On the record 2018, Part 7: The guy is clearly in love

The past five weeks have seen a really solid selection of albums that have made it a really pleasant time to be doing this adventure. I can’t promise that I remember every track or even liked everything I heard, but an over-arching theme of the recent records has been nice to listen to and just more to go in the memory banks of my musical education.

I do think I’m missing the critical stand-out albums this year, which makes me concerned for my top five/ten lists in a couple of months (yes, time is going by that quickly). I’ve got one, maybe two, definite contenders and the rest is totally up for grabs. But there’s still time. If there’s anything I’ve learned across the last couple of years it’s that the music just keeps on coming.

Week 31

  • MASSEDUCTION, St. Vincent
    Enjoyed this album. I wasn’t really aware of St Vincent before seeing her perform Los Ageless on a couple of TV shows, but I was keen to hear the full album. I don’t think it was as outstanding as I thought it would be, but certainly enjoyable from start to finish. The two singles stand out, and I really like Slow Disco although think it’s been slightly ruined by the Fast Slow Disco version.
  • Remain in Light, Talking Heads
    I had never heard of Talking Heads and when I started listening, I did wonder what I’d let myself in for. Most of the tracks didn’t really work for me, but of course, Once In a Lifetime is a proper tune which almost makes up for the rest of it.

Week 32

  • Pray For the Wicked, Panic! At the Disco
    Good album this one. Only discovered Panic at the Disco relatively recently so it’s nice to have a new album almost straight away. I liked all the songs on here but have to admit it felt quite a short album, almost over before it’s begun. Few of the songs are longer than three minutes, but they’re all good so I just wanted more.
  • Sigh No More, Mumford & Sons
    I know a few Mumford & Sons songs, and they’re the kind of band where you actually know more than you think you do. The trouble is, as this album demonstrates very well, is that whilst they are good tunes, they sound quite similar. Listening to 12 in a row was a nice experience, it’s good music, but I can’t lie and say I could distinguish one song from another.

Week 33

  • Know., Jason Mraz
    I love Jason, his witty lyrics and fast-paced patter and this album is another one to add to the collection. There were a few good tunes on there but actually, as an overall effect, I found the album to be oppressively saccharine. The guy is clearly in love, which is great, but every song was about how he likes to watch her sleep and doesn’t want to do anything but be in love with his partner. At which point I start wondering if he needs a hobby. Nice songs but perhaps needs more variety.
  • Dookie, Green Day
    I don’t think there was too much memorable about this album but there doesn’t really need to be. It is exactly what you want it to be – Green Day through and through. Strong guitars, solid beats, that recognisable lead vocal… enjoyable album but perhaps not my favourite of their work.

Week 34

  • Sweetener, Ariana Grande
    At first I really wasn’t sure about this one, it’s quite warbly in places, but parts of it started to grow on me. No Tears Left to Cry grew on me enormously after a couple of listens, and I cannot get the ‘mix it, and mix it, and mix it and mix it’ thing out of my head. It’s clearly a departure from Ariana’s previous efforts, more adult, more soulful, and I quite liked it despite its oddities.
  • Organisation, Orchestral Manoeuvres In the Dark
    A great album, this one. I only knew the song Enola Gay and I really wasn’t sure I knew what OMD were, but the rest of the album was a triumph. It didn’t stand out as much as the lead single but even so, I liked the moody synth overtones and the general feeling that it left with me after a full listen.

Week 35

  • B. Inspired, Bugzy Malone
    I really, really liked this album. Its been a while since a rap or hip hop album has appealed to me but this one was great. I love the main single with Rag N Bone Man, and generally speaking all the features are really good. Top notch and a welcome change of genre for this year.
  • An Innocent Man, Billy Joel
    I don’t know how I’ve managed to get this far without listening to any Billy Joel but how can you not love this? Happy, optimistic, joyful music that sort of sweeps you along and doesn’t put you down for 40 minutes. I thought I would only know Uptown Girl but I also knew Tell Her About It.

Sharp viewing

Like many others, I recently finished watching Sharp Objects, the HBO mini series starring Amy Adams and based on the book by Gillian Flynn. I’ll be honest and admit I only watched this because it has the lovely Amy Adams in it, I didn’t particularly enjoy Gone Girl the book or the film, and whilst I did like Sharp Objects as a novel, I was worried how it would unfold on screen.

My review of the book at the time I read it (2014), included this:

I thought it was so well written, it really drew you in with evocative prose and snappy dialogue. Each paragraph made you feel exactly what those involved were feeling, particularly the sticky, prickly, sickly feeling that grew and grew towards the end.

The mini series was EXACTLY the same. It was beautifully shot, so that I could barely keep my eyes off the screen (slightly awkward when I usually multi-task my TV viewing), and I loved the flashes of scenes intercutting with each other. The way music would start and stop, loud and uncompromising, and the way even the quiet moments weren’t quiet – eery soundtracks or noisy night insects would continue the creepy feeling that emanated from the very first moment.

Amy Adams was brilliant, of course, but actually the trio of Amy, Patricia Clarkson and Eliza Scanlen were all incredible and made an absolutely captivating family (for all the wrong reasons). The story was told slowly but it was never dragged out, and you just gradually got a feeling that this town has more secrets than we will ever get to know.

There’s vague talk of a second series but I hope that never materialises. As this IndieWire review explains (spoilers in the link):

With so many principles still kickin’, a twist ending that casts the series in a whole new light, and a quality product from start to finish, a quick reaction to the finale may be to demand more. But the longer you sit with it, the more fitting this ending feels. “Sharp Objects” was told in flashes; it’s only fitting it ends with a bang.

Just less than 100 percent

Mr C and I are on a bit of a health kick at the minute – nothing crazy, just trying to make better choices – and that means ditching the share bags of Cadburys for something a bit more refined and, dare I say it, grown up.

I’ve been perusing the dark chocolate aisles in awe and wonder, there’s such a wide selection, flavours, percentages and choices, it can be quite overwhelming!

The salted caramel is a particular favourite but I also liked the 70% cocoa. I was impressed by the percentage steps, 80%, 95%, etc and thought it would be an easy step up to 99%.

Tried the 99% last night and bluergh, it was disgusting! How do people eat this stuff? Bitter, dark, basically like eating a spoonful of cocoa powder.

It wasn’t until the light of day (having opened the packaging in movie mood lighting), that I saw the instructions.

Important: Tasting Advice

Excellence 99% is a unique chocolate that reveals all the strength and richness of cocoa beans. To fully appreciate all its flavours, we recommend that you progressively develop your palate through our range of high cocoa content chocolate bars, starting with Excellence 70%, then 85% and finally 99%.

The best way to experience Excellence 99% Cocoa is to break off a small piece and allow it to melt slowly in your mouth.

To taste the full bouquet of aromas, try accompanying your tasting with some coffee.

Who knew? Firstly, I hadn’t realised that chocolate could be such a connoisseur’s art, although I probably should have given the volume of choice in the shops. And I also didn’t realise that I had embarked upon such a journey without realising it. Fancy jumping right to the end of the path without taking the intervening steps! That is so like me.

But, for now, back to 70%, and I’ll enjoy that for a bit before moving up a percentage. The chocolate adventure is underway!

Lukeh’s Manics Mixtape

A while back, I talked about how I was just starting to figure out how awesome Manic Street Preachers were, and that I felt I’d missed out on a significant chunk of their career. On the flip side, good friend Lukeh is an absolute expert on the subject and should be considered a super-fan.

So, Mr C plied the man with mango-flavoured beer and demanded that he concoct an incredibly specific playlist of ten songs that would introduce a new fan (me) to the band, digging a little deeper than the obvious but not being too obscure as to be off-putting. All this after a drink or two and completely on the spot with no research.

Easy.

This, then, is the Lukeh-approved new-fan Manics playlist.

  1. You Stole the Sun From My Heart
  2. Australia
  3. Tsunami
  4. Little Baby Nothing
  5. The Masses Against the Classes
  6. Walk Me to the Bridge
  7. Some Kind of Nothingness
  8. Roses in the Hospital
  9. (It’s Not War) Just the End of Love
  10. Faster

I must say I really enjoyed the full list and it did help me further appreciate the Welsh band. I want to dig in even further and that can only be a good thing.

I also really like the idea of this version of essential mix-tapes. Apple Music may have their own Essentials Playlists going on but going to the super-fans and getting a specific selection of ten means you really have to pick the very best rather than just the singles. And it’s a great result.

Rain, rain, rain today

There are all sorts of weather apps available out there, from the quirky Carrot forecasts to the more staid Met Office offerings. Their use very much depends on how you like your weather forecasting – long range and high level, a broad overview of the country at large, or as I prefer, very localised to-the-minute weather predictions.

That’s where Rain Today comes in. It’s a great app for one purpose – telling you whether it is raining, or whether it’s going to in the very near future. Obviously you can look out the window for the present weather conditions, but knowing whether you need to take a brolly on that short errand you’re going to run can be very useful.

The app has temperature and precipitation details, but my favourite part of the app is the satellite style rain tracker. You can see the blue clouds of rain, if there is any, where they have been and where they are heading towards in the next hour. It helps you know whether to risk that run to the shop for a pack of biscuits, probably less of a priority if there’s a band of blue moving rapidly towards your location.

I use Rain Today in conjunction with other apps, because it doesn’t look much further forward than an hour or two. But for those immediate decisions based upon whether you’re going to get wet if you step outside your front door, it’s the perfect product.

A fine example

I love Julie Adenuga’s Beats1 show, airing in the UK between 2 and 4pm every weekday. I try and listen to as many as I can, usually on demand, and there’s often little snippets of conversation that make you laugh or make you sit up and take notice.

On Friday’s show, where Example and Rebecca Judd joined Julie in the studio to take a look at the new releases that day, there was an example of the latter. Example was discussing the time he bought a car for a fan – as you do – and his co-hosts were sharing their shock and awe at such a kind gesture. Example was having none of it though:

Example: I bought them a proper car, year. It was a PR stunt, but you know he tweeted me and said ‘I can’t listen to your new mixtape because it’s not going to be on CD and I’ve only got a CD player’ and I said ‘Well, I’ll just buy you a new car with an aux cable’ and people were like ‘why don’t you just buy him a new stereo?’ and I was like ‘well that’s not a very interesting PR stunt, is it?’

But I tell you why, because if you go on social media, say on Instagram, and you want to promote your post promoting your new mixtape or album or whatever. Instagram, they only let, say 20% of your fans see your post. So you have to promote the post. So if you want, say, I’ve got half a million followers, if you want all of them you have to spend about four and a half grand for everyone to see the post. So why not just buy a car for a fan for three grand instead? Money well spent. You haven’t got to pay the corporation and everyone gets to see the post. Because what will happen is the post goes viral because everyone comments and likes it.

Rebecca: Are you allowed to be saying all this?

Julie: It’s Example!

Example: I’m just telling you I’ve worked out the system. I beat the algorithm.

Really interesting way to beat the system and give your love straight to the fans. Or at least one very lucky fan, anyway.

Feeling the pressure

I was lucky enough to get a chance to see Pressure, a play by David Haig that is currently in the West End. The play tells the incredible true story of James Stagg, a meteorologist who was tasked with predicting the weather conditions for the D-Day landings.

With Stagg predicting severe storms and Irving P. Krick – Hollywood’s meteorological movie consultant – predicting beautiful weather, the future of Britain, Europe and the United States rests on one single forecast.

At first, the play feels like it is just about that fish-out-of-water scenario, the genius in his field having to deal with mere mortals who don’t really get him or appreciate his efforts. But gradually it becomes about more than that. The isolation, the unsettling feeling that something bad is going to happen, that epic responsibility of all the D-Day participants lives resting on your shoulders.

Add to that the stress of an absent wife about to give birth, as well as pressure from a future American president and you’ve got a significant and remarkable drama.

I was totally absorbed in the story from the very start. The writing is smart and clever, littered with meteorological terms that aren’t dumbed down for an audience that may not have done so well in geography at school (that’s me!). The acting (including Haig himself, as well as Laura Rogers and Malcolm Sinclair) was outstanding, particularly once the decisions are made and it’s just a matter of waiting to see what happens.

For a brief moment, I felt uncomfortable that the second half was just dragging things out but then I realised, that tense anticipatory feeling was exactly what these people would have been going through at the time. Tense is exactly the right word to describe this play but it was absolutely brilliant. If you get a chance to see it, and have even a passing interest in the un-told stories of key WWII players, then grab tickets if you can.