Tuesday, March 23, 2010
Wednesday, February 03, 2010
The Guardian today voiced an oft aired opinion that the myriad distractions hurled at us by the media and modern life in general is stealing precious literary reading time. A gazillion TV channels, celebrity culture, 24-hour news coverage, DVDs, social networking websites not to mention the recession, debt crisis and longer working hours "has meant the very theft of our thinking space."
The economic strains under which we are all currently languishing and the subsequent efforts required to survive are obviously going to consume our thoughts and time, especially if you have children to raise and a mortgage to pay off, but suggesting that the many forms of entertainment and social communication vying for our attention are "stealing" our leisure time that might be otherwise spent reading strikes me as absurd.
It's not as if mischievous little demons sporting Steve Jobs masks are sneaking into our homes and planting tripwires so that we end up falling in front of our TVs, computer screens and copies of Heat magazine. Facebook, YouTube and Flickr don't surreptitiously transmit hypnotic waves to keep you mentally shackled to the computer screen. You are not forced at gunpoint to update your Twitter feed every fifteen seconds and read every damn tweet posted by everybody on the planet. You choose how much time you devote to these things. You choose how much of a slave you become to the information superhighway. They all have their own benefits but how much they encroach upon your consciousness is entirely up to you.
If you wish you had the time to sit down with a book then how hard would it really be to switch off your laptop and iPhone for just an hour?
Another headline splattered across the press today was the link between excessive internet use and depression. It's true, there's been a study dontcha' know?
Leeds University canvassed various social networking sites asking questions on how much time people spent online and for what purposes. The participants were also asked to complete the Beck Depression Inventory, a test designed to measure severity of depression. Of the 1,319 respondents, 1.4% - i.e. eighteen people - were classed as internet addicts and showed signs of "moderate to severe" depression. The article's lead author, Dr. Catriona Morrison, concluded thusly:
"Our research indicates that excessive internet use is associated with depression, but what we don't know is which comes first – are depressed people drawn to the internet or does the internet cause depression?I'm no psychologist but I would have thought that addiction to anything could be a warning sign for depressive tendencies. Also, measure the depressive tendencies of any group of people - people who eat bananas, people who knit, people who re-enact historical battles, people who collect toenail clippings - and the odds are that a "small subset" of them will show signs of moderate to severe depression. Would it therefore be fair to say that eating an awful lot of bananas or knitting piles and piles of socks could be a warning sign for depressive tendencies? Or does it simply show that 1%-2% of any arbitrary group of people will show depressive tendencies and that such people are prone to addictions of any kind as a means of escape from their problems?
"What is clear is that, for a small subset of people, excessive use of the internet could be a warning signal for depressive tendencies."
Does this survey actually prove next to nothing?
But that isn't spectacular enough for the press so they plaster sensational headlines about the absolute definite link between internet usage and depression.
You'd better stop reading this post now before you succumb to an irresistible urge to kill yourself.
Thursday, January 28, 2010
Thursday, December 31, 2009
Noughty [sic] albums
As we near the end of the "Noughties", you can't move for "Albums/Songs that define the decade" lists in the press. (Here are The Guardian's, The Telegraph's and the NME's choices for starters.) I find myself shrugging with indifference at most of the choices I have thus far seen, sometimes scratching my head in baffled incredulity and occasionally, though rarely, shrugging in half-hearted agreement.
But such things are entirely subjective and no list in the mainstream press is likely to earn my adamant and heartfelt agreement. I am nothing if not an awkward bastard.
So, in keeping with the spirit of the times, I shall present my own list. Before i do, I offer up this caveat: I am in no way suggesting that the following are "the best albums of the decade" or "albums you must hear before you die" or "albums that define a generation" or that "if you don't like this music then you are wrong and stupid and probably a kiddy-fiddler". This list is simply a bunch of albums that have fed my never-ending passion for music one way or another and happened to be released during the Noughties.
- Supermodified (2000) by Amon Tobin - I could have just as easily chosen Out From Out Where (2002), Chaos Theory (Splinter Cell 3 Soundtrack) (2005), Foley Room (2007) or his 2009 collaboration with Joe "Doubleclick" Chapman, Two Fingers, but I choose Supermodified because it was album that got me utterly hooked on Amon Tobin. There is nothing finer than when you discover a musician whose work is exactly what you've been looking for. Tobin's work blends trip hop, drum 'n' bass, jazz, orchestral samples, real world sounds and thumping hard beats to create dark, atmospheric but playful music. His tunes are staggeringly layered and detailed and you can't help but wonder how the fuck he does it. His stuff makes me genuinely glad to be alive and that the human race can't be so bad if there are people capable of making such wondrous noises.
- Rounds (2003) by Four Tet - Aka Kieran Hebden, guitarist (among other things), with the post-rock band Fridge, Four Tet's sound has been dubbed as "folktronica" by members of the press who simply must put a label on everything. This basically translates, in Four Tet's case, as electronic music incorporating laid back beats with mandolin samples and, um, squeaky rubber duck noises. Joking aside, Hebden makes wonderfully melodic and sometimes strange music with a hint of whimsy. Tracks like My Angel Rocks Back And Forth, Unspoken and Slow Jam are achingly beautiful and quite unlike anything else out there.
- mclusky Do Dallas (2002) by mclusky - A sort of bastard offspring of the Pixies (they worked with Pixies producer Steve Albini), mclusky were a Welsh three piece noise-rock band who made one hell of a raw, no-nonsense racket. Amusing lyrics, too. Any band who come up with the lines, "All of your friends are cunts / your mother is a ball-point pen thief," have got to be worth a listen. Never saw 'em live though: that would have been mental... and possibly fatal.
- The Ligeti Project (2008) by György Ligeti - All right, a bit of a cheat seeing as this contains compositions from between the 1950s to the Noughties but this is my list and I decide whether something qualifies or not. So there.
Anyone who has seen Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey has heard Ligeti. His atonal chromatic compositions ain't exactly easy listening but don't dismiss his work as unlistenable avant-garde wank. Admittedly, I struggle with some of his more extreme sonic experiments (the bizarre choral barks and yelps of Aventures and Nouvelle Aventures, for example) but his slow-burning tone clusters create atmospheric textures of sound that are emotionally engaging (rather than scaring the bejesus out of you like Penderecki's early works). This 5-disc box set contains works for large chorus and orchestra and includes those compositions used in 2001 - Lontano, Atmosphères and Requiem - as well as other superb pieces like San Fransisco Polyphony and the awesome Clocks And Clouds. OK, Ligeti's an acquired taste and I don't expect to convert anyone to the cause.
- Personal Journals (2002) by Sage Francis - Mention white rappers and most people think of Eminem. Fair enough, he has done some great stuff in his time, but for me, Sage Francis is the man. Not a man to shy away from big subjects, Sage's lyrics combines the universal with the domestic, fluctuating between raging at authority, globalisation and terrorism, and telling personal stories about family, relationships, growing up in urban America and doesn't shy away from examining his own shortcomings as a human being. But there is also plenty of humour and intelligent wordplay that messes around with metaphors, puns ("But extreme fluctuations and temperature changes / have been known to crack pipes... crack pipes...crack pipes...") and absurdism. He is essentially a storyteller spinning yarns from what he sees in the world at large and his own personal history. Musically, his stuff blends familiar hip hop breakbeats with elements of jazz, blues and country and western; it's what Tom Waits might sound like if he went hip hop... sort of.
- Tromatic Reflexxions (2007) by Von Südenfed - What happens when you cross the experimental electro/techno sound of Mouse On Mars with the rambling post-punk musings of The Fall's Mark E. Smith? Von Südenfed, that's what. The legendary M.E.S. lends his Manchester drawl to an album of bleeps, squelches, dirty analogue bass sweeps and pounding electronic rhythms. And it is exactly as weird as it sounds... but brilliant too. Fledermaus Can't Get It, The Rhinohead and Flooded are particular highlights, the latter of which is based on a dream one of the Mice had where he turned up to DJ a club night only to find another DJ already there spinning the discs. Smith embellishes this tale by imagining the usurped DJ flooding the entire nightclub in revenge. It's that sort of album. Basically avoid this one if you hate Mouse On Mars or The Fall because you won't get it.
- Angles (2008) by dan le sac Vs Scroobius Pip - Like Sage Francis (who dan and Scroob cite as an influence), Pip's lyrics tackle, by turns, big themes and personal experiences, sometimes within the same song. He manages to combine humour and pathos seamlessly as in the track Tommy C where he contemplates of the true nature of beauty by conjuring the ghost of comedian and magician Tommy Cooper who collapsed from a heart attack mid-performance in 1984. What could be more beautiful, asks Pip, than dying whilst doing the thing you love that brought joy and laughter to millions? Another example is Letter From God To Man, a supposed letter of apology to mankind explaining His perpetual absence that opens with the line, "A Letter from God to man / long time, no see..." and concludes, "This apology is to Mother Nature / because I created you." Some tracks offer an altogether darker tone such as Magician's Assistant that tackles self-harm and Angles that deals with suicide, violence and revenge. What shines through Scroob's delivery is his compassion and hope that maybe we can all better ourselves if only we stop being distracted by mindless materialism and reality TV and learn a little self-awareness. You know, think for ourselves just a little bit.
- Awfully Deep (2005) by Roots Manuva - Again, I could have chosen Run Come Save Me (2001) or Slime & Reason (2007) but Awfully Deep was my first foray into Roots Manuva and still my favourite of his albums. An English rapper who doesn't rap in a cod-American accent, thank fuck. Askewing the the usual hip hop tropes of guns, bitches and bling, Manuva's songs cast their eye over popular culture, the mundane reality of everyday life, family, dope and even religion with great wit, intelligence and sometimes melancholy. His sonic palette combines dirty glitchy beats, dubby bass lines and all manner of squelchy riffs and sweeping pads. Despite his humour and gift for a catchy hook, his music is a perhaps a little too dark and contemplative for the mainstream success he deserves but he is arguably the best exponent of British rap music.
Friday, December 18, 2009
Monday, November 16, 2009
Thursday, October 01, 2009
Jobs 'n' shit
Long story short: Got a temp job for two days from one recruitment agency. Then another recruiter offered me an ongoing temporary contract but wanted me to start on the day that the first two-day assignment was supposed to start. Phoned first recruiter and said sorry but I've got a better offer. Started the better offer on Thursday. During the day, I was called by a third recruiter offering me an interview on Friday for another ongoing and better paid temp position.
So, come lunch hour on Friday, I went off for the interview. Recruitment consultant gave me wrong address and sent me to the agency's local office. Explained situation to local office who called recruitment consultant's manager who provided another address. Walked to new address a few streets away but was told that the person I was meant to see worked in another building that was, coincidentally, opposite the recruitment agency's office.
Finally made it to correct address and sat my interview; more of an informal chat, really, just so they could check that I wasn't a complete moron. Returned to work. Two hours later the recruitment consultant called, made grovelling apologies about the address fuck-ups and said that I had been offered the ongoing and better paid temporary position. Oh, and, um, could I start on Monday?
Ended second day of ongoing temporary position by telling my boss that I'd had a better offer and wouldn't be back on Monday. He was very understanding but also saddened because he was desperate for someone to do the job and had had several temps before me who had all been complete morons.
Have been working ongoing and better paid temporary position for about four weeks now. It's pretty fucking shambolic. It took them two and a half weeks to sort out my computer system access so that I could actually start doing the job I was hired to do. Everything worked for a week but then I lost access for apparently no reason. And then it fixed itself this morning. Pretty frustrating but, then again, better than the alternative of unemployment, starvation and destitution.
Oh, and it is another banking job. How the hell did I end up working in banking?