January 2020 playlist

Every month I make a Spotify playlist with my discoveries for that month. This is the one for January:

Curls – Bibio: I love the combination of electronic and analog sounds. A very nice sound.

Killer + The Sound – Phoebe Bridgers, Noah Gunderson, Abby Gunderson: I keep seeing the name Phoebe Bridgers around. I need to check out more stuff by her.

Night Shift – Lucy Dacus: Really interesting words. I love the way this explodes at the end. The chorus is super catchy too.

Warm Foothills – atl-j: A good song and a really nice warm sound.

Sing About It – The Wood Brothers: A very useful message

Funeral Singers – Sylvan Esso & Collections Of Colonies Of Bees: This is really interesting combination of the darkness of Sylvan Esso and the warmth of COCOB.

Masterpiece – Big Thief: Big Thief are my new obsession. I would have added a couple more songs to this month but I try to keep to one per artist. This song is a masterpiece.

I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel To Be Free – Nina Simone: Not a new discovery, but it had a whole new meaning to me this month.

You’re The One – Dirty Projectors, Robin Pecknold, Rostam: Another interesting collaboration. These voices compliment each other really really well. More please!

Cut Your Bangs – Girlpool: This reminds me of Best Coast. The melody is exquisite. I keep expecting it to break out into a noisy chorus but it never delivers. Maybe that’s ok.

Model Railway For Sale

My friend’s grandfather moved house, leaving a model railway in his loft. It was headed for the rubbish dump, so I tried to rescue as much as I could. Much of it ended up being broken or damaged, but I expect much of it will be of use to someone. There is a lot. It’s listed on ebay.

You can bid on ebay.

It’s not a train track.

Books I read on my sabbatical

One of the many great benefits of working for Automattic is the three month sabbatical, which I have just completed. Among other things I spent a lot of time listening to audiobooks. Here is my complete list of sabbatical listening/reading:

Learning to Scythe

For many years I have wanted learn to use a scythe, inspired by Simon Fairlie, and The Land Is Ours. Given that I don’t own a lawn mower, but I do have a lawn, I thought it was time to get a scythe and learn. I was taught by the amazing Jeremy Hastings. Here are some photos he took:

I had such a fun day. Jeremy is an amazing teacher and I enjoyed learning something new. Unlike pushing a lawn mower, scything takes some skill to learn and a lifetime to master. Like many things it requires you to become fully focussed on the activity and get into a state of flow.

If you want to find out more, here’s an article Jeremy wrote about scything.

Rise

Many moons ago (in fact two years almost to the day) a couple of friends sent me some words that they thought would make good lyrics for a song:

walking the streets of Manhattan, and I don’t even live here
I don’t have my keys on me

They challenged me to write a song using these words. This was a tricky challenge. I had never been to Manhattan, and I don’t like to write songs about things I don’t know about.

Then in March I had a work trip that required me to fly through New York, and a plan began to form in my mind. I had a very long layover in JFK, so I started to wonder, could I use this to write song for the challenge?

I had three flights on the way to my work trip and three more on the way home. This is a long time to spend on a plane and I started to wonder how I could put this time to better use than watching back to back movies. I started to imagine how I could write songs without any instrument, just using my computer on the plane.

I imagined the sound of airports and aeroplanes, cities and railways, and detuned radios, all rolled into one confusing strange mess.

So I set some rules:

  • No real instruments
  • All the music has to be written on my trip
  • Not editing at home; once you get home it’s done

So I took my MIDI keyboard and wrote an album, in six aeroplanes, four airports and one cheap hotel. This is the fastest I have ever worked. I didn’t judge my ideas, I just followed my instincts. I didn’t think about whether I liked something, or whether this was really “my sound”, I just went with the first idea that came to me.

When I got home I had eight tracks “done”; now they just needed vocals. I took the words from my haikus and cut and pasted them until they fitted into these songs. I set up my microphone in the living room and spent a few evenings recording.

This album is a product my life situation. Living in a temporary place means I don’t have a good space to record. Having three young children means I don’t get lots of time to write and record music. This album is what was possible given these constraints.

Working with these constraints has pushed me to try new things and and experiment out of my comfort zone. It’s been challenging and I have learnt a lot. It’s also been a lot of fun.

I’m not sure if this album is “good”. It’s full of surprises and very strange to listen to. I hope you have as much fun listening to it as I did making it.

Listen in full on Bandcamp:

Or on Spotify:

I also made videos for all of the songs just using footage I took on my journey. They aren’t anything interesting; I just don’t have time!