On the record 2018, Part 2: I didn’t mind the sheer randomness really

I’m finding this year a real struggle compared to 2017. There are a few new albums that have raised my eyebrows but nothing that’s getting me excited. I know you can’t have great stuff all the time, but I’m just hoping this year picks up soon!

Week 6

  • Man of the Woods, Justin Timberlake
    I was surprised how much I liked this one. It’s stacked full of great rhythms and hooks, which you can tell came from the great mind of Pharrell more than anyone else. Some of the more mushy interludes aren’t my favourite but I do like the down-to-earth natural feeling of it all.
  • Touch, Eurythmics
    I think I was expecting a bit more from this album, given how epic Annie Lennox is, but even so, this is full of great songs. I’m not sure it’s as memorable as I thought it would be, but still totally enjoyable to listen to.

Week 7

  • Always Ascending, Franz Ferdinand
    I haven’t really even thought about Franz Ferdinand for years so it was nice to hear them again – it’s all very similar to how they used to be, perhaps progressing to a slightly more adult and adventurous sound, but for the most part just solid guitars and that recognisable voice. Good stuff, but never going to be a particular favourite.
  • Performance and Cocktails, Stereophonics
    I really enjoyed this album. At first glance, I thought I only knew one of the songs but more of them were familiar than I had anticipated. The songs are well put together and with the dulcet tones of Kelly Jones to ease the way, it’s just a really nice, solid listen.

Week 8

  • I Like Fun, They Might Be Giants
    I didn’t get on with this album at all, I was expecting it all to be a bit random which it was, and I didn’t mind the sheer randomness really but it needed to be backed up with some good songs. I didn’t enjoy the construction of the songs, and that made it a bit of a slog to get through.
  • Brave, The Shires
    I’m fond of The Shires because it takes a brave duo to try and take on the might of country music from the UK, and they’re doing pretty well and gaining respect for it. The songs are what you’d expect from a country album, my only real complaint is that there’s a disconnect between songs that celebrate being from the UK, and then others that talk about ‘dimes’ and ‘state lines’. Doesn’t quite stack up.

Week 9

  • American Teen, Khalid
    Incredible debut, really. I love Young Dumb and Broke, which is why I chose this album to listen to in a very quiet week of music. The rest of the album is filled with more of the same, which makes it both really good listening but also perhaps just marginally too long. Great work though, refreshing soulful sound.
  • Whitney Houston, Whitney Houston
    I can’t quite believe this is Whitney’s debut album, it’s got such incredible songs on it and of course her powerful voice just blows everything out the water. Such a strength shines through the album even in her first recording, and it almost feels like a privilege to listen to.

Week 10

  • Love is a Basic Need, Embrace
    Embrace do one thing and they do it really well – the songs that start slowly and softly, have a bit of piano come in, and gradually build to a big, soaring, string-enhanced ending. Much of the album follows this pattern which is nice for a while but perhaps doesn’t sustain a whole record. Still good though.
  • Spice, Spice Girls
    What a classic album this is. I was, obviously, a huge fan in the 90s, and so this was like diving into a wonderful world of pop-soaked nostalgia. It’s short and sweet, this album, with female-power lyrics, bopping tracks and ultimately just some fab pop. There’s also some dodgy rapping but that just adds to the enjoyment, really.

The master

2018 is all about self-improvement (and waiting for the weather to sort itself out for further adventures), and this month I wrapped up a new qualification that encompassed several exams and a lot of time staring at Microsoft applications.

Is it wrong that I have mostly put in the time and effort for this award just because it makes me a master? Mastermind. The Master. Jedi Master. Take your pick, I’m it!

On the record 2018, Part 1: Hard rock, maybe, but no screaming

Album time!!

I had a bit of a crisis of confidence at the beginning of the year, realising there’s no way the next twelve months could be as good as the previous twelve – all those incredible albums that came out last year and made it a brilliant journey, it’s impossible to repeat that, isn’t it?

Well, we’re off to a good, if not exceptional, start. Pop, folk, country, rock, and even a bit of reggae. A little bit of everything to kick the year off right.

Week 1

  • Gang Signs and Prayers, Stormzy
    Stormzy burst onto my radar over the last few weeks, and so I had to start the year with the album everyone is raving about. I enjoyed it, although found it to be quite eccentric, a lot of different pieces thrown together. Still, there are some real highlights, and of course, Blinded By Your Grace is a wonder.
  • Wish, The Cure
    I’ve been waiting to listen to this just so I can quote The Wedding Singer legitimately, but I’m glad I finally got round to it. This is a slightly happier sound for the band, and I really enjoyed it. It was quite distracting how much the songs and particularly the lead singer reminded me of The Killers, but hey, The Cure came first!

Week 2

  • hopeless fountain kingdom, Halsey
    Great album this one, I loved it. Having only heard Bad at Love before, I wasn’t totally sure what to expect, but I really enjoyed the concept and the way the album worked together. It kicks off with a bit of Shakespeare and winds through love and hate and many great songs.
  • Duran Duran (The Wedding Album), Duran Duran
    The thing about Duran Duran, and I think I found this when I listened to Rio as well, is that I really enjoy the music. Yay, Duran Duran, great songs, great voice, fun to listen to. But if you asked me anything about this album now, just a few days later, I couldn’t tell you. Ordinary World is fantastic, the rest mostly forgettable. But it’s so good when you’re in it! Weird.

Week 3

  • Camila, Camila Cabello
    I was expecting quite a lot from this debut album from Camila, and in the end I think I’ve ended up a bit disappointed. It’s a really strong debut, lots of good songs and I like the pop vibe tinged with the latin edge, but it’s very short and I’m not sure it’s going to end up as a top five.
  • Tease Me, Chaka Demus & Pliers
    This was a bit of a weird one for Mr C to pick, but actually, I really loved it. The famous songs, Tease Me and Twist & Shout, obviously are fab, but I enjoyed all of it. Lovely, chilled reggae vibes and lots of Chaka Demus saying, hey Mr Pliers, my turn. Such fun.

Week 4

  • Ruins, First Aid Kit
    Mixed feelings about this album, really. The two are exceptionally talented and their songs and harmonies are really clear and good and strong. The trouble is, the style of music is, for me, better suited to background listening, which is fine, except I find the close harmonies quite distracting (in a good way), so can’t just let it wash over me. I’m not really sure where this album fits for me, but that’s not to say it isn’t a good one.
  • Hysteria, Def Leppard
    I was a bit nervous about this, thinking it was going to be quite hard, heavy music but it wasn’t. Hard rock, maybe, but no screaming and shouting, so all good. It’s not an album that had huge standout songs, although Pour Some Sugar on Me is fun, of course. But otherwise it’s just some really good, solid rock.

Week 5

  • The Time is Now, Craig David
    This is just Craig David through and through, exactly what you’d expect from the guy and pretty much what his sound has always been (perhaps a little more grown up than before). The only oddity is his song with Bastille, which is great, but sort of sounds different to the rest of the piece.
  • Sings the Songs that Made Him Famous, Johnny Cash
    My obsession with Johnny Cash is growing, so this is his second album and I loved it, naturally. It’s similar to the first – lots of short snappy songs, great train-like guitars and fab beats. There were more backing vocals than before, I felt, which gave it a different ambience, but it still worked for me.

Awooga!

Recently, I discovered that NOW TV had six series of Gladiators available to watch on demand. I’m such a huge fan of Gladiators (bigger than I even realised, as a couple of episodes in, the theme tune made me a bit weepy!) and although I’ve seen clips and odd episodes over the last decade or so, this is potentially the first time I’ve been able to watch a concentrated batch of Gladiator goodness.

(And we’re talking really concentrated. Like, ten episodes across the course of 36 hours. Which didn’t happen. At all.)

I don’t know what it is about the show that I love so much, but I know there are some things about it that are so much greater than TV shows these days. Firstly, many of the contenders are participating to be a role model for other people – usually kids. They put health and fitness above many other hobbies and want to go on this show to encourage others to do the same.

Secondly, the exploits are all taken seriously. This is no Ninja Warrior or Total Wipeout, where the contestants are all made to look stupid. These are serious people who have trained to participate in the events, both contenders and Gladiators alike.

And there’s a wonderful sense of camaraderie. Sure, there’s plenty of competitiveness floating around, there’s the odd moment of tension, and there’s the Wolf trying to stir up trouble wherever possible, but for the most part, people are good sports and want each other to do well. The moments where the entire arena wants that person to get up the Travelator, despite the winner crossing the line a full minute ago, those moments are wonderful.

There’s a natural nostalgia to this show for me, I used to watch it with my brother in the good old days, but I think it’s more than that. Take away the slightly dodgy presenting skills and the emphasis on people’s vital statistics, and you’ve got a really quite inspirational plus hugely entertaining programme. I didn’t see the more recent remake (yet), and I don’t know if it had the same tone or whether it was well-received (I understand Sky axing it came as a bit of a surprise rather than it being a show with ailing ratings). I really do think there is a space for this kind of programme though. Healthy competition, promoting fitness, and creating some well-loved Gladiator characters that you never forget.

Better Watch out

I love Apple’s activity badges, I’ve talked about them a few times here already. I find them incredibly motivating, particularly with the recent upgrades that have made the programme more personalised and more responsive to your performance. Rather than your standard “get your move goal every day of the month”, you now have specific calorie, kilometre, or time goals measured in absolutes or averages, with a new and different challenge each month.

Apple Watch and Phone showing activity data
Credit: Shutterstock.com

It’s brilliant, if only because it gives you something to work towards that you might not otherwise have thought of. In fact, you sort of have to treat it as though that’s the only reason because quite often these badges aren’t functional. Apple came up with a “Ring in the New Year” challenge last year that was repeated in 2018, but some people managed to get the badge in December.

I picked up a badge last year that I didn’t actually achieve, whilst Mr C has been on the receiving end of working super hard and achieving the goal only not to be rewarded with the badge itself.

Like I say, for us, it’s more about having the goal to work towards and it’s the fun of actually doing it that makes it worthwhile. But for many people, and for me at the start of the process, it was more about getting the tangible badge to prove you’ve achieved something. And if you can’t rely on that, then the process actually becomes demotivating rather than having the more positive effect that Apple want.

I’m sure it’s just a bug or two that needs to be ironed out, and I’m also sure that Apple have some people working on it, but I hope they can sort it out soon so I can truly shout about how good the system is. There’s another one-off activity challenge coming up this month and the badge is adorable so I hope it doesn’t break this time!

Film Watch notes – further improvements

Soon, Film Watch will reach its ninth birthday, having catalogued over 800 films so far and still going strong. More than anything, for me, it’s a handy reminder of what’s been viewed and an easy way to settle arguments between Mr C and myself about a) whether we have watched a film before and b) what we thought of it. The actual live blogging of the film is less important to me after the event, but is hugely important to ensure I’m paying attention as the film goes by.

I wrote a few years ago about the evolution of my note-taking process, starting as it did with a notebook and pen, and eventually graduating to an iPad. I thought it was worth a quick update, because the process couldn’t get much more streamlined at this point, unless they develop a way for your thoughts just to appear on a blog the moment you think them.

When last I checked in, I was typing up the notes on an iPad, getting the timings from an iPod, and then using iCloud as a better-than-iTunes-but-still-quite-clunky syncing process. Things haven’t changed enormously since then, but a few tweaks have made the publish process even easier.

Firstly, split-screen on the iPad means I no longer have to use two devices to keep track of everything. I can have my notes taking up two thirds of the screen, and the clock app tucked away down one side.

Secondly, I’ve used a few different apps for taking the notes, settling for a long time on Word and using Dropbox to sync the files back to my Mac for blogging. But, I’ve really been loving the Bear notes app, and find that the magic of tagging files and them syncing immediately through all your devices makes the process ridiculously easy.

So from here, I can quickly and easily transfer to my Mac where I publish to the Film Watch blog. In reality, I could go from initial thoughts to publish all from the iPad, but I find the process of getting images into the WordPress app and in the right place somewhat awkward on iOS. Hopefully this is the next step in the evolution, but as it stands, it’s almost perfect as it is.

All about that bass

U2 made an appearance at the Grammy’s last night, playing in the apparent freezing cold grounds of New York’s Statue of Liberty. Now, I’ll be honest, Adam Clayton isn’t exactly one of my bass heroes, but I’m rapidly rethinking that after seeing his instrument of choice for this performance.

I’m still not clear on how one plays guitar with gloves on – fingerless or not. But I don’t blame them, it looks flipping freezing out there.

It’s so pretty!

(And so expensive!)

Shame it’s a limited edition otherwise I’d start saving up right now.