Golly. Weeks at the moment seem to simultaneously flash past and take forever to wade through, like treacle.
I’ve forgotten what my actual job is at work, and have spent most of my time this week reacting to things.
First and foremost, we have a new boss. This has meant there is a lot to explain and pass on, which is normal in these situations. This has been turned up to eleven by the coronavirus situation meaning we are rapidly trying to establish what we can do from home, and also understand what elements of our work are business critical. Fortunately for us, not a lot of what we do has hard deadlines or endangers life or whatnot if it isn’t done in a timely fashion. Others are not so lucky in this regard.
It’s inevitable that we will be working from home for a time, and our job now is working out what can be done from home and what would require physical access to the office. When your new boss is trying to draw all this up whilst not actually knowing what everyone does… It’s hard work. It’s not unenjoyable, actually. But it is hard work. And it is distracting everyone from their day job.
I think that point is true for basically everyone, everywhere. In the whole world. Which is incredible to consider. There’s also a neat/insane duality to all our business continuity prep which essentially means ‘we can afford to slacken off our work because literally everyone else will be doing the same thing’. These are very unusual times.
Speaking of which, I’ve seen and read about some very sad scenes at supermarkets recently. I’ve not actually come across anything uncivil, although I’ve definitely heard reports. On my brief forays to the shops to get basically our usual groceries – where I’ve strategically tried to buy about 10% extra of most longlife stuff we tend to use – I’ve just seen heightened busy-ness, and empty shelves in some surprising categories and others less so.
At the big nearby supermarket, where loo rolls, hand san and painkillers have been missing (or missing, then re-stocked, then raided again) for a while now, this weekend I noticed some new sections were running low or in fact completely empty, like eggs. I was therefore pleasantly surprised to find, on popping into a much smaller M&S very close by, that they were fully stocked on eggs, and in fact a number of the lines the big shop was out of. I guess it’s to do with a bigger shop encouraging people to bulk buy more, and come by car etc.
It’s just… all very strange. But it is for everyone. So it’s just the new normal? Which is very, very strange.
After opining recently that I wanted a neat automated way to see what albums of recent years I had merely streamed and not purchased, I spent a pretty straightforward few minutes paging through my last.fm library sorted into albums by play count for a given period. I started looking at months at a time, then went into whole years at a time, even going back as far as 2012 or so.
It was actually a very interesting process, and gave me the information I was after. I now have a list of thirty or so albums that I would happily pick up and add to my permanent music collection. I don’t exactly plan on popping out and spending £200-300 quid on CDs, but it’s nice to have a go-to list of stuff that I probably want for times when I’m out music shopping or if I’m browsing Bandcamp.
I actually was left scratching my head about where to buy some of this stuff. Partly “where do people buy digital music these days?” and partly “where is the most effective place to buy music in terms of benefit to the artist?” I think the answer to both in a number of cases is probably Bandcamp. Certainly I don’t intend to buy CDs secondhand from Amazon because in terms of benefit to the artist I may as well download it illegally. And I’m not bothered about owning the CD itself – if I can, say, throw a fiver at a band and get 320kbps+ or lossless digital files, I think that’s probably the sweet spot.
Secondary to all this, I found a bunch of albums I streamed several times that I genuinely didn’t remember listening to. I’ve created a Spotify playlist of these to wade through and see if they still appeal. The winners will go onto the ‘to-buy’ list.
Why am I doing all this? I don’t know. But I am getting familiar once again with the local music collection stored on a computer, and I like it. I think running a Spotify account alongside this is fine – it enables me to hear new music for free, and I actually get my Spotify subscription as a bonus to my mobile phone contract. Although the Android app can be quite slow and clunky (this may be a result of my legacy account having a decade of metadata attached to it), the Spotify service is very much worth having, and decent value even when directly paying for it. The arguments against it, from the artists’ perspective, are part of what’s pushing me to want to show my support in a different and more direct way.
I went for a run today, inspired by the BBC’s Sport Relief ‘Beat Beethoven’ gimmick. The basic idea is to stick on a new recording of Beethoven’s Fifth, which lasts about 34 minutes, and run 5k. I managed a run last weekend, and one in the week, but I love a gimmick to get me up and out – and this weekend has been particularly sedentary (thank goodness), so a kick up the bum to run down the road and back was welcome. The bonus was listening to a great performance of a piece of music I don’t think I’ve actually ever listened to in full. Well worth grabbing via BBC Sounds and sticking on if you need an excuse to pop out for a run.
Once again I found myself plundering the depths of someone’s blog and I can’t remember how I found the blog in the first place… But this week it was the blog of a chap named Andrew Roach, and I was drawn in partly by the aesthetic of his blog, and partly by the subjects he covers – he writes about old computers, and using old computers today to do the things he enjoys doing.
This weekend I checked out My Favorite Brunette, a Bob Hope parody/send-up of detective thrillers, which I really enjoyed. I’ve never seen a Bob Hope movie before, or really seen him in anything except… maybe a pastiche of him in an episode of the Simpsons?
While elements of the film felt as fated as you might expect for a film made in 1947, I found lots to love, included gags that felt more like they came from the likes of Airplane! or the Naked Gun series and sight gags, one-liners, looks-to-camera and other things that made the film feel pretty fresh. I recommend it!
It was a camera I fetishised and definitely thought would be the answer to all my photographic gripes about the Canon dSLR I was getting tired of lugging around. The camera looked great – I got the leather case – and it seemed compact and would be something I’d enjoy taking around with me and using more than my old Canon.
In the end I only owned that X10 from January 2012 to August 2012. I took 4,000 pictures on it in that time. Initially it was a gorgeous thing. Looking at pictures of that camera even now, I get joy from the tactility of the knobs and dials. But the camera was just… Not all that nice to use.
For one thing, the viewfinder wasn’t great. Getting an SLR replacement with a viewfinder was essential to me. I was so attached to composing my shots through a viewfinder that I had to have one. But this one was just a sort of rangefinder-esque viewfinder where you’re looking through a hole near the lens, but not seeing exactly what the lens sees. It felt kind of removed from the process and I never got on with it. *
* Even while writing this, I managed to mis-remember that this camera had an early LCD viewfinder, but of course it did not, and this was a feature of more high-end cameras of this type at the time, and the technology continues to improve.
Furthermore, the lens felt weird to use. It had a good, adaptable zoom lens which rotated to extend. But it didn’t have (or if it did, the way to use it was very unnatural) manual focus. What I love about dSLRs is the way lenses feel on them – the rotation to zoom in and out on zooms, and the solidness of primes. And on both, when manual focus is necessary, it can feel so precise and so lovely. On the X10, despite metal construction and good moving parts, it just never felt nice to use.
And overall, despite some decent baked-in digital features like film effects and good video modes, it just felt too much on the ‘digital point and shoot’ end of things for me, and far too far away from the tactility of using a dSLR. Ten months after buying it I sold the X10 and re-bought a slightly more updated Canon dSLR. I still miss the look of the X10 though, and that leather case was gorgeous.
I took some great pictures with the X10, but nothing amazing. I possibly didn’t use the camera to its full potential but a lot of the time, the images that came out (as JPGs, to be fair) were a bit dull and not particularly exciting.
I still have that Canon today and it’s weird to think that makes it about eight years old now. (In the process of looking through pictures taken with the X10, I was reminded that my bike and my Kindle, both of which I still use, and sometimes almost daily, were also bought in August 2012. My bike rattles and creaks and could almost certainly do with an overhaul but I love it so very dearly. And my Kindle is one of the last (non-expensive) ones with page turn buttons. I can’t believe it still works as well as it does, and I am so worried about the day I will have to replace it for a touchscreen model.)
I guess the danger now is me looking at how far those Fuji compacts have come. And with the likes of Dan Milnor espousing their benefits, I may need to take a look with fresh eyes at the range and see if the gap between the X10 and dSLRs has closed somewhat in the meantime.
I watched the Seinfeld finale after all and it was… Disappointing? I was glad to have not read any reviews or synopses of it beforehand so I could experience it fresh. But it just felt tonally wrong. Still, what a great series and I’m glad I’ve dipped in and out of it over the past 2-3 years having never seen it before.
In work life, we had the most important meeting so far involving some of the extra tasks I’ve taken on in the absence of a boss. It went…Well? Apart from the bit where the committee brought up a section of the paperwork which we’d done wrong, and worse, that I couldn’t work out how. For a brief, sweaty-palmed moment, I felt convinced I had thus done all of it wrong, and was preparing myself for a really frustrating meeting. So it was a relief when it was just that part, and an easily-fixed problem at that. The rest of it was… fine.
The rest of the week continued to exhibit high levels of anxiety around the office. We also had a few episodes of what I would say are normal problems to deal with, but that on top of everything else just felt cruel. But actually it only served to reveal that we’ve been lucky to go without any of the usual ‘normal’ problems of late, freeing up headspace to deal with the more unusual situations that have arisen.
ANYWAY. When I wasn’t working or fretting about work, I found myself playing with the cat, and taking an afternoon off to wander home via the Heath, taking photographs of birds with a long lens, listening to field recordings, and getting home before it got dark. All these things helped me.
AND on Friday this week we crossed an important threshold: sunset was at 5pm. From here on in, the sunset will be before the end of the working day. This is such a lift of the spirits. It should give enough of a boost to get us to the day we put the clocks forward, and then we’re home and dry.
In the meantime, the weather this week was… Changeable. Wednesday afternoon was glorious and bright. Thursday morning we were bathed under a thick fog. Saturday was bright and beautiful and actually almost warm out of the wind. And then in the early hours of Sunday, a storm rolled in which caused some chaos around the whole country.
We even had a brief power cut, the longest of which in recent memory, even if only five minutes or so. I quickly pulled out my little Tecsun shortwave radio and found blissful peace on the air with little to no electronic interference cutting through. I did a quick bandscan but the power was back on too quickly to really enjoy this little window of peace from RF interference.
It’s quite a rare occurrence. We just don’t have power cuts nowadays. I remember in the early and mid 1990s we had them every now and again, often caused by bad weather. It was regular enough (though probably not actually that regular) that we had a special places for the candles and we sort of knew what we had to do when a power cut happened.
I bet we only actually had like one power cut every year or so, but it definitely feels like A Thing Which Used To Happen Which No Longer Does, or perhaps I am just in my mid thirties.
A tweeted photograph from Jonathan Ganley brought to my attention the death of Andrew Brough of NZ band Straitjacket Fits. Their Down in Splendour, which Brough wrote, is a stunning song, with wonderful multi-layered guitars and vocal sounds, and the guitar solo is a classic – beautifully understated, and it disappears just as soon as it arrives, leading me to almost always want to hear the song again immediately.
On Saturday, M and I popped up to St Albans to do Parkrun with some friends, one of whom is training for the London Marathon (and the other who, it should also be said, is doing his best to support her progress and training).
It was, as I said, a lovely bright and mild morning. I’d gone to bed the previous evening not looking forward to a run, and even that morning I woke feeling clunky and creaky and stiff. I decided to just attend out of politeness and see how it went. But thanks be to the herd mentality – and it was some herd, with more than 500 attending – as I got swept up in the event and ran well, and I even got a decent time.
And really, much like some Parkrun routes, this one is becoming a victim of its own success as it attracts crowds which fill the modest paths round the park, leading to occasional bottlenecks. I was left actually quite satisfied in the knowledge that if I ran the same route again with the paths to myself I could certainly shave some time off it. And although Parkrun is timed and is about pushing oneself, it is mostly about having fun and respecting the other runners and park users. And ultimately it’s all about getting out there, and I was so glad I did.
St Albans continued to give and give, as we found a lovely brunch spot in the George Street Canteen, had a nose around the market which was full of yet more splendid food offerings, before popping back into the warmth of the Pudding Stop for another hot drink and some brunch desert.
We also passed a great camera shop – Clarks Camera Centre on Holywell Hill – in which I found a warm welcome, some great service and advice, and I came away with a new (old) 35mm f2.8 lens with an M42 mount which I’ll be able to use on my Canon dSLR by the use of an adapter I’ve had for years.
I got rid of most of my film cameras a few house-moves ago, and lately I’ve missed the Zenit in particular, and its wonderful 50mm lens. So hopefully this neat little 35mm prime will scratch some of the itch I’ve had lately for shooting fully manual through vintage glass.
We had a great half a day in St Albans, then got the train home and I plunged myself into a wonderful bath of Epsom salts mixed with all manner of stuff including bergamot and CBD oil. Most relaxing.
As an aside, I hate writing St Albans on my phone and on my computer. Anywhere, ‘Albans’ comes up as a typo and leaves me full of doubt as to whether there might be an apostrophe. And on my phone, trying to first type the word ‘St’ always sees it corrected to At. Which is maddening. I feel for you, residents of St Albans.
And finally, this week I was tinkering with my MiniDisc player which is a thing that happens every now and then. I bloody love the form factor of the player and the discs, and I guess I get a kick out of a tiny bit of portable audio equipment still working nicely nearly twenty years on. The bonus is that most of my MiniDiscs are either mixtapes or compilations of related albums/singles that are all very much of a time and place, and listening to them now is a lovely little step through time.
These urges to listen to MiniDiscs usually leads me to naughty thoughts like… recording new MiniDiscs.
In the past I’ve actually recorded my Spotify Discover Weekly playlist to a MiniDisc which was… Stupid, really. The novelty factor was huge, but the practical side was a disaster – recording a line-in input in real time, combined with – by its very nature – a playlist of songs I have not heard before.
MiniDiscs can store metadata, but obviously recording audio like this doesn’t capture anything. So I end up hearing a song I’ve never heard before and want to identify, and my options are either checking Spotify and seeing if I can figure out which track it was in the playlist, or… Sigh… Or, reader, trying to Shazam the audio from my headphones into my phone’s mic. And honestly, I knew how ridiculous that scenario was already, but having typed it out just makes me feel insane for ever trying.
Anyway, this time round I decided to do something slightly less mad: just capture some favourite CDs via optical cable. One benefit of using optical/digital instead of analogue is the levels are set automatically, and the track markers are as per the CD rather than based on gaps of silence. It’s more precise.
There’s something neat about having a small, dedicated collection of the Best of the Best on a portable player. I’ve done the same on a tiny iPod Shuffle before – curated a sort of desert island all-time best-of set of albums that go with me anywhere.
So I rigged this all up and… The method I used somehow did not end up including track markers. Just one whole CD as a single track. At this point I just gave up. What was I doing? It’s madness.
So what I’m doing NOW is assembling a new digital library of The Best of the Best albums on my computer, ripped at either 320kbps MP3 or lossless, and setting up a means of syncing this stuff to my phone. Even this process seems needless when I have Spotify and (for now) Google Play Music’s library in the cloud.
But it just feels silly constantly streaming in a lossy codec the kinds of stuff a) I love, b) I already own, and c) that may not actually be available to stream. And there’s something very satisfying about a neatly organised music collection, even if it is digital.
God. These weeknotes are a bit long. I need to work on that.
Let’s dust ourselves down and see what this week has to offer.
I’ve not listened to any new music in ages, which means that my Spotify Release Radar has been slowly filling up with new tracks to check out. I tend to listen to podcasts when walking to or from work but there’s only so much of that a guy can take. So this morning I switched to Spotify, and I’m glad I did. Here are my HOT TAKES on some of the latest tracks.
Mermaidens – Give It Up
Mermaidens are great. While listening to this lush bit of anti-rock I had a lovely dream that they might come to London soon and play a few low-key shows before they get picked up by others. But what I really think will happen is they get some high-profile support slots and emerge onto our shores only when ready to play 1,000+ venues. Either way, they’re the next (or latest?) big thing to come from Wellington and they’re fantastic.
alt-J – Deadcrush (Spike Stent Mix)
I always forget to listen to alt-J. There are a number of issues I have with their aesthetic, but I can’t deny there’s something damn delicious about the lead vocals and their tight beats – so it stands to reason that a good remix really shows off these features.
The War On Drugs – Pain
I can’t help but feel like I’m listening to dad-rock when I listen to The War On Drugs, but I love them. I let their last album wash over me endlessly when it shuffled into my life and it’s just such a woozy, lovely sound that I can’t resist them.
Iggy Pop – Lust For Life (The Prodigy Remix)
Sure. Fine. A solid remix of a classic banger. Makes me feel like I’m listening to the Trainspotting 2 soundtrack. Hell, maybe this is on the Trainspotting 2 soundtrack? I got bored towards the end. My main takeaway was: “Dear lord I’d love to hear the isolated vocals to Lust For Life…”
The Cribs – What Have You Done For me?
Thank goodness for The Cribs. A perennial favourite and the languorous vocals and fuzzy guitars just lift me up whenever I listen to them. This track is no different.
MxPx – They
MxPx have no right to be in this playlist – in the sense that I can’t believe they’re putting out new music nearly twenty years after I first happened upon them. Sure this track’s a bit political in a sort of post-American Idiot way but, shit, American Idiot was like fifteen years ago and farbeit from me to suggest we don’t need a bit of politics with our punk rock when we seem to be sleepwalking into all-out nuclear war. Really pleasantly surprised by how fresh this track sounds – and no I’m not about to Google the band’s ages.
Arcade Fire – Infinite Content
Just another step down the road to me wondering who the hell Arcade Fire even are any more. I heard the Abba one and now this weird parody of a tune comes on and I’m like SKIP. I have fond memories of seeing them in a church as a warm up for Neon Bible, the band slowly filing around the audience from the back, doing an a capella cover of Guns of Brixton. And now I realise that that was more than ten years ago and I just need to let it go and move on.
Lana Del Rey – Beautiful People, Beautiful Problems
One day I’ll sit down and listen to Lana Del Rey. Her voice is incredible. But I am in search of louder, faster things this morning.
Stereophonics – All In One Night
Stereophonics, huh? I thought their inclusion on my Release Radar was the result of a playful malgorithm but you and I both know that on tipsy listening sessions I’ll often be found blasting out Word Gets Around. But not this morning, Kelly. Back in your box.
Converge – Eve
Converge tho. Damn this is good. A lovely atmospheric build up and I can’t even listen to familiar Converge tracks without bracing myself for impact. This track doesn’t quite knock me off my feet – in a good, pleasantly surprising way. It has a good, brooding build-up and a really great release. This track is nearly eight minutes long, a fact which surprised me both times I listened to it this morning. So pleased to hear new Converge. Apparently this is the b-side of a new single so I’ll be checking that out.
Nine Inch Nails – Less Than
Another new release that I’ve been meaning to check out and… It’s good. It sounds like other NIN songs. I believe other tracks on the EP are heavier, which if true is a good mix. I’ll bang that on later as well. Trent Reznor is very prolific but I have zero problems with that.
The White Stripes – Love Potion #9 (Live)
This was weird. Not sure yet if it’s a Third Man re-release of some live bootlegs or some weird third-party thing. But it’s clearly an early live show and lordy Meg’s drums sound bad. And yet, and yet… Jack’s wailing guitar and infectious vocals… It’s that guitar sound that made us all feel in 2002 that you could just pick up a shitty guitar and amp and make it sound like Jack White. Until you try, fail, and realise he’s some kind of genius. But hearing this bootleg – even despite the quality of the recording and the drumming – reminded me what I loved about The White Stripes in the first place.
Cornershop – Brimful of Asha (Avenue Strings Remix)
Well this was nice. I wonder how many ‘official’ remixes of this song exist? This remix seems to lack vocals – which weirdly works for such a familiar song as they continue in your head all the same. The guitars sound lovely and distinct and it left me wondering how they sound on the original, kind of like the aborted Noel Gallagher remix(es?) that emerged last year.