Wednesday, 29 September 2010

15 Albums I've Played to Death

You may have noticed I've not exactly been too proficient with the blogging this year. Over the past few months I've been thinking about expanding the remit of the blog, as when I tend to get ideas for blogposts they tend to be a little way away from the stuff I've done in the past. One thing I want to do in particular is blog a bit more about music. Hopefully you should start to see a few more posts appearing on here for now on. Whether this is a good idea, given I'm about to start a nine-month OU course, remains to be seen. But I'll start with this and see how we go.

This has been a meme on a few blogs I've read today - 15 albums I've played to death. No making complicated lists with dozens of options and hours of agonising, just write down the 15 that come to you. So, although not in any particular order, here we go:

1) Joy Division - Unknown Pleasures I got into Joy Division during Sixth Form, although this was about 18 years after Ian Curtis killed himself. The sparseness of the recording drew me in, and the lyrics were perfect for my 17 year old, slightly melancholy self. Amazing to think that there was just 13 months between the release of this and...

2) Joy Division - Closer "Here are the young men, the weight on their shoulders", goes the often-quoted lyric from Decades. This is children becoming men stuff, Ian Curtis was just 22-23 when recording the album, but had to cope with being a husband, a father, an adulterer, a rock star, and an epileptic. His lyrics were his way of trying juggle all this, and they are magnificent. The music as well is fantastic, Colony and A Means to an End standing out for me in particular.

3) Godspeed You! Black Emperor - Levez Vos Skinny Wrists Comme Antennas To Heaven I'm never entirely sure where to put that exclamation mark. Pretty much an instrumental album, unless you count field recordings of shopping mall announcements, children singing in French, and a man pining for the glory days of Coney Island as vocals. The absolute pinnacle of the post-rock genre, this is at turns menacing, joyous, saddening, and breathtaking. Recently reunited, I managed to get a ticket to see them in December, and I cannot fucking wait.

4) Slowdive - Just For A Day Recently it looks like Slowdive are getting reappraised, which is great because more people need to hear their slow, ethereal beauty. Most Slowdive fans prefer Souvlaki, but this record holds more memories for me as I played it pretty much once a week throughout my first year at Uni, so its shimmering guitars and whispered vocals are linked to a lot of memories I hold dear.The Cherry Red reissue of this contains a disc with their EP tracks on, which makes it well worth getting for extra tracks like Avalyn and Morningrise.

5) My Bloody Valentine - Loveless Bought on the same day as Just For A Day, and although both are lumped in to the whole "shoegazing" thing, for me they're two different sides of that coin. Loveless is the hard, spiky, noisy cousin of Just For A Day, and one of the few albums where I genuinely thought "What on Earth is this?" when I put it on. I can listen to it and still find stuff I hadn't noticed before, so packed are the tracks, To Here Knows When especially.

6) Oasis - Definitely Maybe I got into all of the above albums a little while after they were released (ranging from 1 year late to Levez... to some 18 years for Unknown Pleasures), but here is one I got in on the ground floor with. For all its sins (and boy there were some... Northern Uproar, Heavy Stereo...) Britpop was my movement, and it was incredibly exciting to be 14/15 and see so many bands come through with albums that defined my life at the time. One of them was Definitely Maybe. Literally everyone in my year at school owned this and (What's The Story) Morning Glory, even the kids that were more into hip-hop and dance music.

7) Pulp - Different Class Not as many people at school owned this one, but then that wasn't the point of Different Class. Not being one of the coolest at school (I know, you can't believe it can you), I took Mis-shapes to my heart, and for a couple of months at least really believed in it. The fact that this, in all it's spoken-bit-in-the-middle, slightly seedy, Daily Mirror-outraging glory, was actual, proper, pop music, made the autumn and winter of 1995 so much better. The first band I saw live as well.

8) Elbow - The Seldom Seen Kid I'd been an Elbow fan since their first album, Asleep in the Back, and having listened to Guy Garvey's show on 6music for a while as well, and growing to love the guy, when Elbow won the Mercury Music Prize in 2008 it felt like my football team winning a Cup Final. It's an album I badgered my Fiancee with that year, giving her a copy and simply telling her "This is the best record that will be released this year". She's now pretty close to agreeing with me, which, given her ipod is mostly Fleetwood Mac and Glee, I class as a result. Obviously Grounds For Divorce and One Day Like This are the big tunes on it, although my personal favourite is The Loneliness of a Tower Crane Driver, which is one of the most majestic songs of the past five years.

9) The Auteurs - Now I'm A Cowboy A slow-burning masterpiece. I'm currently re-reading Luke Haines' Bad Vibes - Britpop and My Part in it's Downfall, and it's brilliant. If Haines ever decided against writing, acerbic, literate pop songs, he could do worse that start writing acerbic, literate books.

10) Belle & Sebastian - Boy With The Arab Strap I've been in two minds as to whether to go this or Tigermilk, but Simple Things won it for this. I remember just before this was released there was a massive hype about the band simply because they didn't do interviews, there were no pictures of them, and you hardly heard them on the radio. That and the tunes, which were fantastic. This album is no exception, it's perfect indiepop.

11) Cocteau Twins - Heaven or Las Vegas Another band that had that "What the heck?" effect on me. Swirling guitars, great vocals, slightly indecipherable lyrics. They were so good at shunning publicity that, having got into them in 2000, I didn't see a picture of the band until about four years later. Of course now you just type the band's name into Google images and you get loads, but there was so much mystique and drawn veils on their album sleeves I didn't really want to know what they looked like - I was fine imagining the music had been beamed down directly from another planet, it sounded so unlike anything else.

12) The Pipettes - We Are The Pipettes Put simply, a bloody fun pop album. A direct descendent of the Shangri-La's, the Ronettes, the Marvelletes and all those great 50's girl groups.

13) The National - High Violet Only came out this year, but oh my what an album. I hope I won't experience it, but it feels like the perfect break-up album, especially Sorrow ("Sorrow hit me when I was young....I don't want to get over you"). At the moment, definitely my vote for album of the year.

14) Interpol - Turn On The Bright Lights When bands like Interpol, The Strokes, The White Stripes, The Hives et al broke, I was about 19, with a student loan, and a great independent record shop down the road (The now sadly departed Sonic Sounds in Lincoln's Stonebow) and a weekly indie night at clubs both at Uni and at home in Essex. God knows how much I spunked on records, but of the big (at least to the NME) names of the time, this is the album I turn back to the most. I remember driving out of a deserted Reading Festival car park with NYC on the stereo, and it felt like I was in the final credits of some incredibly earnest European film.

15) Ladytron - Witching Hour In any sane world Ladytron would be massive. How Destroy Everything You Touch didn't go straight to number 1 and stay there for three years solid is one of the mysteries of the age. It's great - a pounding, Pet Shop Boys meets Wagner epic. The album is a great mix of Goldfrapp and ooh, I don't know, Ride? Or maybe Lush. Either way it's stunning.

For a Spotify playlist of 14 of these albums (Unfortunately Levez Vos Skinny Wrists Comme Antennas to Heaven isn't available) click here.

Thursday, 8 July 2010

2 Teams Good, 8 Legs Better

Paul the Octopus has been causing quite a stir in the press, having correctly predicted the outcome of all of Germany's World Cup games. I've been doing a bit of thinking and I don't think it's as unlikely as it seems - in fact I believe the odds may be as low as 1/10.

Although in each group game the probability of him picking the winner is 1/3 (although Paul wasn't (as far as I know) given the opportunity to pick a draw, the possibility of there being a draw still remained), and each knockout game the probability is 2/1, that doesn't mean that the probability of Paul guessing all the games correctly so far is 1/3 x 1/3 x 1/3 x 1/2 x 1/2 x 1/2, because the possibility of Paul picking the winner of one game relies on him getting the previous guess correct. So, for example, if he had guessed the result of the 1st knockout game wrongly, he wouldn't have got the chance to guess the winner of the Quarter-Final. So the options of what he could have done are (what Paul actually did is in bold):

Guessed first game correctly
Guessed first game wrongly (Germany Lose)
Guessed first game wrongly (Germany Draw)
Guessed 2 correctly
Guessed first correctly, second wrongly (Germany Win)
Guessed first correctly, second wrongly (Germany Draw)
Guessed 3 correctly
Guessed 2 games correctly, third wrongly (Germany Lose)
Guessed 2 games correctly, third wrongly (Germany Draw)
Guessed 4 correctly
Guessed 3 correctly, fourth wrongly
Guessed 5 correctly
Guessed 4 correctly, fifth wrongly
Guessed 6 correctly
Guessed 5 correctly, sixth wrongly

So he has had 6 outcomes from a possible 15. At first, I thought that 6/15, or 2/5, were the odds, but if at any point Paul has got all his guesses right, he will guess the forthcoming game, so any previous outcome involving him getting them all right can be discarded. This leaves:

Guessed first game wrongly (Germany Lose)
Guessed first game wrongly (Germany Draw)
Guessed first correctly, second wrongly (Germany Win)
Guessed first correctly, second wrongly (Germany Draw)
Guessed 2 correctly, third wrongly (Germany Lose)
Guessed 2 correctly, third wrongly (Germany Draw)
Guessed 3 correctly, fourth wrongly
Guessed 4 correctly, fifth wrongly
Guessed 5 correctly, sixth wrongly
Guessed all six games correctly

Which gives us 1 in 10. Am I barking up the wrong tree here?

Saturday, 16 January 2010

How to Deceive Your Fans in One Easy Step

No doubt you all know of the furore over the Mail on Sunday and Sunday Telegraph reporting that IOSH (the Chartered body for health and safety professionals) advice over clearing snow from your drive. If you don’t, Anton Vowl and uksceptic cover it well.

As you can see on Anton’s first post, Richard Madeley sent forth the notion that this was another case of health and safety gone mad. When IOSH printed a correction on their site, I tweeted the link to Richard, asking him:

@richardm56 Any chance you could tell your followers that the Mail & Telegraph got it wrong over gritting? Ta.

I didn’t hear anything from him (not that I was really expecting it) and he didn’t tweet anything about how the papers had got it wrong. To be fair to him, he has got over 11,000 followers, so probably gets a number of comments a day. He may have missed it. So on Wednesday I tried again:

@Richardm56 Richard, can you tell your followers that the gritting stories were wrong please? Thanks.
Again, nothing from his twitter feed, except some nonsense about him taking his Christmas tree down a week late. So on Thursday, I tried another tack:

Asked @Richardm56 twice if he can tweet the correct facts re Nowt from him. Obviously likes spreading ignorance.
This antagonistic post didn’t raise anything either. Now, this isn’t supposed to be a post about how I can’t get a reaction from a celebrity, but some clarification from him would be nice. As I said earlier, Richard Madeley has over 11,000 followers. The Richard and Judy book club can propel books to the top of the bestseller lists. A lot of people listen to him. If he’s propagating myths, then I believe he has a responsibility to also let people know when he is wrong. Other people on Twitter are only to happy to issue corrections when they have got something wrong, Graham Linehan for example.

In a way, it’s not really about Richard Madeley either. All sorts of celebs make stupid claims that are taken as read by people. Look at Jenny McCarthy and the furore over her anti-vaccination claims. Imagine if someone like Robert Pattison or Jonas Brothers came out with something like that – I’m willing to bet that the vaccination rates amongst teenage girls would fall dramatically. If you know that what you say will be read by thousands of people, surely you have a responsibility to make sure what you are saying is correct? This is why promoting critical thinking is important - so people know that they shouldn't just trust what they read in the papers, or what somebody else tells them, but they should investigate these claims, and make up their own minds.