Tuesday, 18 December 2012

Albums, 2012

Well, it's that time of year where I add yet another music list to the swirling multitude of music lists clogging up the internet. I'm proud to present the Emma Music Awards, 2012. (I really need to work on a better name than that)

My top album of 2012 which I hoped would be my top album before it even came out.

Flying Lotus - Until the Quiet Comes
Ever since Cosmogramma I'd been waiting patiently for more wonderful things from Flying Lotus. His Pattern and Grid World EP didn't quite work for me, and although I love his earlier albums Los Angeles and 1983, I'd been pretty excited to hear something new. I was also worried I'd be disappointed - when you pin such high hopes on something, there's a big danger it will let you down.
I got even more excited when this stunning teaser video by Kahlil Joseph was released…

When I finally got hold of the album, I decided to save it until the right moment. My favourite way of enjoying new albums is, bizarrely enough, on public transport, preferably trains, but buses will do. So I hopped on a late evening bus and spent a blissful 45 minutes or so soaking this up.
There's a lot of incredibly beautiful moments here, and much like it's predecessor Cosmogramma, it only grows in depth and richness with repeated listens. Guest vocalists work perfectly with the surrounding music, with neither stealing all the attention, but combining to create something that neither could do alone. There is a lot of variety here too, but the album is perfectly composed so that everything flows together into one seamless piece, making it difficult to listen to any one track alone. As a result I've listened to the whole thing a lot of times, and it's still getting better. I'm delighted to call this my album of the year.

Album that I thought might be alright but actually turned out to be brilliant

Debruit - From the Horizon
I've been consistently listening to Debruit's fairly small back catalogue for a couple of years - 'Echtah' being a particular favourite. This full length album rather snuck up on me, and I was disappointed to find Resident didn't stock it when I went and asked, so I forgot to listen to it for a while. When I finally got round to it, I was delighted to find it was so much more than I'd expected. Perhaps I'm not cool enough, but I don't know anyone else making anything that sounds even vaguely like Debruit (if you do, let me know!) and this album continues that original streak. Don't be put off by the slightly difficult first couple of tracks, a) they're growers, and b) there's a lot more wonderfulness in the rest of the album. Cuivree being a personal favourite.

Album that I keep getting really excited about listening to and then get bored of halfway through

Matthew Dear - Beams
Oh Matthew Dear. It's not your fault. At least I don't think so. But somehow after a few tracks I always get a bit tired of your voice, even though I love it initially. And the trouble with this album is that the later tracks are definitely inferior to the wonderful first few, and that combination means I've only managed to get all the way to the end a couple of times. Admittedly one of those times was today, on a train, where I always concentrate better, and on reflection it is a fairly solid album, but the glittering, shimmering opening track 'Her Fantasy' and throbbing 'Earthforms' are definitely not matched further down the line.

Best album that I'm not entirely sure whether it technically came out in 2011 or 2012

Four Tet - Pink
Well apparently he released this album as a series of split vinyls back in 2011, but it only came out as a whole album this year. So that makes it a this year album, right? Anyway, it's brilliant, and although some might argue it's not as interesting or creative as some of his back catalogue, I've found it a lot more immediately appealing. Closing track Pinnacles definitely ranks as a contender for one of my favourite songs of the year.

The only album that everyone in the office likes

Django Django - Django Django
I think I got a bit more excited about Django Django than I actually ought to have done. But what can I say, they were one of my best live music experiences of 2012, TWICE, both supporting Metronomy in the Royal Albert Hall and in a tiny Brighton venue with barely 40 people in the audience. They did an amazing job both times, and their vocal harmonies, creative percussion and general lovely stage presence just blew me away. The album, as it turns out, is not quite as amazing as those live experiences were, although still a brilliant effort, start to finish (Apart from the slightly tedious Zumm Zumm). It's also probably the only album that came out this year that EVERYONE in my office enjoys, and has, at some point or other, been requested by everyone. We have a pretty open attitude to music in the office, although it really depends on who's there what we end up listening to. If it's just me, my senior designer James and our wonderful web lady Marina, we listen to pretty much anything, even difficult jazz, angry hip hop or difficult electronica. Then as various other people join the room it gets progressively tamer until Andrew H arrives, when we basically only listen to Alabama 3, Nouvelle Vague or Johnny Cash. And now Django Django have been added to that prestigious list.

Best album by an artist I know absolutely nothing about

Cid Rim - Cid Rim (Micro Album)
So this was suggested to me by Spotify one day when I was a bit bored, so I decided to give it a shot. And my goodness, it's wonderful! It's basically a highly condensed, simple to understand version of everything that gets me musically excited. Danceable, glitchy electronica which seems to fit just right no matter what mood I'm in. I have no idea who he/she/they are, but they've created what is, in my opinion, a much underrated masterpiece.
(Incidentally, since this, I've been regularly listening to what Spotify recommends to me… and it's all been rubbish. This was clearly a fluke rather than finely tuned algorithms. Or maybe I'm throwing them off by using Spotify to listen to loads of guilty pleasures…)

(On googling for the artwork it appears that Cid Rim is one man with a terrible moustache)

Best album/worst live experience combo

Portico Quartet - Portico Quartet
Maybe that's not a very good award title. Because I've definitely had far worse live music experiences this year (Washed Out anyone?! Eeesh, worst show EVER), but anyway, this was a show I was really looking forwards to that was totally ruined by THOUGHTLESS GIG TALKERS. YES, that means YOU, down the front there, stood right in front of someone desperately trying to enjoy that gorgeous, subtle, quiet cello while you shout loudly about how long you had to queue at the bar and how the beer is 'just ok'. Oh, and that couple RIGHT THERE who spend most of the show sloppily kissing, and when they're not doing that, they're inappropriately whooping during a stunning bit of hang drum, and they're not the only ones being dicks, because it seemed like basically the ENTIRE CROWD spent the ENTIRE SHOW senselessly chattering, drowning out this utterly beautiful album.


Rant over. Great album. Listen to it. Go and see them live but try and go to a show that's not full of NOISY BUM FACES.

Rant really over.

Album that I thought was great but then listened to far too much and ruined for myself

Clark - Iradelphic

This album filled me with a very particular kind of radiant joy that meant I listened to it a LOT, until one day I discovered that I'd spoilt it for myself. I'm having another listen now for the first time in a couple of months, and the good feelings have fortunately returned, so I've hopefully not ruined it forever. Anyway. It's very good and I'd recommend it. Shimmering and glittering and textured and gorgeous. But don't overdo it.

Album that most makes me wish I was male and part of a Barbershop Quartet

The Futureheads - Rant
Well I've always loved the Futureheads, and this album is a delightful combination of old and new material, but all acapella in their beautiful northern tones. Songs like Man Ray and Meantime from their first album translate wonderfully without their usual strident guitars, and new songs like Beeswing are a beautiful change of direction. I hope they've not abandoned guitars forever, but this is certainly a welcome and bravely experimental variation on what they've previously been known for. I was gutted to only discover a night too late that they'd done an intimate acapella show at the Komedia on release of this album. I suspect I missed out on a wonderful night!

Late contender for some kind of award but I'm not sure what yet

Phillip Glass - Rework
This album only came out a short while ago, and we only got a copy a couple of weeks ago. But it's already a contender, based on the few listens I've been able to give it. Remix albums can be a bit patchy, but there really are very few weak spots on this one. A combination of great source material and incredible remixers has led to a quite stunning, and (for a remixes album) unusually cohesive body of work. Contributors that got me most excited included Pantha Du Prince, Tyondai Braxton, Nosaj Thing and Amon Tobin, although Beck, the initiator of the entire project, has created an unexpectedly incredible 20 minute rework of NYC: 73-78, and Cornelius has added an understated but beautifully recorded piano cover of the Opening from Glassworks. All in all, there's a lot to be had here, and this is definitely going to get a lot more listens so I can work out exactly how I feel about the whole thing. My current and immediate highlight upon first listen is Amon Tobin's incredible 'Warda's Whorehouse Inside Out Version'

Five other albums I've enjoyed a lot…

Nathan Fake - Steam Days
Like an idiot I booked tickets to see Nathan Fake then decided on the night I was too tired, so sold them to some people outside the venue and went home to bed. Then RIDICULOUSLY REGRETTED IT because this is a brilliant album.

Field Music - Plumb

Not my usual thing. When Alex first got it he described it as being a bit like a musical, which immediately put me off, but on further listens I discovered I actually did really rather like it. Even if it does sound a bit like an indie musical.

Minotaur Shock - Orchard

This is just plain good nice listening. There's an amazing remix of something off this album, which helpfully I have no idea what it was called, and can't direct you to. So there we go.

The whole album is a bit of a struggle, but the first few tracks are just MAGIC. And the vinyl came with a download code card made out of biodegradable paper embedded with wildflower seeds. How nice!

Floex - Zorya

Simple, elegant loveliness. And incidentally, this is also probably one of my favourite album artworks of the year.

I hope that wasn't too long and boring a read, and I'm sorry for my terrible ability to actually describe music. I hope you might find something new and wonderful thanks to reading this.

Friday, 31 August 2012

Tapir Birthday

If there's one thing Chris likes, it's Tapirs.
(There are actually lots of things Chris likes. Seals, political slash fiction, Agatha Christie, faking wikipedia facts, giving Alex ridiculous Unstruck questions, assuming multiple identities and shouting about swans being just some of them)

Me and Alex had grander plans for his birthday, but as it often the case with these things, it all got a bit last minute, and I ended up spending a lunchbreak creating an alphabet out of tapir parts.

 "Create tapir alphabet" is actually something which has been on my to-do list quite a while. Chris promised me that if I create the entire alphabet, he will create a rhyming couplet for each letter. This is but a teaser for the full version, which I will hopefully one day create.

Anyway, here's the birthday card in the hand of the birthday boy!

Sunday, 5 August 2012

Beginnings and endings

Well, it's been rather a long time since I've updated this blog, which I feel a bit guilty about - there's no good reason for that guilt, other than my own desire to keep a regular blog, but anyway, here I am now.

This has always been a blog which I've wanted to be about my own personal (and work related) creative projects, but in all honesty, my central focus for the last few months has been LIFE, and again, I feel some guilt about that, because I want to focus more on creating, but somehow a lot of things have got in the way. Good things, for the most part.

I have plans and hopes for my creative future though. My day job is still fulfilling to a great extent, but doesn't really result in me producing the kind of work which I want to share here. There are plans in the pipeline (which I initially typed 'pieline'... yum) for a zine created with my two good friends Rosie Rogers and Hannah Brookes - however, all three of us have found LIFE somewhat getting in the way of that getting started, but hopefully soon we'll all be able to focus our energies onto it again.

In quite a different creative route to normal, I'm also hoping to learn to sew and make my own clothes, which is something that really excites me. So far I have succeeded in blowing up my sewing machine, and created precisely NOTHING, but it is very early days, and operation skirt begins this Tuesday evening, at the excellent MIY workshop.

But back to illustration and graphic design, I still keep my eye out for nice freelance jobs, or favours for friends, and recently had the pleasure of creating two rather lovely wedding invites - this border for my friends, the aforementioned Hannah and her partner Tristan (which they filled with their own text for printing)

And this piece for Tom and Jo - Tom had basically already designed it, but I created the illustration.

And then, of course, there's the ongoing creative force in my life - Alex's Unstruck project. And truth be told, that's the main reason I got round to writing this blog, as I'm sad to say that Alex has decided to bring Unstruck to a close.

He has reached 500 questions answered, and now seems like the time to stop.

Adam, one of the other illustrators, put it like this, and writes it better than I ever could…

"I found out tonight that Unstruck is ending this week, by Friday it's going to be at 500(ish) posts, and that's it. Personally, I think Unstruck has been crucial in my development as an illustrator. But I really think that its significance is huge, for me at least it has acted as a tangible network of creative people who've been brought together, really by the focus and dedication of one person, to create something that's incredible and beautiful and collaborative in the truest sense. It's been an amazing experiment, that I feel lucky to have been involved in, hopefully I'll manage to squeeze in a final illustration before the weeks over. Hats off to Alex. Looking forward to the next project"

And he's right, because there is another project coming, something which lots of the illustrators will hopefully get involved with again, and I can't wait to see how it turns out.

I haven't really mentioned it on here, as this is my 'creative' blog, but me and Alex have been somewhat romantically entangled since January, and in June I moved in with him. He is a wonderful, beautiful, creative person and I'm very lucky to have him in my life. In some ways the Unstruck project drew us together, and it will always have a very special place in my heart.

Here is Alex, sitting in the window of an apartment in Cologne - we holidayed there recently, and I meant to blog about it at the time, but... LIFE, and that.

Anyway, here are a few of my recent and final contributions to Unstruck. As always, it's a hit and miss process, but it forces me to use my creative brain and that is always a positive thing.

Check this out. You win five million dollars from the Publisher’s Sweepstakes, and the same day that that big Ed guy gives you the cheque, aliens land on the earth and say they’re going to blow up the world in two days. What do you do?


Which is more significant, being or doing?

What are the essential elements of a legal system?

If you could invent a new orifice, what would it do and where would you put it?

What can change the nature of humanity?

Sunday, 15 April 2012

Before, after.

Just a quick one for today. As it frequently is, this is about one of my contributions to Unstruck, Alex's nearly-daily question and answer blog. In case you're not aware what the project is about, there's a bit more of an explanation here.

This is slightly different to the normal stressful half-hour deadline though.

Coming up later this month, Alex has been invited to take part in a small exhibition at the Brighton Jubilee Library, as part of the May Fringe Festival festivities.
As it's in the library, he's decided to choose a small selection of Unstruck pieces which specifically relate to reading, book and/or libraries.

One of them is this piece, which I illustrated.

However, annoyingly, this happens to be one of my 'bad days'. Actually I found the piece very inspiring, and had a pretty strong idea immediately of what I wanted to do, but that day I was up in London until late in the evening, so didn't have a free moment with my pens, laptop and scanner to produce an illustration in my usual way. Generally, I try and keep to the rules of the project and produce my illustration on the day I receive the piece, so on the train home, I got out my phone, and used the 'Brushes' app to produce this.

I was pleased with it considering I did it on a shaky train with dwindling battery life and poor lighting, but unfortunately, it looked substantially better on a tiny screen than it does full size.

Now that this piece is going to be going on display, and my name is going to be attached to it, I've decided to redo the piece as I originally invisaged, to the standard I'd want. It's still not my favourite thing I've done for Unstruck, but I'm a lot happier with it now.

I'll possibly post again about the exhibition... Alex will be selling prints of all the featured pieces, featuring both the illustration and his text, with 2/3 of the profit going to the illustrator, and 1/3 to him. They'll be very reasonably priced (Probably around £5), and hopefully lovely looking. I have been called upon to design the prints and make the text and images work well together. I have nice plans, and am looking forwards to getting started!

Monday, 2 April 2012


So, as the (in)frequency of my posts implies, I do actually have a real job. A job which pays me money to sit in front of a computer all day and arrange words and pictures on pages in a manner which is hopefully pleasing to the eye.
I like my employer, they (seem) to like me, sometimes we have biscuits, sometimes we have cakes, they're taught me the difference between hyphens, en and em dashes — I'm basically living the dream!

Not least because it's varied. I work in-house for a group of international colleges, and we're a fairly small team, which means we get to dip our fingers into absolutely all aspects of promoting and running the colleges. We have the big job every year of producing large brochures, but this time of year it's often more about beautifying the colleges themselves.

I've just recently completed a rather lovely task, which involved a brand shiny new halls of residence for our Bournemouth college. The halls are a beautiful conversion of an Old Post Office building, and it's been done really well. Inside the halls, we needed a good strong signage system to direct people around. Me and my senior designer worked together on this, but he was also keen to include some large decorative (but still representative) graphics for certain doors.

I took over on this bit, and they went down really well, so rather excitingly, I got to actually see them get used in real life.

I've worked in this job long enough that seeing my work in print is something I've got used to (although it still excites me), however, seeing my work go up in such a permanent manner is just brilliant. Not only that, but I got to go and supervise the installation, AND was entrusted with a big technical camera to take pictures of the new residence for our promotional materials.

So here are a selection of (not so great) pictures which I took on my iphone showing the signage I designed...

And here are a selection of marketing photos which I took on the big intimidating camera...

Saturday, 11 February 2012


Well, Friday comes around, and for me, Friday means Unstruck day.

For those of you who are reading this because you helped me out today, allow me to explain what Unstruck is... (And for those of you who already know, have patience...)

My friend Alex writes a daily blog. It's an exercise for him in making sure he keeps writing, because writing is something he's passionate about. In order to give him a subject to write about every day, he accepts random questions from friends and strangers, reads them first thing in the morning, and spends his first waking minutes answering the question as best he can. He limits himself to half an hour, which means the writing is free, uninihibited, sometimes successful, sometimes not. But that's all part of the fun.

Once he's done writing, he sends his text to an illustrator. Some, like me, are regulars, others occasional volunteers, or one offs. Much like for him and his writing, it's a chance for illustrators to test their skills and do some work unrelated to either the 'day job', or any other personal projects. The only rule is not to spend more than half an hour on it, although I think most of the illustrators occasionally bend that rule.

I generally find my efforts a bit hit and miss. Some weeks are dreadful and make me ashamed to call myself any sort of illustrator, but some are good, and either good or bad, they encourage me to do something a bit creative outside of work.

Anyway, this week was a particularly special one, because my friend Hannah was the one asking the questions.

A couple of weeks back, she found this adorable tutorial, and asked me if I could somehow twist my illustration for that week to include a cheeky wolf. Alex turned that around and said I could only do it if she did the questions next week, and made the Friday one about wolves.

And so... here we are.

I was interested to see what other people's interpretations of wolves were, do we still see them as evil? So I decided to ask for some extra help with today's illustration... I started by getting my senior designer, the company photographer, and my boss to draw me wolves.

It turns out that Wayne, our photographer, is really rather good at this kind of thing (no reference used)...

James insisted that he couldn't draw, and took a cunning graphic approach.

Andrew, my boss, was confused by the entire charade. I actually think this one is one of the friendliest, most adorable wolves there.

At lunchtime I asked for volunteers on facebook, and quickly the wolves came flooding in. Before I knew it I had a fairly respectable pack!

In the office, everyone made a point of not using reference photos... I'm guessing some of the people who drew them for me did, but that's fine too. It's all about how we perceive them, and the people who have drawn them in a realistic style were clearly automatically drawn to that. Perhaps other people think of them in a more fairytale like, or cartoon like way.

Once I had all the wolves, it took a while to decide how to display them. After much playing around, I decided all the wolves deserved equal prominence, and with an appropriate quote from Alex's text, I created this delight... (Click to view full size!)

So, to everyone who helped me out today, thank you! I hope it bought a bit of entertainment to your Friday morning. I really appreciate that you were willing to spend a little bit of your day indulging my creative whims.

You can view the image in context here.