The Death of The Album

Circa 2014, rock band Muse declared the album dead. One of music’s most lasting legacies since the emergence of recorded music, the longest format, with its relative simplicity, the band claimed, in the face of the digitalisation and ubiquity of music on the internet, had perished. 

They weren’t entirely wrong. A statistical study published on the website Statistica recorded the annual music album sales from the year 2007 to 2017 (with ‘album’ including “CD, CS, LP and digital albums”). Most years, total album sales fell lower than their preceding years. Between the years 2016 – 2017, album sales dropped by 9.4 million units from 205.5 million albums being sold in 2016 to 169.1 million in 2017. In fact, only in the year 2011 did album sales see a marginal bump up from its predecessor (from 326.2 million to 331 million, a rise of only 1.5%). Overall album sales had fallen from just above 500 million units in 2007, to under 200 million in 2017. With streaming today giving many people the choice between paying $20 for 12 tracks or $10 a month for access to a seemingly infinite music database, the shift is hardly shocking. 

In today’s age of digital music, where the number of streams and views on a song online is bigger news than an album’s garnering platinum success, the standalone single has emerged as the most popular format. It’s almost logical: give a time-pressed world a short three-minute catchy song with a video that looks good on YouTube (but perhaps not in your mother’s hands) and sticks in their head, and the world will reciprocate with its attention. It’s as simple a thing as giving people what they need. The radio will take care of the rest. 

Will it run for forty minutes?
Credits: thrillist.com

In today’s age, people want variety, entertainment and familiarity rolled into one, and they want it quick. 
The fifty-minute Length Play can hardly keep up with anything less than a traffic jam. The concentration asked of most experimental records won’t keep your eye on the road during your morning jog. And it’s no fun trying to keep up with something completely unfamiliar in rhyme or rhythm in the shower or on the dance floor. This is where the album, with its structure, discipline, and some may say, conformity, loses out in 2018. It’s also where your curated Spotify playlist wins. 

Listening to the modern chart radio reveals a few patterns.
 Either in the contents of the lyrics, vocal and tonic technique, baselines or drum machine patterns; something seems homogenous. Something sounds familiarly like the last fifty songs you’ve heard. Something in the song knows what makes your foot tap from past trials and is here to serenade you again. 
Out-of-breath crooners are back in fashion. Trance baselines have been in for a few years and stubbornly refuse to leave the charts alone. Acid bass drops get you moving. Minimalistic drum taps interfere the least with your dance floor groove. (As a disclaimer, this is all terminology coming from a rock music listener who’s spent way too many holiday car trips with the Tops 40’s radio.)
There’s always a story, either vocal or instrumental, that you’ve heard before  and it becomes easier to fill in the rest. 
But there’s always something almost obligatorily new: a synth melody in a new key, a different chord progression (Hmm, perhaps playing ‘A#-D#’ this time instead of playing ‘D-A’ will sound extremely novel), a new instrument thrown into the mix; something to make a case for your argument in favour of variety. 

What this sums up, to me, is a tired, wary society. We like our variety, in fact we’re wired for it, but only in micro dosages. We cling to familiarity and will take our blankets and pillow along with it. This is a generation that has seen more than its fair share  of experimentation and variety in life and wants no more hard surprises. Yes, you can dye the cat purple for all I care, maybe the colour will even look good on her. Just don’t let me know that I can’t afford my rent this month. Don’t tell me my student debt has doubled and that I’ll probably never be able to retire. Keep the papers away. Oh, and while you’re at it, don’t mess with my music. 

Pop music—historically short for popular music—is in this sense still quite a good reflection of society and its current mental state.
 Most of today’s adults the teens and preteens of the mid-00’s, a generation that grew up under the dominant reign of Disney Channel. This decade’s rise in (or perhaps, resurgence of) Disney artists in the popular music charts could well mean a generation of now-grown kids holding onto the last of their childhoods—a time when things seemed simpler, or were at least taken care of, and there seemed a lot more to look forward to in the future than they grew up to realise—through their childhood stars. 

So are we holding on to something that’s over and smearing its remains onto our music– a large aspect of our cultural lives and legacy? Does the ‘death’ of the longest format of music represent a breaking down of barriers, the handing of the reigns to the listener to modify their listening experience to their own comfort, the result of our collective wishes as a generation to find familiarity; or is it the death of music as we once knew it?


Loosest Stuff I Could Piece Together: Anyone Can Write Deep Poetry Series

Come on over and write yourself the next chart-buster. Anyone can do it, no lie!

First up, welcome to the Anyone Can Write Deep Poetry series. 

Have you spent all day and all night, listening to Pink Floyd, obscure French music and frantically pulling up your old English notes from school searching for all the phrases and idioms that may have passed you by in twelve years of worthless education, and sit there scratching your head wondering where deep, meaningful poetry comes from?

Are you walking around town in low-waisted, ripped jeans with shades and a bedhead with a purpose, looking around for someone to pass you a few tabs of acid to unlock the sheer poetic creativity that sleeps passively in your soul?

Are you following all the latest yoga fads and rewatching every John Lennon interview in existence to find the meaning of life and finally turn it into that soulfully-worded song you know you should have written by now? (Come on, you’ve been searching for a year already!)

Well, fear not, for I have ended your woes!
Here is a step by step guide to getting in the frame of mind most fertile for sprouting pearls people will quote for years, read and reread to really grasp the inner meaning of, that people will cry upon deciphering. 

Basically, I’m gonna turn you into Radiohead. 

So let’s begin. Echoes 2.0 ain’t gonna write itself. 

What time is it? 
Did you just get back from work? Are you tired of the structured life, does the hypocrisy of society frustrate you?
Yeah well, you’ve already tried writing about it. 
And yelling, “down, down, down with the governmeeent!” clearly hasn’t helped your SoundCloud grow. 

Try the indirect approach. Orwell neatly shrunk society into a farm. Look at how many musicians quote his books. You want that, don’t you? 
What can you come up with?

Ditch the obvious! The LSD ain’t gonna help your head if it isn’t thinking!

Here’s a start: you think people shy away from self-contentment, don’t you?
Let’s find you something a level beyond “We’re all sad fucks.” 

What’s the least obvious thing that could represent fulfilment?

Yes, now you’re using your 3 AM brain, good work!
Cream cheese.

Why not? 

Satisfaction is cream cheese. You know it’s what Jagger wanted. But none of you can get it, you sad fucks, you’re afraid of getting it! 

What would shake up society more than anything else?
That’s right, someone getting it! And not just getting it, but enjoying it!

Attaboy, my Dylan! You’ve got yourself a full verse already! Should’ve come to me last year, don’t you think?

So here’s your first verse. 

Cream cheese is good
Real good food
I put it in my mouth
Until it’s all gone

What’s more torturous than just getting, and enjoying good cream cheese?
Getting it again! And again! And again! You rebellious soul, what will you do to the planet!?

You loop it. You say the same thing, again, and again, and again. You drive your bloody point home. You’ve got some fucking cream cheese out there. And you’re gonna eat it, period. 

What a symbolic middle finger in the face of the establishment. 

Yeah, how’s your acid working out for you?

Freedom can be trippy. Make sure your listeners—and the damned Establishment—know it! 
Put the trip and the trap into your music: echoes, delays, fades, until you’re so high on your own freedom that no one can hear you anymore. 

You’re a quick learner.
 Let’s put that onto your draft now. 

Cream cheese is good
Real good food
I put it in my mouth
Until it’s all gone

Yeah, cream cheese tastes good!
Is real good food
I put it in my mouth
Until it’s all gone!

Good food, yeah?
See me put it in my mouth
And watch it be all gone!


Now, you and your group break away: there’s strength in numbers! Free your mate, and free your girlfriend, free your neighbour’s dog! Give ‘em some cream cheese. 

(song continued)

And my mate likes good cheese
My girl says it’s good food
We put it in the dog’s mouth
Until my neighbour’s gone

How’s that for emancipation of the people, sir? Could the establishment have an answer to that? Now all you need is to seal this with a kiss. 

I rise up, raid the pantry!
We rise up, raid the factory!
Wake up, eat up, 
Wake up
Wake up!

Who’d have expected that? You’ve got the critics in tears, reviewers raving; you’ve put together something nonsensical enough for the radio, deep enough for the underground, heady enough to score you that dream collaboration with Post Malone, you star!

Take a look at your final product and be proud. 

Cream cheese is good
Real good food
I put it in my mouth
Until it’s all gone

Yeah, cream cheese tastes good!
Is real good food
I put it in my mouth
Until it’s all gone!

Good food, yeah?
See me put it in my mouth
And watch it be all gone!


And my mate likes good cheese!
My girl says it’s good food
We put it in the dog’s mouth
Until my neighbour’s gone

I rise up, raid the pantry!
We rise up, raid the factory!
Wake up, eat up, 
Wake up
Wake up!

Now, about the music, jeez, aren’t you exhausted? This song’s already a chart buster, why don’t you send your A&R guy to sample the neighbour’s dog pissing? It’s so meta, I can’t even. It probably even sounds good on record. About the actual rhythm section? Scratch some pads, man, anyone can make music. 

(In case the point was lost, this was pure satire. If you actually do write a song about cream cheese, and if it actually does hit the charts, I want in.

This is not a generic attack on lazy songwriting, and is neither a diss on any of the songwriters mentioned above. 

Except maybe Post Malone. But whatever.)


A Midnight’s Dilemma

To write or not to write- that is half a question
To go over in the mind asleep;
Slings and arrows of wakefulness
To surface from its sea to consciousness
Or suppress them, end them. To sleep, to sleep–
No more– and by a sleep to say release
Let go of a thousand and more thoughts
That the mind is heir to- ‘tis euphoria
Devoutly to be wished. To sleep, to sleep–
To sleep, perchance till twelve. Ay, there’s the rub,
Of an eye, for ‘til the fresh rays come,
The thought has left this mortal coil.
This gives us pause. There’s the respect
That makes calamity of so long and dark a night.
For who would bear the glares and ticks of time,
The spacing out, the offended glares,
The pangs of a body hungering for sleep, and its arrival’s delay
The sleep deprivations and the spins
This patient merit of th’ body takes
When he himself his bed made,
With bare hands? Who would fardels bear,
To fumble in the dark, for the light switch
But the dread of losing that thought,
It’s departure to new-found lands
From where it never returns, puzzles the will
And makes us pick those quills we have
And have them fly over flapping sheets
Thus does the clock above make fools of us all,
And thus the native hue of resolution
To shut the eyes tight, and ward off all thought
Is sicklied o’er with the pale cast of another thought
But enterprises of great pitch and moment
With this regard, their currents hasten
But sleep must lose the name of action– Sleep-deprived you now!
The fair inkiness! Black, In thy testament
Be all my sins remember’d.


P.S. as you can probably guess, it’s that time of the year again.

Test time.


Bohemian Lament

Exams draw near, and it brings out the worst in me.

In my defence, I get bored.


Is this a real pile? Is it just fall-acy?
Caught in a landslide
Of books sliding down on me
Open your eyes
Look up to the ceilings and see
I’m just a poor student
Pile of books taller than me,
Knowledge easy come, easy go
Little high, little low
Any way the wind blows,
The answers seem to blow with them
Away from me

Mama just killed a man
Just the turn of a page,
Now he’s confused and filled with rage

Mama, the lesson’d just begun
But now I’ve gone and thrown it all away

Mamaaa ooooooooooo
Didn’t mean to make you cry
But I won’t be done with this by tomorrow
Grind on, grind on
As if nothing really matters.

Too quick
Its time has come
Sends shivers down my spine
Eyes shutting all the time

Goodbye everybody
I’ve got to go
Gotta leave the world behind and face the books

Mama, oooooo
I don’t wanna die
And sometimes wish I’d studied a bit before

I see a little silhouette of a book
Scandium, scandium, can you be less scandalous
Thunderbolts and lightning are just electrons flying at you
Galileo, Galileo, Galileo, Galileo Galileo didn’t see this coming,

I’m an unpaired electron, nobody loves me
Unpaired and Lost from his metal was he
Spare him his life of unfulfilled valency
Easy come, easy go, will you let me go?
Bismillah! No, we will not let you go
Let him go!
Bismillah! We will not let you go
(Let him go!) Bismillah! We will not let you go
(Let me go.) Will not let you go
(Let me go.) Will not let you go. (Let me go.) Ah
No, no, no, no, no, no, no
(Oh mamma mia, mamma mia) Mamma mia, let me go
Bismuth has an orbital put aside for me
For me
For mee!

So you think the plain ground state was made for I?
So you think I’ll just keep spinning here till I die?
Oh, gaining, velocity baby,
Just gotta get out, just gotta get right out of here

(Put down the book, and)
Nothing really matters
All the prep there can be
Nothing makes the difference
For me.


Cycle of Life

I was reading an article on how the population equilibrium on the planet will be maintained- a cycle of events that supposedly take place, that ensure a balance in human numbers on the planet.

Very roughly, they cycled as follows:
At first, there was a medium-ish population, and a small, hand sowed-and-reaped produce just enough to feed it.
If the population increased, the food supply was the limiting or checking factor, maintaining our population size.

Then came the mechanisation.
All of a sudden, with industrialisation, machines were reaping more crops than ever.

For once, an increasing population had enough, and even surplus food in store. (Cue: the Great Depression of the late ’20s, where the grain produce was so much, it had no more value in the markets.)

With this, and advances in technology and medicine, the so-far tight check on population growth loosened, and what began was the third phase of the cycle: something we call the population explosion.

In this stage, life conditions look relatively hunky dory, people live, live, and keep on living.

We’re accelerating too much, the problem of today.

Well, here’s what the cycle says.
This is where a fourth phase in the cycle kicks in.

There will then follow a stabilisation, wherein, with lower mortality rates and more longevity, humans will start reproducing less.
There simply won’t be a need for people to have as many kids anymore.
[Also, I may add, the lack of a libido, as seen in the Japanese, and the introduction of AI into the sex sphere, may play big roles in bringing down the very need/urge for human sex, and indirectly, reproduction.]

Now, I’m not economist or researcher. But I have another theory.

The human race will advance further in the intelligence sphere, and we’ll soon be delegating our intelligence to algorithms.

We’ll progress to the point where we’ve become far too comfortable.
(And trust me, we’re on our way there.)

The human body was designed for action. We were predators and prey once. Now we prey on the supermarket.
We use to be on the move.

Heaven knows we may adapt to inactivity. But mostly, I think that would fall apart.

Soon, non-movement-related illnesses would begin to take control of the human race, and human numbers will fall, because most likely, we won’t be able to reverse the damage.
Lifestyles mostly only progressively change, not regressively.

Now birth and death rates will balance out, and for all you know, despite improving technology, we may not have the problem of food surplus, because of the growing importance of (and money diverted to the production of) medicinal precautionary drugs, etc. in the human diet.
We come back to Step 1 of the cycle, i.e., balance. (Birth = death ≤ food supply).

There is another way, though.

Human beings’ strongest claim to the top of the hierarchy has always been their superior thinking ability. We’ve outsmarted and ousted almost every other dominant species on the planet. We call it civilisation.

But, of late, we’ve been handing over the reigns to the Golden Age bearers; with a machine to do everything a human can, the human needn’t work anymore. We have submitted to the idea of the Reigner Supreme: the now preferred machine.
Soon enough, the machine takes over the thinking aspect as well. Like a rusting machine, the now-useless human brain rots away in wastefulness.
No longer the well-oiled machine it once was, the evolution of the human brain stops.
With our front running claim to the top, our biggest weapon blunted, we will slide lower. Rationality and logical thinking will be lost, one bad decision will lead to another, till we’ve effectively dwindled down to the last human.
Ain’t that hard to kill the last dodo, is it now?

At last the cycle will end, and the winners, created by the ones they destroyed, the Reigning Machines, the victors, would stand tall, perfect and purposeless.

Hey, I’m only a science fiction writer, but who’s to say that dolphins won’t rule our planet one day?


The Secret Spice Handshake

A treatise on spices and chillis

Today I found out why no two people to cook Indian dishes have ever achieved the same taste. It all comes down to one “ingredient”.

One “ingredient” I say, because it’s garam masala (which translates roughly to hot spice), which isn’t one ingredient. Sure, you can buy it as a single ingredient, but it’s essentially a mix of a bunch of Indian spices: crushed peppercorns, cumin seeds, red chilli powder, two types of cardamoms (green and black), coriander seeds (not coriander leaves mind! That’s garnishing and belongs in the trash I hate it so much), and a few more: cinnamon powder, nutmeg powder, curry leaves, a bunch more, even I don’t remember them all.

But the point is, the amount of each spice determines what your garam masala will taste like, because there’s no one dominant ingredient really. So it comes down to your tried and tested/passed-down-family proportions, rather than the ingredients themselves, and this is just talking about one single ‘ingredient’ of a dish. Some people use ginger and garlic/ginger-garlic paste, others feel tomato and onions will suffice, some parts/cuisines of India use more sugar in cooking everything (Gujarat), some eat drier, spicier food (Rajasthan, possibly because it’s mostly desert. Little grows there!), if you head down south, the ingredients used are entirely different: they prefer rye, tamarind, round chillis (no idea what they’re called)

**Update: I found out what they’re called. Ramnad chillis, or locally, ramnad mundu, or gundu. They’re native, naturally, to a village called Ramnad in Tamil Nadu, and they’re used in the state’s famous Chettinad cuisine.

Gundu Chilli – Groids

These are dried gundus, as they are when used in cooking.

Chilli Gundu - GardenHunt

Fresh gundus. Look like cherries, don’t they? Don’t mistake them for cherries when you eat them!

Oh… saying that to myself over and over I just realised, gundu in Tamil means fat. Gundu chillis. Really. That’s what you came up with, Chennai? Fat chillis? Keep it right up…

It’s funny, because I had to google what red round chillis are actually named and learned that chillis aren’t even native to India, no matter how they’re the first thing you’d associate with Indian cuisine (general). They were introduced from Portugal in the 1500s (Vasco da Gama, etc.). Before that there was just… black pepper. Even then, north Indian food, which is even more heavily associated with spice (dried red chillis are called Kashmiri chillis, afterall!), was in the dark about chillis until much later, when a Maratha king (mid-west-ish) decided he’d had enough of northern ignorance.

Asian Star Powder Extra Red Mild Kashmir Chilly, 500 Gram, Packaging Type  Available: Packets, Rs 104 /kg | ID: 9463974397
Aesthetic™. Don’t you dare rub your eye. (Kashmiri chillis and corresponding red chilli powder)

(Note: that above is poetically and comedically great, but historically inaccurate. His move north was to challenge the Mughals, then emperors of India till just before the British takeover (and partly directly responsible for it), who contributed their lot to cuisine. A lot of what you think of as stereotypically heavy Indian food/takeout, is in fact Mughal and is called that in India. So while you’d “takeout Indian” in the US or Canada, “go for a curry” in the UK, you’d be “eating Mughlai” were you to order the same in India. It’s assimilated into Indian cuisine comfortably enough that people sometimes use the words synonymously (or who are we kidding, use “Indian” to exclusively mean “Mughlai” and may not have heard of the latter word. Unrelatedly, I was quite pleased when a friend told me the town he lived in, which had a fair Indian diaspora, did some excellent south Indian food!)

Indian Green Chilli Paste | My Heart Beets
Garden variety green chillis, “locally” called hari mirchi (hari = green, mirchi = chilli/spice). I say, ‘local’, but there are at least 200 local languages in India, so obviously, it’s not local to them all…

Unfortunately I cannot tell you much more about them, even after spending an embarrassing 25 minutes googling. I am still not sure if they are grown in Andhra Pradesh (Andhra Pradesh? Telangana? I don’t even know any more… and whichever of the two it is; the new Andhra Pradesh or the new Telangana, or if it was pre-split Andhra Pradesh then that, but whichever it is), it is one of the largest exporters of chilli in the world!

But green chillis could well be grown in Kerala. Or Gujarat. Or, as the one thing all of google unanimously agrees upon says, in your back garden from chilli seeds! I should grow chillis from chilli seeds. I love green chillis. Then again, all the magic of a green chilli lies in the seed: that’s where all the spice, flavour and capsaicin is! I might end up eating it before we’ve even begun…

Anyway! I could go on for hours about chillis: there’s a variety of lighter green coloured green chillis which have (allegedly) all the flavour of a green chilli and none of the spice. They do still have the seeds, they just don’t bite. They’re for LiteTM enjoyers of spice.
That sucks the joy out of my life. That they specifically bred chillis for mildness makes my head whirl. Still, with the sheer variety in Indian chillis, it’s quite passable as just Another Type Of Indian Chilli.

Single Green Chilli With White Background Stock Photo - Image of orange,  food: 183233332
Light green, devoid of any juice, joy or purpose.


Anyway, I could absolutely go on about chillis for hours and this post wasn’t even about chillis, it was specifically about the Indian enigma and unique kitchen handshake that is garam masaala, and we’ll never figure it out. That is the conclusion. Thank you all for reading.

Music Streaming: Findings From The Other Side

The DCMS’s inquiry into the impact of streaming on the music economy is out

The Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee in the UK has released findings from its months-long inquiry into the impact that streaming has had on musicians, and it is scathing. It agrees with most of the points that artists have been raising (particularly in the last year or so). Here is a short recap of it by the BBC,

MPs call for complete reset of music streaming to ensure fair pay for artists The music industry is weighted against artists, who see “pitiful returns” from streaming, MPs say. BBC News

Labour MP Kevin Brennan also posted his recap of the report on his Twitter. He has been pushing a private member’s bill to amend the UK digital copyright laws to treat streams the same way music used in TV and radio is, where the royalties are split 50-50 with labels and artists (equitable remuneration), and also was involved with the committee that heard evidence from musicians earlier and that cross-examined streaming and record label UK bosses, in the lead up to this conclusion.

Actually I had no idea you could just embed a tweet into my ancient wordpress theme. Everyday you learn…

Some of the committee’s other recommendations were:

  • Musicians and songwriters should be allowed to reclaim the rights to their work from labels after a set period of time.
  • Artists should be given the right to adjust their contract if their work is successful beyond the remuneration they received.
  • The government should explore ways to ensure songwriters, who receive minimal streaming royalties, can have sustainable careers.
  • Curators who make playlists on services like Spotify and Apple Music should adhere to a “code of conduct” to avoid bribes and favouritism.
  • The government should require publishers and royalty societies to inform artists about how much money is flowing through the system.
  • Warner and Universal Music should follow Sony’s example, and cancel their artists’ historical debts

(Sony recently announced it was dropping unrecouped remuneration from its legacy artists. It kind of goes without saying, but it just goes to show again that the record labels really… don’t need 70 years worth of 80% of your income. They don’t. It’s not a “risky investment into undecided talent”, it’s exploitation. Don’t listen to the BPI, they’re talking through their arses (again). I bring up the BPI because the BBC have quoted their “cautious” response to the inquiry and they’re too polite to point out this isn’t the first time the BPI has spouted this clownery under the guise of defending “risky investment” into talent; you don’t say the same of traditional investments BPI, pipe down)

Some of the standout stats which were shocking to me were that:

  • 80% of music consumption in the UK came from streaming. There is no alternative. For a streaming company to shirk responsibility and say people can just “opt out” is barefaced lies, and streaming is not a level playing field.
  • I know YouTube pays out the lowest rates for music (less than 0.05p—not pounds, pence), but YouTube makes up 51% of music streaming, while it paid only 7% out to musicians.

MusicAlly, whose ill-fated interview with Spotify’s CEO last June also gave a lot of push to the strive for equitable remuneration, covered the inquiry as well.

Tom Gray, the musician behind the Broken Record campaign that played a big part in an investigation like this ever being conducted, also found that the inquiry confirmed what musicians had been saying all along about the paltry payouts from streaming.

In general, Tom Gray is someone you should follow if you want to keep up with the ongoing issue of fair payments and royalties in music, and his Broken Record campaign.

It remains to be seen what the larger impact of the committee’s recommendations will be, Spotify has always felt to me like a company enjoying the 7-day free-trial version of exploitation benefits. It’s well known to anyone familiar with the history of music technology, or even tech in general, that laws are always about 10 years behind existing technology. We saw this happen with sampling as well, for example, where record labels were suing left, right and centre but the courts didn’t have a unanimous definition for what legally constituted a sample.

Spotify always felt to me like a company whose 5-year plan was to make a profit off the fact that we don’t have a legal definition for a stream, and it’s starting to feel like the law is somewhat catching up. Of course, any changes will only be applied to payment in the UK, but such decisions are known to ripple around the world (see for example, Australia’s legal suits against Google and Facebook over payment of royalties to news publishers whose articles both companies used for little compensation as google news results and the facebook news feed, has been followed by the EU suing Google €500 billion for failing to negotiate a fair deal with news publishers there in the 2 months it was allotted)

If you’re interested, you really should read the entire report, which is available as a PDF on the parliament website here: https://committees.parliament.uk/publications/6739/documents/71977/default/

I’m hopeful about this!

A Tribute To Dave Datblygu

I want to write about David R Edwards today. He was a singer and Welsh language revolutionary, and passed away last week from health complications, and I wanted to highlight his impact on Welsh music.

David R Edwards: The No Holds Bard | welshnot
Dave performing on stage. Image via welshnot

David was a Welsh pioneer, singer in experimental post-punk band Datblygu (pronounced Dat-bluh-gee), sometimes (kind of reductively) called ‘the Welsh Fall’. While Dave was a big fan of Mark E Smith and the Fall, Datblygu didn’t sound like them very much. What they sounded like often depended on what Patricia Morgan, other half of Datblygu, was listening to.

What Dave did so well was encapsulate his experiences of life in Welsh-speaking Wales with such minute detail, yet so succinctly, leading to many calling him a poet rather than just singer and lyricist.

Dave sang in Welsh, simply because it was his mother tongue and because he was bored of everything else being done in Welsh prior to that (prior to the Anhrefn revolutionisation of Welsh pop (as in popular) music, which Datblygu were a part of. There’s currently an excellent radio documentary about it narrated by BBC radio’s Huw Stephens and Sian Eleri called The Story of Miwsig which I recommend)

Dave is cited as a direct influence on so many bands that went on to break through in the 1990s and bring Welsh language music to the forefront of British pop culture: Super Furry Animals, Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci, Catatonia, and many of the bands that emerged during the 00s and even today regard him as a Welsh hero.

I remember a Welsh music podcast talking to Elis James, Welsh broadcaster and comedian, who was a musician before he switched routes to comedy. He talked about being a bilingual teen in Carmarthen starting a band and wondering which language his band should perform in. English was the obvious commercially accessible route, but Welsh felt more familiar, yet it seemed a bit unusual because no one was really doing that at the time. He described then hearing Datblygu for the first time, and how it changed things forever for him, how Dave words expressed thoughts that he had had, but had not heard expressed in his language. Lines written about his lived experiences, and his opinions on life in Welsh-speaking Wales.

Because Dave, prominent speaker of the Welsh language, was not afraid to criticise the small community that was listening and able to understand him. He brought the Welsh language down from this mythical, untouchable pedestal, and in a way, made it a breathing, living, human language: touchable, open to criticism, unfragile; as any other language would be. (Is unfragile a word? Or is it just robust? You know what I mean though). As he said in his own words, he was ready to drag ‘Sgymraeg’ kicking and screaming into the new century, but always with ready humour and razor-sharp wit.

teifidancer: Datblygu - Porwr Trallfod; a testament of truth
Dave more recently. On the left is bandmate and friend Pat Morgan

I talked about him a little and paid my tribute by opening my radio show this week with a song by Datblygu, although to have to choose just one is painful! If you’d like, you can listen to highlights of the show in podcast form. For various legal reasons, we aren’t allowed to have music playing in our podcasts, but I am absolutely allowed to link you to playlist of every song played on the show. We’ve been doing queer music history all month and this week’s was about the 1990s, I might write a whole blogpost about that separately. The 90s are my favourite period of music, and incidentally, Datblygu’s first three albums, considered essential listening, were released in the 90s (album 1, Wyau, was in 1988, which is close). Anyway, all music played on the radio should be available as links in the podcast description!

There were obviously many Datblygu songs I could have played. Rife with astute observations and character sketches breathed life into, many Datblygu songs are mini-experiences. I chose to go with Y Teimlad though literally meaning “the feeling”, a slightly mellower song, a hopeful and optimistic song about love. It’s a fairly simple song, but don’t let a glimpse of the lyrics/translated lyrics deceive you: it’s profound, it’s touching. Many will point out a melancholic touch to it, but so versatile was the writing partnership of David and Patricia.

Of course, there will be others out there who know much more, and know it more intimately, through the experience of growing up Welsh, knowing exactly what Dave was referring to, hearing him describe someone and knowing exactly what he’s talking about. Some will know just through knowing David himself. I can’t lay claim to either. I got into Datblygu only a year ago, and am not Welsh. I don’t know if a write-up by me can do him justice. Elis James wrote a wonderful and touching tribute in the Guardian, if you are looking for something better. But hopefully we can agree on the genius and nuance of David’s writing and impact on Welsh music, language, and even culture.

If you’re interested, there are the lyrics to Y Teimlad, followed by a translation.

Y teimlad sy’n hala pobol i anghofio amser
Y teimlad sy’n halwch chi i feddwl nad yw’r dyfodol mor fler
Y teimlad sydd yn dod a cyn sbarduno gobaith
Ti’n gweld y tywod llwch ond ti’n gweld fod yno flodau

Y teimlad, beth yw’r teimlad?
Y teimlad sydd heb esboniad
Y teimlad, beth yw’r teimlad?
Y teimlad sy’n cael ei alw’n gariad
Cariad, cariad, y teimlad

Mae hapusrwydd yn codi ac yn troi yn wir rhywbryd
Ac mae’n dangos fod yno rhywbeth mewn hyd yn oed dim byd
A pan mae’r teimlad yno mae bywyd yn werth parhau
Ond yn ei absenoldeb mae’r diweddglo yn agosau

Y teimlad, beth yw y teimlad?
Y teimlad, sydd heb esboniad?
Y teimlad, beth yw y teimlad?
Y teimlad, sy’n cael ei alw’n gariad

The feeling that makes people forget time
The feeling that makes you think the future isn’t so bad
The feeling that comes before sparking off hope
You see the sand dust but you see that there’s flowers

The feeling, what is the feeling?
The feeling that’s inexplicable
The feeling, what is the feeling?
The feeling that is called love
Love, love, the feeling

Happiness rises and turns true sometimes
And it shows that there’s something even in nothing
And when the feeling is there, life is worth continuing
But in its absence the end approaches

The feeling, what is the feeling?
The feeling, which is inexplicable?
The feeling, what is the feeling?
The feeling that is called love

Nos da, Dave. Cwsg mewn hedd. RIP, you will be missed. x

That’s an old performance of the song by the band. Super Furry Animals included a cover of this song, done in their own inimitable style (Dave approved) on their 2000 Welsh-language album Mwng (pronounced Moong), which is still the best-selling Welsh language album of all time.

Datblygu’s first albums, should you want to check them out further (and that’s a recommended position to take!), are called Wyau (Eggs), Pyst (Post) and Libertino. John Peel loved them and played them endlessly. Easy to see why. They’d just put out a new album last year, August’s Cwm Gwagle, meaning Void Valley. Take a listen to that as well and you will see, Dave never lost form.

P.S. there’s always been some trouble with embedding stuff into wordpress, so here’s the radio show podcast in case it didn’t embed. Do, do tell me if you thought anything of it, the thing with radio is it’s you talking to a wall, I appreciate the phrase “radio silence” a lot more after doing this! Unlike chatting with someone or, oh I don’t know, livestreaming probably, you don’t hear anything back when you talk. You can’t see anyone’s faces. It keeps you awfully on end: ‘I wonder what they’re thinking as they hear this!’

So if there’s something you’d thought to say, do it, don’t be shy! (, said the terribly shy one)

Yellow Brit Road 25 September 2022: We're Back! Yellow Brit Road

Welcome back to the Yellow Brit Road, alive, kicking, and brought to you right from the Limestone City! The Yellow Brit Road is home at last, and this week, we're finally coming to you from Kingston, with as good a show as we've ever done, filled with good music, good vibes, and some CFRC history thrown in for good measure! Setlist this week: Rina Sawayama Suede Dry Cleaning Big Joanie  Gilla Band The Fashion Week (+Gruff Rhys) Powderpaint Pip Millett Courting CHROMA Dutch Criminal Record Parker Magi Merlin The Astros Find this week's playlist here. Do try and support artists directly, all Bandcamp links above are 100% fresh and ethically sourced. x Do touch that dial and tune in live! We're on at CFRC 101.9 FM in the Kingston area, or on cfrc.ca, Sundays 8 to 9 PM! (Full shows are available in the archive for 3 months from release) Get in touch with the show for requests, submissions, giving feedback or anything else: email yellowbritroad@gmail.com or tweet @YellowBritCFRC. PS: submissions, cc music@cfrc.ca if you'd like other CFRC DJs to spin your music on their shows as well. — Send in a voice message: https://anchor.fm/yellowbritroad/message
  1. Yellow Brit Road 25 September 2022: We're Back!
  2. Yellow Brit Road 28 August 2022: Celebrating a Summer of Festivals – Manic Street Preachers @ 6 Music Festival
  3. Yellow Brit Road 21 August 2022: Celebrating a Summer of Festivals – Bloc Party @ 6 Music Festival
  4. Yellow Brit Road 14 August 2022: Kiwi Jr. Interview
  5. Kiwi jr. On Yellow Brit Road

9 Songwriters On A Song?

I was thinking about the 9-songwriters-on-an-album phenomenon.

18 Songwriters give their best songwriting tips and exercises
One person per string?

When you look at people who rise to be chart-hitting pop makers, their first material is often written by them, or with a band or a friend or two, someone who will contribute a different instrument (heck, I can write tunes but cannot for the life of me ever figure out how drums work), or maybe write/inspire a line of a chorus. It’s not usually written in a room full of professional songwriters who “know the market”.

So obviously these are people who know how to write a song and have some talent, otherwise they’d never get any industry attention.

(I know this is simplified… obviously there will be some people who know the right people in the industry, know people who have obligations to their parents, etc. or come in from an acting/modelling/influencer background, where it’s more likely that the record industry wants access to their base rather than them needing exposure from labels and the industry, or in some cases, simply that someone looks good or talks to the papers well. I don’t know how often you’ll get the last one… I imagine there’s a lot more good looking influencers out there for the industry to see incentive in someone similar without the follows? As for someone who talks, I’m imagining someone like a Liam Gallagher, keep yourself relevant by always having something to say, but thanks to the internet, I can guarantee you no one knows how to “talk to the press” anymore. Just because a phone is 5 cm and two finger taps away, we overshare, and I’m not using that word lightly)

58 Liam ideas | oasis band, liam gallagher, britpop
‘Know wha’ I mean?’ Credits: Pinterest

So why would someone who obviously is talented enough to set themselves apart from the crowd, need 9 songwriters on a song?

Digging into historic music trends, I’m going to make a guess: the Curse of the Sophomore Album.

You know the phrase? “You have your whole life to make your first album, and 18 months to pull out the second”.

I think the (non-independent) industry has figured out how to avoid the mediocre second album. Get those writers on your album who aren’t on record #2. You can talk to them about what you’re generally feeling, give them the outline, and then they can write it like it was your first. It just keeps the investments from, I don’t know, showing less profits than they like I guess.

Are they then just delaying the Second Album? Is Sophomore Album Curse inevitable? Do music labels then stay in this loop of employing veterans and debutants every time, so that you get a fresh first album, a hardened, gritty tenth album, but never the Second Album Where It All Went Wrong? (I mean, this is rhetorical. Of course they do.)

It does, of course carry the valid concern that if the same set of songwriters and producers who work on one album work on a different one (say, for an artist on the same label), and there’s some 7 of them, you’re bound to find people in songwriting partnerships that have been done before. Of course, it’s not the end of the world if two musicians who have written together before, write together again. Have you met rock bands? They do this for decades!

But in a short space of time, this does mean that songs across artists of a similar genre might have very similar sounds, or at least feels. It’s why many bands’ albums in the past tended to have a particular vibe to them, and why someone who wasn’t an ardent fan could dismiss every song on the album as “sounding the same”. While I’d hate to admit it, I’ve also simultaneously used the phrase “[album name]-sound”, and there is some truth to being in a certain frame of mind, or at a certain point in your life, that gives your music a certain flavour. But it does become a bit same-ish if every musician out there was writing from the same vantage point, we wouldn’t have fifty artists, we’d have one.

I guess it also means that when these songwriters inevitably come out of the shadows, decide to pave their own path and tell their stories in their own unique voice, we’d have already heard it before. And that’s a shame.

Beetle Bailey

Owing to the pouring spells of rain we’ve had of late, I found myself face to face with a massive beetle this week.

It was just sticking to the window, minding its own business and trying to go unnoticed, but with the sun spotlighting it like the next runway model meeting the bigtime, you couldn’t really help notice it. Trouble is, it nearly gave me a heart attack, since I couldn’t see it too well against the harsh sunlight, I almost mistook it for a cockroach and freaked out.

How, you ask, can I so seamlessly mention harsh sunlight and pouring rain in the space of a paragraph? To answer that, I’ll have to explain to you the four seasons experienced in my city: mild summer (December to February), summer (March to May), wet summer (June to August) offensively out-of-place summer (September to November). Hope that handy guide helps.

My dad decided to play uppity landlord and promptly evicted the beetle. I don’t blame him, this guy was huge. But if that was to be the end of the story, I’d have to fill the rest of this post with fluff. Safe to say readers, that was not the last we saw of it.

This beetle instead goes the clever route and decides to try its luck again later that night. It slipped under the door. How a creature that big manages to fit itself under a door frame baffles me but after watching an eight minute video compilation titled Cats Are Liquid, I don’t question such things anymore.

So I come across this beetle, which my dad has now nicknamed Beetle Bailey in honour of the Sunday comics, later at night walking along the floor. I don’t know if you’ve ever had the chance to watch a medium sized insect walking anywhere, but they’re large enough not to be too quick in their scuttling. It’s a bit hypnotic, because their stride is instead quite rhythmic, so I’ve been gazing at it for about ten minutes.

Beetle Bailey in his classic hands behind the head lying down pose
The original Beetle Bailey. Now imagine this, but entirely different: size of a thumb, brown, stick legs, etc.

Now a tiled floor and a plywooded doorframe is barely a poor man’s substitute for the woodland outdoors (actually who am I kidding, I live in a city), and you never realise this more acutely than when you see an expert climber trying to navigate a smooth wall.

He’s getting nowhere fast. A good reason for that comes down to an old story I must first bring up: we once had an event I cannot remember now that needed some prettying up around the walls. Now we live in a rented place, so getting anything permanent on the walls was out of question, so what did we do? Whacked on some smooth, shiny gift-wrapping paper. The perfect quick-fix. Of course years later, it’s still stuck on there, so don’t let the “nothing permanent” bit trouble you too much, but I digress.

No Spider-Man he, he puts a tentative foot up the wall and ingloriously slides down.

Never mind. With the conviction of a beetle who cannot understand why a smooth, yellow gift wrapping paper should be any different from a tree bark, he tries to scale the foil wall again.

I’m not sure what beetular physics is at play here, but the effort of trying to hoist himself up front first onto a shiny vertical surface dealt him the decisive blow of flipping him over onto his back. Beetle Bailey is in trouble here, me thinks, as flipping onto the back is usually some sort of endgame for insects, since it leaves them fairly helpless. I have absolutely no intention of touching it, fraidy cat as I am, but from afar I can’t help thinking, what is it going to do now?

Well I didn’t have to think for long and neither will you readers, because here’s what it did next—
It flopped right over, doing a 180 degree turn, not by rolling over its side, but as close as I can describe it, by arching its back and propelling itself up length wise, from the head. Just imagine your favourite action person (or rather, their unsung stuntsperson) but you’ll need to mentally shrink them down to a round tiny brown bug.

All this happened in the blink of an eye, twice it did this and twice I was astonished. It’s not something to get used to quite easily!

But if you thought that was the end of its athletic achievements, it then demonstrated some A-grade thievery stunts and gave a 101 in burglary by showing me exactly how it got in, by slipping under the door to my grandparents’ room. A mere slit of a gap. Conquered by this tall, fat beetle.

Now I haven’t much to say unless you have an active imagination, but I’m just saying that if limbo was an Olympic sport, and if the rules of sport could’ve stretched a bit to allow a beetle raised on home soil to represent the country in the Games… I’m not saying it’s very likely, but we’d certainly come home with more medals. Namely, gold for strangest competitor (gender neutral), world icon (Beetle Bailey as he is, according to my dad) and perhaps even deadest contestant (squash. He’d do our squash team some good I imagine.)

Look, I know I know, if we focused on the possible, we’d work on getting limbo recognised as Olympic sport.

It’d probably be a very aesthetically appealing sport, sort of like diving, synchronised swimming, ice skating, with the judges giving “limbees” a score out of ten. Most graceful beetle might be in the cards.

Anyway, the point of all this is, I’ve lost a beetle. Now as I’m writing this at 2 AM, one can only imagine the many possible directions this post can take by the time dawn breaks and shines its light on the tiled floors of my grandparents bedroom…

Update: I awoke this morning to hear the tale from my dad. Far from counting its stunts as luck, this Beetle decided to journey further, and was found by my dad early the next morning in his bathroom.

Pouring Thoughts

Gleefully and utterly delighted, I am here to inform you that the rains are finally here! After days of heat, light showers and other false starts, including a cyclonic storm that made me lose my mind (a state I declare based on the following evidence) and record a snippet of howling wind as an audio file titled “Cyclone ASMR” (don’t ask when the record drops), it’s finally monsoon proper!

When mum says you can’t have the ocean because you already have the store-variety version in your own backyard… although it sounds very poetic to ask for the ocean.

Perhaps also, it’s a celebration and acknowledgement of the fact that our drainage system has been overwhelmed in only the first few hours of the rainy season. We’re breaking records here, folks!

‘Rainy season’ is a word I haven’t used in a long time actually. I don’t know if this is the case universally, but if memory serves me well, as you grew as kids, you were encouraged to learn the ‘big boi’ (a nice, gender-neutral update to ‘big boy’. Maintenance and upkeep is a must!) version of words: pants became trousers, rubbers became erasers, trash dustbins, or so I’d thought… as it turned out, I found out later on that one of the features of growing up in a country that is neither Britain nor America, is that you tend to pick up bits of both versions of English. My mum uses more Britishisms while my dad favours Americanisms, and us kids picked up bits of both and thought it must be the natural progression. In all likelihood, one had more syllables than the other, and so it sounded more ‘grown up’ to a young kid! Either way, ‘rainy season’ soon made way for ‘monsoon’, although not all rains are because of the monsoon winds.

I sometimes wonder though, if trawling through social media would make a 10-year-old gasp with amazement as all their kiddie words are in heavy rotation on there. 

In more fun stories, I saw a dog trying to wade through the water, now a bona fide pool, running to get to shelter. I tried to get a picture of it, but I was so excited to see a dog that I punched in my phone password wrong so many times I got locked out for thirty seconds, and then it was a clicking marathon as I tried to catch a snap of that soaked poor little pupper (grown).

Readers, I clicked precisely a second after it was gone from all view. (And you aren’t getting a glimpse of my nonexistent-dog photo: it’s at the bottom of both the trash, and my deep well of embarrassment and shame.)

Oh well, at least the dog made it to somewhere safe and dry, hopefully.

A quieter, and greener spot (the dog did head that way). How badly a lane floods has everything to do with how low-lying it is, and how close it is to a drain. The closer, the more likely it is to be flooded with everything the drain can’t handle.

Also surf’s up dudes! If you think I’ve lost it (again), think again, because I’ve got some waves for you. No, not third waves, not this early! 
But our little swimming pool now boasted of enough ammo to have the capacity for some big waves. If you can ignore the fact that there’s no sun overhead and it’s actually not the sort of water you want to spend any more time than you can help in, then we’ve got our very own backyard wave pool!

Here’s some pictures of an auto leaving behind an impressive V-wake. Some kids standing nearby cheered it on, which must’ve been the autodriver’s biggest celebrity moment in the last few months.

Reminds me of the Wii Sports Resort wake-boarding game. I can think of nothing else. 2010’s nostalgia must’ve finally got to me.

On a vaguely related note,I saw a family of cats yesterday, and they seemed like they were on a picnic. There was mum cat and a dad cat, both black, and two little kitties, grey and orange, who were running around frolicking and playing.

Remember the false starts I’d mentioned above? There had been some drizzle over the past days, and it was windy, which meant quite a few leaves had been shed. The aforementioned storm also took out a nearby tree, it had snapped from the wind and its leaves were turning brown and falling off. A very autumn-like view, only in peak summer. The cute ginger kitten was chasing flying fallen leaves and trying to trap them under its paws until it lost interest and began play-wrestling with its sibling as their parents supervised, sunbathed and licked themselves. (Of course, the moment it chose to stop chasing leaves like a pure angel happened to be exactly when I decided to run for a camera. I have had rotten luck with photography all week it may seem.)

Part of me can’t help imagining the parent cats sitting somewhere they call home today and thinking to themselves, as we all would, “oh thank goodness we took the kids yesterday and hadn’t planned for today, the weather’s awful!”

I imagine them, also trying to make the kids do crosswords to keep them busy on this ill-weathered day, and the kids wanting to go out for a splash. Or who knows, they may be tweeting about it on Instagram (I wrote, in my nasally-est, snarky Luddite voice. And I know you can’t “tweet” on Instagram. (Some historian is going to find this in seventy years and go, awww look at the cute people of 2021! They can’t “tweet on instagram”! Life was so simple back in those days!))

As an added bonus, here’s some colourful umbrellas courtesy of some walking ladies. Enjoy and stay safe!


More of a rant really, on growing emotionally

It’s so weird how the people you’re closest to are the ones you find so hard to open up to. I’ve been thinking about this for so long and ultimately I think it comes down to a mix of a few factors: someone you can open up to in the sense that you are close to them, you can trust them and you know that they won’t judge you, or you don’t care enough to feel differently about their judgement. 

It’s really hard to find a mix of all three: unable to open up about emotional details to absolute strangers (emotional details being different from physical or spatial details: event details.) I can go on for hours to complete strangers because they’re “throwaway” in a sense and I never have to see them again. I will very often not remember what I’ve told people I later on grow close to and this is something many of my friends will end up reminding me about, that I told them something that’s actually quite a close and personal detail but I’ve told them in a story. I have no memory of doing this, but because their details are all right, I must’ve told them. No other way to know something I’d never tell anyone! But their opinion or judgement was so throwaway to me at the time that I didn’t even bother to remember that I’d told them this. On the other hand, it’s quite hard to open up to people very close to you. 

This is quite especially true of parents and family. Maybe it’s different in other families, but in ours I think there’s a pretty clear distinction between family and friend. Maybe it’s because the idea of blood being thinker than water is firmly ingrained in us. Perhaps even to its detriment, it makes water a sweeter drug to take. It means you don’t choke on thick blood. There’s a certain… not formality but just a sense of not trusting in a way. Coming back to the three criteria, you’re close to them, and you certainly trust them, to an extent… but you don’t know them not to judge you. You don’t know what your family thinks of you, besides that they try and see the best in you. In a sense, the implicit instructions sort of are, “don’t be emotionally vulnerable or fragile around me”. You’ve never seen them be able to deal with that sort of thing really. Kids are very good at picking up soft signals. In ours, it’s sort of been that you’ve never really seen them be emotionally vulnerable in front of us, even to each other. There’s oddly enough, in a fairly (emotionally) conservative family, a very strong sense of independence. You deal with things yourself. When neither of your parents, or anyone in your family has ever really been needy around each other, it doesn’t really set the precedent for you to be open, vulnerable, needy or fragile emotionally. Not to them anyway. Strength is praised, weaknesses cause irritation and rectification. Flaws are not to be accommodated, only fixed. 

In that sense, it’s actually a wonder that a rant can make it around our house and live to tell the tale, but then again it’s also not very surprising. Anger is a different emotion to need. Frustration is allowed, tutted at but accepted, but vulnerability? No one knows what to do in that situation! 

You don’t ever want to find out. If it hasn’t happened in twenty years of your life, there can’t be any good reason for it happening. Besides, you learn to cope. You find your own outlets. Sometimes it’s writing and poetry. Sometimes it’s putting things to music, always a massive help. Sometimes it’s just writing longform rants. Of late, I’ve found unfortunate friends who have had to put up with things no one needs to be hearing. Bless them for doing it. Sometimes you just need time away from people. Because you can be emotionally vulnerable alone. When no one can see your face or read your thoughts, where no one can see you dance or hear you sing, or practice a language you are the only speaker of for miles. Where you can emote to the comedy you listen to, laugh at a joke, respond to music, write your jokes, have this little world that’s your own. Listen to podcasts, hyperfixate and obsess with no judgement. No negative reactions, no over positive reactions, no reactions. No judgement. Where you needn’t explain a joke or what’s going on in your head. What do you do when you haven’t a place to hide your face? Winston notes, the only place you’re really safe is in your own mind, but the eyes are the window to your soul (1984, George Orwell). Your face is an extension of your head. There’s extra effort in trying to not emote, perhaps even more so than it is to not engage with anything that stimulates part of your personality at all, but I refuse to become the soulless bog I have found myself falling into the term-time cycle of becoming. I can never forget the period where I completely lost touch with music. Thought I could live without it. Thought that I’d be okay if it were never part of my life, because I wasn’t needy or dependent on it. Wrong, I could live without it. It just wouldn’t be my life I was living then. 

Many people have this fear of becoming their own parents. This fear of turning into the worst of them. Kids have a knack for discerning what’s good and what are the not-so-good traits in the people they spent all their time with. There are bits of my mum I don’t want to become, and there are bits of my dad I don’t want to become.  I want to become Gruff**. I want to become the good bits of Damon. I want to be as experimental as Matt, as bold as Billie, as curious and observant as Gruff. I want to be as kind and noble as Kane, I want the strength and conviction of Jacinda Ardern. These are the people I want to be. I want to be what my parents never were. I want to be as charismatic as Liam or Damon. I want to be as prolific as Gruff. I want to be as easygoing as Elis and as optimistic and quick to laugh as Russell, and as enterprising and taking risks and chances as Johnny. I don’t ever want to stop taking the opportunities to be a different person. I don’t ever want the pressures to mean I settle. For anything less than what I want to be. Never. I never want to be soulless.  

** my heroes, mentioned here are:

Gruff Rhys, Super Furry Animals frontman

Damon Albarn, Blur, Gorillaz 

Matt Bellamy, Muse frontman and one of my biggest heroes 

Billie Joe Armstrong, Green Day

Kane Williamson, New Zealand’s current cricket captain and an absolute example of how to be a good human being. He’s also the “Williamson” that my blog’s pseudonym comes from!

Liam Gallagher, Oasis frontman

Elis James, Welsh comedian and broadcaster

Russell Howard, comedian and one of the most optimistic people I can think of

Johnny Marr, guitarist in the Smiths amongst (many, many!) others, and an absolute hero of mine. 

A Comparison of Two Dystopian Novels

Today I was reading someone’s criticism of the modern-day dystopian novel genre, about how many dystopian novels (especially in the Young Adult (YA) subgenre, represented by books like the Hunger Games and Divergent (the first praised by the author for its real criticism and understanding of the subject matter it was critiquing, while the second was the focus of their criticism)) seemed to almost follow a formula and how many seemed strangely made for the screen, having somewhat confused themselves with enticing storylines of adventure and drama that are so easily transferred to the silver screen, happily marketable, able to “criticise” the ills of the world—and particularly, capitalism—while being a bit too comfortably promoted by capitalistic ventures.
And it got me thinking. The very first thing it had me thinking was this exact phrase: “Is the future of dystopian novels dystopian?”

Second, it got me thinking about books that I had read in the genre (being a Muse fan, dystopia is mildly on my radar I would say), and I realised that I’ve never, ever thought of a book like 1984 and a book like Ready Player One to be of the same genre, even though they both technically would present themselves as dystopian novels. One is meant to give you a rush of thrill and make you go, “whoa, cool!” and basically make you want to live in what the author will otherwise take the pains to say is a world you don’t want to be living in. (Please bear with me while I stack the two books side by side… as ridiculous as that may sound to some of you!)

Both are books set in the near future. 1984, written in 1949 and set in the titular 1984; Ready Player One, written in 2011 (I had to google that and it surprised me… I thought it’d be written around 2015. Ernest Cline was early to the 80s nostalgia trend!), set in 2045. Both imagine some forms of technology that didn’t exist at the time (or wasn’t overtly used in the manner that the book shows)—in Ready Player One, it’s VR technology, in 1984 it’s mostly surveillance technology. 

But the difference is in how these new technologies are used—Orwell makes the most mundane use of ordinary technology: two-way screens, mics, tubes, whatnot. As small as these might be, they were in a way physical manifestations of what was wrong. (Why? Because they existed in some form already, and that’s not how we saw them being used.) We had TV screens, mics had been invented, pneumatic tubes? Heard of them. But we weren’t used to seeing them used like this: these (relatively) ubiquitous things we considered harmless, screens watching us instead of us watching them, mics listening to us, pneumatic tubes destroying the undeniable truth as we knew it—as much as it was just a build up for the idea of people controlling us, of people listening, watching, denying, the technology was an important symbol representing and amplifying the book’s ideas. It was chilling. It’s what made the contrasting notebook of paper and ink seem so… free. Rebellious. Because in a world where the ordinary seems to have turned against you, it was the ordinary that also came to the rescue. Now what does Ready Player One do with its props?

The setting is futuristic as you’d see futuristic from a 2010s view. It’s VR, internet, fantasy, it sounds like a good world. (One thing though, yes we’ve seen VR headsets, but they’re not as ubiquitous, are they? It doesn’t chill you the way the items used in 1984 do, because we don’t yet see them as harmless everyday objects. It’s a bit unrelatable, so it’s not as effective. It comes off as more fantastical.) Yes, Cline is using the too-good-to-be-true contrast here: inside the Oasis, it’s wonderful! It’s fulfilling! You have friends, money, hope, luxury, life! Step outside though, and for most people it’s trailers stacked on top of each other, it’s poverty, theft, arson even. But you don’t live in that world very often do you? Read the book, and you’re always in the Oasis. Cline (in my opinion) got a bit carried away with the 80s nostalgia. Corporate henchmen blinded by greed and advertising options, which is probably the realest part of the whole book (and might I add, corporate henchmen who remind me of Pokémon’s Team Plasma) in the most glamorous version of the world? Can’t shake me that much, I’m too busy wondering how the heck that boy can game for 23 hours without his head swimming. Just writing this post is making me think I should get up and stretch now or something. 

Ready Player One focuses less on the chilling, more on the thrilling. I mean, it could’ve done a lot better given the time it was written was around when we were beginning to have our net neutrality battles, but it never got around to showing us any consequences. Too much threat of “don’t you dare” and no realisation in anyway of what could go wrong and why we should hate it. The worst the book did was have a gun-slinging action chase scene. He could have shown a world without net neutrality beyond just the money-muscle-flexing of “we bought better VR headsets”, it was a real threat to many people and could have struck a stronger chord. To me, Cline got carried away and mixed up his messages. It ended up becoming more about self-acceptance towards the end, and focussed a lot on the “weren’t the 80s a party, I wish I were around in the 1980s”. 

Bottom line, the big difference between 1984 and Ready Player One, two novels that bill themselves as dystopian future novels? One chills, the other thrills.

What do you think? On the one hand, perhaps it’s only a product of changing times. Maybe people reading 1984 in the ’50s could have thought it quite odd that everyone might have a TV screen, and that it could watch you—novel! Perhaps VR today stands at the same place, chronistically (is that a word? The opposite of anachronistically?), as a television screen would have stood in the 1950s—about three decades after its invention. To me however, Ready Player One missing its mark has less to do with the technological premises it employs, but the fact that it employs them too much. Cline spends so much time in the VR world, he doesn’t actually address the “real” world’s circumstances beyond “this boy lives in a stacked up trailer and comes from a dysfunctional family”. He gets too caught up in 80s nostalgia, and makes more threats than actually show why the evil-guy corporation’s implementation of this freemium model is a bad idea. This book was written around the time our conversations about net neutrality were popping up, so the book could have done much more. Ultimately, it’s more about nostalgic comfort (reinforced by the fact that the future is “bad”), more about thrill than chill, as a dystopian novel should leave you feeling.

But let me know what you think in the comments! (Or don’t, you’ve probably spent a while reading this. Treat yourself to a glass of water. Or an ice-cream bar. It’s summer, folks!)

So, Did E-Books Grow Up To Be Real Boys?

Amazon to cut price of its ebooks to reflect removal of VAT | Ebooks | The  Guardian

As a kid who learned the word “voracious” in one and only one context, I’ve read a lot. Most of my life, it was physical, paper books, and I could swear by those. The feel of the pages, the flipping sound, the smell of a new book, or the smell of an old one! Reading and feeling embossed book covers, the inside sleeve with a note about the author, their other books and maybe a sneak preview of their next one?! Physical books could do no wrong in my eyes (and still can’t). Reading almost never only happened in one single context though, so newspapers, textbooks, magazines, comic books, all added their unique experiences to the I-Love-Paper-Books reasons collective.

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Many people’s idea of a good day

Newspapers, with articles that could be cut out if or when everyone else had finished reading them (and the ensuing involved race to get the paper in that slim period between when everyone who wanted to read it was done, and the paper being gone…), magazines with news about your favourite bands and enough well-written allure in them to help you find the next set of favourites; comic books, first friends in mirth, later instructors in how to draw yourself, the most patient of all teachers, oh and textbooks with weird notes and doodles, also being physical entities you could slam down without having a heart attack at the end of the day.

12 Book Quotes For Book-Lovers That Describe Exactly Why You Love Books So  Much
Yes but I’d probably hate you if you did this because I’d spend all day ironing out the creases

Clearly, I can slip into the book-romanticising crowd, and blend in well with their moans of the perils of modern day technology. But as a student, having the space restrictions and the frequent travelling that comes with it, e-books have become quite hard to avoid. I’ve had a Kindle for a while now, and I think I’ve used it for long enough to be able to reflect on whether I like it much as a concept or not.

(Concept and implementation are far from the same. So many things that start out well-done often get degraded during a second release or an update I’m finding, and my guess is that’s to give companies something to call an improvement on the next iteration. For example, I have one of the Kindles that came out a couple of years ago, and before that, had a slightly older model, both belonging to the same e-ink line of hardware models (Paperwhites, I’m sure). I While my newer one had a slightly newer style of screen, I noticed that in addition to the screen not being a separate part of the device (with a ridge between the part that’s the screen and the rest of the body), but with a single plastic glass just covering the entire face of the device. I did notice that owing to this, the screen of the Kindle did seem whiter than the previous, which seemed a much more book-natural cream colour. It wasn’t too much of an issue, and being a younger person quite raised on the Internet and used to reading on a screen for other purposes, it didn’t make much of a difference to me until I compared it, and ultimately, I just enjoyed not having to read on my phone. But I can imagine if you were less used to it, the switch from the old Kindle to the newer one may have clashed somewhat with your taste. I put it down to either bad/overlooked design, or some unfortunate practicality in hardware development that I wouldn’t have thought about, and didn’t imagine anyone else had thought too deeply about it.

Fast-forward to me finding out about the new Kindle Oasis last year; it’s got a new, innovative and exciting feature: Yellow Mode™! Introducing the all-new Kindle Oasis, with Yellow Mode ™ technology– it feels just like a real book! It’s yellower, cream hues are more natural and welcoming to readers who prefer physical books, allowing you to stop thinking too much about the specifics of the device, and to just get lost in the absorbing world of a book, just the way you used to when you were a kid with a physical book, before we decided to get rid of those 🙂
Amazon Kindle’s Oasis: It Grew Up To Be A Real Book!

Except, shock and horror—this feature already existed! I can’t believe they simply tried to turn it off for one generation and bring it back pretending they’d invented the wheel… someone’s having trouble keeping with Moore’s law! Anyway, I massively digress.)

Good things about e-readers:

  • Unlike what I had originally thought them to be, e-readers are not really iPads. I mean, they can be if you want them to be, but the whole point of most e-readers is that they’re book devices, and many favour non-LCD/backlit displays which means I’m not guilty of doing my eyes 10x damage reading them. If only I’d have known that, I’d have run through more Kindles and not had a telephone till I left for university. I spent all my phone time reading articles from the NME anyway.
  • That’s another good thing about e-readers, you can use the internet with many of them as well. You do have to have infinite patience with them though, and another dose of infinite patience when trying to explain to someone why on Earth you’d ever want to use those when the slowest of phones could pull an impressive performance over these things.
  • I travel. I have luggage restraints. In first year, I had about half a bag in books I thought I might want to read on the FLIGHT. It’s insane. Now I just prefer popping them all on one device and then making up my mind later (not very different from what I used to do earlier but at least I don’t look like an idiot trying!)
  • Textbooks: 1. They very big. 2. Show two fingers to (*sniffs up*) Big Publishing by not buying your $200 + tax textbooks a course; get them online and then send their authors an email with the subject “:)” because they don’t really get paid much for their textbooks and research articles to get published. Many say they prefer you just email them asking them for access and they’ll email their papers to you directly, but I don’t read as many research papers so I digress here. You’re already paying a lot for your education, I guess, so why not.
  • Eye-strain-wise, it’s also super useful for when you’re putting in long hours studying or whatever. You’d NEED to take a break, far sooner, with a laptop. But yeah, breaks are for everyone eventually!
  • I send far too many websites to myself to read on my Kindle and then forget to delete them, but that’s okay.
  • You can send your own documents as well. These days, I tend to write up the songs for and general flow of my radio show on a document and then just read it from my Kindle. It’s far more convenient than switching from the audio recording tab to the music playlists to the article I read on them and then to Bandcamp… I just write it out like I were new to radio. We’ll go “spontaneous” once I’m live again. (I can still have my show flow out on the Kindle though!)
  • I have hopped from textbook to an article on Mogwai to Peter Hook’s book in a single sitting. Can’t do that with regular books!
  • You can read in the dark! The Kindle now, stupendously enough, has dark mode?! I guess it’s for the night hours more than for anything traditional laptops and phones have them for, but also, don’t do that if you can help it. Don’t lie down and read. Don’t read in poor ambient light. Darkness is terrible ambient light and you’d have made the using an e-reader to lessen eyestrain point moot.
Amazon to cut price of its ebooks to reflect removal of VAT | Ebooks | The  Guardian
Nothing, I just found this picture really funny.

There are still some unique issues that come with books being… not books though.

  • There isn’t the excitement of opening a new book and seeing new formatting anymore. It did help me jump from one book to another seeing a different margin width, differing book sizes and degrees of white or yellowing paper, different fonts and sizes, weights of books. On the other hand, most of our textbooks all had the same font, so they had a single vibe, and that meant if I wanted to throw my chemistry book on the floor, that vibe might carry over to physics, but then some things like the colours and thicknesses may differ. Or I could, you know, chuck it. Very literally.
  • Easily the most annoying thing to me about e-books, and this applies only to the sort of books that are properly formatted for these devices (so not PDFs), is that you don’t know how long a book is. There are no page numbers. Only some weird metrics like “time left in the book/chapter” or word or location number, which means absolutely nothing to me. I want the page number.
  • You can also resize these books, and with or without that, the text on the pages can move about a bit. Which means, if you know the line you’re looking for was somewhere in the right hand corner of page 52, there’s a big chance it’s moved just by you flipping a page. Even if you haven’t touched the font size.
  • That might make you think that perhaps PDFs really are the way to go with these books, at least they know how to behave! But a PDF really is the same PDF from your laptop shrunk down to fit on a smaller screen, so the text can be small, unchangeable and leave you scrolling. You deal with it in hours of need but it can be really annoying.
  • Running low on battery at important moments… I did a test with my test paper on my Kindle, with the thing flashing every 2 minutes begging me to plug it in… and I simply didn’t want to. No reason. I just sat there tutting at it going, “you’ll survive 8%, my god, stop being dramatic”. I’ll be honest, that was less of it inconveniencing me and more of the other way round.

And that’s about it! What do you think? Maybe libraries are a bigger factor in your sticking with the paper? Or maybe you’re the sort of tech-y free spirit who stick the paper to the man? I’ve had a university library send me a digital book, and it wasn’t even my university’s library. It was just one of those common publishing ones, Cambridge’s publishing press’s library system or something. But let me know! (I mean, if you’ve gotten this far, you clearly love reading and will read anything. This must be like 2000 words. I’ve been here an hour. It’s ridiculous.)


Showers, showers, showers
Are the need of the hour
Whether you’re cold and bereft
And a cold wave has swept
On over city or town
Or further deep down
A warm shower
Is the need of the hour.

If you’re burning with the heat
And it’s getting hard to keep
That blazing flame in control
And it’s eating you up whole;
You try with your might
To capture the dying light
You’re wanting a shower!
It’s the need of the hour.

If you look up to the skies
Not a cloud passes by
And the sultry haze
Matches your personal daze
Step behind the veil
And all it entails, for
A shower, shower, shower!
It’s the need of the hour

Just a silly little ditty about the versatility of showers… be it a showering of love or praise, a cold shower to clear your head out, a good old fashioned monsoon or a hot shower to make your winter mornings bearable, it’s got it all.

Now of course, I can’t possibly relate to the last one, because it’s getting far too hot here… summer’s a-comin’!

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