Monday, 25 January 2010

To blog or not to blog?

I'm very aware that in February of 2010 there are so many people writing blogs. Some blog authors are somehow able to be brilliant, inspiring, educational and funny all at once while some frankly might as well not bother...My dilemma and the reason for this entry is; where do I and my capabilities fit betwixt this gamut of excellence and vapidity?

1) Should I try and refocus my written efforts, planning and strategising a clearer purpose for such musings? Should I attempt to figure out what it is that I want to communicate and the 5 steps I ought follow to achieve this type of refined and purposeful bloggage?

2) Should I continue as I have done until this point, to write on an increasingly sporadic basis and in a fairly unfocussed way, void of a great intentions and goals but rather write about whatever might take my fancy?

3) Should I make some attempt to try and achieve 1) whilst keeping the hapless and carefree atmosphere of 2)? (I.e. more organised but not too intense or agenda driven)

4) Should I pack it in altogether?

Answers on a postcard.

Saturday, 24 October 2009

What's that ringing in my ears?

These are a few of the albums I'm loving at the moment, and some of the reasons why; no apologies for length, I want to do these justice!

1) Mumford & Sons- Sigh No More

This album is one that took a while for me to start to enjoy. At first I thought it a bit 'samey' with a lack of the type of journeying that I love to hear in an album. However, like a good mature cheese, Mumford & Son's charm became inescapable. Firstly there's Marcus Mumford's uniquely refreshing voice. Sandy and rough in tone but right on-the-money melodically. No Dylan-esque slurring here, just clear as day presentation with real emotional clarity. The album has a real 'vibe' that's very hard to explain or summarise. It's organic I suppose. Upright piano, banjo, acoustic guitar, tambourine and so on. These instruments are not synthetic, but go straight into the mic, into the mix and into the ears. It's refreshing in the current music culture that includes a great deal of computerised sonic constituents.

This album has it all for me. Honesty, rich organic sound, great vibe, emotional depth, great vocal harmonies, some potent and provocative lyrics, (like "Awake my soul...for you were meant to meet your maker"), foot stomping drums, and hoe-down like outbursts of intensity. It evokes Autumnal imagery for me. I can almost smell the wood-smoke when that banjo gets going! (Maybe I'm just weird!)

2) Phoenix- Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix

This album is my first introduction to French band Phoenix, and i decided to give it a listen after seeing them perform live on the Conan O' Brian show. I loved the guitars in the track 1901 and thought the musicianship was consummate. The album has a nice energy to it. It doesn't twist your arm and shout at the listener, but is punchy in a more welcoming way. It's the kind of music you hear in mobile-phone adverts and maybe that's a downside, however it moves along nicely with a combination of more conventional sound (some of it reminds me of 'The Thrills') and more typically French excursions into electronica based songs. They have struck the appropriate balance between the two really nicely...

Highlights are 1901, Lisztomania, and Lasso. All of which have particularly nice guitar harmonies!

3) Imogen Heap - Ellipse

I have been somewhat captivated by her INTENSELY RICH sound for quite a few years now, and her newest album is no exception. In some ways it is like a more mature expression of what she has already done. A little less poppy, and with lyrical content that doesn't sound so much like a column in a teen-girl mag. Heap's sound is so stunning for so many reasons. The de-essed, breathy, delay sound of her vocals is always haunting, and the attention to detail in the arrangements is staggering. There is so much going on, so many little details, punctuations, samples, manipulated sounds etc that all go to form her technicolor sound. It has a breathtaking depth. Somehow this complex myriad of sounds never sounds crowded and messy. Her talent as a singer, producer, sound engineer, programmer, etc all culminate in a beautiful album. It is sufficiently varied from track to track, and the songs thankfully follow the same trends as her previous work (vocoders, intricately programmed rhythms, the symbiosis of acoustic and electronic, intriguing lyrics).

She is the master of all things original, a talent owed to her passion for recording the most obscure sound sources and manipulating them beyond recognition with her shocking aptitude for all things technical. There are sounds whose sources you would NEVER recognise unless told. (Some of the bass in the song "2-1" is from a recording of a jaw harp, and the high hats are actually a trumpet player tapping the keys against the valves)

From 'Earth' which sounds like a Bobby McFerrin tribute, to 'The Fire' a wonderfully organic interjection in an otherwise electronic album and a song that showcases what should be the benchmark for sound engineers who want to know what recording a piano should sound like, this album is just so brilliant. It's haunting, quirky, ethereal and inexpressably rich. One that you could listen to forever and hear new things each time. Spectacular.

4) John Mayer- Continuum

Obviously this album is nothing new, but in a sense that's why it's on this list. While it's fairly well known and old by now, it is still on my most-played list. It really does live up to its title. This album has a durability that means I could probably listen to it once a day for the rest of my life. It's a desert Island disc gem. With about 50 times more depth than any of his other albums, Continuum is a fantastic collection of songs. 'Belief' while perhaps being a little contrived lyrically, is musically one of the best songs ever pieced together. It is an arrangement of riffs, rhythm and melody that simply works so coherently. It is SO palatable to the ears to hear all the parts of the arrangement flowing together; it genuinely brings me pleasure every time. I love Mayer's slightly graveled voice, his classic Strat-through a Vox guitar tone, and the authenticity with which the songs come across gives it the depth lacking in other efforts of wannabe Blues/pop artists.

'The Heart of Life' has a melody that would make even McCartney jealous, and 'Stop This Train' moves and journeys in such a pleasing way, opening up perfectly at the Mid8 and containing the ideal guitar pulse all the way through, imbuing the notion of momentum that any song with a train/journey theme should carry.

5) Thomas Newman- 'Road to Perdition' (movie soundtrack)

I have loved this album for years, and am perhaps one of Newman's biggest fans. This is another album that rarely strays far from my eardrums. Like all his music, this soundtrack features his unique and original use of instruments in a way entirely unconventional. Clarinets blown so hard that they sound altogether more ghostly (the opening of 'Finn McGovern") and out of tune mandolin ("Meet Maguire")

While those sounds are the 'dark side' of Newman's music (this is after all a movie full of bloodshed and terror!) there is another side of his music, the side that most attracted me to it initially. Thomas Newman writes strings like no other composer-ever. I cannot put my finger on how he does it, but I think it's all in the harmonic voicing. The use of harmony and it's particular appropriation by the string section is absolutely beautiful. Listen to the strings in the opening track "1931" to get what I'm talking about. This string sound is essentially Newman's trademark, and you'll recognise it in American Beauty, The Shawshank Redemption, The Green Mile and more. Incredibly rich and so emotive.

The second Newman trademark is the delicate, almost nervous use of piano alongside these strings. The best example from this soundtrack is in the piece 'Ghosts' which incidentally accompanies my favourite scene in cinematic history. It echoes the imagery so immaculately. Anyway back to the point, the piano. It normally comes in a very small way, very slight and fragile. It's again a particular and consistent voicing approach that Newman has hit upon (namely a simple two or three part harmony, in the top half of the keyboard) that just works so well and has such huge impact for me. (Funny that it is the tiny sound that makes the biggest statement). It's the sound of the famous title track from American Beauty and the crushingly poignant piece that accompanies old Brooks's departure from Shawshank prison in The Shawshank Redemption that I'm referring to. When you hear it you'll know what I mean. Breathtakingly tragic.

Anyway that's all for now, if you've read this far. I've enjoyed trying to figure out what it is about some of this music that really hits the spot. Like analysis of anything artistic, often it raises appreciation. I only urge you to get online and check out some of this music for yourselves.


Monday, 7 September 2009

Jane Austen talks rubbish...

Well well well...It is the month of September in the year 2009 (I say eye-rubbing in astonishment) and life is swimming along at a speed that would put even Michael Phelps to shame. It's a good pace though for someone that has just finished University and got married and is looking for the next phase of life to arrive. The question is; will the next phase suddenly reveal itself like a nudist at a football game, or am I going to have to continue clambering about searching for my vocation through the mists of my own uncertainty and indecision? Either way, life at the moment sort of feels like being in limbo...(on the job front at least)

The question of what career I end up with will of course be an answered one eventually, and my only hope is that the answer becomes clear sooner rather than later. Aside from job uncertainties, the jigsaw pieces that formulate my life are very much falling into place. In the last few months (as you may know from my last blog entry) I entered the sacred, privileged place for men that have received extra amounts of undeserved favour; marriage. I say that having been married to my beautiful wife for almost 2 months now; I can honestly say that every passing minute has been a total thrill. We had the most perfect wedding day imaginable; surreal, magical and memorable. Our friends and family from all over the place descended on Brighton in huge numbers (I think we had about 350-400 guests at the service!) and made our day so special. (P.s. A lifetime of thanks to anyone reading this that had any role to play whatsoever on our big day)
Our honeymoon was incredible too, going to the Maldives was a perpetuation of the surreal nature of life post-wedding day. Snorkeling with wild turtles, sharks and fish resplendent in colours inconceivable was something I won't forget soon. The stars were astoundingly bright and vivid too...

Despite the extensive effects of a transition from bachelorhood to marriage, I have found it to be a remarkably and surprisingly smooth and natural one. Waking up next to my wife felt instantly normal. Being married has felt instantly natural and good, and I can say with absolute authority that life as a husband is categorically better than life as a single. I endorse it heartily and would strongly encourage any single man reading this to chase after a bride with vigour and determination. It is SO worth it.

The daily learning of patience (for work opportunities), trust (for the financial horizon), dependancy (for the financial current!) and the real meaning of sacrificial love (an almost essential requisite for a newlywed husband) is the highway of discovery my wife and I travel upon at the moment. Sometimes it feels like we're cruising and somedays it feels like were in desperate need of a fill up before things can continue. In both circumstances the proof is in the pudding; that God is trustworthy, worth depending on for all things, and the perfect demonstrator of the kind of sacrificial love needed for any marriage to work. Jane Austen once said, "Happiness in marriage is entirely a matter of chance". This statement is, in a few choice words, a desperately misunderstood pile of farmyard swill. Never have I come across such a mistaken interpretation of marriage. I would respectfully amend Austen's pithy Wildean witticism with my own slightly less quotable version; "Happiness in marriage is entirely a matter of hard work, sacrifice and the following of a perfect example laid down by a perfect saviour".

Back soon. I'm off to be with my wife instead of my Macbook.

Thursday, 28 May 2009

The tying of the knot.

In just over 7 weeks I am getting married! 

It's a surreal, exciting, amazing, mind blowing, life defining, earth shatteringly significant thing. I feel like a man. A grown up. An adult. A leader. I'm preparing to be husband to a wife, which is a massive, humungous and stunning thing. I am no longer a student, I am pursuing a career, looking for a home, and getting married. Yet I still feel that the boyish, wide-eyed scamp of a lad that dreamt of one day finding my princess and marrying her isn't too far behind me. I vividly remember so much of my childhood. My thoughts, my ambitions, my mind ticking over, my desires, the things I pined over, innocence... As a 21 year old, I suppose it isn't so long ago at all. But here we are. Rebekah, the girl of my dreams and hopes was thrust inescapably before me. She was the one. I began to realise it quickly, and had every intention of marrying her before I even asked her on a date. I found her, or rather, she was given to me. This woman, my best friend, is going to be my wife in a very short space of time. Wow. 

The more I think about it, the more I realise the folly of assuming or declaring that I am as prepared for marriage as I can possibly be. I'm not sure that such a thing could ever be said, and it was encouraging to hear the great teacher John Hosier recently talk of his shortcomings as a husband, even after 40 years of marriage and a life characterised by intense biblical understanding and Christlikeness. John Piper is another hero of the faith that talks openly of his failures and issues maritally speaking. Still, I am doing as much as I can to prepare, reading, studying, doing marriage preparation and prayer together as a couple, regulating my attitude, my patience, my selflessness and my humility. I normally fail in these pursuits, but my hope is that I will improve and that my acute awareness and a frank evaluation of my shortcomings is probably the best place to start on the road to becoming a better husband. As they say, "The journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step!"

So there is a month and a half to go, a wedding to finish planning, a job to be chased after, a house to be found, and the deepening and weighty sense of the responsibilities I must find the strength to carry. The next season in my life is one in which my shoulders must broaden. My integrity and earnestness must hold fast, my relationship with Jesus and my understanding of God's word must grow and inform all that i do and say and think. This isn't a dress rehearsal. The curtain is about to go up. Show-time. Bring it on. 

Saturday, 23 May 2009

To write once more

Here I am once more, after quite a while and an insanely busy month or two...It's been a crazy time and it feels great to be able to find a spare bit of time to blurt and ramble and externalise some of my thoughts for the benefit of my own inner well-being and whoever else might be interested (as yet, that's not many!) 

Since I last posted, a great many things have happened, some fun, some not so fun, but all part of the great adventure of life and all opportunities for growth and the development of my character. It's all too much to put in one posting but i'll hopefully get around to it all eventually. 

The biggest transition of recent times is that I have completed my University Degree! After 17 years in the British Educative machine, I have finally been spat out and flung into the 'real world' (as it's so often and repugnantly referred to by those no longer studying) I'm not sure yet how I really feel about it...It's a strange mixture of emotions. I certainly feel some relief that the intense all day-everyday dissertation writing is now at an end, but the sense of direction and purpose (education) that has characterised my entire life thus far has also been removed, leaving me with the question; what next? Having lived in a constant state of preparation for the next set of formal assessments, it's a strange thing to no longer have any on the horizon. 
 The final 4 weeks of term have been really intense and stressful, spending little time with my fiancee and much time staring ineffectually at the computer screen, fueled by coffee and the advancing deadline. But- it's all over now and it was a joy handing over a huge heavy wadge of paper knowing that i'd worked by butt off to finish in time. If it were possible to somehow quantify the cumulative effects of  formal education on me as a person, my skills, my abilities and my personality, i'd be interested to see the results. Maybe I'll have the faintest idea one day.  

Now my attention must turn to getting a job and finding a flat, because I get married in 8 weeks! The way I feel about all that is probably best left for another day as it's getting late...lets just say; it's all VERY exciting!

Will be back soon!
Ta ta for now. 

Monday, 20 April 2009

Short Hiatus...

Not that anyone follows my blog (!), but if you've noticed that I havn't blogged at any length recently, as I am experiencing the passage in life that all who undergo a University degree must endure; 3rd year finals...I finish in about 4 weeks and am looking forward to blogging my brains out with all the wicked things that have been going on recently!! 

See you in 4 there anybody out there in the dark abyss?

Wednesday, 8 April 2009

On why I love Brighton.

Here's a shortlist of things that make Brighton the city that I am in love with.

CCK-The best church in the world. I want it to be famous in the city of Brighton.
My fiancee-She lives in Brighton too. 
Brightonians-The weirdest, most colourful collection of freaks since the Muppet show.
The Sea-I've always wanted to live by the water. Love being able to walk to the beach and watch the waves.
The weather-Is warmer and drier than it is in Wales!
The South Lanes/North Laine-Quirky, quaint, interesting and full of great places to grab some food or drink! (cuz that's what counts!)
The Royal Pavillion-Prince Regents beach apartment looks amazing.
The West Pier-A burnt down, haunting historical reminder of Brighton's victorian past.
Devil's Dyke-A beauty spot with an incredible view and a great pub. Me and Bex come here alot!
Georgian architecture-The regency style buildings throughout the city really get my imagination going, I love pondering the history of the city, who lived in the houses all those years ago.
The Culture-Brightonian culture is so unique, so individual, so creative and intriguing. 

These are just a few!