all. Cue citation of the high rates of divorce and separation, although Kipnis seems if anything to be more fascinated by the rates of adultery and unfaithfulness. If lifelong coupledom provides all that is claimed for it, why are people so keen to escape from it? Perhaps more to the point, why are so many people evidently unsatisfied with the supposed boons of marriage?

So far, so obvious. But Kipnis develops the theme in a more interesting way. The notion that this form of relationship - companionate marriage - represents the authentic expression of human nature is relatively recent, historically speaking. For the majority of human history, marriage was at least as much to do with property and family arrangements. In those countries where arranged marriage is prevalent, it still is. Only in recent centuries did we decide that people were supposed to marry for love (Romeo and Juliet, after all, is about lovers defying the social order) and that this relationship was supposed to deliver fundamental levels of happiness.

However, the idea has now become so ingrained that, no matter how plainly defective it may be, we seem to be incapable of approaching it in that way. Instead, our response to the obvious failure of so many relationships is to conclude that, since the idea is plainly correct, we must be carrying it out wrong. So the failure of "marry your first partner and stay faithful for life" simply leads to serial monogamy, which is merely the acknowledgement that you've maybe not found the right partner... yet. And the failure of a relationship to deliver the promised benefits is seen as evidence that relationships need work. Why?, asks Kipnis. Aren't they supposed to be fun? If you have to work that hard to hold them together.... well, why not just do something more entertaining with your time instead?

In fact, she argues, our current trend is to explain away the shortcomings of the whole concept by convincing ourselves that maybe our expectations were unrealistically high. But this doesn't lead us to abandon the idea - oh no. It leads us to resign ourselves to working hard to maintain irritating and unsatisfying relationships because... er, because it is, supposedly, human nature that we should be in them.

For all that Kipnis (deliberately) overstates her point, it's an interesting and worryingly persuasive argument. People will, after all, believe any old crap if it's a uniformly accepted social belief. We are healthily sceptical about politics, but opinions in this sphere are taken much less critically. The idea (which is linked to psychotherapy theories, though Kipnis doesn't get into this) that happiness and meaning is to be found primarily in our interpersonal relationships is something that we have come to accept as an axiom of human nature. The notion that this might be completely misguided is, in fact, a fundamental challenge not just to the way in which we organise our families but to the way we perceive ourselves.

All of this could be utterly tiresome and preachy if it was delivered straight, but fortunately Kipnis is a more interesting writer than that. Instead of quoting statistics, the book is written in freewheeling, cynically funny prose with a real rhythm to it. It's playfully effective as it sweeps you up in its momentum, bombards you with rhetorical questions, and occasionally spends a few pages gleefully battering a point to death. In one of the highlights, Kipnis solemnly lists all the responses she got to the question "What can't you do because you're in a couple?", piling up a ton of serious, trivial and wholly contradictory prohibitions from a mess of overlapping relationships:-

"You can't leave the house without saying where you're going. You can't not say what time you'll return. You can't stay out past midnight, or eleven, or ten, or dinnertime, or not come right home after work. You can't go out when the other person feels like staying home. You can't go to parties alone. You can't go out just to go out, because you can't not be considerate of the other person's worries about where you are, or their natural insecurities that you're not where you should be, or about where you could be instead. You can't make plans without consulting the other person, particularly not evenings and weekends, or make decisions about leisure time usage without a consultation.

You can't be a slob. You can't do less than 50% around the house, even if the other person wants to do 100 to 200% more housecleaning than you find necessary or even reasonable. You can't leave your (pick one) books, tissues, shoes, makeup, mail, underwear, work, sewing stuff or pornography lying around the house. You can't smoke, or you can't smoke in the house, or you can't leave cigarettes in cups. You can't amass more knickknacks than the other person finds tolerable - likewise sports paraphernalia, Fiestaware, or Daffy Duck collectibles."

This goes on for eight mindnumbing pages, after which no reader will ever want to talk to the opposite sex again. It'd make a great monologue for somebody.

Kipnis has no particular alternative in mind - that's not the remit of this book. It simply broadsides the way in which one very specific form of relationship has come to be seen as the absolute norm, and as something to which we should all aspire if we are not to be seen - and to see ourselves - as in some way being defective human beings. And at the core of its intentionally histrionic argument, there is a disturbingly good point being made.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Armageddon 2005

PPV time again. I really ought to be writing this week's Article 10, actually, but I think I'll leave that for tomorrow morning when I'm sober.

Armageddon is an utterly meaningless PPV from the Smackdown roster. Literally nothing of importance will transpire therein. In fact, the WWE already seem to be caught up in promoting the next show, a Raw PPV called New Year's Revolution. (To be fair, though, they're going to lose the next couple of weeks of Raw to holiday specials, so they don't have much choice.)

Smackdown, on the other hand, is in trouble. Their champion, Dave Batista, is still nursing a serious back injury, which is why they're hiding him in a tag match on this show. Eddie Guerrero, one of their leading stars, died of heart failure last month. This leaves a real gap at the top of the card, which is why we're getting a very odd main event with an utterly ridiculous build-up. Meanwhile, the rest of the card is padded out with undercard wrestlers in largely pointless matches.

(Incidentally, for those of us in the UK, they're also airing TNA's Genesis show on Sunday night on the Wrestling Channel - one of the last ultra-delayed PPVs before we finally catch up to a one-week delay in the new year. Unfortunately, Genesis is the show that was recorded the night Eddie Guerrero died, so by all accounts it's a bit subdued.)

1. Hell in the Cell: Randy Orton -v- The Undertaker. No titles on the line here, but in the absence of anything better, it's going to be the main event anyway. The Undertaker has been doing his mystical undead gimmick for over a decade now, and it's always been ludicrous to one degree of another. He's a wrestler who tends to divide the hardcore fans from the casual audience. Technically, most Undertaker matches are bloody awful - they're slow, they're repetitive, and they tend to involve him completely shrugging off his opponent's offence and making him look like an idiot. Despite the catchphrase he was using a couple of years ago, damned few people have truly come out of a feud with the Undertaker looking better than they did going in.

One noticeable exception to that is the notorious Undertaker/Mankind Hell in the Cell match from the mid 1990s. Hell in a Cell is a glorified cage match, the main difference being that there's a gap between the ring and the cage wall, and the cage has a roof. The WWE have carefully promoted the match over the years as a Big Deal, and viewers have generally bought into this idea despite the erratic quality of the actual matches. In fairness, many have been very good.

Undertaker/Mankind was, basically, a horrendous trainwreck which was widely regarded as a great match (especially by more casual viewers) simply on the strength of the "I can't believe Mick Foley was insane enough to do that" factor. For those who haven't seen it, the match involved both guys climbing the cage and fighting on the roof, with Foley being thrown off - a good 20 feet or so - and crashing through the announcer's table. This is an undeniably memorable spot, but it's worth stressing that it looks insane because it actually is insane. They then fight on the roof of the cage again, leading to a spot where the cage gives way and Foley falls to the ring below. This was not planned. The cage just gave way. They didn't tell the props department they were planning to fight on the roof, so it wasn't reinforced for that. The whole mess has to be seen to be believed. You'll gather that I don't actually think that much of it as a match.

Nonetheless, it means that there are certain expectations of Undertaker HitC matches, which they'll find difficult to deliver. The back story for this is a demented and absurd storyline of the sort which, bizarrely, has always tended to do good business for Undertaker. Orton has been trying to defeat the Undertaker to cement his "legend killer" status for over a year. Recently, thanks to the idiocy of head writer Stephanie McMahon, he's been trying to kill the Undertaker. Yes, kill him. Dead. Strangely, on Earth-WWE, televised attempted murder does not get you arrested. Meanwhile, the Undertaker has tormented Orton with idiotic special effects. It's best not to think about it.

Amongst all this, in recent weeks, was an utterly indefensible show in which Orton tried to murder the Undertaker by running him down with - and I quote - "the Eddie Guerrero Memorial Low Rider." Yes, they hijacked a supposed tribute match to Eddie Guerrero to try and get Orton over a heel. They tried to exploit Guerrero's death for storyline purposes. And he was two weeks in the ground at that point. It would be fair to say that this was very badly received in wrestling fandom, and didn't exactly go down that well within the WWE itself. But Stephanie McMahon thought it was a good idea, and would not be dissuaded.

(Some take the view that this shows Stephanie and her father Vince were insincere in their public comments about Eddie's death. I'm not so sure. To book a storyline like this suggests a degree of detachment from reality where they genuinely didn't recognise this as something likely to offend fans. This in itself is a serious problem for the WWE - it's plainly in the hands of people who are every bit as removed from the real world as the characters on screen.)

But what about the actual match? Despite the horrendous, and largely embarrassing, build-up, nonetheless there's a realistic chance that this could be decent. Previous Undertaker/Orton matches have surpassed expectations, and they seem to have some chemistry going. Orton's had some good brawl matches in the past, and this could end up a lot better it looks on paper.

As for the winner, conventional wisdom says that this is the match where Undertaker gets his revenge for months of attacks by Orton. But, with the upper card decimated, the conventional wisdom is that Orton is being groomed to win the Royal Rumble in January, feud with Batista, and win the World Title in an unconventional heel victory at Wrestlemania in March. If so, it would be madness for him to lose here - the correct ending is for him to win conclusively, vanquish the Undertaker in his signature match, and go on to challenge for the World Title as a strong villain. I suspect a mixture of the two - Orton will win, but not as conclusively as he should, because internal politics will lead to Undertaker being "protected" even though the character is indestructible.

2. Batista & Rey Mysterio -v- Kane & The Big Show. Batista is still Smackdown's World Champion, but he's effectively crippled by a legitimate back injury at the moment, and unable to wrestle in singles matches. So instead, here he is in a tag match with Rey Mysterio. Plucky underdog Mysterio will have to work the majority of the match - that's just the way it is.

Kane and the Big Show are the Raw Tag Team Champions. They're on this show to try and add some star power to the decimated Smackdown roster, and that's about as far as the reasoning goes. Ludicrously, they've been working as faces on Raw and heels on Smackdown, so apparently they suffer from multiple personality disorder determined by the channel they're appearing on at any given time. They're giants, so poor Mysterio is going to spend the match getting the shit kicked out of him and trying to make the hot tag to Batista.

The vague storyline justification for this is that Raw is out for some measure of revenge after Survivor Series, when they lost two out of three interpromotional matches. And the match they won was for the Women's Title, a belt nobody takes seriously, least of all the WWE. Nonetheless, there's no mileage in taking this storyline any further, so all logic says Batista should get the hot tag, destroy the bad guys, and win for Smackdown once again.

In a baffling last-minute move, Batista and Mysterio won the Smackdown Tag Team Titles on this week's show, making this champions versus champions - although neither title is actually on the line. Presumably they think this adds to the match in some way, but the thinking is horribly muddled. Neither show has a sufficiently developed tag team division for their tag titles to mean anything, and hot-shotting the titles around just to add spurious heat to an inconsequential tag match certainly won't help that. Both belts need urgent rehab, and this is not the way to go about it.

Match quality is likely to be middling at best. It isn't the first time Mysterio has had to carry a gorilla twice his size to a good match, and the Raw champs aren't exactly dead weight, certainly by the standards of wrestling giants. They've got a fair number of good matches under their belt. But their average match is merely okay, and having to structure the match to disguise Batista's injury will cause them problems.

3. Chris Benoit -v- Booker T. This is the fourth match in a Best of 7 series for the vacant United States Title, which started at the last PPV. Benoit is the good guy and, in the manner of such storylines, he's down three-nil. Can you guess who's going to win? Can you? Can you?

Actually, there's a slight complication here. There's a rumour doing the rounds that Benoit's contract is about to expire and he's planning to jump ship, in which case he'll lose on Sunday and that'll be the last we see of him. The more reliable wrestling rumour mill sources, however, are pretty confident that there's nothing to this story. It can't absolutely be ruled out, but nobody in the know is buying into it. So if it's true, they're keeping it very, very quiet.

More likely, this is simply the turning point match where Benoit finally starts his fight back and goes on to win the title. The matches so far have been surprisingly good. Both guys are talented, so the real question has always been whether they've got enough fresh ideas to make the match worth seeing so many times. Thus far, the answer is yes. Benoit will win a good match here.

4. MNM -v- Super Crazy & Psicosis. This was booked a couple of weeks back, when it was supposed to be for MNM's tag team titles. Super Crazy and Psicosis of the Mexicools won a battle royal for a shot at the tag titles on this show. But, whoops, the writers decided at the last moment to put the Smackdown tag belts on Batista and Mysterio instead. So now the Mexicools are going to fight MNM for, er, no reason at all. Nominally this is some sort of grudge match, but functionally, there's no story here.

That said, this has some potential. Both teams are good workers, and they could certainly put on a strong match given the opportunity. If the booking crew have the sense to just give them some time and let them get on with it, this could surprise people. Winner doesn't really matter, but since MNM's momentum is stalled at the moment anyway, they might as well give the win to the Mexicools to try and build on their unexpected fan support.

5. WWE Cruiserweight Title: Juventud Guerrera -v- Kid Kash. The only title actually being defended on this show, surprisingly enough. This was originally conceived as a sister match to the tag team contest - Juvi is the third member of the Mexicools, while Kid Kash seems to have started hanging around with MNM. The winner only really matters if the WWE is about to embark on one of its periodic attempts to push the Cruiserweight division, but let's assume for the moment that the winner will at least stay on TV and not be banished straight back to web-only show Velocity (which is where Juventud has spent most of his title reign). ECW veteran Kid Kash could well win here, because it's his first major WWE match and evidently he's managed to catch somebody's eye to be here at all. He had a rather awkward match on Smackdown against Super Crazy this week, and both guys can be a touch erratic. But on paper this is a good one.

6. JBL -v- Matt Hardy. Thrown-together match to get two guys on the show without a storyline. Despite his continual fan support, the WWE show no signs of giving Hardy the good-faith push he clearly deserves, so chances are he's just being fed to JBL as an opponent. Mind you, at least it's a fresh pairing, and both guys are capable of good matches. Again, this has got some possibilities.

7. Handicap match: Bobby Lashley -v- William Regal & Paul Burchill. The latest stage in the attempt to convince us that Bobby Lashley is a dominating monster hero - even though, since the steroid testing policy was announced a few weeks ago, he's been looking decidedly less remarkable. In fact, he looked about the same size as Burchill on Smackdown this week. But Burchill will bump like a pinball for anyone, no matter how implausible it may be.

Incidentally, the WWE could do a lot more with Regal and Burchill. They're actually an extremely good tag team, but because they only ever get to do competitive matches on Velocity, nobody knows about it. Also, Burchill is being hobbled in a team where he's required to wrestle in Regal's style - as anyone who's seen his FWA matches can confirm, he can do way more than he's being allowed to show. This is a guy who used to use a standing shooting star press as his finisher, for god's sake.

Anyhow, Lashley will annihilate both of them in order to prove how great he is. But Regal and Burchill might at least get a decent show out of him.

Worth buying? Hmm. This is a pay per view in the UK, and there certainly aren't any feuds of any importance paying off here. But on paper it's not a bad show. The worst match will be the handicap match, but that's just a five minute squash. The tag champions' match could be ropey. Otherwise, everything looks good to promising, at least if you can look past the idiocy of the Undertaker/Orton feud - and to be fair, that sort of drivel has traditionally sold tickets for Undertaker matches. Despite the best efforts (or lack of efforts) of the booking crew, this looks solid on paper. I'm wavering, but leaning towards a buy here.

Monday, December 12, 2005

120 Minutes (Hour 2)

Continued from the previous post...

17. Decoder Ring: "Somersault." Or, as the captions have insisted on calling them for over a month now, Decoder Ing. This is the title track from their album, and we're somewhere in a hinterland between Sigur Ros and One Dove. Apparently it's a soundtrack album, which would explain why there's so much random footage in the video. Anyway, it's quite beautiful in its way, and I approve.

18. Minotaur Shock: "Somebody Once Told Me It Existed But I Never Found It." Or David Edwards to his mum. It's another piece of pastoral electronica which doesn't really go anywhere, but sounds awfully nice while doing it. Alt-lounge music, I suppose. Very slightly too jaunty to stay in the background, and unaccountably happy. Apparently he strongly rejects the "folktronica" tag, but it's the easiest way of describing it. I ought to get this guy's album, actually.

19. Parisman: "A Place That Glows." Okay, back to the guitar bands. This is the sort of thing that used to pad out the Steve Lamacq show. Decent riff, though, and unlike a lot of these bands, they've actually got more than one idea. Choruses go off in a completely different direction. Kind of growing on me. Can't imagine myself actually wanting to hear it again, though. (Listen for yourself.)

20. Roots Manuva: "Colossal Insight." This has been out for ages, but I suppose it's one of the token tracks we've heard of. Roots Manuva has been around for years and has somehow managed to achieve the status of an elder statesman of UK rap without ever actually selling very many records. Mind you, for most of his career, it's not like anyone in UK rap was actually selling any records. "Colossal Insight" is a really odd record, based on a bizarre synth loop that somehow ends up much more catchy than it logically ought to be. Probably my favourite track of his, actually. (Watch for yourself.)

21. Radio 4: "State of Alert." Um. Radio 4 are another of those bands who go in one ear and out the other. It's not that they're bad - quite the contrary, they're solidly above average. But they sound like so many other people. All I really get from this record is a moderate sense that they're quite annoyed about George Bush, and a strong sense of what's in their record collection. It's quite good, but has more skill than personality. (Watch for yourself.)

22. Ampop: "My Delusions." Never heard of them. Google informs me that their previous album was acclaimed as the best Icelandic album of 2003, which probably explains what they're doing on this show. This is pretty decent, in fact. It's a very old-fashioned pop song with a slightly unusual arrangement, and sounds like it ought to be a cover version of a little-known classic. Yeah, thumbs up to that. (Watch for yourself.)

23. Dungen: "Panda." Swedish prog indie, anyone? They've been playing this rambling psych-rock thing for months despite its evident lack of crossover potential, and it's been steadily growing on me. Just when you think it's spinning totally off the rails, it loops back to a wonderful, strong chorus. The video is straight out of the "Number 7 on the Chart Show in 1988" school of editing, but the track is seriously good. (Watch for yourself.)

24. Sleater-Kinney: "Entertain." Didn't know Sleater-Kinney had another record out. I've got two of their albums, and now I think about it, I'm sure I can find use for a third. The UK music press tended to pigeonhole them as sullenly political types, and while there's a germ of truth to that, it's wildly misleading. Primarily, they're just a damn good rock band. Sounds like they've done a better production job on this album, too - sounds a bit fuller than earlier stuff. (Watch it yourself.)

25. The Young Knives: "Weekends and Bleak Days." A 120 Minutes pet record - a ridiculous low-budget video making an utterly cliched point about the office being dull, which somehow ends up being far better than it has any right to be. Actually a very strange and spiky record, and it's grown on me a lot from repeated plays. It's also the sort of video which is never going to get played at a better timeslot than 2.30am on a Sunday. (So watch it yourself.)

26. The Infadels: "Can't Get Enough." Ooh, it's a sort of guitar/electroclash hybrid. In theory, I'm all for that. In practice, it's a very good arrangement propping up a decidedly underpowered song. Oops. Long outstays its welcome, if you ask me. Mind you, as the closest thing we've had to a dumb, dancefloor-friendly record, I'm sure a lot of people will think it's the best thing on this list. (Watch it yourself.)

27. The Morning After Girls: "High Skies." Back to the guitar rock. Hmm. My head says I don't like this, because it's not original in the slightest and there's not much of a song there. But that's a damn good guitar sound they've got there. Also, screaming. Against my better judgment, thumbs up. (Watch it yourself.)

28. Jamie T: "Back in the Game." Oh, I've seen this one before. Guy with an acoustic guitar doing the sort of song you'd normally expect somebody to use a full band for. Works infinitely better than I'd have thought. The one-shot performance video is the right call. Very, very good, in fact. I recommend this one strongly. (Listen for yourself.)

29. The Wedding Present: "I'm From Further North Than You." Oh yeah, I'd heard the Wedding Present were back together again. Or rather, Cinerama decided to go back to using the Wedding Present name, which is what it really amounts to. 120 Minutes is playing a slightly glitchy version of the video, which they seem to do from time to time when they have a record they really like but don't have a properly working video. The last New Pornographers video was aired in with perfect sound but almost unwatchable visuals. Naturally, it annoys me intensely. This is... a Wedding Present song with a cuddlier arrangement than they used to do. Rather bland on first hearing, but a second play confirms that the lyrics make it. Cute backhanded love song about a rebound relationship. ("I'll admit we had some memorable days / But just not very many.") Nothing you can't live without, but rewards you for actually listening to it, at least.

30. Ladyfuzz: "Monster." Ooh, spiky. Great chorus, not sure about the verses, middle eight is a mess. But the good bits are really good. And it's still stuck in my head after a first play, which is always a plus. Definitely on the right lines. Shame I can't find a link to it, actually - the band's website doesn't have the video up yet, which is bad.

31. Queens of the Stone Age: "Burn the Witch." Oh, come on, this doesn't belong in 120 Minutes. QOTSA are on the daytime playlist. It's not even one of their better singles. Wind!

32. Sigur Ros: "Hoppipolla." No episode of 120 Minutes would be complete without a heartwarming Sigur Ros video depicting ordinary life in Reykjavik. They start out beautiful, they build to epic scale, and then they generally blow it by droning on 50% longer than strictly necessary. This is the usual, basically. Plenty to love, but could stand to be a bit more concise. To be fair, it might help if I spoke Icelandic and could understand the lyrics. (Watch it yourself.)

33. Sons and Daughters: "Dance Me In." Oh, I remember this one. These guys are from Glasgow, as I recall, and unlike most guitar bands, they've remembered that a song about dancing should be something you can actually dance to. Every time this comes up I end up re-playing it, and considering its possibilities as the launchpad for the new genre of alt-ceilidh. Love it. (Watch it yourself.)

34. Lostprophets: "Last Train Home." What? WHAT?!? I choose to believe they've just forgotten to put up the closing caption. This show does not do nu-metal, no matter how Welsh.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

120 Minutes (Hour 1)

Haven't done this in a while, but I'm in the mood for it.

120 Minutes was MTV's alternative show - whatever that means - years ago. In the UK, it lingers on in the much sought-after timeslot of 1am on Sunday morning. On MTV2. Basically, it's a dumping ground for videos that the MTV2 producers want to play but can't. Some old stuff gets thrown in. Some oddball new material. Sometimes they fall in love with a record and play it for months despite nobody else seeming to be interested. And sometimes they inexplicably play utter crap, possibly because they know somebody in the band. No presenters, no adverts. Sometimes, if they're not paying attention, no captions either. Oh, and obviously they're also hampered by the fact that they can only play records with videos. But it would amaze you the sort of records that still manage to have videos.

So. What was on the show this week? Let's play the recording and write/Google as we go along...

1. Celebration: "War." Never heard of them. Obviously, on this show, that's a good thing. Kind of reminds me of Siouxsie and the Banshees, but I can't put my finger on why. Catchy organ riff, keeps stopping dead. Somebody's spent a bit of money on the video. Not bad at all. (Watch it yourself.)

2. The National: "Lit Up." One of those low-budget indie videos where somebody's waved a cheap cine camera around and hoped that some creative editing might save it. Footage of them playing at a festival, which is always a last resort of a director who's run out of ideas. A good arrangement and indie-style wall-of-sound effect can't entirely disguise the lack of a decent song. (Watch it yourself.)

3. Liars: "It Fit When I Was a Kid." Oh hell, no. 120 Minutes loves these guys, who make frequently unlistenable lo-fi records with baffling animated videos. I've yet to see the appeal. This is one of their more accessible efforts, but it certainly isn't doing anything for me. Morose and not as clever as it thinks it is. Mind you, at least it's commendably obscure - it's only available in the UK by mail order, or on limited edition 7" vinyl. (Watch it yourself.)

4. Mara Carlyle: "Baby Bloodheart." I've seen this one before. It's got a rather self-consciously surreal video (yes, yes, lobster telephones, hilarious), but it's a fabulous acoustic song. Lovely voice, too. I think I've seen this before with a much cheaper and much better video, come to think of it. Just a shot of her in a rehearsal studio or something. Anyhow, I can't find a link for this one, which is a shame, because it's brilliant. However, Googling does reveal that she once released a track called "I Blame Dido", so she must be brilliant.

5. The Robocop Kraus: "After Laughter Comes Tears." Electropop! A record that sounds like it's fallen through a timewarp from 1983, from a German band called the Robocop Kraus. It must be good. I'm a sucker for this sort of thing. More realistically, it's above average for that sort of thing, but very much stuck in the past.

6. The Streets: "Get Out My House" (remix) They've been playing this for months and still haven't got around to putting a caption on it. Anyway, this is one of those Streets remix videos where he gets a load of underground London grime types to do a completely different track over the same backing music. It's a spectacularly un-PC parade of men telling their one-night-stands that, for christ's sake, would they get on with it because mum's going to be home soon. Much more fun than it has any right to be, and I'm thoroughly annoyed that I can't find a link for it.

7. Calla: "It Dawned On Me." Tonight, Matthew, we're going to be early U2. Only not as good. We're going to play epic indie music in black and white. In front of a pile of coracles. Or something. One of those records which is thoroughly inoffensive so far as it goes, but I can't imagine why you'd buy a copy when there's so much better music in the same vein available. You'd nod your head happily if they were a support act, but still talk through the whole set. (Hear it yourself.)

8. Part Chimp: "War Machine." Extended random screechings to start. One of the guitarists has a box on his head. Okay noise-pop, I guess, but trying far too hard. Google brings up some positive reviews, but this does nothing for me. Very All Tomorrow's Parties.

9. The Guillemots: "Made Up Love Song #43." This is a bit more like it. Maybe I'm getting old, but I have a newfound appreciation of a decent tune. In fact, after it came up on my iPod shuffle the other day, I'm newly convinced that the second Beautiful South album, Choke, was fantastic. Anyway, this is an enjoyably eccentric pop song, and pretty damn good for a debut single. (Hear it yourself.)

10. Her Space Holiday: "A Match Made in Texas." Ooh, now I like this. Minimalist animation and some modern-era electropop. Fun little record. Nice ending. No idea what it was about, but I enjoyed that a lot. (Watch it yourself.)

11. Sam Prekop: "Something." Rather more serious-minded record along similar lines, but this time with a video of a shop full of lampshades. Pleasant enough, I suppose, but it's an arrangement in search of a better chorus. Is there an official name for this genre, which basically involves the sort of songs that folk musicians have been doing for years, but with a semi-electronic arrangement? There should be, people are making enough of it. (Watch it yourself.)

12. Field Music: "If Only The Moon Were Up." Google turns up an NME review describing Field Music as "like Wire arranged by the Beach Boys", and I really can't better that. And it's as good as that sounds, really. The video seems calculated to look like a low-cost indie video from 1984, but it isn't really. This single is doing its job - I think I want the album. (Watch it yourself.)

13. Death Cab For Cutie: "The New Year." Wow, we're 13 tracks into the show and Death Cab For Cutie are the most famous band yet. (Unless you count the Streets, but Mike Skinner isn't actually on the remix they played.) They're trying hard this week. I've never really got into Death Cab For Cutie, which is odd, since I really like the Postal Service album that their main songwriter contributed to. The arrangements just seem a bit boring to me. Would probably have made a decent Postal Service song. (Watch it yourself.)

14. Red Jetson: "This Every Day for the Rest of Your Life." UK indie at its dullest. Sluggish, not particularly tuneful, angstily heartfelt, and propped up with competent arrangements lifted from better bands. Emphatically not interesting to me on any level. I mean, look at the title, for heaven's sake. God, this is boring. Make it stop.

15. My Morning Jacket: "Off the Record." Punchy start. Sounds like it ought to be a shade faster, but not bad at all. Odd sound for a Kentucky band, and clearly heavily influenced by a lot of Jamaica-via-London stuff from 25 years ago. Quite a good video, by 120 Minutes standards. (Watch it yourself.)

16. LCD Soundsystem: "Losing My Edge." Oh yes, there's a video for this. I think technically "Tribulations" is the current single, but "Losing My Edge" was the critical breakthrough hit, so 120 Minutes are obliged to play it. And yes, it is a great record, with a sarcastic monologue mocking the New York trendsetters and panicking about losing touch. "I hear you and your band have sold your guitars and bought turntables... I hear that everyone you know is more relevant than everyone I know." The contrarian in me wants to dislike LCD Soundsystem because they're so heavily hyped over here, but god, this is a good record. Also, this may be the video that accounts for his stated dislike of making videos. Well, if you will accept a video pitch that involves being slapped in the face repeatedly for the duration of the song... (Watch it yourself.)

And that's hour one. Second hour tomorrow.