2017 is a year of a lot of anniversaries for music but I thought I’d pick albums that have meant something to me that fit this theme, so don’t be mad if something you like didn’t make the list. And, to be clear, the albums have to be at least ten years old to qualify for this special anniversary. The more I explain, the stranger it is but you also don’t have to be hear reading this, so. *elaborate shrug*
OK Computer by Radiohead: initial release 16th June 1997 (UK)
This is often the gateway drug to Radiohead and I am no exception to this rule. I remember it clearly: a friend of mine was going through a break up and posted “No Surprises” after months of pushing Radiohead on me beforehand. This time, the downbeat singing and the bleak lyrics got to me and I was enamoured (we were all teens once!). This is my favourite winter melancholy record. Weirdly it’s a reminder that yeah life’s a bit shit but you can have a good ride if there’s music this good along the way.
The anniversary edition is out now, too, and I’m a bit annoyed that I don’t own a copy yet.
Highlights: Paranoid Android, Exit Music (For a Film), Electioneering, No Surprises
Marry Me by St. Vincent: initial release 10th July 2007
Oh, St. Vincent. I had initially thought to limit myself to stop gushing but I realised why I love STV defies words. I already accept that many will not appreciate her but that is also the nature of the list. The arrangements are mostly very layered and musically expansive and sneakily emotional.
Dragging my knuckles out of school through college I had what I would describe as emotional abrasions. Nothing too serious but there were a few dents. But the scars are there if you’re looking for them and in new environments like university, being enmeshed in new relations and navigating a whole new atmosphere reminds you of the past in very visceral ways, but subtly in your actions not so much in your cognitive state. Similarly, there’s a hurt and anxiety that works in the music and won’t register if you’re not looking for it. Her voice is sweet and mild while her guitars screech and build like towards the end of “Now Now”*, the piano bits are coarse and abrasive but also gloriously melodious and complex like in “Your Lips Are Red”, all the while somehow remaining quite detached. I got into STV late in my first year of university, in the midst of my own detachment, seeking engagement but equally shying away from it. While I only understand this retroactively, this album was essential in coming to terms with the way my mind makes associations and how I process emotions in what I would call the music equivalent of a journey from evening into sunrise. If you listen, you know what I mean.
*I especially love the looping of “You don’t mean that/Say you’re sorry” as the guitars build and continue to as the melodyand harmony dissolve and the composed nature unfurls. This is part of the whole sleeper anxiety that I’m talking about: it’s in the music, not her voice.
(I also love how her newest album is ten years after the release of her first—though not with the same release date.)
Highlights: Now Now, Your Lips Are Red, Paris Is Burning, Human Racing
The Alchemy Index Vols. I & II Fire & Water by Thrice: initial release 16th October 2007
This is quite a quietly ambitious project: four 6-track EPs covering one of the four basic elements in alchemy: fire, water, air, and earth, respectively. These EPs are paired with their opposites which makes the LP, the album: so this record is Fire followed by Water. There are two albums and the final song to each EP is a sonnet in iambic pentameter. Still with me? It’s complicated in theory but it sounds beautiful and it’s a wonderfully, well-realised concept. Each of the six tracks reflect the elements well, from the more brash and aggressive Fire, to the moodier depths of the Water EP.
Fire exists along the more hardcore roots that they built they careers on, with the familiar complex time signatures, as displayed in “The Arsonist”, for example. Water, on the other hand, is slightly newer territory for the band, favouring more downbeat songs that they started exploring in their previous album, Vheissu with “Digital Sea” and the wonderful “The Whaler” that details the singer’s fears of touring while raising a family.
Thrice are arguably my favourite band and this is a testament to their range and diversity. I love the juxtaposition; I relate to the hot and cold nature of it because that’s how I am in a lot of ways, like day and night, but it never shies away from displaying truths of what it means to be a fucking human being.
Highlights: The Messenger, The Arsonist (Fire); Open Water, The Whaler (Water)
Favourite Worst Nightmare by Arctic Monkeys: initial release 23rd April 2007
This album grabs hold and doesn’t let go: from the pacy opening tracks “Brianstorm” to the sing-along-friendly “Teddy Picker”, to everybody’s favourite familiar “Fluorescent Adolescent”, right the way down to a great second half of the album. Building up on their first album, AM have shown a fair deal of maturity between the records—surprising considering they’re a year apart. But albums are artefacts of whatever’s happening to them at the point of writing or recording. I think of albums like yourself in a photograph is a static captured likeness that, in the time it takes to get developed, is removed from yourself in fairly significant ways, which is similar to what albums are like so by the time they’re mixed and released, it’s dated in terms of being representative to what an artist experiences or perceives.
There’s no negativity or poignancy here: just a love for good music that for me was a lot of fun, leaving me full and at-attention. It especially left me pumped for when I would walk the dark wintry nights to do fencing on my uni’s campus.
Highlights: Teddy Picker, Do Me A Favour, This House Is A Circus, Old Yellow Bricks
Riot! by Paramore: initial release 12th June 2007
I know, I know. But who in their teens wasn’t playing Paramore at parties, on the bus, etc.? Believe it or not, Paramore are the first band I properly got invested in. Because of them all of the above (and below) could occur. So I have a very personal connection with them. And although technically I listened to 2009’s Brand New Eyes more, there’s something to be said about the likes of “Misery Business”, “Fences”, and “Rewind” (which is a demo but still a song I loop now despite listening to Paramore a lot less these days) that punctuated my teen years. The aforementioned standouts are perfect for gatherings when you and your friends are hit with those “remember when we were young and insecure but still had this—each other?!” nostalgia bombs. For that, I will not apologise for this being on the list.
A Weekend in the City by Bloc Party Initial release: 24th January 2007
Something, something about “Hunting For Witches” being just that more relevant in our current sociopolitical climate …
Bloc Party feel like a band who have been trying to either reclaim or distance themselves from their brilliant debut, to mixed effect. I maintain that they’ve had some cracking songs over their careers but no complete record has been as consistent as their debut. This comes the closest. But I’m getting besides the point. They’re not the subtlest at expressing alienation but they do it in an honest way, moving away from the “lukewarm” feelings in the opener, to burning with desire to “climb more trees” and “pick and eat more wild blackberries”. If these lessons were not internalised I would be sitting here now much less whole than I am now. For that, I am thankful.
Highlights: Song For Clay (Disappear Here), Hunting For Witches, Sunday
In Rainbows by Radiohead: initial release 10th October 2007
In Rainbows is the texture of rain, it is the silence between people’s words, the smile of your crush, the fear of being left behind, it’s every feeling you’ve ever had, that yearning for something. I had to top and tail Radiohead. I had to.
Highlights: Bodysnatchers, Nude, You’re All I Need, Videotape (Live From the Basement version in particular), the whole damn album plus its incredible second disk.
The Colour and the Shape by Foo Fighters (initial release 20th May 1997)
Why was it mentioned? “Everlong”. Why didn’t it make the main list? The Foos haven’t quite soaked into the consciousness as the other albums on the list but Everlong is just one of those cliché Objectively Good songs. It makes me deeply nostalgic, like I’m playing a home video of my university years.
Kiss or Kill by Endeverafter (initial 30th October 2007)
Why was it mentioned? There are thousands of metal albums that are just Better than this in every way but damn is it just … fun. It’s nothing revolutionary or masterful, but it’s very, very fun and dumb and charming—with a brilliant closing song. It’s sort of my pick-me-up. And to think I started listening because its opener was played on an episode of Scrubs. Why didn’t it make the list? Fun but that’s about it.
I have a serious tabbing issue. Not dabbing, tabbing*.
My issue is not easily tracked. It might be to do with focus but it has its roots in a more positive thing: data, information, excitement, etc. When they’re easily accessible I become so intrigued to investigate, to dive, explore, I end up with the tabbing travesty you see above.
I want to open up my avenues of interest rapidly and, not unlike a magpie, collect all the shiny things but never end up doing anything much with them.
That’s right: I’d rather open more tabs before looking at the content contained within the tabs already open.
I should note that I’m not saying we should close the internet. Far from it: I think I should be developing more complex systems in being able to engage with material in a good way rather than in a stressful way. When I think about the sheer multitude of things we have at our fingertips, though, it really astonishes me.
We live in a sort of Diamond Age of Content, with around 500 original scripted shows predicted this year, an increase from last year’s 455, for example, there’s a perspiration-worthy amount of material of interest. And that’s just TV. Think about the ways in which we can potentially amuse ourselves.
Our issue nowadays isn’t that we don’t have good enough content but rather that there’s so much more good stuff than time available to consume it all in. From books, TV, film, video games, podcasts, social media, and more, we can glut ourselves beyond the typical limits of satisfaction.
This is particularly startling when you consider that we only have a certain number of time per day, one hundred blocks, to be precise, and a limited overall number of blocks in our lifetime. That means how you spend them counts. Not so easy when everything is fighting for your attention. How many times in a week can you count someone saying “oh you have to watch/read/listen to this?” or seen an advert of something of interest? I’ll wait.
It bothers me a lot, which is part of a wider way of thought that’s led to the tabbing. But this is only at my laptop and while I spend a lot of time there, it’s not the only place I consume content.
Note: this is just an exercise in spending time in leisure effectively which means I’m omitting other things like eating or travelling.
The way I think I (unevenly) carve types of time—ways to spend time on a given activity. For example, reading. You could read a book—which can be read physically, digitally, or in audio—or an article, which could be a magazine, newspaper, on Wikipedia, etc.
Part of effective time use for reading time is picking one activity and doing it with some degree of depth. So I’ll read that NYT piece over bits of Infinite Jest or vice versa. I want to read both but if I flit between the two mercilessly then I get a great deal less reading done while also wasting time. One solution to deal with this inaction is to open the tab of the article(s), save it for later. Only, this has the potential to continue ad infinitum, especially when scrolling my newsfeed.
Infinite Jest or the New York Times?
Listening time: Now consider other content, such as podcasts. There are so many podcasts of interest that I want to listen to. At the same time, however, several songs are buzzing in my head and are begging to be listened to and I can’t focus on the spoken words. If I don’t indulge then I’ll think about the music and not listen to the podcast. Of course I can’t do both and whatever I’ll pick will consume a significant portion of time. That’s in a good scenario. Often, I’ll just be so intrigued by the choice of music or podcasts on show that I won’t even listen to anything. I’ll just open the tabs on YouTube or click subscribe on my podcatcher.
The Daily or Arctic Monkeys?
Watching time: All the TV, films released all the time, YouTube vids.
Brooklyn or Brooklyn Nine Nine?
TV is so fucking good and there’s so much of it. When someone recommends me a show and it has an excess of five seasons I sigh because there’s just so much of it ahead. That might fill someone’s heart with joy, especially if you love the show. But I also think of it in terms of lost time. I’m a very picky watcher and I want to invest my time wisely. What if it isn’t for me and is instead detracted time from a show that does?
There are other things such as, I dunno, hobbies: games, playing an instrument, drawing, writing books (or these essays). Out of thoseI have to pick one, then do that thing for a set time.
Let’s not even talk about social media and what you can do with it. No wonder people call it the attention economy, things jumping for your attention and eating into your time.
That was fairly exhaustive because I like to make you work as a reader. In all seriousness though, what I hope to get at is to devise a (limited) system of pickiness as an entry point to cut through the fat.
What I Want From Content
You can’t save time like money, store it up and take it all at once snuggled under a pillow fort on a dreary day. At best you can economise by being selective. With it being limited, you want to invest it well with at least equal returns.
For such a selection process I might need to be a little more stringent than in the past and make harder choices, create a good way of judging if it’s worth the time. The things of interest should be least one of the following:
a.) educational: enhances existing or generates new knowledge.
b.) fun/pleasurable: sustains or increases pleasure.
[c.) cohere with certain values I possess]
Note: I’ve put c.) in brackets because I think that this selection criteria might not be within other people’s selection process. c.) is interesting, though, mostly because it can be overruled by either a or b (or both) so it’s really a third possibility. For example, if I don’t agree with the message of something, it will serve as educational. I’ll explain a bit more but watch as someone proves me wrong.
What values am I talking about? The biggest one is: well-developed characters from many walks of life—or typically what we mean when we say “diverse fiction”. That’s well-developed characters including ones we see less of: women, “POC”** characters, characters who are non-heterosexual, etc. All of these needs also to not defined by such things.
So: a character (see: likes, dislikes, merits and flaws) who is gay; not the gay character who is inserted to serve some illusory sense of inclusion and representation. And there’s a correct execution for this as well.
Brooklyn Nine-Nine has a great example of being aware of social issues but weaves them intricately into the tapestry of the show’s reality. Read on ahead and see some of the reasons why I enjoy it a lot. Again, though, it need not have these things to be entertaining but it’s nice to consider. I’d take one well-written black character than 25 shoddy stereotypes.
Anyway. It seems that the values of TV and film tend to reflect bankable trends opposed to any other values. This is usually because risk is not particularly financially viable. This isn’t the entire picture, true, but it is a strong guiding principle.
The common perception is that films in particular are made with the intention of making a well-selling piece before a well-told piece. Which is not to say that something that sells well isn’t well told, but films are a business and I suppose protecting those interests come first. There is a nexus between them, a sweet spot of good enough for both investors and audiences. It’s why franchises are huge right about now***.
An issue you might run into here is that a degree of variety is lost. Now, we have to stop here for a sec because this seems to contradict my central point of narrowing down how to spend to time. But I think it’s a worthwhile pursuit in having a variety of things to hold one’s interests.
For example, I was a little disappointed by Doctor Strange, which on one hand introduced newer elements to the exhaustive list of films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). This, however, was packaged in a fairly formulaic way. Not saying that formula is necessarily a problem, especially if the story is told well, but when it echoes a previous film in the same universe too sharply (Iron Man), in essence you could at best only derive an equal amount of pleasure from it.
But I kind of get it: it’s doing something different and if it’s too left-field then their wider ambitions will fall to the wayside. Film-making is more complicated than just a couple of people with a vision. There are lots of other factors (studios, investors, etc) which in some way dictate the shape of the finished product. But let’s move on.
So to summarise, I want my stuff to be varied on top of either being educational or pleasurable. This isn’t an extra letter in my list because it doesn’t target a specific medium as opposed to collectives. I want the types of books to be varied as opposed to one piece of thing with twenty different genres contained within, for example.
Now that that’s cleared up, I have to address the plenitude. The selection criteria must already apply in some capacity to the stuff that I’m foaming at the mouth over. Put simply: I have to say no to the new stuff. This sounds simple but is still somewhat tricky.
Time Regained: Saying No
Okay, so the tabbing issue can be summarised as such: I’ve seen something interesting and might not have the time to look at it, so I open a new tab with the intention of revisiting it at a later point.
Part of the problem is that newer interesting things appear and I open them up in a new tab as well. Eventually: tab-lock. The intention is to revisit but with every passing day the chances to revisit in a timely manner begin to dwindle. Often, the things I leave open aren’t half as interesting as I might have thought they’d be so it seems like a waste of time overall.
This is a good place to put in a notion of resistance. Maybe a time-limit: if I don’t revisit it in under say three days then it’s getting axed. I’m only going to stress myself out in spending several days clearing tabs. Eliminating sooner will help me guide my thinking towards actually beneficial content. I shit you not that to clear the tabs I would need about 3-5 complete days. Essays, articles, video features, walkthroughs … a lot of stuff that I don’t ever revisit for months at a time. It’s exhausting and it’s slowing my browser down.
It’s not all been bad though. I’ve been using The Great Suspender**** recently and it’s been an interesting extension for me. (It’s out now for Firefox as well as an add-on so if you want to give it a go, I say proceed.) I thought it would have been an enabler to my awful tabbing but it’s been a boon … to an extent. It’s made me carefully consider what I find interesting to be really interesting.
When I do my tab cleanse every 3-6 months, I often leave the experience drained and not having gained much. But when they’re all suspended, a glance at the title, reloading the page reveals I’m not as interested in it at present as when I first viewed it. It’s helped in dropping the tabbage by maybe a few percent which is small but significant. This is an option but not the solution. I’ll definitely need to develop more defences against my problem but that’s do with my wiring–something to grow out of. At the very least, I could bookmark some of them for the future.
For other content I should do one of two things: 1.) Say no and 2.) apply the one episode rule. I can’t possibly watch everything suggested so some things I will need to pass up on. That’s not an easy decision to make but it needs to happen for peace of mind. I don’t have to consume anything. “I have to watch this show.” Nay, I say. I reject it!
A softer approach to decide if I can stomach spending more blocks of time on something will be through the one episode rule.
I’ve been considering the active implementation of this for a while. I say one episode because that should be the requisite amount of time to see if this this thing has piqued my interest. More broadly, though, it’s a way of thinking that is not exclusive to episodic content.
So the rule: If it grabs me within the first episode, I’ll keep watching. If not, drop it. It took me too long to get to this point. I stopped watching House of Cards about half a year ago during season 2. I realised too late that I hated the world and characters. The writing’s good but the aggressive amorality was wearing me down more than it was enthusing me: I had no-one to root for, essentially. So I stopped. Now I can watch other things in its place. Like *goes quiet* anime.
Same goes for books: I used to stick it out to the end even if it was mostly boring. But recently I’ve been using the library pretty heavily (my wallet is sickly). What it gives me is a better range of choice without the extra “but I paid money for this” which I guess keeps me reading something that I don’t like.
If it doesn’t work for you, don’t suffer through it. Especially if, like me, a fear of yours is wasted time. Move on to others; your to-read/watch list is waiting for you to make a dent in it. This isn’t to say stop after the first line. I know within 100 pages whether or not I’ll like a book. Often I stop well before then.
A good question to raise here is if the above stated criteria can overrule the one episode rule, to which I answer: I suppose so. If a book isn’t particularly pleasurable but is pretty educational then sticking with it is not such a wasted effort. At least then you walk away with something—you have something to show for your efforts. You need to approach this with some judgement; I can’t speak to your specific needs.
But if you walk away with nothing then what’s the point of engaging with it at all? You read for a reason that isn’t suffering, I assume? Just to make it crystal clear, here’s an example: if I don’t a certain philosophy (Ayn Rand’s, for example) when reading it but had never known about it before in-depth then that’s a worthwhile experience. I’ve learnt something new.
In saying all of this, there’s something that’s been neglected: before any of the above can happen, I’ll have to weigh the newer content with the existing stuff I want to get into/have already invested time into. For me, I would say that my pre-existing list takes precedence over newer content. I would say at a rate of at least two items on my existing list need to be engaged with before introducing new things into the fold. I think I can be pretty strict with this for myself. So finish several books before buying/renting new ones.
For time division, I’ve found that having specific times of day helps guide the content towards meaningful consumption instead of mass hording. I think the issue for me is the plenitude of it all isn’t ordered in a way that’s useful for me. It might be ordered by genre but we’re talking about music and podcasts fighting for your attention alongside books, TV, etc. I’ve found that giving them their own space helps.
So, I’ll try my best to start my day by reading at least 20 pages of a book at a time. Then after I might go through social media and see an article of interest and read that. The day at large I have to choose and shape it around what’s happening but the option to head outside for an extended period of time usually puts a podcast in the driver’s seat, as they work better listened-to at one time as opposed to in bits.
When my podcasts of choice have finished, then move to music. Inverse where desired. The push towards this is to create corners/boundaries where there aren’t any. I know what I like and, coupled with an elimination process means that there’s a high chance I will actually do it. For watching media, after the book, YouTube would be a good to watch, which leaves the evening free for either a film or a TV show. If I pick one on one day, the other must follow on the next. TV show one day, film the next. That way I can get through content sort of in tandem.
Morning: Read books (at least 20 pages); social media for articles specifically; YouTube (1 video)
Afternoon: Podcast > music
Evening: TV or film (pick one).
And I think … that’s a post. To summarise: To get over the tabbing issue, I’ll need to be strict and review whether or not opening up a new tab will be worth my while or an addition to the problem. For new content, consider the one-episode rule. That usually gives me enough of an impression to see if I want to continue. Finally, if I make the consumption slightly more structured then I think I can tackle it effectively. This is by no means a holistic approach, but it’s a nice start. After a trial run I might do a reflective post to assess its effectiveness and change or develop it as appropriate.
*first—and last—dabbing joke/reference
**As someone who fits under the umbrella of BAME/POC, I’m not actually fond of such terms. However, it’s commonly understood and it’s a simple catch-all; I’m not inventive enough to come up with an equivalent. Also, I can swallow my ego for twenty minutes when there are wider social issues at play here. My concerns surrounding this are pretty nuanced and not all coherent but I might write about this in the distant future. No promises though. Thanks for checking in but scroll back up for the main action you sweet silly person you.
***Thanks, Marvel, though you are most certainly not the cause, you’re definitely part of the problem. In saying that, though, I just gobble up your shit so who’s the real chump? In seriousness, what Marvel has done is interesting to analyse as it’s emblematic of modern cinema: a film that’s familiar in the sense that we know what type of film it is, but it does the familiar in a well-enough executed way that audiences enjoy. It makes a tonne of cash, critics love it. The studios are then given essentially free-licence to build a franchise, which is in its own right is quite cool: doing a big connected universe of content for a slightly more fringe slice of pop culture. Marvel’s success pushed its comic book rivals DC to start creating a shared universe as well. No doubt, this is what prompted the Star Wars extended universe to happen. I mean, you look at the billion that Rogue One made worldwide … Star Wars is going nowhere. And neither are franchises. It leads me to wonder what the next big thing is after comic book related media stops, or at least cools down, in the next decade or so. Also, a quick point is that Marvel are by no means the first to do a franchise but they are the biggest and most successful. So.
****This is no way sponsored content. A friend recommended it to me is all.
It’s been a while! I realise I’ve had an extended absence but hopefully this post will be the first offering of many.
A not-so-good month has meant a not-so-good blog. It hasn’t been all dark—I’ve seen friends, done a few cool things—but it has been fairly trying more often.
I started this thing in earnest and I posted every week for about five weeks. Then I made this post and things went very quickly south. March, for better or worse, has slipped past me with little sound. It’s not that I haven’t been making content in that time, I’ve just been struggling quite a bit. This post will serve as my return and maybe elucidate future steps.
What’s new is that I have topics for the coming few weeks that I’ll work as diligently as possible to release. My aim is to have a new essay out by the end of the week, either before or alongside March’s review round-up. Failing that, it should definitely be out by next week. Then we’ll continue weekly for a bit.
Next, I’ve decided to discontinue Song of the Week. It’s an unsurprising development considering the erratic posting. It was pretty unpopular and generally a lot more stressful than I would have initially thought it to be. It’s sad, I know, but it might be good news in disguise. To be clear: This is not to say that music is forever gone from The Singing Lights. I plan to continue to talk about it in some form. Figuring out a sustainable way to write about it will be a focus of the coming weeks and months. The likely look for the future of music would probably be something in a similar vein to the review round-up. I’ll leave the page with the links on if anyone wants to revisit it.
I’m working on expanding the content range of the site as well. What this will be I’m going to have to be a bit coy about while it takes shape but I’ll reveal all in due time.
Now I want to revisit what I said in that New Year’s post and see how I’m doing.
I want to create more. I’ve just explained my blog stuff but because of this strange month everything I’ve done has suffered. I’m working on climbing back from this faltering. For the short stories I wanted to write: they’re taking shape and should be ready by their deadlines (one of which is Sunday). As for drawing and guitar-playing: I am working more diligently to cultivate habits. It’s a process.
I’m going to plug an extension into this and state that I want to write at least 150,000 words (of fiction) by year’s end. I usually do my dues of Camp NaNoWriMo in July and NaNoWriMo in November but I am going to up my word count by 40k by doing April’s Camp NaNo. I’m doing two short stories of about 4,500 words a piece so I should make it up fairly easily if I’m diligent (and focused). I haven’t planned my writing year but by no means are April, July, or November the only months where I’ll do big writing blocks. But you have to build first so I’ll start with the 150k per annum and do more.
I want a job. Still waiting on this front, I’m afraid. It takes time. Working on my applications, keeping my ear to the street for new ones has been my routine. Trying to stay optimistic with mixed results. A work (ha) in process.
I want to read more non-fiction. This one’s going well. I’ve been picking up topics of interest every month which is cool but what I might start doing come the second half of the year is deeper learning of ideas I picked up in the beginning half. I’ll have a think about this.
No updates on my feeling of this Big Thing but whatever, we still have time.
There are new goals that I’ve set in the time since as well.
I want to finish Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace (DFW). Last week or so I got to page 700 of the nearly 1100 page Infinite Jest. I started the book in the summer of 2015 and it’s been slow going until recently. I want to finish the book before year’s end. I think this is perfectly achievable.
I don’t know if this is because I’m about 60% of the way through the book but it seems more readable now, which leads me to wonder if I’m just getting used to it or DFW is starting to draw elements together a little more cohesively—I’m starting to see how it all fits? I suppose we’ll soon see. This book will take at least an essay to unpack (you can tell because it’s a whole goal of its own unlike literally any other book I’ve read). Expect this essay by 2018.
Explore more places. I had vague plans in university to do a bit of a tour of Britain—one on my own, one with friends—but they sadly never came to fruition. Of course, at this present moment, budgetary constraints are a thing but I might just draw up a plan of places to go to ahead of time so that when I get a reliable income I can just go. The good news is that this will inevitably result in new content as well.
How have your New Year’s goals been going? Sometimes it’s good to check back on them and see what’s really achievable. The temptation is to set unrealistic goals but after a few weeks even it becomes clear they can’t be achieved—without at least some significant sacrifice. It’s no shame in revising what you want to do. Maybe you wanted to write 30k every month and you realised now, on the dying days of March that that is not a reality as you stare at only a few thousand words. First of all, that’s still awesome you’ve got those words out, but also revising that goal would be not be the end of the world. In fact, I see it as potential for improvement. I think these goals are as good as you can make them and if you can’t make them, change them. Don’t quit. Personal development is a long, sometimes laborious, affair, but being aware of the difficulties of life means you can still shape it around everything else. That’s what I’m trying to do. Start small, and build. To quote one of my favourite lines in music: “My moves are slow, but soon they’ll know.”
Picking a favourite Ramin Djawadi song is a tricky business. It’s akin to identifying your singular favourite book, film, or artist: you struggle. When asked about music, as the strongest example, I tend to think in moments. What my “favourites” are relate to certain specific contexts. Take this song. Broadly speaking, it’s kind of a favourite, but kind of not. Me speaking about favourites is a wishy-washy sort of thing (I’ll write an essay of a similar topic at some point in the future). I was listening to the Westworld soundtrack and I was loving every minute of it but for some reason this one stood out to me. There are at least two tracks, that I would consider ones that I like better but it’s this one that’s made it to my phone—that’s looping in my head all day. Why? I guess because I was thinking about Dr. Ford, the character with which the song is named after in Westworld.
It captures Ford’s cunning, mystery, and complexity as the song builds from the 2:20 point, something I’ve always loved Djawadi for. I appreciate that it might be difficult to grasp fully if you haven’t watched the show, but I think independently of that it’s a great piece of music and definitely an inspiration for my own writing.
My first encounter with this song was of course The Darjeeling Limited by Wes Anderson and pretty much since then it’s been circling my head.
This is basically the song to represent my position in life right now: cautiously optimistic that at some point in the (hopefully near) future I’ll be not in one place and heading along my way, having a blast.
And I’m in perpetual motion and the world below doesn’t matter much to me
I’m going forwards at my pace and enjoying the ride.
Doesn’t this just make you want to smile and dance? I always feel like it’s alright, you know? I think of all the good things in my life, let the bad roll down my shoulders and get mixed up in the tinkling piano keys. It’s such a fun, reflective song with a big pumping heart. I love it.
This week is from one of the most important bands in my life.
I started listening to Thrice in 2010, a year after their seventh album Beggars was released. This was back in college, so I was still 16. I was instantly enamoured by the lead track and was overjoyed to learn that they were not long releasing another album, Major/Minor. Then I learned that they were doing one last tour before going on hiatus by 2012, with a live record to see them out. I was worried. In the two years I’d known them I’d got to be quite invested in them and hearing that a band’s going on hiatus signalled death for me. They helped define my college years …
But then 2015 rolled around with a promise of new things. The following year, this album dropped. I can’t even describe to you how excited I was to hear that they were coming back for another album. And they delivered. I heard the first chords of this song and fell in love. Thrice was back.
I guess this song kind of sums up the previous year. Here’s where it becomes more of a cliché but the song details when things are going well then unravel quite suddenly, so the lines:
And I can’t keep from wondering Why nothing good could ever stay Why faith feels like a fistful of sand
seemed super relevant.
This is kind of the theme of 2016 for reasons personal and political but, despite all that, these guys were a beacon of light in the darkness, a promise that yeah it’s gonna be tough but there’s plenty to enjoy and look forward to. For starters, this album that has this wonderful song on, as well as the hope that Thrice will carry on and make more awesome music.
Slight left-field but I still think it counts. Because of this I think I’ll keep this one short.
I’ve followed Bo for many years but this song I keep revisiting (alongside “Art is Dead”). It’s for a lot of reasons but in particular it’s the mix of whimsy and sudden seriousness that Bo/his character starts employing. It’s not important to me whether or not it’s “really” him speaking through the act or not; I appreciate it all the same. It has a twisty uncertain quality that I can relate to.
What I find most enjoyable is the awareness of different musical styles: at 3:08, 3:22, and from 6:54 onward.
There aren’t really any deep personal or emotional connections that I draw upon here. It’s just damn good entertainment.
This week is “I Speak Because I Can” by Laura Marling
This song has been stuck in my head and I can’t think why. I mean, I do. It’s Laura Marling.
More specifically I think the sudden appearance of this song is my subconscious registering of the lyrics of the song. You know that feeling. When you’ve listened to a song for literal years but there’s a certain moment — usually when you haven’t listened to it in a while — when you actually hear the lyrics and they take on new form, meaning. This happened with this song earlier this week which then prompted me to re-listen to the eponymous album.
The lyrics speak of loss: of losing your identity in someone else and what becomes of you when that person exits your life. The tone isn’t as negative as it could it be because the speaker in the song remembers what they’d lost
“Never rode my bike down to the sea. Never finished that letter I was writing! Never got up and shared anything worthy For me For he For my…”
These realisations seem to be paired with a sense of a hand raised to the forehead: look at all the things that they did, was, before all this began. Look at all the things they can do now that they’re able to live for myself. No longer are they guarded to the point where they feel like they can only speak to “anyone they trust enough to listen” or that they “used to be so kind”, they can free themselves from this, to speak freely once again, to be more proactive in kindness, ride that bike to the sea, finish that letter. Open up.
This isn’t really allegorical for my life in terms of a personal event, but I am going to take in its stride and implement the lessons the speaker of the song (because I take it that it’s not from Marling’s perspective but from a character) learns: to do good, to live kindly, and be true to myself.
I don’t want to be weighed down by the negativity (real and perceived) of the last year but instead want to take flight and engage, take stock of the beauty and brilliance that life has in store. Fight for what I believe in. And no, this doesn’t mean that bad things will never happen. I just won’t let that define my existence.
This thought/my interpretation of the song can be summed up by the cliché: Every cloud has a silver lining.
Yes, this important thing has ended, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t things to look forward to.
This is something I naturally want to make a regular occurrence. Basically, every week I’ll post about a song that is in my head a lot across the week/has some kind of significance in light of new events, then explain my connection with the song.
To kick things off I thought I might do an obvious one:
Load it up and take a trip with me.
I still have a pretty limited experience with the Mountain Goats: of the 15 albums that they’ve put out, I know three of them pretty well. The Sunset Tree is not one of those three. This is an unusual thing for a novice of tMG’s library, especially since this is typically the album fans direct newbies to. I have listened to this album in full only once, all the way back in my first year of university. It is touching, in the way I know John Darnielle can be with his simple melodies and his beautiful, poetic lyrics.
Despite this lack of familiarity, it’s pretty hard to miss out on a song such as this. I’ll explain why in a line:
“I’m gonna make it through this year, if it kills me.”
If that doesn’t make you sigh “Same” I’d be very surprised. JD is so good at conveying the struggle, whatever that might be for the individual listener and, given that 2016 has been widely considered as one of the worst fucking years in history, a line like that probably won’t go amiss. We’re still licking our wounds from the year just gone. New Year’s Day usually comes with it the idea of rebirth: rising from the ashes of your old self and moving ahead bigger and stronger. Of course, that’s easier said than done. We know that the changing of the date won’t suddenly erase all the bad, neither will it guarantee that this year will be any more forgiving, or we’ll have anything super significant happen to us. But listening to this song doesn’t really have rebirth as a theme, not really. It’s about making it through the shit as opposed to starting anew.