Tuesday, 31 December 2013


So I'm cheating a bit here, as December isn't technically over, and I haven't done my visual diary yet for today. But lots of people are writing a bit about their experiences of 2013, so I thought now would be a good time to post a bit about my December, and the year as a whole.

I can't claim that 2013 has been remarkable in any way, but if nothing else, it's been fairly consistent. WHAT FUN, EH? What I mean by that, I guess, is that I'm still in the same job, the same house, I'm still with Alex, so in terms of big life things, little has changed for me throughout the course of the year. But I've had lots of awesome experiences, and I feel very pleased that I've managed to keep up the visual diarying throughout the year, as everything still seems very fresh and real and wonderful in a way it might not have done if I didn't have this document of my doings. It has made me appreciate just how much I HAVE done this year, when otherwise I might have thought to myself 'Meh, 2013, what happened that year?"

Anyway, December specifically has been a better month than some of the previous ones. Mainly because I feel like I've been pretty frenetically busy the whole time, but in the best kind of way, because it's almost all been fun stuff.

The first few days of visual diary were a bit rubbish, but on the 4th I stuck in one of my Christmas cards this year. Rather than share with you a crude scan of a print out, here's the actual artwork. It went down pretty well, although lots of people said to me 'wow, did you draw this?' to which I'd immediately respond 'Yes!' but then have to backtrack and explain that I didn't draw each card individually. Because that would be madness.

On December 5th it was my boss' birthday, and he bought a ridiculous cake for the office. It was arguably the best dessert thing I've ever had, but I ate way too much on an already slightly upset stomach and was filled with regret.
It was basically a biscuit base, with chocolate mousse on top, then giant waves of solid dark chocolate, dusted with icing sugar. (hand included in photo for scale)

Alex's friend Kier came to visit. It was lovely to see him, and I finally found someone who hadn't heard my ridiculous Brian Eno story. (If you haven't heard my ridiculous Brian Eno story, just ask. It's probably the best life anecdote I'm ever likely to have.)
Oh, and he thought my swan was amazing.

December continued, and I started freaking out about Christmas. I'm normally one of those horrible people who has addressed and posted all cards and bought and wrapped all presents by the end of the first week of December. Not so this year! Agh!

Carols! Man, I hate carols so much. Basically I hate singalongs in almost all their guises - musicals, karaoke, etc. However, I love going to my church's carol service and volunteering to welcome people and give out candles and hymn sheets. My hatred of singalongs is matched only by my love of meeting people and being smiley and talking lots.

After a ridiculous ten hour long office party extravaganza on the Thursday (during which my boss bought my partner Alex three double whiskeys over the course of one hour), Friday was a subdued affair for some. I, however, was full of the joys of spring. LAST DAY OF WORK FOR TWO WEEKS! NEW MAC ARRIVAL! LOADS OF FESTIVE SNACKS! Good day.

So having finally posted all long distance Christmas cards, I set about hand delivering all the local ones. I invited Alex along, and he (probably rightly) insisted that it's not ok to just quietly post cards through the door when the people are in the house, you have to knock and say hello and give festive greetings (also solstice greetings, as it was the 21st). This delivery strategy meant that it took four hours to deliver three cards, but also meant I had a wonderful afternoon of cups of tea and catch-ups with lovely people. And then Justin came over, and we decorated the living room, and at that point, I started feeling FULLY FESTIVE.

So I had this fun idea that it would be nice to make some home-made crackers for our planned post-christmas gathering on the 29th. (In which me and Alex got pretty over ambitious and invited everyone we knew for roast dinner, and then started freaking out that over 20 people might show up and our house is TINY)
I spent some of this day mooching around Brighton's flea markets, tat shops and other miscellaneous places in an attempt to obtain 20 cracker-sized gifts for under £2 a go. It was a fun challenge.

So Christmas eve is me and Alex's anniversary. Which all seemed very romantic at the time, but in the long run basically means that we'll never have a 'proper' anniversary (whatever that is) because we'll always be heading off somewhere for Christmas day. But in the morning we opened each other's Christmas presents to each other, and went out for some delicious lunch at La Choza, which should all have been very romantic apart from the fact that Alex was suffering a massive random hay fever attack and spent most of the day sneezing and moaning and crying.
Anyway, when the time came for us to head up to Alex's sister in St. Albans for Christmas the next day, it became pretty apparent that any attempt to travel away from Brighton was going to end in horrific rail-replacement bus hell. So we made a snap decision to STAY PUT with our housemate David (who had been planning on having a happy solitary Christmas, but got totally on board with us being there too)… we rushed home then dashed round the supermarket to stock up on all the necessary Christmas day essentials, and then snuggled ourselves in for a Christmas in Brighton. <3 br="">

And it was LOVELY. Boardgames and awesome Christmas dinner and Toy Story 3 and loads of snacks and general comfortable, relaxing, cosy Christmas loveliness. Perfect.

On boxing day I tried to be wholesome and go for a cycle, but you know what, cycling has become horrible recently and I hate myself a bit for that. I just stopped cycling to work when it got dark early because I realised walking with nice music in my ears was more pleasant than flinging myself through traffic in the dark with the rain and wind in my face. And despite not feeling like I've got any unfitter, I clearly have, because this cycle was horrible, and I got home feeling miserable and fat and grumpy. So I went shopping which was wonderful and cheered me up hugely, because I am A TERRIBLE PERSON.

So Alex got me TICKET TO RIDE for Christmas, which is one of my favourite boardgames. In a thematically appropriate turn of events, we got the train over to see my mum in Chichester and played a game with her, which was lovely.

In preparation for our big post Christmas Christmas gathering the next day, I had boldly promised that I would attempt to make some kind of horrific vegan turducken (aka bird inside a bird inside a bird). In the end it turned out to be a 'haduckage' (sausages inside vegan haggis inside fake duck). If you'd like to make your own, it's distressingly simple.

Buy some already-cooked vegan sausages. I used redwoods sage and marjoram. Buy some fake duck. I used Redwoods duck pieces. Buy a vegan haggis. Macsweens are the best (only?) ones. Lay six sausages out on a baking tray, like two little sausage pyramids (i.e. two rows of two end to end, with two more balanced on top). Cook up a vegan haggis and smoosh it over the sausages after it's cooled. Take two packs of vegan duck pieces and mash/blend them until they're just a delicious brown paste. Smoosh these over the top of everything else. Bake for about half an hour. Chop it up and question what you're doing with your life.

The next day people came over for roast lunch, not 20 in the end, just 13. Although that's still a lot when your living room in tiny and your landlord bought you an oven with ONLY ONE SHELF. Fortunately with luck, cunning, some skill and lots of generous help/donations from visitors, we managed to pull of a fairly passable (and sizeable) roast for 13, and to solve the whole 'tiny living room' problem, we served it in my room, which is the biggest room in the house. It's not, however, as big as this picture makes it appear. For a more realistic idea, see the photo below. Still. Lovely. And I'm so glad everyone came. It was a wonderful day.

Anyway, to recover from the busyness of the previous couple of weeks, I spent the 30th doing very little apart from washing up a LOT of glasses and plates, and watching Breaking Bad with Alex. I only joined in intermittently midway through the third season, and Alex had to put up with lots of me saying 'who's that man?' 'why are they all so cross?' 'what are they doing now?' 'Where are they going?' 'How do they know each other?' etc.
But anyway, we basically watched the entirely of the final season yesterday, which resulted in me staying up till 3am and generally getting REALLY INTO IT.
As I'm sure you all already know - Breaking bad is pretty amazing. You should go and watch it, if you haven't already.

Oh, also, I've been eating a LOT of kale. 2013 has definitely been the year of kale discovery for me. I've had kale for lunch and dinner for 5 of the last 6 days. (only interrupted by that day at my mum's when I only got to have kale for dinner, DARNIT!)
Can you eat too much kale? It seems unlikely, but if it's possible I'm probably doing it.

Now. ONWARDS! I wonder what 2014 has in store...?

Tuesday, 10 December 2013

Wahey! Another albums of the year list!

Inevitable disclaimer paragraph about how utterly pointless these lists are and how sick everyone must be of reading them by now.


Album which made me a bit emotional about how amazing bells are
Pantha du Prince and the Bell Laboratory - Elements of light

I got really excited about this album late last year, when I heard the single 'Photon'. Pantha Du Prince's incredible 2010 album 'Black Noise' has never been far from my ears since then, and this sounds a lot like that, only with the addition of bells.
The actual album, while less dense and catchy than Photon, is full of incredibly beautiful moments — you just have to have patience and wait for them. If you don't have patience and can't wait for them, skip to 5.14 of Particle or 7.32 of Spectral Split... But I'll think less of you for it. The joy of this album is in it's prolonged build ups and slow, elegant climaxes. At only 5 tracks long, it's almost easier to think of it as an EP, but with two tracks breaking the 10 minute mark (one at nearly 20 minutes) it demands the attention of an entire album.

Album which I said from the start should win the Mercury

James Blake - Overgrown

We listened to this in the office the other day, and halfway through the first track my colleague Dave said "He's a bit weird this one, isn't he. I can imagine him singing this alone in his bedroom like a weirdo."
There's no denying that on first impressions, he can come across a little… intense. But I'd be happy for him to sing to me in his bedroom any day of the week. (Sorry James.)

I loved his first album too, and this seems like a natural growth and development from that. It fills me with those whooshing, swooping sensations in my chest that make my hair stand on end.
From the moment I heard 'Retrograde' on Gilles Peterson's wonderful 6 music show, I was in love. He just has a knack for crafting the most incredibly beautiful, moving, minimal soundscapes that build into something quite dissonant and wonderful.

For a couple of bonus delights, here's a version of one of the album highlights 'Life Round Here' with the addition of Chance the Rapper

And here's his version of Destiny's Child's 'Bills Bills Bills'


Album which I missed on vinyl and haven’t bought because I’m bitter
Debruit - From the Horizon

This was the year I decided that I'd start buying all music I really love on vinyl. And I really love this. Unfortunately I got really excited about this album close to payday and so didn't buy it, and then by the time I next got round to looking it had sold out. Grump! So I haven't bought it and that probably makes me a bad person because he definitely deserves my (and your) money for this. He does what he does well, and that's glitchy, vaguely African, messed up sampled bouncy electronica. There are many reasons why I'm not a music journalist and that last sentence is one of them. But anyway. Give it a listen.

Bonus - he also put out a second album this year, Aljawal, with female vocalist Alsarah. I'll be honest, her voice is outside my comfort zone, but with the exception of a couple of tracks it's something I've really come to love, and a fascinating collaboration.

Album which actually isn’t that great, but hey, it’s Four Tet
Four Tet - Beautiful Rewind

So I got really excited when Four Tet released his new single 'Kool FM'. It was pretty good during the 'BONSH BONSH BONSH' bit at the start, and it was all going well until 2.06, when suddenly, there's just some guy, shouting 'Hey, Hey Hey' at you, like you've accidentally dropped your hat in the street and he's trying to get your attention. I question the wisdom of that sample, and despite quite liking the song, I don't think I'll ever like the 'hey hey hey' man.
And you know what… There are a lot of bits like that on this album. It's Four Tet, the man is a genius, I think he's made a lot of wonderful albums, and this is almost certainly one of them, but I don't think I'll ever actually manage to sit through the first two minutes of 'Aerial' without getting incredibly annoyed and having to skip over it. And I'm sorry, I know the track is called 'Buchla', but that man is quite clearly shouting 'Boob-la', and it will never be anything other than that to me.
I'm being mean. The rest of the album is basically flawless, so I'm just griping, but seriously, less of the random shouty men samples next time, eh Kieran?

Album which I fell in love with after hearing it described in words
Daedelus - Drown Out

So until fairly recently, Daedelus was one of those musicians I'd meant to listen to more, but somehow never quite got round to. His picture kept appearing in the 'if you enjoyed XXX then you'll probably like XXX' section of my Spotify, and I'd frequently admired his snappy Victorian dress sense and impressive sideburns, but whenever I started off on his then most recent album 'Bespoke', I always got to about the first five seconds of the second track and switched it off. I should know better now than to write off an incredibly prolific artist with a vast back catalogue on the basis of the first 30 seconds of one track, but clearly I have much to learn.

Anyway, Alex was asked if he'd like to meet and interview Daedelus before a gig in Brighton, for a friend of his who runs a music website. You can read the results of that interview here.

I went along too, to take some (terrible) pictures, and you know what? I was utterly charmed. Alfred Darlington is, as Alex describes him at the start of that interview, "an eloquent, kind and gentle man"

He is also incredibly honest, open and forthcoming about his experiences and history, and I found him one of the more fascinating people I've ever had the pleasure of meeting. He talked in some depth about his current album, and I found myself wracked with guilt that I'd given it little more than a cursory listen prior to the interview. It's his exploration of bereavement and grief, having experienced his fair share of both in the time since he'd released his previous album. His words on that, combined with insights on the process of making and performing electronic music, followed by the incredible live show he put on left me itching to go back and give it a more thorough listen, along with the rest of his back catalogue.

And there is SO much to discover there. This probably isn't even my favourite of all his albums, but it's definitely one of my favourite releases of 2013. It does a lot of different things in a lot of different ways, and his entire body of work does even more different things in even more different ways. And his live show is something else entirely. YES.

Album which I feel a bit guilty about loving quite so much

Disclosure - Settle

So every year in the office we listen to all the Mercury albums from start to finish. Even if we hate them, we stick with it, in the name of… I don't know, musical education? But this is the first time that an overwhelming majority of the office have insisted on an album being switched off before the end (just three tracks in, in fact!)
I was pretty gutted, because after that abysmally dull Bowie album (CON-TRO-VER-SIAL), this felt like a breath of wonderful fresh air!
Initially I thought my love of it was purely based on the fact that it was a relief from the likes of Bowie and Bugg, but I carried on listening. A lot. And goodness. It's just wonderful, in a way that I feel a bit guilty about. It feels sort of trashy, and light, and silly. Even on tracks like 'You & Me', which make me cringe a bit, I'm singing along and bopping about on the inside. They just have a way of pulling things back from the edge of being a bit too poppy… It reminds me a lot of the excellent SBTRKT album from a couple of years back. If you like that, you'll probably like this. Although to be honest, if you like that you'll probably already know about this… I feel I was a little behind the game on this one, only hearing it after it had been nominated for the Mercurys!

Album which I feel a bit guilty about not loving quite enough

Jon Hopkins - Immunity

So this is clearly a masterpiece. But I haven't given it enough time. I find it quite dense and intense, and while the first side is so compelling I find it hard to switch off, there have only been a handful of times where I've put on the second record to listen to the last 4 tracks. And every time I have done, it's been great, but it's heavy going in some ways, and I have to be in just the right mood. But this definitely deserves a place in my list. I recommend it very highly.

Best 'concept' album AND best artwork
Machinedrum - Vapor City

I can't actually find the piece I originally read about the 'concept' behind this album, but this Drownedinsound review does it nearly as well

"Vapor City is a fictional metropolis visited regularly in Stewart’s dreams, and each of the ten tracks represents a specific district within the city."

As someone who experiences vivid dreams which often feature recurring fictional locations, I really like the idea of someone taking these places in their head and attempting to convey them via music. And somehow the tone and mood of this album captures some of what I experience in my own sleeping head, a certain minor key, sinister dissonance. Not enough to wake me up in a cold sweat, but enough that, some mornings, I spend much of the day feeling subtly unsettled by what I've experienced. The beautiful album artwork probably helps too. It is both detailed and vague all at once, and is a great example of an artist really making the most of the vinyl format, with 12 page insert printed on lovely paper stock, featuring a beautifully drawn illustration for each 'district' (track). (I'm a sucker for that kind of thing)

Album which made me and Alex pull frowny faces at each other on first listen but which turned out to be quite good
Mount Kimbie - Cold Spring Fault Less Youth

So we and Alex listened to this album together on headphones on a long train journey up to Glasgow. Alex didn't know them that well, and had never heard their first album 'Crooks and Lovers' while I would definitely describe myself as a fan.

After a first listen of the album we took off our headphones, and both completely agreed that they'd ruined several great tracks with the addition of mediocre vocals, or worst of all, on 'You Took your time' and 'Meter, pale, tone', some terrible rapping. Alex described it as 'a bit like someone trying to rap in the kitchen at a house party'

I felt sad. Mount Kimbie, why have you let me down like this? But I listened more, lots more. And who knows, maybe I wanted to like it so hard that I've come round, but I really have come round. It maybe helped that I found out that the terrible house party kitchen rapper (King Krule) is actually ginger (solidarity!), and only 19 (he was born in 1994. 1994!!!) so I felt like I should give him more of a chance. Plus he's very trendy right now, apparently. Ok, maybe I'm not ever going to be buying his solo album, no matter how critically acclaimed it is (apparently very), but I've come to think that actually he has his place on this album. As do the vaguely Foals-esque unidentified vocals on some of their other tracks, especially the captivating 'made to stray'.

Album which I'm glad is better than his last
Toro Y Moi - Anything in return'

I love Toro Y Moi. His first album 'Causers of This' is probably in my top 5 favourites of all time. But I was just a teensy bit disappointed with his second album 'Underneath the Pine'. It was somehow… soft, and fuzzy, and although a lot of people said it was a lot better, I never agreed. This album however, takes the best bits of 'Underneath the Pine' and turns them into something I actually like. A lush, rich, poppy masterpiece, which, much like his first album, I find incredibly comforting and reassuring. I'm not quite sure why. But whenever I'm down or tired, Toro Y Moi is the musical answer.
Not particularly fun fact: On my first listen of this album, I experienced my first ever migraine, and had to switch off about halfway through. I then didn't listen to it again for over a month because I was worried there was something in it which had triggered my brain meltdown!

Album which I begrudgingly think is a masterpiece
Kanye West - Yeezus
Me and Alex first listened to this in a caravan in the darkest depths of Scotland, which is I'm sure exactly what Kanye pictured when he wrote it. We spent much of that first listen laughing at the sheer audacity of it. I mean, it's ridiculous. Am I sheltered? Has anyone ever released an album that sounds even vaguely like this before? Kanye is quite probably a massive dickhead, but after this I'm quite willing to concede he's also quite probably a genius. Even after having seen that ridiculous 'Bound 2' video. I'm listening to it again right now. It's just marvellous. I mean, on Spotify the third track is credited to him and 'God'. It features like 30 seconds of him just heavy breathing and screaming.
I probably don't know enough or have enough consciousness of privilege, race, gender issues, or many of the other things which have been flagged up as potentially problematic in this album. I know it has some dubious elements. Probably most obviously his er… interesting re-appropriation of 'Strange Fruit'… But. Well, it's not an album I can ignore. And I wouldn't normally have even bothered listening to an entire album of his.

Album which I forgot to include till the last minute because I honestly couldn't believe it came out in 2013, but which, upon thinking about it is probably my NUMBER ONE album of the year
Bonobo - The North Borders

I've listened to this album so much. It does EVERYTHING. It is the ultimate all purpose album. It's fast, it's slow, it doesn't offend anyone in the office, but it isn't boring either. Is that praise? I mean it as praise. I think Bonobo has created that rare masterpiece of an album that I'm never NOT in the mood for, yet frequently specifically go and put on. I can't believe I forgot this until now. I might even go so far as to say that this is my number one. Yes, I'm going to do it. Well done Bonobo.

BONUS 2014 prediction of goodness

I've been listening to a lot of Com Truise this year. He's not released an album in 2013, but a couple of days ago he posted this single on his soundcloud. And it's wonderful in so many ways.

The wonderful Flying Lotus has just reached 300,000 followers on Twitter, and in celebration, he posted a mysterious zip file. It's a hefty beast.

Well, I'd best do what the man says. Download here. No idea how long the link'll be up, so get on it...

BONUS album I forgot about
Alex just pointed out that I forgot the Boards of Canada album. Now I'm worried about all the other amazing stuff I've forgotten too. The Boards of Canada album is wonderful. Especially good for train-rides through the remote Scottish highlands. Can I add that to my list? Too late? Oops. Oh dear. Another reason why I'm not a music journalist.

Tuesday, 3 December 2013


Blegh. I guess I'm still in a bit of a winter gloom, although right at this very second as I'm writing this, I'm in a fairly good mood. But this month's visual diaries have been somewhat laboured (as have many other aspects of my life), and that makes me sad.

But still, onwards, what did November have in store for me?

Well, indigestion for starters.
Me and my tummy have a difficult relationship. I love it and appreciate its crucial role in my life, but for the last 6 years or so, it and the rest of my digestive system have never been entirely 100% happy. Most of the time when it's grumbling, I know what's wrong. I say 'sorry tummy, it was those lentils, I just couldn't resist!' or 'don't worry tummy, you just need a burp and you'll feel right as rain' (Don't worry, I don't have these conversations out loud)… But occasionally, neither of us quite know what's wrong, and we both get a bit sad about that.

Then there was the ongoing leaky window saga, in which, thanks to some shoddy guttering maintenance two months ago, water poured in through the top of the window frame whenever it rained. This made me extremely grumpy and miserable and took far longer than it should have done to resolve, because letting agents are shit. BROKEN BRITAIN, guys.

On the upside this month, I've been going through a good music phase. Lots of wonderful new discoveries. Which is always nice.

When I was seeing my CBT therapist to help me deal with my emetophobia, she said I shouldn't become to reliant on coping mechanisms. If I genuinely feel sick, I should 'be with the fear', not try and avoid it. While that may be valid, she basically told me not to drink peppermint tea when I feel sick because that counts as 'avoiding the fear'. Well sorry. The peppermint tea is here to stay. Me and my stomach agree on that much.

To add insult to broken window injury, the letting agent chose this month to announce they'd be putting our rent up. While that doesn't bother me too much (our rent is unusually low, even with a rise), the fact that they wanted to charge us £180 for the privilege of doing so did get me rather grumpy. So, as I am frequently known to do, I started browsing rightmove for alternative Brighton homes for me and Alex. Turns out our (genuinely) best option is a static caravan in Lancing.

So I got home and this photo was sitting on my dressing table. I have no idea who or where this boy is, or where the photo came from. Alex was either unable or unwilling to shed any light on where the photo had come from. (I say 'unwilling' because he found the whole thing irrationally funny, which may mean he's decided to start planting random family snaps around my room to freak me out)
Anyway. Does anyone recognise this child?

There have been quite a few times this month where I've had to cook for one. Turns out I've got really bad at cooking for one, and have frequently ended up eating WAY more than is sensible.

Drew this while I was freaking out that the bath had started leaking again. Last summer the sealant around the bath failed so that every time anyone had a shower, water ran down the wall and leaked through the kitchen ceiling just here. It took us FOUR ATTEMPTS to redo the sealant ourselves (each attempt taking around 4 days allowing for curing time) and the whole process was so distressing that I vowed never to attempt to seal a bath again. Anyway, some mysterious drops appeared here, than seemed to have fallen from a height, and I started freaking out that I was going to have to pay another visit to Wickes sometime soon. Fortunately touch wood, it seems like there's no leak. YET.

This pretty much sums up my miserable mood, but on the face of it none of those things are THAT bad. It was just getting me down that particular day. I've not cycled for the last couple of weeks, for a combination of reasons… I have a minor health problem that flares up every time I cycle, it's dark and cold, roads are scarier when it's dark, and I've been enjoying listening to music so much that walking home via a meandering route with some nice ear warming headphones on seems much preferable to flinging myself along roads with the power of my tired legs. Weird amount of guilt about it though.

In an effort to assuage the overwhelming negative visual diary vibes, I tried to come up with six genuinely nice things that had happened that day. I did start struggling at 5, but still that's good going. Maybe I should do this every day.

Sometimes chips are the answer. (I am still getting fatter)

This was a nice day. Me and Alex had nice strolls round town and went to the amazing Komedia cafe for lunch, then mum came over and we went to the craft fair and had the ridiculous massive Chilli Pickle takeaways. BOOM! In your face November blues!

Me and Hannah went to see Gold Panda. He was very good but it was an under 18s gig and there were loads of horrible obnoxious children there. For the first time, I genuinely felt OLD. (And it was kind of great)

I'm not very good at drawing hands. But this is how my hands FEEL right now.

Anyway. Now it's December and I hope for a more inspired month. It's also coming up to the time where I have to decide whether I'm going to keep this up next year. I hope so. It's been a bit more of a struggle recently for some reason, but I hope I stay motivated. I think it's a positive thing to do.