Thursday, 31 December 2015

Albums of the Year 2015

Fetty Wap Fetty Wap

'Trap Queen', '679', and 'My Way' all managed to find their way into the US top 10, but there's just not enough diversity to fill the hour Fetty's debut takes.

Logic The Incredible True Story

Sitting somewhere between Kendrick Lamar and Childish Gambino is a very good place to be, and Logic manages to channel both into his second full-length. The album is littered with 'scenes' that progress the album's sci-fi storyline. Plus, it features Lucy Rose on 'Innermission'. Peculiar, but it works.

Sam Russo Greyhound Dreams

Greyhound Dreams includes one of the best tracks of the year in 'Eye Candy'. Despite this, it's all a little too minimal. Beyond Russo and his guitar, there isn't much other accompaniment. It's a slow Sunday afternoon album, but it's solid.

Woahnows Understanding and Everything Else

Woahnows were first brought to my attention early in the year, but foolishly I waited until December to give their debut a proper once over. The fast fuzz-pop-grunge-punk-rock is enthralling, and it turns out this is where my ex takes her screen name (neutralhaste) from, rather than - as I had foolishly assumed - Milk Teeth. You learn something new every day.

Brandon Flowers The Desired Effect

Brandon Flowers' unashamed, infectious pop-goodness is enough for anybody. The same influences that drive much of The Killers are evident, but accentuated. Singles 'Can't Deny My Love', and 'I Can Change' are clear standouts.

Defeater Abandoned

Defeater's concept career was furthered by 'The Priest's Story', told through a collection of eleven tracks. There's nothing particularly revolutionary; it's another Defeater album - though that's not the worst thing in the world.

Imagine Dragons Smoke + Mirrors

There can't be many bigger bands right now than Imagine Dragons. 'Warriors', included in the 'Super Deluxe' version of the album, was used in everything from the League of Legends World Championships, to the Women's World Cup, to WWE Survivor Series. Every part of this album screams 'stadium-rock'. From the absolutely enormous choruses, to the video for 'Gold' - which is just the band standing in front of a lighting rig. The only criticism possible is that the album's just a little too polished, and radio-friendly.

Drake If You're Reading This It's Too Late

2015 was really Drake's year. Dropping IYRTITL out of nowhere - which broke streaming records, before bodying Meek Mill, having the year's hottest track with 'Hotline Bling', and then rounding up with his collab with Future, What a Time to Be Alive. He even Shutdown Wireless in July. This particular mixtape opens with Drake's exclamations that "If I die, I'm a legend", which at this point is undeniable.

Caspian Dust and Disquiet

Post-rock isn't going to be for everybody, but Dust and Disquiet has so much to offer that it's difficult to find anyone who dislikes it. From the quieter 'Separation No. 2' to the powerful 'Arcs of Command'; it's no surprise in a genre which encapsulates so many others. 'Run Dry' even has some singing on it, for those who don't really 'get' the whole instrumental thing.

Halsey Badlands

Halsey came out of nowhere to take 2015 by storm; selling out her UK tour months in advance, and a date at the world famous Madison Square Garden (so MSG - the TV channel - keeps telling me) to come next year. My brother described Badlands as "Taylor Swift with emo lyrics", and that's a perfect description. Need I say more?

The Weeknd Beauty Behind the Madness

The Weeknd has had an absolutely monumental year; lead singles 'The Hills' and 'Can't Feel My Face', an ode to cocaine (potentially), both hit the top spot across the pond, while making it to no. 3 on our shores. There are some absolute gems amongst the album tracks though; opener 'Real Life' is punchy, with the softer 'Shameless' a low-key classic. There's not a bad track in sight - unless you count 'Earned It', which featured on the 50 Shades of Grey soundtrack, but we'll gloss over that monotonous four-and-a-half minutes.

Of Monsters and Men Beneath the Skin

Beneath the Skin completely managed to evade my radar until about a week before I was due to see the Icelandic quintet (or nine-piece live). While My Head is an Animal was the bigger commercial success, Beneath the Skin, for myself personally, surpasses their debut. There's the big choruses - bonus track 'Winter Sound' is huge - and the quieter, introspective tracks in 'Hunger', 'Organs', 'I of the Storm', the slow building folk-rock ('Thousand Eyes'). Iceland don't do bad albums.

Purity Ring Another Eternity

Another Eternity had a lot to live up to, but that's just what it managed to do. If there's a better trio of than 'Begin Again', 'Dust Hymn', and 'Flood on the Floor' I haven't found them. There's a fiercer edge that wasn't evident in Shrines, sawtooth waves are absolutely everywhere (probably, I haven't brushed up on my music tech in a while). The album starts off calmly, before descending into absolutely glorious chaos. Electronic music done correctly.

Seaway Colour Blind

While many have branched out in pop-punk - as far as is possible in the narrow confines of such a genre, Seaway have smashed it with one of the most straightforward albums of the past couple of years. Being from Canada they've even managed to spell the title right; what more do you want? 'Best Mistake' has some beautiful melodies, and 'Airhead' will leave you singing for days. There may not be much nuance, but none's needed.

Justin Bieber Purpose

Undoubtedly the story of the year was Justin Bieber's comeback. Beginning the year with 'Where Are Ü Now', on a collaboration with Skrillex - responsible for a few tracks on the album, Diplo, and Jack Ü, and ending with three songs in the UK's Top 5. Right from the off there's a total different feel to previous full lengths - there's no Ludacris, for one. In fact, there's very few 'token rappers' to lend their name to tracks. Ludacris, Big Sean, Nicki Minaj, and Drake all appeared on Believe, whereas Purpose only has Travi$ Scott alongside another feature from Big Sean. This album is more about the Canadian, and it works. It's brilliant.

The Wonder Years No Closer to Heaven



Possibly harshly far down in this list, but unlike previous efforts by the pop-punk royalty this doesn't leave you elated, just mildly enthused. Which is a shame for an album that contains 'Cardinals' and 'I Don't Like Who I Was Then', which are among the band's best tracks. Where The Greatest Generation finished by tying the album together with 'I Just Want to Sell Out My Funeral', No Closer to Heaven ends with its downtrodden title track which saps the joy a little too much.

Don Broco Automatic



The highest UK act on this list is obviously Bedford quartet Don Broco. Automatic fuses the 80s feel-good vibes with huge, arena-rock - there's genuinely not a track on it that isn't a potential single. 'What You Do to Me' is potentially the best 'rock' song of the year. With a sell out show at the massive O2 Academy Brixton earlier this month it's difficult to see Broco's assent stopping any time soon.
Beach Slang The Things We Do To Find People Who Feel Like Us




Being signed to BSM is a pretty good place to kick start any career, and to have as solid debut as Philadelphia punk-rockers Beach Slang has only increased the hype. 10 songs in 26 minutes is exactly how you make an impression, there's no filler here. Plus it contains the brilliantly named 'Porno Love' ("California is full of porno love... We took a lot of time, but not enough drugs").

Foxing The Dealer



It was always going to be difficult for Foxing to live up to The Albatross, and while The Dealer may not quite reach the heights of its predecessor there's plenty to adore. "Future love, don't fall apart", croons Conor Murphy on the beautiful 'Night Channels'. The album closes with the haunting 'Three on a Match', a saying from the first World War how when three soldiers light their cigarettes off one match, one of them will be shot. It doesn't have an 'Rory' moments, but it's a valiant effort.

Senses Fail Pull the Thorns From Your Heart

When Buddy Nielsen isn't antagonising fans on Senses Fail's Facebook page, he's penning some absolute tunes. The band's 'new direction' was evident on Renacer, but this far more personal effort far surpasses that. This is a journey from, as mentioned in 'Wounds', "depression, anxiety, and shame", to a form of 'enlightenment' - Buddhism is a running theme. All of this, however, is done in a way that's so easy to relate; there are few specifics, but as 'Take Refuge' screams "Just let go", it's a feeling everyone can associate; and there lies the genius of this LP.

Citizen Everybody Is Going To Heaven

The follow up to Youth saw Citizen go off at a tangent. This new album isn't quite so straightforward, but instead laced with foreboding. From the soft 'Heaviside', to 'Stain' - a raw (read: shouty), unintelligible mess of words that go over my head.  It's difficult to explain, but everything fits. It's emotional, unkempt, but perfect.

Pentimento I, No Longer


On I, No Longer Pentimento have embraced what makes them special, and if the formula works why change it? Clocking in at 36 minutes it may not be the longest album ever, but the ebb and flow is exquisite. Alongside that, 'My Solution is in the Lake' and 'Tiger Eye' are up there with the very best tracks of this year.

Kendrick Lamar To Pimp a Butterfly



Unequivocally the rap album of the year - even Barack Obama loves it. Similarly to Gambino's because the internet this feels as much of an event as just an album. 'Alright' won videos for both for the song, and its accompanying video; plus 'The Blacker the Berry' is the track of the year. A lot of the content in, and around, the album is about race, and race relations, in America - even going so far to perform at the BET Awards standing on top of a beat-up police car. To sum it up, there's very, very few albums of the year lists where TPaB didn't hit the no. 1 spot.

Turnover Peripheral Vision



Much like Citizen, Turnover have undergone a similar makeover for Peripheral Vision. Dropping any remaining pop-punk influence for a straight up (sort of) emo album was the wisest choice the Virginia quartet have ever made. Much like Pentimento, everything flows so beautifully that it's crazy how quickly forty minutes passes. Broken hearts make the best music, it's true.

Mayday Parade Black Lines



It may not come as much of a surprise, but it turns out a Mike Sapone produced Mayday Parade album is everything I've ever wanted. Energetic opener 'One of Them Will Destroy the Other' sets the tone; both musically and lyrically - The album details the end of a doomed relationship. 'Classic' Mayday still has a place on offerings like 'Keep In Mind, Transmogrification Is A New Technology' and 'One Of Us', but where the album comes into its own is the grittier, straight-up rock tracks in 'Hollow', and 'All on Me'. Album of the year, almost hands down.

Brand New Leaked Demos 2006

The songs that became the greatest album ever.

Friday, 24 July 2015

København; Juli 2015


The Danish capital is a city in transition. Since the turn of the millennium the vibrant facades of traditional Copenhagen have been joined by an ever increasing group of glittering glass exteriors. From the new opera house, to the extension of the Royal Danish Library - nicknamed 'the Black Diamond', to new shopping centres in the form of Field's, the biggest in Denmark, and Fisketorvet on the waterfront. Combined with the new Øresund Bridge which runs to neighbouring Malmö, and the investment in public transport associated with it, it's almost a brand new city.

That process isn't finished though, and still has a while to go. With two new underground lines being constructed the city is still overrun with Carlsberg-green hoardings. It's tough to see when they'll ever be utilised; Copenhagen's love affair with bicycles is well documented. In fact, there are more bikes than humans. They have their own bridges, car parks, and line absolutely every street.


Bikes are not the only thing that Danes have a devotion for. Carlsberg's name is on everything. The bars, the football team, even the museums. It's in the hand of almost every local come evening, and if not then it's one of the products under the Carlsberg umbrella - usually Tuborg or Somersby.

Scandinavia isn't particularly renowned for its activities and Copenhagen is really no different. Arguably the most famous landmark is an underwhelming, often-vandalised statute of Hans Christian Andersen's Little Mermaid. Tivoli, one of the oldest and most popular amusement parks in Europe, is located right in the middle of the city, which gives a Christmas glow all year round.


Across the water is Christiana, a sort-of commune reminiscent of a much smaller Camden Town. The 'green light zone' forbids pictures, but does seem to allow rather more questionable substances. It's possible the two are linked in some way, but it's hard to say. While interesting, the main street - Pusher Street - feels slightly uncomfortable for a middle class boy from Berkshire. "You are now entering the EU" quips the exit; Christiana is most definitely separate in its mind, if not in the law.

Also in Christianshavn is the Church of our Saviour, whose terrifying spire ascends into the heavens. It's just possible to make out the people brave enough to climb the four hundred steps to the top; one hundred and fifty of them are open to the elements, completely outside, spiralling anticlockwise in the open air. Similarly the Round Tower in the centre of town, ajoined to the next door church and topped with an observatory, has its own panoramic views but to get there the unique floor snakes round, slowly rising to roof level.

Nyhavn's collection of multicoloured cafes is a beautiful place to sit and eat. It's a comment on Copenhagen's weather that each has its own blankets draped over seats; København's wind farms produced 140% of their energy demands on one day while we were there. That doesn't mean its not a great place to relax and unwind, watching each open tourist boat attempting to navigate past several others.


Perhaps the difference in Scandinavia is the atmosphere. Bikes don't have padlocks, you're allowed to freely walk into changing rooms with however many garments you like, and train stations don't have barriers. The goodness in people is assumed. In general, everyone seems far more relaxed; particularly on a trip over to Malmö. Its Little Square is like Nyhavn in many ways, filled with places to eat, but lacks the hustle and bustle of a capital city. The 'city of parks' has plenty of space to lounge about. Although the beach, overrun with seaweed, may be slightly overrated.

So rent a bike, walk round the city, hop over to Malmö. Enjoy the happiest city on Earth.

Tuesday, 10 February 2015

Photography: Europe, 2012

 

In the early hours of July 1st, 2012 I set off with my three best friends to London Stanstead in order to fly to the capital of Sweden and start a five week journey around Europe. Stockholm, Copenhagen, Berlin, Prague, Vienna, Munich, Rome, Florence, Venice via Milan, Paris, Carcassonne, Barcelona. Not a bad way to unwind after the stress of A-Levels. Since then I've had a hard-drive brimming with photos, some have been up on flickr for a while but I've finally gotten around to editing some more.

Seriously, how am I meant to enjoy life in Birmingham while Europe is on the doorstep? Time to plan another excursion for summer.

I hope you like clouds.



Monday, 19 January 2015

GENTING CASINO COVENTRY BLAZE

University's a bit too stressful, so I decided to take a trip to the GENTING CASINO COVENTRY BLAZE at The SkyDome. Not that it reduces any stress, Coventry are one of the worst ice hockey teams I've had the misfortune of setting my eyes upon - terrible line changes, a complete inability to hold onto the puck, and to top it off their powerplay is atrocious. I come away feeling sorry for them, although thankfully their fans seemed to have mellowed since pre-season - tends to happen when you lose every week.

Somehow they managed to get away with a 3-1 loss midweek against Braehead, after being 1-0 down after 19 seconds. The powerplay misfired then too, and Braehead managed to score shorthanded. This time they managed to stay solid while a man up but the first two Cardiff goals came seconds after their full compliment had been restored.

I sat next to a friendly middle-class couple who had no idea as to the rules of the great game of ice hockey. They used to go to London Irish, but got fed up of seeing them lose, I would suggest then that Blaze probably wasn't the wisest choice of 'upgrade'. (Incidentally Irish have won their last two matches, both by two points). They were nice; very taken with the novelty.

Maybe I should start inviting people. Which is a terrifying thought; actually having to converse with my friends. In fact, much of the stress has been from neglecting these very friends of mine - much of the time it feels like friends are very hard to come by, with life far too full of acquaintances, but this is, frankly, ridiculous.  That said, they're nowhere near as good for my fitness as these ever expanding walks.

Recently I've been finding it difficult to talk to those from university, how does one go about translating conversations at 'work' to discussions in spare time? It always feels so forced, and unwanted that I stopped trying a fair time ago. Those in Gristhorpe Road have fled to various far-flung lands, and I feel on the edge of other troupes. People don't like wrestling, ice hockey, or post-hardcore so it's become somewhat easier to not even try and coerce them into going. It obviously, works both ways; even on those times that I very much would like to venture out of my cocoon it's rare to be asked.

So instead I shall venture out alone, for it is much simpler. Yu-Gi-Oh will always be waiting for me on my return. This is totally a cry for help.

Wednesday, 7 January 2015

Falling Out of Love

Falling out of love with a sports team isn't something that's happened to me before, and so it's disappointing to have become alienated with Bracknell Bees, the only decent thing to come from Bracknell, especially when it has nothing to do with what's happening on the ice.

September 7: I paid for a jersey with forward Ryan Watt's name on the back. It set me back £45, but you need the proper attire to support your team! The process for buying is unusual, instead of paying with a card or in cash you transfer the money to a bank account and then e-mail your order. So, £45 goes from my account to Bees', and an e-mail gets sent. I didn't even think about the fact I never got a reply, I just assumed it'd be two weeks - although to complicate things further you need to pick them up at a home game which I usually can't get to because I live nowhere close for most of the season.

October 11: The first time I got to see Bees since my jersey order was in Coventry against Milton Keynes, the evening before I'd tweeted asking if I could pick it up from Coventry but received no reply. This time I put it down to the fact I'd asked too late, it was past midnight on the day of the game when I tweeted, and I never got a reply.



October 30: This time Bees were playing at Telford, and again I tweeted asking if I could pick it up at the away match, although this time I'd learnt my lesson and left three days before the event. Again, no reply. Surprising when the account is obviously manned - retweeting fans' views after each game, and they even replied to me when I was looking for the link to buy the jersey.



So it had now been weeks since I first asked whether I could pick up my jersey and received absolutely no reply, and two months without any contact whatsoever from the club, and I was getting slightly worried.

November 2: Finally! Contact! I received a reply via e-mail:

Matt,
Aplogies for the delay in response, I am moving house this weekend so not able to keep up with things as much. Your shirt will be ready for collection at the Manchester home game next weekend.
Regards
Ben


Excellent! All I wanted to know is where and when I could pick it up, I wouldn't have minded at all if they'd just got back to me a little earlier, but it's sorted now we're all good.


November 8: Game day! Manchester Phoenix came to the Hive, and I got my jersey. Everything. Was. Good. Except I didn't get my jersey, the Supporter's Club had absolutely no idea I'd ever ordered a jersey - almost two months to the day after I ordered the jersey. Two months. Infuriating but they promised me to get my order and it'd be there in two weeks, and to make up for it - seeing as I'm not there very often - they'll post it to me free of charge. Annoying, but okay.

December 8: A month passed, no sign of the jersey.

December 12: At last, a date I could finally expect to get hold of it.



December 20: Instead of getting the jersey posted I was home for Christmas by this point anyway, so I went along to watch Bees play Bison, and get my jersey. 104 days, 3 and a half months, over a quarter of a year but I finally had my hands on it. I was genuinely incredibly excited to put it on, I ripped open the plastic. It was too small. After 15 weeks of waiting the jersey was too small. I went back to explain that this wasn't what I ordered, and I admit I used a naughty word, not at the person dispensing the jerseys but at the situation, I was absolutely gutted. She got angry, and I tried to diffuse the situation by explaining that I had been waiting a long time, but she just directed me upstairs in a fashion that I didn't feel was appropriate for the situation. I admit I was wrong to use the language I did but I hope people can empathise why I let one expletive slip. This is even disregarding the fact it seems a horrible double standard to go to a sport where you encourage men to fight one another, but that's a separate issue. Upstairs I explained to the guy in charge, and I double checked I had sent the right details. He said he'd talk to Ben - as only Ben can handle the refund - and get it all sorted. I thanked him and went to watch the match - Bees blew a two goal lead to lose in the shootout.

December 21: Ryan Watt was let go, one day after I 'received' a jersey with his name.

December 22: I received another email.

Matthew,
I have spoken with members of our supporters club about a conversation about your Watt jersey that took place on Saturday. Please come up to the hospitality suite on the 28th December or the next game you are coming to and Andrew and I would like to get your perspective on the conversation that you had with supporters club members before we make a decision on what course of action to take.
Regards,
Ben

This, to me, was somewhat insulting. I had waited for weeks for a piece of merchandise and you're trying to summon me for a hearing before deciding whether - I assume, and I admit it's just an assumption - I can continue coming to Bees' matches? Or if it's about the simple decision on whether a refund is in order, there's no argument. There literally isn't a case to be made in the favour of Bees. I replied, and for fairness sake I'll post here as I've been documenting his side of the correspondence.

I probably won't be coming to another game before going back to university, unfortunately. I was incredibly frustrated that an item I ordered three and a half months ago was the wrong size when it eventually arrived - the day before the player was actually released from the club. I admit that I used inappropriate language, not TO anybody, but the reaction of the supporters club was completely unempathetic to the situation. Unfortunately it soured my entire evening, and my relationship with the club in general after attempting to get in contact with management for months. Not only did I spend £40 on a jersey I never received, I also then wasted £16 on coming to collect the non-existent jersey. 

January 7: I'm still waiting for a reply. Sixteen days after sending my e-mail, and four months after paying for the jersey I'm still awaiting any official response from the club. It's somewhat heartbreaking to say, but I don't think I'll be going back.