Thursday, 31 December 2015

December 2015

Well 2015 is rolling to a close, and to celebrate, I am having a fun evening sitting at home doing various bits of life admin. I might watch Jools Hootenanny later, but since someone told me the whole thing is a pre-record I get a lot less joy from it (sorry if this has also ruined it for you). I mean, do all those famous people really have better things to do for New Year's even than hang out with Jools and get smashed? Why can't they do it live?!

Anyway. I got a little distracted there. The beginning of December feels a bit like forever ago.

For the first few days of December we had NO INTERNET, which was disconcertingly upsetting. We've managed without it for periods of time in the past (when switching providers, etc), but the sudden unexpectedness of this outage, and the ridiculous hoops we had to leap through to get it fixed (there was a cherry picker involved!) meant that me and Alex got rather upset. In the end we mostly dealt with it by going to other people's houses and stealing their internet (Thanks George and Wes!), or distracting ourselves entirely with other IRL non-internet related activities...

On the 2nd, I went knocking on lots of neighbours doors to see if anyone had a landline phone we could borrow to test our phoneline. Lesson: not many people have landline phones any more. It was nice to say hello to a few new neighbours though, whose names I have now entirely forgotten because I am terrible with names.

Later that evening, I went to a charity raffle thing and won some beautiful children's building blocks, and after a brief jaunt to boardgame club with Alex, we came home and built the tallest towers we could.

On the 3rd, our makeshift post-storage solution collapsed, showering the living room in about 5 – 10 years of post for former tenants, Alex bank statements, old gas bills, electricity statements, various threatening late-payment letters and a vast amount of other paper based junk. I spent my third internet free evening having a thoroughly satisfying sort-out.

On the 4th, it was my work Christmas party. I wore a dress which made me feel happy and lots of people said nice things to me. I also ate far too many crepes.

On the 5th I generally continued desperately busying myself around the house to distract from the huge internet-shaped hole in my soul. (I did make some great muffins though)

On the 6th I went to two separate wonderful festive gatherings, and hit the limit on my entire month’s 4G allowance.

On the 7th, the internet was fixed, and all was well once more. (But continuing my unusually vigorous spree of socialising, I went over to Lou and Caroline's for a lovely dinner and catch-up)

New year’s resolution?

Have you been to Beelzebab at the Hope and Ruin yet? Beelzebab was a pop-up vegan kebab stand, but they’ve now taken up residence in the kitchen at the Hope and Ruin pub and expanded their menu to include a vast array of vegan delights, including hot dog topped doner meat, kebab topped with a hot dog, an amazing range of loaded fries, PICKLED GHERKINS DEEP FRIED IN BATTER (my personal favourite), and these incredible brownies, which, for no extra charge, they’ll also deep fry in batter. That was a step too far for me and George, who had our brownies ‘naked’, but Alex and Wes opted for the heart-attack including deep-fried option and spent the rest of the evening sitting very still with contented faces.

It’s really been such a lovely social month. January is inevitably going to be cold and bleak by comparison. This was a busy day: Nat was down visiting from Manchester, so we all went to Beelzebab for a thoroughly indulgent lunch… Then old uni friends Michael and Lyall came down from London for a meet up with us Brighton folk… and then in the evening, some other friends came over to me and Alex’s for boardgames. Wonderful people, all.

I’m still dancing, and sometimes I even manage to do kind of okay!

Here's another valuable lesson: don't eat three kinds of cabbage for every meal in one day, it won't end well.

Everyone at work was grumpy that our Christmas do was so early in the month, so we had a festive pub quiz a bit later on in the month. I was on the winning team, which was obviously great. Even greater: one round involved throwing a small toy monkey into a tiny bucket from about three metres away. For some ridiculous reason I was nominated to do this for our team, and even more ridiculously, I succeeded, and was the only person to succeed, causing jubilant scenes, in which ALL MY COLLEAGUES cheered and whooped and shouted my name and bought me savoury snacks in celebration, possibly the only time in my life I have ever been applauded for any sort of sport/coordination prowess.

To help us get into the festive spirit, we invited people over to make Christmas decorations with us. Elly, Finn, Kat, Stina and Orestes all obliged, and we ate lots of snacks and did some pretty intense crafting with old maps. Our halls were suitably decked.

I feel very lucky that I work in a job where I get to have a solid amount of time off over Christmas. So much love/respect/gratefulness to all people in jobs who keep going over the festive period.

Port and cheese party over at Chris and Anna’s… not ideal for a vegan tee-totaller, but I still managed to have a good time, especially once the papier mache animal heads came out.

Alex always does Christmas shopping super last minute. While I find this faintly ridiculous, it was this time four years ago when we started falling in love (Alex asked me to come along and maintain sanity/level-headedness/gift judgement), so I look very fondly on this mad dash around Brighton’s shops for family gifts.

Went to Alex’s parents in Torquay for Christmas. Mostly enjoyed walking miles and miles along windswept coastline with good music in my ears… I’m not actually very good at traditional Christmas activities of sitting indoors eating my body weight in fatty food and watching hundreds of films any more.

A highlight of this windswept walking was my boxing day stroll along the coast to Paignton, where I got to see hundreds of people fling themselves into the icy sea, for charity/tradition/larks or some other reason. Also loads and loads of great dogs on boxing day beach walks. Excellent.

As for the last few years, once we were back in Brighton, we invited maybe too many of our friends over a big shared vegan roast, which we like to refer to as ‘Christmas II’. This year, the guest list was 19/20 strong, which meant a LOT of vegetable prep the night before. Alex was adamant that we must have sufficient roasties, so I calculated 7 roasties per person and got peeling. That’s a LOT of potatoes you guys.

Remarkably, considering a) the size of our house, and b) the size of our cooker, we managed to pull it off, which we are still feeling pretty smug about. (Previous years have only been 14 – 16 people) We re-purposed India-absent Justin’s room as dining room, and with some cunning furniture rearranging, managed to fit everyone in. (Don't worry Justin, order is being restored!)

We also did some pretty nifty oven juggling, tin-foil wielding and microwaving to ensure we got 20 people’s worth of vegan roasties, broccoli, carrots, pigs in blankets, sweet potato/mushroom/sosmix wellington, gluten free nut roast, stuffing, haggis and two different kinds of gravy to the table — hot, and all at once. Phew!

We’re wasted in our day jobs, I tell you. Someone kickstart us to set up a vegan cafe/boardgame shop!

Now, onwards to 2016.
2015 has been pretty good, although perhaps with little major to differentiate it from 2014, or, indeed, 2013. Maybe 2016 will be time for change.

As most people who know me and Alex are probably already aware, we're looking to move up North at some point in the not too distant future. If anyone hears of any promising graphic design jobs in the Manchester/Leeds area, hit me up.

Alternatively, if you'd like to fund the vegan cafe/boardgame shop enterprise, we'd be open to that also :)

Wednesday, 23 December 2015

2015 albums of the year according to me


And not just any opinions about music, opinions about music written by someone with absolutely no journalistic skills or clever words.

Without further ado, it's time for 'A selection of albums from 2015 which Emma wants to talk to you about'.

Just the best thing to come out this year, like nothing else even comes close.

Kendrick Lamar — To Pimp a Butterfly

Very very occasionally, an album comes along that is so perfect in every way that I can hardly even handle it. And not just perfect, but so full of depth and complexity that I know I will always be able to come back to it and find new things.

If you haven’t already, I would urge you to sit down and listen to this album, start to finish. It is a masterpiece. Of course, is is an album about a world and a life of which I have no experience… (as a white woman living in gentrified Brighton), yet he can make me feel so much of what he’s experiencing with remarkable intensity.

A lot has been written about this album. A lot of more eloquent people than me have said a lot more eloquent things about it, (analysis, and both praise and criticism, although mostly praise), and you should go and read those people’s thoughts.

You should soak in this album, relish every moment. You should listen to it over and over again, because there is so much to take in here that you can’t get it all after 10, or even 100 listens.

Am I going over the top? Good. Kendrick is a genius and he deserves all the accolades he gets, including this over-effusive ineloquent few paragraphs.

(Trivia: ‘How much a dollar really cost’ is Barack Obama’s favourite song of 2015. Excellent choice.)

Start off with: The start ‘Wesley’s Theory’ and carry on from there. This album deserves to be listened to start to finish, so I wouldn’t recommend something from mid way through: and this is a stunning opener anyway.

Award for getting me to spend too much money

Prefuse 73 — Forsyth Gardens/Rivington Não Rio/every colour of darkness 

I, and lots of other people, love Prefuse 73, apparently enough to drop money on THREE short album/long EP length releases in one year. It feels a little cheeky on his part, but I’ll put it down to an artistic vision rather than a way of getting his fans to spend lots of money. Always prolific (his previous albums typically run to 18 – 22 tracks), this time, he’s taken the approach of breaking down his 2015 body of work a bit more, and arguably that makes it more manageable, and means each section gets the attention it deserves, rather than being lost in a lengthier release. Previous release ‘The Only She Chapters’ was off the mark for me personally, but he’s back on form here, and I’ve enjoyed these albums a lot. For anyone unfamiliar with his work, it's glitchy, sample heavy electronica drawing from rich and varied sources, and there's no one else out there doing it better.

Start off with: Prime Meridian Narcissism is a nice chunk of typical Prefuse 73, but the track I’ve actually been returning to most often is ‘140 Jabs Interlude’, thanks to excellent guest appearances from Milo and Busdriver. Their vocals are crisp and intense and beautifully written (more on them later)

Productivity aid award

Blanck Mass — Dumb Flesh 

Skip the first track (IMO). And then what do you have? A perfect album of intense, droney (but not samey), pounding electronic noise, which, if you’re anything like me, will about double your working speed, be it typing, running, designing, chopping onions, anything. Can’t say fairer than that! If you like The Field, you'll probably like this. Blanck Mass is Fuck Buttons Benjamin John Power, and while I never fully embraced Fuck Buttons, I found this much more immediately appealing and compelling.

Start off with: Dead Format (Cruel Sport is another highlight)

'My taste has changed but I really want to like this' award
Battles — La di da di

It would be hard to overstate how much I loved Battles last release ‘Gloss Drop’. I went to see them live the day it came out, having heard none of it… at the show they played nothing but that new material and it blew me away. In fact I want to recommend it afresh now: go listen to Gloss Drop. Suffice to say, I was pretty excited about this new release, 4 years on… But somehow it’s just not doing it for me. But what I can’t tell is whether this is a poor effort on their part, or whether it’s just me that’s changed. And I really don’t think this is a poor effort on their part. It’s got everything I loved about their last album, rattling, jangling distorted guitar loops and John Stanier’s incredible powerhouse drumming. It’s loud and multilayered and rich and colourful, and they deserve praise for it. Perhaps my math rock phase is just in the past now. Which is a pity, because math rock, done well (like by Battles) is an amazing thing.

Start off with: final track ‘Luu Le’ is the first and only point in this album where I really felt something click for me. It’s charming and weird and catchy and makes you want to wobble about a bit.

Best jazz/Best album that I’ve only actually managed to sit through in its entirety once
Kamasi Washington — The Epic 

This album is undoubtedly a masterpiece, and is rightly being lauded as such. Brainfeeder are putting out so much amazing work at the moment, and this is a jewel in the crown of their incredible year of albums. But you know what? It’s like 3 hours long. Ain’t nobody got time for that. (Well, I’ve made time for it once or twice, but I tend to dip in and out more often, because millennials, low attention spans, blah blah blah what was I talking about?)

Start off with: ‘Clair de Lune’, an incredibly beautiful version of.

Best artwork/best portmanteau
Daedelus and Kneebody — Kneedelus

I’ve long been a fan of Kozyndan’s work, and this is just the most incredibly beautiful piece: I’d honestly love to have it hanging on my wall. Go on, click and look at it bigger.

The album itself is great too… I wasn’t previously familiar with Kneebody’s work, but regular readers will know I adore Daedelus. It’s great to hear him getting a chance to work more with his jazz sensibilities, and great to hear a jazz group (albeit already a fairly experimental one) being pushed to new levels with an electronic producer on board. Another amazing Brainfeeder release this year.

Start off with: Daedelus fans might recognise ‘Platforming’ from his Looking Ocean EP from a couple of years back… It was always a favourite of mine, and it’s great to hear this beautiful re-take

Best depressing hip hop award
Earl Sweatshirt — I don’t like shit, I don’t go outside: an album by Earl Sweatshirt

If you’re feeling a bit miserable, maybe don’t listen to this. Cynical, bitter, low-mood hip hop at its finest — perhaps you can’t ever imagine a moment when that’s something you’ll be in the mood for, but this album is definitely worth a chunk of your time. (Also if you're not listening to his work on the basis of not liking Odd Future, I'd urge you to give him another chance with this, it's something quite different...)

Start off with: ‘Grown ups’

Best Weird Hip Hop award
Milo – So the Flies Don’t Come

Milo (actually called Rory) is the most utterly charming poet... His words move me like Kendrick's but in an entirely different way.
Full creepiness mode: I feel like I could fall in love with him. Who knows, he might be an awful person in real life, but his lyrics (on this and all his previous releases) are so warm, so delicious, so charming, it’s hard not to get pulled in. His delivery is crisp and clear, often feeling more like spoken word poetry than rap — which he actually alludes to himself “I don’t even really have to rap/my n**** it’s about if you can talk good”), and his beats are beautifully fuzzy, warm, subtle, rich electronica that just charms the socks off me.

Start off with: ‘Song about a Raygunn (An ode to driver)’, which is just a really lovely and well-deserved tribute to fellow rapper Busdriver… (of whom more next…) 
When he raps everyone everywhere is always electrified and no one would really mind if they were next to die

Best angry hip hop award
Busdriver — Thumbs

This is not an easy listening album, but it is definitely a good album. Busdriver has never put out a relaxing, gentle release (2007’s excellent ‘Roadkillovercoat probably comes closest), but even by his standards, this is challenging… And given his idiosyncratic vocal stylings, you probably already either love him or hate him, and whichever way you lean, this album is unlikely to change your mind. His incredibly verbose, darkly comedic lyrics, littered with bizarre metaphor and unusual turn of phrase continue to shine on this album, in which he touches on a wide range of cultural and political issues. There is a tone of bitterness/anger running throughout which is pretty compelling. He’s been doing what he does for a long time now, and his experiences and worldliness are more evident with every release: his work is only getting richer with time.

Start off with: Perhaps try the more gentle and arguably most listenable and intelligible track on the album’, the charming ‘Much’, which I think it would be pretty hard not to like, even if you’re not a fan of his work… Or go in at one of the more intense moments with ‘Great spooks of enormous strength’, which is probably my favourite.

Best video game OST

Flywrench OST

(Before I get started on this, shout out to the Undertale soundtrack… I’d never actually listen to it start to finish, as it’s mostly 30 – 60 second scene based chip tune, but in terms of absolutely nailing what that game needed to sound like, it deserves respect… Maybe play Undertale and enjoy it that way instead)

Flywrench is a ridiculous game. It's insanely challenging fast-paced levels of manoeuvring a rapidly moving abstract shape through progressively more difficult mazes, and requires a spectacular amount of skill and patience to get far with. I have only watched it being played, rather than played myself, and found the whole experience incredibly stressful, but also thoroughly enjoyable, mostly because of the appropriately intense soundtrack.
Messhof are again collaborating with Daedelus (who singlehandedly created the excellent soundtrack for their pixellated fencing game Nidhogg), but this time he has commissioned/curated a selection of his favourite artists into this surprisingly cohesive selection. It’s worth searching for a few short clips of the game to get an idea what this music is soundtracking, and hopefully this will help build an appreciation of how perfectly pitched for the game it is, as well as being an outstanding compilation of electronica in its own right.

Start off with: Kuh-lida’s upbeat ‘Left Lane Right Brain’ is perhaps the most explicitly ‘computer game’ feeling of the tracks… Daedelus own contribution ‘Speeds’ is also a shimmering, echoey highlight… and for some intense productivity aiding beats, try Sweatson Clank’s ‘Rust check

Some other great albums this year:
Kelpe — The Curved Line
Start off with: Calumet

Luke Vibert — Bizarster
Start off with: Bizarster

Jamie Woon – Making Time
Start off with: Sharpness

Nosaj Thing – Fated
Start off with: UV3

Hiatus Kaiyote – Choose Your Weapon
Start off with: Borderline with my Atoms

Lapalux — Lustmore
Start off with: Make Money

Ghostface Killah and Badbadnotgood — Sour Soul
Start off with: Sour Soul

Contrast Trio — Zwei
Start off with: What’s next

Masego x Medasin — The Pink Polo EP
Start off with: Bounce

Cavanuagh — Time and Materials
Start off with: Typecast

You should also check out this playlist, which contains a whole load of my favourite songs from this year.

Friday, 11 December 2015

A ridiculous Queen side project

My partner Alex loves Queen. Very much. I hate Queen. I know hate is a strong word but I really struggle to summon up anything other than fairly intense dislike towards their music, even if I have admiration for Freddy Mercury and respect for the status they achieved.

At some point, I don't recall why, it was suggested to Alex that they should take on a new Unstruck style blog project, but instead of answering a question a day in 500 words, they write a 500-word review of EVERY SINGLE QUEEN SONG, at a rate of an album a month. That's 16 albums worth.

I found the whole idea so hilarious and ridiculous that, despite my dislike of Queen I somewhat rashly agreed to illustrate every single entry. Yes, 16 albums worth of songs.

This means, for me, anywhere between 10 – 20 illustrations a month. After getting over the initial intense regret at committing to such an endeavour, I set to, with much the same spirit that I used to work on unstruck (see here and here for some examples), namely:

1) Isn't it nice to work on a project with my beloved
2) But also I'm totally not going to stress out and worry about these being any good, or even at all good
3) I'm also probably not going to spend more than half an hour (and often much less) on each one
4) This is a really good way of trying to think about things in a different way, and challenge myself to try new illustrative styles

As I know very little about Queen and their songs, and have little desire to find out, all of these illustrations are going to be ridiculously literal. Many of them will be terrible. Here are a few from the first month, and you can read Alex's accompanying thoughts here.

(And if you love this whole project, you can back the Patreon here — some ridiculous people already have. If it hits a certain amount, some of the loose change might even filter down to me!)

Doing all right

Keep yourself alive

Modern Times Rock n' Roll

Great King Rat

The Night Comes Down

Seven Seas of Rhye...

Son and Daughter

The blog header.

Tuesday, 1 December 2015


How's your November been? Mine has been busy-good, but also coming increasingly to terms with inevitable winter onset, which is always a struggle.


Alex says this might be the best visual diary I've ever done. It's a fairly accurate depiction of my ever-developing dance skills. My dance teacher very kindly said that my freestyling is getting better, by which she means I now alternate between three different moves, rather than just two.

I've been practising drawing horrible faces.

Spectre was pretty great, if you're into that kind of thing, and can temporarily suspend your sense of political correctness.

Just do it guys. You'll never look back.

Some super tasty Japanese style experiments. That daikon and cucumber relish. A+++

Still never know what to do with a cauliflower though.

Alex asked me to buy long bread, but apparently we differ on the definition of 'long' in the context of bread.

Now that we've finished playing through Sherlock, the Railway Street Irregulars have rebranded as the Railway Research Unit, and we're taking on Pandemic Legacy. So far, so much saving the world. In Justin's absence on the other side of the world, we have created him as a playable character, so he's there in spirit.

And then me and Alex went to Amsterdam! We travelled via train and it was great, we even managed to actually find something vegan to eat in Brussels train station, which was pretty unexpected given that it's normally a barren wasteland for vegans. We travelled on the day of the Paris bombings though, which was pretty unsettling.

On our first day in Amsterdam we had a range of experiences, which were probably about 60% not much fun, and yet somehow I'd consider the day about 90% successful. We were staying with friends about half an hour by train outside central Amsterdam, and they mentioned that at a train station rather excitingly called 'Science Park', there were some cool rotoscopes of famous scientists embedded in the pavement, so we decided to get off there and take a look, only to find a mostly barren, windswept university campus, devoid of anything even vaguely fun. But that was okay, we enjoyed the walk and then a walk through a nice park and then a tram into central Amsterdam (regular readers will know how excited I am about trams). We suffered from a lot of fairly obnoxious tourists, who apparently thought it was entirely acceptable to point and take photos of someone with unconventional gender identity. It's worth stating that absolutely no Dutch people were anything other than lovely to us... it was all tourists, mostly groups of young men. It seemed to me — walking through the red light district and past all the weed cafes — that to these people, Alex was just another object to be pointed at and photographed, rather than a person to be respected and treated kindly. Anyway. We found a great (but weird) Caribbean/Japanese vegan cafe for lunch, where we had some amazingly filling plates of food, before heading out of the centre of the city as fast as we could... We ended up spending much of our afternoon wandering through a deserted industrial estate in the rain, in search of a 3D printed house... Which somehow managed to tread the line between 'fun' and 'bleak' perfectly.

The next day we travelled out to Haarlem to visit our lovely friend Lara. It was a day of lots of wonderful things, including LITERALLY THE BEST CHIPS I'VE EVER HAD. I cannot overstate how amazing those chips were. I didn't even know it was possible for chips to be that good.

On our last day in Amsterdam, our lovely hosts Scott and Susan took us on a much better tour of Amsterdam, including museums, unusual macrobiotic vegan lunch, and the much-lauded olliebollen/appleflappen stand.

So much love for Amsterdam, The Netherlands, and our very kind hosts.

On the day we travelled home, we got to go and visit the Naarden star fort. This is a fairly terrible drawing, but it's quite a marvellous man-made geographic feature. 

Got this very appropriate teabag tag during a cup of tea with a friend.

Round two of Pandemic legacy, great pie, first time we failed, second time we succeeded. I think this is going to get pretty challenging pretty quickly.

Some days are like that.

TFW when your friend is like 'hey wanna come over for some brunch tomorrow' and you're like 'sure' and you get there and she's made savoury avocado pancakes with spinach, roasted cherry tomatoes, grilled mushrooms, avocado and tamari seeds... And then there are sweet banana pancakes with raspberries, blueberries, bananas, syrup and sugared roasted nuts... And then there are banana, peanut butter and cacao smoothies. And everything's vegan. Lou's the best.

Our internet is broken and I am WAY too upset about this. Currently hiding at Wes and George's house (who are heroes) making use of their super-fast broadband. It looks like whatever the problem is, it may require an engineer coming out, which is very upsetting. I have lost all ability to be productive/content without broadband, and I faintly disgust myself.

Onwards into December, in which I can hopefully get into the Christmas spirit and not be too much filled with hate. I did manage to not post any of the November entries in which I did nothing but complain about the cold though, so that's a start, right?