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Rachel’s Café Oxford – Asian Bakery with great Char Siu buns!

I’m living a cursed life. I ate my first ever Asian bun (bao) in China. I followed that by eating about 100 more, still in China. I spent three weeks there when I was 20, and discovered that you were never more than 400 metres away from someone selling something delicious. Most of the time, I’d go for a char siu bun, which is a delicious BBQ pork variety, often made with something along the lines of soy sauce, honey, brown sugar, rice wine, hoisin sauce, and Chinese five-spice.

I came home depressed, thinking that now I was 4,000 miles from a good char siu bun. If I’m ever in London, and anywhere remotely close to Chinatown, I’ll always make a sharp b-line toward one of the Asian bakeries there. The great irony is that the bus stop I wait at to get a bus from Oxford to London is in St Clements, literally outside of Rachel’s Café, a nice looking Asian bakery.

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Occasionally I would actually look inside through the window, and could see buns 10 feet away from me. Somehow, whenever I thought about going inside to get something, the bus would always arrive, right on cue. It’s like the bus drivers of Oxford don’t want me to be happy, although that’s probably how everyone in Oxford feels generally.

One day fairly recently I just missed the bus I wanted, so I actually had 20 minutes to kill. I stepped inside Rachel’s Café, and now I’m happy, because I know I’m 400 metres away from a good Asian bun, at least when I’m at home.

First up, the important stuff. The place is independent, so that makes hipsters like me happy. Second, everything is home-made, so you know it’s good. So much of my bao disappointment in the UK has come from eating what’s clearly mass-produced stuff, which always lacks a little something.

3Let’s start with the char siu bun. When i was younger, and flying on a plane, I always wanted to open the window, and grab a passing cloud. Of course, that would have been the last thing I ever did if that actually happened, besides falling to my untimely death. But a good bun to me makes me think about eating clouds. They have this part-baked, light quality that just makes me want to bake one into the shape of a hammock and lie in it. And then eat my way out. But as well as having the right texture and flavour to the bun itself, the filling needs to be generous, and delicious too. Fortunately, the buns at Rachael’s are. The pork is super-tender, the sauce has the right level of sweetness and flavour, and the volume of filling is great.

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1On another visit, I also tried the pastry version of the char siu. With the same filling, you can’t really fail, but you have the added benefit of a little more crunch if that’s your thing. I also tried their coffee, and that in of itself is worth a visit. Plenty of places in Oxford do pretty average coffee, so it’s something easy to phone in, but they get it right here.

They also do plenty of sweet pastries, and Bánh mì baguettes. I’m working up the courage to trying something else, but I can’t stop myself from ordering as many char siu buns as I possibly can every time.

You can find Rachel’s online here, and in the real world here: 55 St Clement’s St, Oxford OX4 1AG. Important note – It’s a cash only place, so be sure to bring some!

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Foals to play super-secret show in Oxford on February 1st?

Twitter really is the best.

I’ve bought my tickets to go see Foals play in Birmingham, as sadly they haven’t played a local show in Oxford for a while. But no fuss, I’m still getting to see Foals live, so that’s great, right?

A new tour shirt image was posted to the @foals twitter account this afternoon showing all tour dates from December 2012 up until the end of their March 2014 dates, and the eagle eyed amongst us spotted an Oxford date listed on the 1st of February – despite there being NO EVIDENCE of this show anywhere on the whole damn internet. Then the post was swiftly deleted.

So what does this mean? Secret show? A little warm-up show to burn off those christmas calories in front of some Blessing Force crew chums? Or can us normal folk sneak in? Who knows.

Anyway, here’s the image below that I managed to snaffle, as the post didn’t stick around for too long!

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Scouting For Girls – “Greatest Hits”

Scouting For Girls, overpowering a dummy. A fitting metaphor.

Scouting For Girls, overpowering a dummy. A fitting metaphor.

Superman has kryptonite. The Human Torch has asbestos. Iron Man has too many women, probably. Of course, those who know me know I suffer from none of these afflictions. Mine is Scouting For Girls.

Imagine The Human Torch clambering around a particularly dusty old attic, filled with asbestos. Now, imagine a Scouting For Girls equivalent. You’ve guessed it. The five words I never wanted to hear. Scouting For Girls Greatest Hits. This is no misnomer. This really exists. And it got to number 8 in the UK Album Chart last week. God save us all.

In Year 7 of secondary school, our music class got split up into groups and had to write and perform a Christmas song. I still remember ours well. I had a farmer’s son in my group whose percussion efforts sounded akin to a tractor engine. I ended up performing crimes against xylophones, and we wrote a song that had nothing to do with Christmas. “Sweeties, lollies, cake and tea / sweeties are so good for me.” That was our chorus. First, not Christmassy in the slightest, and second, sweeties are so good for me? That just sounds like the ramblings of some very naive diabetics.

I can remember the melody in my head. Notice how the first sentence of the chorus differs to the second sentence of the chorus. Clever that, right? It’s no magnum opus, but sat alongside: “She’s so lovely / she’s so lovely / she’s so lovely / (keychange) she’s so lovely,” it makes a Christmas song not about Christmas sound like Beethoven’s fifth. Or how about “Elvis ain’t dead / Elvis ain’t dead / Elvis ain’t dead / Elvis ain’t dead.” Throw a little cowbell in there and you’ve got yourself a Scouting For Girls hit.

The Fly Magazine recently listed five things that are the same as a Scouting For Girls Greatest Hits album. Suggestions included A DVD entitled ‘The Best Of ITV1′s The Cube’ and someone giving you a list of the things you’ve bought in small branches of large UK supermarket chains on the way home from work over the past four years. This all sounds a little too nice, so I’ve endeavoured to write my own list.

Number 1: Finding spit in your food.

Number 2: Finding spit in your food.

Number 3: Finding spit in your fo…..

Sorry, I accidently just channelled the spirit of Scouting For Girls in my writing for a moment there. Maybe the world doesn’t need another list, as much as it doesn’t need another Scouting For Girls record. To cap it all off, ‘The Lads’ are on tour in autumn, cowbell and all. Fancy going to see them? It’ll set you back £22.50. They must get through an awful lot of cowbells at that price. Or perhaps they need that money to pay for counselling. Forget that. I need counselling.

Who we really should be blaming is the A&R person who first ‘spotted them’. They probably thought, “oh this is catchy”. No, it’s not catchy. Crap is still crap, even if you’ve been eating copious amounts of edible glitter. It’s the repetition that makes their music get wedged into people’s brain. So we can’t blame the A&R person, and we can’t blame you, humble listening public. Instead, we can only do one thing. Blame Scouting for Girls. The weird thing is, after writing all this, maybe they are the smart ones. They’ve unlocked the secret behind how to get a song stuck in your head. Repetition. Repetition. Repetition. And cowbell.

B.I.M.A. – Bon Iver Mashup Album

B.I.M.A. It can only mean one thing. British Interactive Media Association? Nope. British Iranian Medical Association? Guess again. But of course, it’s the Bon Iver Mashup Album that we’ve all been waiting for! Right? Guys? Right?

Props where it’s due, they’ve done a decent job with it. A rag-tag, motley crue (who knows) of producers by the names of SpareElbowSkinToToM, Fissunix & Colatron have matched up some interesting tracks, both old and new, with Bon Iver’s second self-titled LP from 2011. Are you ready for a few names? Ok, Lana Del Ray mashed with ‘Beth/Rest’? Well that just seems too easy. How about Men at Work and ‘Towers’? Yeah, now I’ve got your attention! There’s also a little INXS, some Flo + The Mac, Cake, Sia, Icona Pop, and plenty more. And you guys, it’s free! I mean, all music is free these days, but still. This is a legal free!

Here are my two reasons for liking this project. Number 1. There is not even a whiff of a bass wobble anywhere here. Slapping some dubstep over Bon Iver’s insanely perfect record would be tatamount to taking a whizz on the Mona Lisa. Not recommended, and it’ll make a whole lot of French people very angry.

Number 2. Track 3 is a mash-up of Kimbra’s excellent ‘Settle Down’, and ‘Perth’. The first 30 seconds / minute, I’m not entirely sure it works. The bars just about match up, but it feels like it doesn’t quite sit as well as I’d want it to. I very much bow down at the alter of Girl Talk (as we all do) when it comes to mashups, and you never find flaws with his work. Either he can pick what works together at 30 paces, or he doesn’t rest until everything is perfect. Either way, this mashup by Fissunix doesn’t quite hit the spot straight away.

But then those ‘Perth’ drums come flooding in, like a torrent of logic washing over my tiny brain. Suddenly it works, wonderfully. So wade through that opening gambit and you’ll be in for something spectacular.

Have a watch below of the trailer for the project, then wander over to the website itself to get your free download: http://www.b-i-m-a.net/

Unsigned #1

After a snowy, somewhat internet neglected time in Germany last week , I managed to fight my way back to Heathrow, minus my missing luggage (thanks Lufthansa), and ensconced myself away from people getting a bit too panicky about THE ATTACK OF THE FROZEN WATER that the UK recently faced. Well, now it’s melted and a torrent of dead snowmen are heading to a flooded river near you. But anyway, onto the reason we’re all here. Unsigned music!

Well, I’ve been sent a veritable orgy of music, as well as stumbling across some other stuff on my own mystical journey. So now it’s time to pick my way through and talk about some of my favourites.

The Ugly Club – You Belong To The Minutes

Far and away the best music I’ve been sent. This isn’t to do a disservice to everyone else, but The Ugly Club’s album You Belong To The Minutes sounds so complete, polished and, most importantly, so good. They’re able to showcase a great depth and variety in their arrangements on each track. Occasionally there’s a surprising burst of trumpet that adds to the pre-existing alt rock + keys formula. ‘Wasted On You’ is  just such a track, with an enjoyable enough opening gambit, before a flutter of trumpet helps lift the chorus. Have a listen to another great track, ‘Loosen Up’, below.

You can hear the album for free on their Bandcamp page, or buy the album on a pay as much as you want deal, as long as it’s more than $1!

Heartbeeps – Burning Ghat

I stumbled across Heartbeeps like how one may stumble drunkenly out of a cab at 3 in the morning, so probably best not to explain. This is just a fun little track showing the ridiculous things you can do with a keyboard, seemingly. I mean, I don’t know much about keyboards, or anything really. But this a jerking, jumpy fun  slice of pop that makes me think of Kirk Spencer’s excellent Hota Hai with its Asian sound (minus the dubstep wobbles, obviously).

 

Stuart Newman – Feel The Temperature Rising

The most instant thing you’ll hear is the voice. There is no doubt that it is interesting and unique, but with the likes of Wild Beasts and Alt-J, we shouldn’t spend too much time getting hung up on its unusualness. The one thing that I would say is that it lends itself well to the atmosphere of the track. It’s has a broody lo-fi feel which opens up for a more punchy and driving chorus. Well worth a listen.


 
End Of Neil – The Ocean Is My Guide

An acoustic track from the Scottish artist End Of Neil. He’s got a great sounding voice and the double tracking in the chorus really helps to add a layer of intrigue. However, the chorus is  repeated probably a few too many times at the end, but the desolate snowy video adds a nice touch.

 

Introducing……Unsigned

So, new year, new start. Horses Playing Harps has been running for a year or so now, and it’s something that I’ve enjoyed doing. It works as a handy outlet for me to write about different musical things that pop up on my horizon. The work I do for other sites is obviously led by what we get sent to review. In the last year on this site, I’ve been able to write about some of my favourite new things, like AlunaGeorge // Tall Ships // Miguel // Alarm Bells // Castrovalva // MYSTYRYS // Bwani Junction, and plenty more.

While I intend to keep up that side of the site as before, I want to expand the focus and direction of this site to incorporate unsigned artists and bands. There’s something so exciting in burying oneself under a pile of music that you’ve never heard before, playing your way through it, and unearthing something unique and incredible. So this unsigned section will essentially be used to champion the best unsigned music that gets thrown in my direction. By and large, I’ll be using social media to bring it in, but I’ll be on my bike gallivanting through sites such as the wonderful Bandcamp to try to dig out more.

There will be a monthly round-up of the best unsigned music I’ve heard in the last month, and the very best will be singled out with unique reviews where I rant and rave about how brilliant they are.

For any unsigned bands or artists reading this, my contact details are in the contact tab at the top, or you can leave a comment on this post directing me where to go (hell, myspace, etc).

The Music – Karma

So here we all are. Patiently waiting for January to actually get going, so we can start hearing some of the exciting new albums we’ve been waiting so long for. I’ve reviewed the new Joy Formidable album that comes out in a couple of weeks  for a magazine, but otherwise I’m all dried up. 2012 was pretty brilliant but I’m ready for the new.

That’s why, in this slight lull in action, like a half time orange break, I’m venturing back into my archives. One of those things I returned to today has been able to spur me on, as it sounds as fresh as it always does.

The Music were a strange band. At first, they were a kind of tripped-out psychedelic rock band, then with tracks like ‘Strength in Numbers’, they seemed to become every skinheads favourite. Either way, they’ve long since been one of my stalwarts that I often find myself returning to. One of my favourite tracks of their’s is one of their earliest, a track called ‘Karma’ from their 2001 EP, You Might As Well Try To Fuck Me. It starts off being very much wrapped up in the aforementioned trippy vibe, before the guitar and drums get mangled up in the loopyness of it all. Have a listen below.