All entries for September 2008

September 27, 2008

US Presidential Debate 1

4am. Stayed up for the first McCain-Obama debate. No-one won. That was probably the biggest surprise, Obama really didn’t wipe the floor with McCain as some predicted.

McCain was erudite and seemed to know what he was talking about, no “I don’t know”s. Obama seemed more Presidential but McCain seemed more down-to-earth which might help him in characterising Obama as elitist.

I noticed a long time ago that in Obamas early interviews he tended to “err” a lot and seem unsure, and while he’s a lot better now you can still see a bit of it – he’s brilliant with prepared rhetoric and speeches but he’s not so great at thinking on his feet. McCain seems to be the other way around so they turn out more evenly matched in a debate.

Final verdict: not worth staying up for.

September 25, 2008

Ben Folds: Way To Normal

5 out of 5 stars

Ben Folds’ last album, Song For Silverman was, on reflection, a little staid. It’s not a bad album by any stretch, but it’s basically 11 plodding piano ballads.

There’s a couple of slightly rockier bits but it never really takes off. Any of the songs are good individually, some are phenomenal, but the album as a whole drags a fair bit. It was reflective of a Folds that had settled down with a wife and family and was writing serious songs about serious issues for serious people. Of course, were you to see Folds live during this period you’d have seen a rockier, upbeat crazy bloke doing his regular weird stuff that wasn’t reflected in Songs For Silverman at all. While not a bad album it seemed to be ‘targeted’ at a ‘demographic’ rather than truly representing the artist.

On to Way To Normal. Folds has got divorced and remarried and put out something far more upbeat and fun than Silverman. While he’s stated in interviews that this record isn’t about his divorce in particular, it’s certainly a break-up record.

Hiroshima (B-B-B-Benny Hit His Head)
This is the quintessential Folds funny song. It’s basically a verbatim discussion of him falling off the stage and getting concussion. Piano, bass, drums, silly lyrics, crowd noises… it’s a bit of simple fun but has a brilliantly catchy central refrain.

Dr Yang
In the days of Ben Folds Five, Robert Sledge was all about the fuzzy bass. Perhaps it’s for that reason that Folds has mostly avoided that particular motif in his solo career, but it’s back and bassist Jared Reynolds seems to be having as much fun with it as Sledge ever did. Many have used that link to suggest this is a very Ben Folds Five track stylistically, but I don’t think it is. It’s actually done in a style that we’ve never really heard Folds use before. Check out the bit about 55 seconds in where Folds pretty much switches to an entirely different vocal style and suddenly there’s a whole new set of possibilities for future songs.

The Frown Song
This one returns to one of Folds’ favoured themes of social and class differences. It’s a brilliant lyric and plays about synths and harmonies and all sorts.

You Don’t Know Me
A duet with Regina Specktor which is the second track on the album that sounds like nothing else Folds has ever released. The melody is actually carried by the strings here while the piano is relegated to an accompaniment, and the lyrics are all done in a very dis-jointed style that Ben probably picked up from Shatner.
It’s also the first of those songs about failing relationships and break-ups.

The mid-album 6 minute epic. A slow, heart-breaking ballad, it’d be at home on Songs For Silverman but has so much more impact here where it’s one of only two. The whole thing builds slowly, with the strings slowly becoming more prominent until they just soar through at the end and conspire with lyrics to break your heart into pieces.

Errant Dog
A bit of fun about a dog that ran off. Or it’s about a man that consistently cheats on a woman that can’t bear to leave him. It’s short and silly regardless so doesn’t really matter.

Free Coffee
The third of the truly unique tracks on the album. Folds stuck a bunch of metal tins inside his piano and ran it through a distortion pedal and ended up with something that bears a strange resemblance to a C64 synth. Again, it’s about social division: famous people that can afford it anyway get free stuff but poor people that need it don’t. The lyrics have been criticised for being a bit ‘simple’ and just describing every day life: “Called in sick one day, stepped out my front door, squinted up at the sky…”.
But that’s the point. Folds and other famous people are just normal people like us that do normal things like sending text messages and eating ice cream. But he gets treated differently because of fame.
It’s not actually one of my favourites from the album, it seems to be missing something but it’s certainly interesting.

Bitch Went Nuts
Another break-up track dealing with the after-effects of a separation and the way friends end up taking sides. One of my favourites.

Leading on nicely from the previous track, this deals with someone who took sides and wrote a song about it. The album’s lyrical tour-de-force “There’s something wrong with being copied on a memo / In the form of a bad country demo” and plenty of others I won’t spoil. Musically it’s vintage Folds, much like previous track.

Again, one of those perfect Folds piano-pop songs, that reflects on getting away from your life and doing something else entirely. And just in case you were wondering where it was this is the track with the fast piano solo in it…

Kylie From Connecticut
A ballad about a break-up that becomes inevitable. Somewhat resembles Carrying Cathy musically, not my favourite track to be frank as it drags on a bit too long and its a shame the album didn’t have a stronger closer, but it’s a decent track.

What truly stands out about the album (besides the reflections on break-ups and the fuzzy bass) are how many new, original and interesting songs and ideas there are in this. This is the first album Folds recorded with his band in the studio, and it seems that the inevitable mixing in of their musical interests and stylistic quirks has given us the most interesting and original Folds album since Reinhold Messner.

Downsides: well Folds has developed a strange tendency to go “unh” and “uh” at various points on the record and it just feels a bit weird. He’s been doing it live for a while but he’s really over-doing the grunting on this one. Still it can worked into a fun drinking game.

Apart from that this is a truly brilliant album and hints at so many possible new musical directions that Mr Folds could take now I can’t can’t wait to see what he does next.

Way To Normal is released in stores on Monday 29th September

September 23, 2008

Obama vs Bartlett

Via Chris

OBAMA I’m interested in your advice.

BARTLET I can’t give it to you.

OBAMA Why not?

BARTLET I’m supporting McCain.


BARTLET He’s promised to eradicate evil and that was always on my “to do” list.

As written by The West Wing’s Aaron Sorkin

Certainly worth a read.

September 22, 2008

Back To School

“Two shirts for the price of one but you don’t want to go…”

No I’m not dead.

I warn you now this entry is somewhat self-indulgent and is mostly my answer to all my friends that have asked how the course is going or want to know what I’m up to. If you don’t know me and come here for the biting bit and reviews of TV shows and sweets you can probably skip this.

As some may be aware I’ve moved back to Leamington and am now doing a one-year long NCTJ accredited journalism course at Warwickshire college.
It’s a strange place. Mostly the college offers, well, typical college courses – both GNVQs and HNDs and stuff. The journalism course is one of the few independent ‘adult’ learning courses that they run, so for a start we’re surrounded on all sides by 17 year-olds, which for 24 year-old me is a bit strange (and some of you can shut the fuck up right now…).

Going in the first day was extremely strange, we were stood outside the room and apparently it was full of rubbish so there was a whole bunch of cleaners working on getting rid of it, including some guy with a local accent patronisingly ordering a Korean-looking guy to take the stuff out on a trolley, then bring the trolley back, “take this then bring back, okay” he replied in broken English and I felt like I was in some sort of semi-racist and badly conceived sitcom.

Then finally allowed in, a bunch of us all sat around at desks facing the front, no-one talking, waiting for everyone to arrive. It really did feel like the first day at school. And school is what the whole thing feels like in many ways. It’s a full-time course, 9.15am – 4.15pm Mon-Thurs, and a work placement on Fridays though we seem to finish early quite often. Certainly far from the 20-scattered-about-hours a week of university lectures. Though having physically paid my own tuition fees there’s a certain empowerment about it – although the three teachers keep tabs on you at the end of the day it’s down to you to make the most of it. If you don’t hand in work it’s just your own money you’re wasting. There’s no guarantee of a pass at the end of it. So while being structurally similar to school it feels a little freer.

There’s 14 of us on the course, which makes a nice change from 200+ at Computer Science lectures and it’s split around 50/50 male/female and a similar split between those doing it post-degree and those coming at it right out of A-levels or college. At 24 I appear to be the oldest of the group, though only by a year or so. Also I appear to be far from the least confident of the bunch which was somewhat surprising, giving journalists tend to end up being somewhat extroverted and stand-up aside I’m not.

The course itself is split into 4 modules. Shorthand is the worst. It’s not bad, the teacher is decent and the theory behind it at the moment is fairly interesting – it’s very much like learning a programming language. Just without recursive loops. Or any sort of loops. Well other than the loop you draw to represent an F. It seems mostly logical so far too, but once all the theory is in our heads I have a feeling it’ll get very boring: now we’re going to do this, but faster. Apparently we’re targeted at being able to do 100 WPM (you only need to 60 WPM to pass) and I’m not exactly optimistic I’ll get that far given that, as anyone who’s seen my handwriting will attest, I lack the dexterity in my fingers to keep anything readable at that speed. But we’ll see. Maybe I should start learning piano again too, that might help… There’s also a load of shorthand homework (in addition to the 7 hours or so a week of teaching) which is a somewhat unpleasant surprise.

Newswriting is exactly what it says on the tin. It’s quite strange, I got criticised (nicely) today for being too bland and direct and not conversational or sensational enough. Which appears to be me over-compensating for the fact that my normal writing style is my blogging style which is far too conversational for a news piece. So I seem to be slipping into the bland fact-based uni dissertation style which is pretty much my only other one I have any experience with. Hopefully I’ll find a good compromise somewhere down the line.

The other two modules are mostly inter-changeable. Law and Public Affairs. They’re very fact-based and pretty interesting since I like that sort of thing. I finally found out why some MPs refer to some others as “My Honourable Friend” and some as “My Right Honourable Friend” the other day which has been bugging me for literally years.

It’s hard work. It sort of seems manageable at the moment as I don’t have a work placement yet so get three-day weekends, once that changes it’s going to get tough I imagine, but we’ll see. Passing and getting the qualification should be simple enough anyway, hopefully I’ll edge into the higher echelons of marks at some point though…

So that’s that. I have some sort of internet access at the moment and will be throwing some stuff up over the next few weeks. Still hoping to do another podcast at some point but as soon as I get settled-in Anna will start on her course which I think is even more intensive than mine so unless half-terms/reading weeks interact it’ll probably be close to Christmas time. Thanks to everyone that listened to it though. Interestingly after we covered the Ben Folds fake album leak in depth on there he came clean about it two days later so clearly we’re rather influential.

Oh and I don’t think I’ve said it on here yet but Anna is also doing the Guardian’s TV column on a Friday which is all sorts of awesome, but I now have to come up with a way to one-up that which will be a challenge! Ahh, friendly competition as a motivator…

September 2008

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