Playing with playlists – Colour chart

I always think November is a colourful month. Autumn is really kicking in, so the trees are rapidly changing hue and shedding their leaves. There are leftover Halloween themed items around, so orange and purple and green are scattered on doorsteps and in shops. Plus, of course, firework night – as annoying and loud as it can be – has a main promise of lighting up the sky with various shapes and colours.

So, that being the case, my November playlist is all about colour too.

  1. Little Blue, Beautiful South
  2. Red, Taylor Swift
  3. Back to Black, Amy Winehouse
  4. Yellow, Coldplay
  5. Mr Blue Sky, ELO
  6. Back in Black, AC/DC
  7. Paint the Town Green, The Script
  8. Green Light, Lorde
  9. Black or White, Michael Jackson
  10. White Flag, Dido
  11. Purple Rain, Prince
  12. 99 Red Balloons, Nina
  13. Purple Pills, D12
  14. Black Eyes, Blue Tears, Shania Twain
  15. Behind These Hazel Eyes, Kelly Clarkson
  16. Big Yellow Taxi, Joni Mitchell
  17. Black and White Town, Doves
  18. Fields of Gold, Sting
  19. Into the Blue, Kylie Minogue
  20. Little Red Wagon, Miranda Lambert
  21. Men in Black, Will Smith
  22. Pink, Aerosmith
  23. Red Alert, Basement Jaxx
  24. Supermassive Black Hole, Muse
  25. Welcome to the Black Parade, My Chemical Romance

Life beyond wires

I’ve recently been using Apple’s Bluetooth earphones, otherwise known as AirPods. They weren’t my first choice – I don’t really enjoy the look of them, and was reluctant to get rid of my sturdy camouflage black wired earphones. Unfortunately, I upgraded to a new iPhone, one of the ones without the headphone jack, and that meant adjusting to a whole new world.

The AirPods are both brilliant and awful. Here’s how.

Pros

I love the freedom that comes with wireless headphones. I didn’t think I would, for some reason that I now cannot fathom. Having your phone tucked away in a bag or a pocket and being unencumbered by wires catching on door handles makes for a legendary upgrade. Of course any Bluetooth ears would do this, but these are my first and that makes them a little bit special.

I really like some of the intelligence that comes with the AirPods. They know when I have put them in my ears (for the most part), and I really like the automatic pausing or switching to mono when you take one or both of them out. I haven’t really engaged too much so far with the tapping to achieve things, although I can see that double tapping an ear to restart music will be useful.

Quick switching between devices isn’t as seamless as I hoped it would be but it still removes some of the pain of Bluetooth management. You should be able to get the AirPods to play from whichever screen you’re in, the same way you can Airplay when desired. I find that I still have to go into the Bluetooth screen of the settings app more than I’d like, but I can’t describe the joy at not having to disconnect. The wonder of not having to find which device the product was last connected to, just tap connect and go. It could be smoother and it could be quicker but it’s still strides forward.

Cons

I’m not so keen on having another product on my person that requires battery management. Thankfully, my phone upgrade has meant battery on that front isn’t as much of a problem as it once was, so I can focus all my attention on the AirPods. That’s good, because they are quite needy.

The real issue comes from there being three separate items that have a battery level. On the one hand, it’s clever and useful that the case also charges up the ears, but on the other hand, it’s another thing to have to charge. Then each ear has its own level, so you can listen to both, or sacrifice one while the other charges. It’s a handful.

And don’t get me started on actually seeing how much battery is left. Getting this screen to appear is a feat of endurance.

On the face of it, having to charge up your earphones doesn’t sound that complicated, but when you find yourself out on a walk with all three battery levels at 1%, you realise that you’ve gone wrong somewhere along the way.

Other niggles are smaller. My ears (or one in particular) took a while to get used to the shape of the AirPods, and it was actually sore for a couple of days. They don’t mould or bend in any way. You get what you’re given. They’re not exactly the best sounding product on the market, and they’re not noise-cancelling in any way. Taking them out of the case can be fiddly, and I quite literally always put them back in the box the wrong way round.

For me, at the moment, the benefits outweigh the negatives, but I am finding I have regressed to a less needy, more wired pair of headphones for my iPad that still accepts such caveman concepts. I’m eyeing up some other Bluetooth options too, but overall I’m quite happy that the transition to the non-headphone jack future hasn’t been as awful as I’d thought it would be.

Apple released a new holiday-themed AirPod advert, and whilst it’s very good, let me be clear, life with them is nothing like this.

Dots and dashes

A while back I wrote about the Amazon Dash buttons and how my initial tests left me frustrated and underwhelmed. I’ve recently started using them again and although a couple of the issues are still there, I’m now converted.

It was this year’s Prime Day that kickstarted me into using them again, as some of the buttons were on offer. I picked up a couple that I’d been in two minds about and since then, I’ve started using them properly.

I think part of the problem I was having before is that I had buttons that weren’t really products kept in one place, or I kept changing the products associated with the button (from apple juice to crisps, for example). Now, I’ve set up the buttons, and put them in place next to the storage of the product so that they really can just be pushed when you need to restock. It makes all the difference.

The benefits then become clear, as advertised. You run out of something, you hit the button and never have to think about it again. You don’t have to remember to put it on a shopping list and you don’t have to lug whatever it is through a supermarket. Not huge problems but one’s solved by the push of a button.

My previous complaints were thus:

  1. Limited choice
  2. Buttons slow to arrive
  3. Goods slow to arrive
  4. Selection of goods changes

There’s a greater choice of buttons now, although once you get into using them, you start wanting them for everything. They were quite slow to arrive, but thankfully the delivery of the products hasn’t been slow and the selection of goods has remained stable.

So a lot of the problems have been fixed. In fact, the only issue I have had this time round is that there was an inadvertent order when a button fell off its sticking place and hit something on the way down. No damage done though, and you do have the option to cancel an order in case of such a situation.

Essentially, one year on, and I’m converted. Still waiting on that Doritos button though.

Mugs that come with hugs

It’s about time for the (sometimes) annual collection of novelty mugs, and this time I’ve got a selection of five that feature top secret ninjas, a bit of computer geekery, and of course, a panda. Let’s start there in fact.

five-mugs-pandaThis panda hug mug is adorable, although it’s disappointing the hug is being given to the biscuits you are just about to eat, rather than yourself.

As with many mugs like this, I worry about putting chocolate biscuits right next to the hot beverage. There’s going to be a melting situation if they are there for any length of time. But that probably just means you need to eat them quicker. Biscuits gobbled up, hug from panda, a pretty good start to the day.

five-mugs-loadingThis loading tea mug is quite minimalistic but speaks to the nerd in me. I can’t quite decide if the tea is loading as you’re pouring it and making it in the first place, or if it is loading as you are ingesting it, but either way, I quite like it.

The only issue is that loading screens are not usually a positive thing, you see one for longer than a few seconds and you get stressed. Perhaps it’s not ideal for every day use!

five-mugs-ampAs I’m sure you’re all aware, I’m obsessed with music these days and talk about little else. That being the case, this amp mug is perfect! I’m not totally convinced that the shape of it would make for easy drinking but I like the idea of having a cup of tea and being reminded “it’s time for guitar practice!”

I’m also not totally sure what kind of music genre “mug rock” is, but it sounds like something I want to get on board with!

five-mugs-cauldronThere are a few Harry Potter novelty mugs around, but this cauldron mug is my current favourite. There are travel mugs and normal mugs and house mugs and all sorts, but a cauldron shaped mug is an interesting idea.

I wonder if you really should be drinking out of the cauldron, where usually that would be used for potions but it’s always worth a try, you never know what magical powers might take over you!

five-mugs-ninjaFinally, everyone needs a ninja in their life, so why not in mug form?

The Greatest Showman – ‘I’m putting together a show’

At first glance, this film looks like it pushes all the right buttons. A lonely man with a big idea fighting against all odds, some misfits who just want to be accepted, and… well, and Zac Efron.

But all you need to remember from this trailer, and hopefully from the movie is this:

No one ever made a difference by being like everyone else.

Wisdom.

Taylor not-so-swift

I was really looking forward to Taylor Swift’s new album. I’ve been racing through her back catalogue in preparation, and was captivated by the four songs that were released ahead of launch day. Mr C, previously the biggest TayTay fan in this household, hasn’t been convinced by the new stuff but I’m all in.

Except, I’m not all in because I can’t listen to the album yet. Reputation has been kept off streaming services for at least a week, in a well-planned and manipulative launch schedule.

Now, I know that some artists don’t like the concept of streaming and I can understand that it’s not the perfect solution to earning a living from making music. But it’s the way music listening is going and you have to, at some point, go with it.

Taylor, previously, has rallied for higher pay for artists from streaming services. She won the battle with Apple on that front, after publishing an open letter to them to say artists should be paid for their work even if the subscription service is giving away three months free to new users. Apple agreed, adjusted their terms and conditions, and it seemed like she had fought a battle that really meant a lot to her.

And it seemed like all was lovely between the singer and the streaming service since then. Taylor has even featured in some adverts for Apple Music.

But now, no album.

It’s an artist’s absolute choice what they do with their music, but all I can say is that I hope it’s achieving what she wants because it just makes me dismiss it in favour of other, more accessible, works.

On the record 2017, Part 9: Tortured souls but great songs

This is the penultimate round-up of albums for this year’s adventure and more than ever I am getting concerned about having to narrow down the incredible selection of music I’ve listened to in 2017 to just five best albums of the year, and which should be added to my top ten of all time.

These five weeks have had a great variety to them, with some excellent surprises. I loved Johnny Cash, and wasn’t so keen on The B-52’s, with the rest of pop and country filling in the gaps.

Week 41

  • Now, Shania Twain
    Lovely album from Shania, it’s incredible to think it’s her first in 15 years. The songs veer from positive life-affirming pop to serious personal pain, but all with the sheen of pop-country that you come to expect from Shania. Never gonna beat Come On Over as an album, but an incredible return.
  • With His Blue and Hot Guitar, Johnny Cash
    Something about Johnny Cash’s deep and sultry voice just washes over you and wraps you in a comforting blanket – even when he’s singing about troubling topics. Prison, death, heartbreak, and just the occasional glimpse of love going right, this is a brilliant, if short, debut album.

Week 42

  • Beautiful Trauma, P!nk
    Was really looking forward to this after the genius of What About Us, and for the most part it totally delivered. It felt like a rollercoaster of emotions on the first listen, but it really grew on me on the second. With the documentary giving a bit of extra insight to some of the songs, as well, it really helps make this one shine.
  • Foreigner, Foreigner
    I am adamant that if Cold as Ice was made today, it would sound totally legit and fit in with the current music scene. The rest of the album, not so much. It’s good but very seventies, very of its time. Things get off to a good start with Feels Like the First Time and Cold as Ice, but the rest of it is less memorable.

Week 43

  • Younger Now, Miley Cyrus
    Wasn’t expecting too much from this – I’m totally on board with Miley reinventing herself whenever she has a mind too, but it was sold as an updated take on fifties beats. Odd. But actually it really works for me. I like almost all the songs, and they have a good, chilled out, mostly positive vibe.
  • Camino Palmero, The Calling
    Love this album. I know it from old, one of my favourites, and it’s still up there. Just plain simple guitar rock, tortured souls but great songs, and some real gems including Wherever You Will Go and Things Don’t Always Turn Out That Way. Could listen over and over.

Week 44

  • The Meaning of Life, Kelly Clarkson
    Really solid album from Kelly Clarkson. It occurred to me before I listened that I only really knew the singles and very little else about Kelly, but still managed to love her. This album just adds to that: great vocals, some great hooks, and a nice overall positive feeling about love, life and everything in between.
  • Cosmic Thing, The B-52’s
    Hmm, not my cup of tea really. I like Love Shack, and the album is stacked full of the quirky nature that makes that song fun. But, I think it’s all quite samey and aside from one instrumental at the end, it could basically be a 45 minute version of Love Shack, and I’m not sure I like it THAT much.

Week 45

  • Unapologetically, Kelsea Ballerini
    Love this album, it’s very much like the first – nice, simple, clean and crisp country songs with a youthful edge, and plenty of unique moments to make it stand out from the crowd. I thought this album indulged a little more in the “we’re not in high school anymore” vibe, with plenty of references to US high school tropes that I’ve only seen in movies, but even with that, it’s still up there with the best albums of the year.
  • Eyes Open, Snow Patrol
    This album speaks so clearly of a specific point in time, midway through the noughties, where music was transitioning from fun pop to the more grungy pop that it is today. Guitar bands were prevalent and Snow Patrol were one of the best. Some great songs on this album so that I can’t believe I haven’t listened to it all before!