Counting down to Christmas

This week I’ve attended a carol service, eaten nut roast, drank mulled wine, made an excessively glittery Christmas card, listened to Christmas music, and voluntarily walked in the snow. I think that means I’m actually celebrating Christmas this year.

I’ve also made a preliminary list for my albums of the year blog post, mostly because I’ll be overseas during the time I usually write it so I want to give myself a head start. One thing I suspect will feature is the new Bjork album, which I’ve listened to a fair bit over the last couple of weeks, and which I do seem to be recommending to people a lot right now. I like all of it, but this is the song that fits best with the usual subject matter of this blog:

Accountability

At the start of the year I wrote a blog post about things I might do differently this year. Not resolutions as such, just lines in the sand and broad statements of intent. As the year is nearly two thirds of the way through (how?), I thought it was time to look at those statements of intent, see if anything had noticeably changed, and note anything else eventful that had happened.

The first thing I wrote about was visiting the cinema more. Apart from a slight lull in the spring this has gone very well, and I’ve seen 14 films this year so far. It’s not quite enough to make the unlimited card worth it, but when you add in discounts on food and drink and other benefits it’s just about paid for itself (although I do resolve to go to the cinema slightly more often in the cold winter months to make sure I get value for money). I also set up a (private) WordPress site to record everything I’ve seen, everything I want to see, and to otherwise document my cinematic adventures. Let’s face it, if I’m doing something then there is probably a WordPress site somewhere to document it.

The second thing I wrote about was my relationship with technology, and in particular how I was using my iPad more for personal computing (and my Surface Pro 4 for work computing). The last 8 months has probably been the least remarkable period of time in regard to changes in how I use technology, and I don’t think a single thing has really changed (apart from my diminishing love of the Surface). I’ve not bought a computer of any type this year, and spent a very small amount of money on technology in general. I’ve travelled several times with just an iPad, and have found that the thought of doing that is nowhere near as remarkable as I thought it might be at the start of the year. If anything has changed it’s that I’m using MacOS and Ubuntu at the same time rather than choosing between them, due to having a bigger desk that will fit two monitors, although the jury is still out as to whether I’ll actually replace the Mac when it finally dies or becomes obsolete (it’s 6 years old now).

The third thing I wrote about was music, and how I planned on buying less but listening to it more. This has largely gone as expected, although I did go through a period in the spring where I bought a few extra CDs, and it really took me until about May before the vision of the future I was aiming for actually came to pass. I’ve also noticed that I’ve started listening to older music a lot more this year, with as lot of old favourites getting significantly more airtime that records that came out this year. I’m not sure whether this is a blip or a trend yet, but it will be interesting when I do my yearly review to see how many records from before 2017 make the list.

The last thing I wrote about was socialising, and how I wanted to do more of this (but didn’t have a plan). This is probably the area where the most has changed, and I’ve been more socially active (especially with people from work), and have done a wider range of things (cinema, walking and comedy nights rather than just food and drinks). As predicted, it sorted itself out organically, and I can’t pretend I really did anything to make this happen.

The other key thing that happened recently is that I stopped eating meat (and then eventually fish) at some point at the start of this year. It wasn’t a conscious decision (at least not at first), but once I realised I’d stopped and I felt better for it then it was a bit of a no brainer to just make it a thing I didn’t do any more. I’ve found it surprisingly easy, and I’ve found I’m learning more about food and how it affects my body as a result.

I think the only other things of note are that I bought my first pair of varifocals last week after a period of diminishing eyesight, and that at some point in the spring I started drinking proper coffee again and tried to cut out the instant rubbish as much as possible. Both of these are probably only of interest to me, although I’m sure people around me are glad I can now do things like read menus in restaurants and actually see what is on the screen of my phone.

1987 has a lot to answer for

I recently curated the music for a birthday party where a fair portion of the playlist was taken from songs originally released in 1987 (with a side order of 1983, 1984, and a few old favorites for good measure). As a result of this, I spent a fair bit of the last few weeks listening to music from this era, and it struck me how similar 1987 and 2017 were, both in the types of music that were popular (at least to me) and also in some of what was going on in the news. 1987 was an election year too, with The Housemartins and The Blow Monkeys (amongst others) singing about the need to change a right wing female PM for something more socialist. There were also great records from The Wedding Present, Pixies, Sonic Youth, New Order, The Fall The Cure, Depeche Mode, and the swansong from The Smiths (as well as several of their best singles). 1987 was angry, dissatisfied, and just under half of the country wanted a change, but that change didn’t come for another few years.

Fast forward to 2017 and it’s another election year. The way we buy and consume music is almost unrecognisable, but I do note with interest that my vinyl buying habit is roughly equivalent to how it was 30 years ago, and that I’ve bought records by many of my 1987 favourites over the last year or so. I still buy lots of new music, but it seems that like Twin Peaks, Slowdive, Wire and a certain brand of gum, the things I liked then are definitely coming back in style. Which can only be a good thing.

Albums of the year so far

I don’t miss compiling a list of music recommendations each month. I do miss making the occasional list of things I’ve enjoyed though, so I thought I’d make it a semi-regular thing to post details of what my end of year list would look like if the year ended today.

What I’ve got so far is in the following Spotify playlist:

At some point I’ll write them all out, but that day is not today.

2017 plans

It’s 2017. It’s been 2017 for a while, but as I was ill for most of the Christmas holidays, today is the first time I’ve really thought about the fact that it’s a new year, and that I’m back at work tomorrow.

I don’t really make resolutions, but I think I may be kicking off some new projects in 2017.

Towards the end of December we bought year-long Cineworld unlimited cards, which means we need to see two films per month (at least), or something like 22 or 23 over the year. We have seen three so far (in three days). Seeing films as they come out gives me something new to blog about, so I’ll likely be writing about some of them, especially if I feel I’ve got something to add that I’ve not read elsewhere.

I started using my iPad more (and my computer less) a couple of months ago, and I’m finding that to be sufficiently liberating that I might want to blog about it. I feel slightly less enthusiastic about the Surface Pro 4 I use for work now, but I may also find that there are Windows 10/Surface Pro specific things I want to blog about as well.

I plan on buying a lot less music this year, and using Spotify for pretty much everything to do with discovering and playing new music. I have my existing collection available on all my devices anyway, but this year I want Spotify to be the default way I consume music (unless it’s vinyl of course). I don’t plan on buying much more than what I get with my Rough Trade subscription (11 records, plus whatever freebies I get), although I will be putting things I really like on my wish list around birthday and Christmas time (so June and December). My hope is that I’ll spend a lot less on music, and will also get to spend more time with things I do buy. As a. result of this I won’t be posting monthly lists of things I’ve listened to, but might start writing about specific things in more depth. Today I bought a new perspex box that will fit around 20 records in it, and that should be all my music-related storage needs sorted for this year (which is just as well as I’m running out of space).

I didn’t do a great deal of socialising for most of 2016, for a variety of reasons. I don’t really have a plan to fix this, although starting a new job a month ago has already shaken things up a little in that respect and it’s quite possible that it will sort itself out organically. If nothing else, I’m going to be going to the cinema a lot more this year, which is a step in the right direction.

I might of course do none of these things and do something else instead, but I thought it was worth a statement of intent at the start of the year.

New Music – December 2016

In December I seem to have split my time between starting a new job and being ill. Neither of these are conducive to discovering new music. I did manage to stumble upon a few things though.

Childish Gambino – “Awaken My Love”
J. Cole – 4 Your Eyez Only
Run the Jewels – Run The Jewels 3
Brian Eno – Reflection
Nine Inch Nails – Not the Actual Event

This will be my last monthly roundup for a while. I’ve not quite finalised what my blogging in 2017 will look like, although I expect it will involve albums of the month, a lot more writing about films I’ve seen, and perhaps more about using an iPad for the vast majority of my online life.

Albums of the year 2016

As always, I’ve listened to a lot of new music this year. It’s been my second year of collecting vinyl, and my second (and last) year of blogging about my monthly discoveries (2017 is likely to be a little too busy to commit to that for another year). This year I’ve split my choices into three categories – my top 10 albums by how many times I’ve played them, my top 10 vinyl purchases, and a selection of other things I’ve listened to this year that I really like.

Top 10 from Last.fm

I’ve used last.fm to track my listening habits for the past 10 years. Whilst it doesn’t track anything I listen to on vinyl (or in fact CD), it does cover everything I’ve listened to on my computer, my phone and my iPad, on a variety of different music players. The following albums are my top 10 based on that criteria, although it should be noted that I also own the Unloved album on vinyl so there is a chance I’ve actually listened to it more than anything else this year.

She Makes War – Direction of Travel
Radiohead – A Moon Shaped Pool
Shearwater – Jet Plane and Oxbow
Unloved – Guilty of Love
Tortoise – The Catastrophist
PJ Harvey – The Hope Six Demolition Project
Frightened Rabbit – Painting of a Panic Attack
Jesu & Sun Kil Moon – Jesu/Sun Kil Moon
Yorkston/Thorne/Khan – Everything Sacred
The Wedding Present – Going Going

What strikes me about this list is that there are a lot of familiar names there, and I’ve listened to (and written about) most of these artists a lot in the past. The two new names on this list are She Wakes War (my favourite record of the year, and one that reminds me a lot of Trouble Will Find Me by The National in both subject matter and my general emotional response to it) and Unloved (one of several “supergroup” records in my list this year, and one that I keep coming back to).

10 more that I’ve played a lot on vinyl

I started collecting vinyl again two years ago, and these are the ten records from 2016 that I keep coming back to (along with the Unloved album which I’ve already mentioned). It’s interesting to note that only one of these (Black Mountain’s IV) is a double album, and I’m now fairly sure that having something spread across more than one record does limit how much I listen to it.

Iggy Pop – Post Pop Depression
Minor Victories – Minor Victories
Angel Olsen – My Woman
Black Mountain – IV
Beyond the Wizard’s Sleeve – The Soft Bounce
Pixies – Head Carrier
Wild Beasts – Boy King
D.D Dumbo – Utopia Defeated
RM Hubbert – Telling The Trees
The Magnetic North – Prospect of Skelmersdale

This list probably owes a lot to the fact that I get sent one record a month by Rough Trade, and definitely features more newer artists, and debut records. I loved the idea of Minor Victories before I even heard the record (and hearing it didn’t change that), and I really didn’t expect another good Iggy Pop record (and certainly not one that good). There isn’t really a filler track on any of these, and all come highly recommended.

My favourite records of the year (that I’ve not already mentioned)

This is very much the best of the rest, and also a few things I’ve not played that often, but would still say are my favourite records of the year.

Brian Eno – The Ship
BadBadNotGood – IV
Conor Oberst – Ruminations
Bon Ivor – 22, A Million
Charlie Hilton – Palana
Moby and the Void Pacific Choir – These Systems Are Failing
Car Seat Headrest – Teens of Denial
Kate Tempest – Let Them Eat Chaos
Danny Brown – Atrocity Exhibition
Banks – The Alter
Melanie De Biasio – Blackened Cities
Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – Skeleton Tree
Okkervil River – Away
James Blake – The Colour in Anything
Steve Mason – Meet the Humans
Knifeworld – Bottled out of Eden
Blixa Bargeld & Teho Teardo – Nerissimo
Shirley Collins – Lodestar
Cate Le Bon – Crab Day
Riley Walker – Golden Sings That Have Been Sung
Childish Gambino – “Awaken My Love”
Anderson .Paak – Malibu
Anohni – Hopelessness
DJ Shadow – The Mountain Will Fall
Wire – Nocturnal Koreans

This last list is much more diverse, with a lot of rap and R’n’B, a little jazz, and a fair few things that defy classification. I think it’s a fair representation of my listening habits over the last year though.

New Music – November 2016

I have discovered lots of interesting music in November, including the long lost Sea Nymphs album that was recorded in 1991 but only released this year (and which can be bought from the Cardiacs store). There was also a surprising electronic Lambchop record and an equally surprisingly angry Moby record.

The Sea Nymphs – On The Dry Land
Hope Sandoval and the Warm Inventions – Until The Hunter
Sleaford Mods – TCR
Marie Davidson – Adieux Au Dancefloor
Lambchop – Flotus
Moby and the Void Pacific Choir – These Systems Are Failing
The Sweet Release of Death – The Sweet Release of Death.
Emily Reo – Spell 10″

Back to the 80s

Yesterday appeared to be 1980s day. I created a playlist the day before called rediscoveries and listened to it for most of the day (with a brief break to listen to Hope Sandoval’s new record on vinyl). I can’t remember the last time I listened to Tears for Fears, OMD, Ultravox, Japan, Simple Minds, Furniture and The Associates, but it’s the sort of music that takes me back to childhood the moment I hear it. Other things from this era have stuck with me in the years that followed, but there is quite a lot about the 1980s that I very much left in the 1980s, as I left home, moved to a new city, and reinvented myself in the way people do when they go to University. Maybe in a few years time I’ll be ready to revisit the 1990s through a filter of nostalgia, but for now I’m content with enjoying music that sounded dated 20 years ago but that now sounds surprisingly contemporary.

New Music – September 2016

September is always a busy month for me. It’s also a month where a lot of my favourite artists released records. This is just as well as I didn’t really have time to find much else to listen to.

Teenage Fanclub – Here
Wilco – Schmilco
Angel Olsen – My Woman
Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – Skeleton Tree
De La Soul – And the Anonymous Nobody
Ryley Walker – Golden Sings That Have Been Sung
Okkervil River – Away
Amanda Palmer and Jason Webley – Sketches for the Musical JIB
Hannah Peel – Awake But Always Dreaming
Bon Ivor – 22, A Million
Pixies – Head Carrier