Sunday, August 17, 2014

Overcast podcast app and casts


Podcast apps are a funny field - they offer lots of different options and ways of handling episodes and podcasts in a surprisingly minimal range of options - downloading, playlists, playback - that expand once you think about what you are doing. Over the years I've used a few. I started with one of the ones that came out before Apple created a separate app (Podcaster - and it is still going) and was happy with it, but it became unstable and when Apple introduced their app I switched to it (I like the skeumorphism) and it was fine until I started to get more and more that I listened to. I moved to Pocketcast and was happy with it - but also used Ecoute to listen to podcasts as I downloaded some podcasts via Apple which I shared with Carol, and at the moment it seems Apple is the only way to share downloads (I know about syncing on different devices, but that still requires multiple downloads). Then thropugh various sources I heard that Marco Armant who reated Instapaper and The Magazine (apps which I really liked) was working on Overcast.

And when it came out I downloaded it and soon paid the $7 (Aus) in app purchase.  And have now transferred to it (Pocketcast still on the ipad)


It's is a nice clean interface, minimal in terms of both the look and the options, though underneath it is powerful. There is a good search engine for new podcasts, a twitter recommendation option (though if you don't follow a lot of people who use Overcast the recommendations are a little skewed and show mainly tech ones), excellent playlist options (in terms of sorting, priority etc) and a stylish playing screen  with a realtime sound wave display which appears on a variety of screens to highlight which track is playing.

But what makes it really stand out? The audio engine. Marco has gone to base level to create a smart speed and 1.x playback options. Smart speed removes silences and pauses - deleting empty space - to reduce length and the fast playback option works amazingly well. I usually listen at at least 1.2, but for some can go to 1.4 or 1.5 with no real distorion: even 2x is listenable (though maybe too fast for the brain). Obviously I don't speed up music programs! There is also a booster option which makes some podcasts more audible  

Why pay for an app? Marco has put together an app purchase model which I think is very smart: the app is free. For that you get all functionality (except sleep timer and a few other options) but some reductions: you can only have one playlist and you can have the sound specials for 5 minutes at a time (didn't have it long enough as free to see whether you could reselect the option regularly). But as a trial it works well and as a free app for people who have basic podcast needs it is fine. I was more than happy to pay for it. And the amount for an app that gets used for  a high proportion of my waking life is worth paying for a good one.

Caveats: at the moment there is no streaming as iOS8 has a different mode which Marco is waiting for; the app is based on downloading in the background under wifi - I want more control due to bandwidth limitations and have found a work around, but at this stage the basic options are download everything as it becomes available or manually check for new episodes; the recommended page is very tech/sci based and US-centric, but hey, we find out own podcasts!

In the spirit of that sharing, this is my current podcast list, in some sort of order with a brief blurb.  I have not put in links - any good app or browser will find them from the name.I would stress that with many podcasts you have to like the voices of the people: there are a few I have tried to listen to but couldn't get past the sound even if I found what they were talking about interesting , and with others the characters and voices can carry you through dry patches. (I won't name names as it is a personal issue - I can imagine people who find Roman marss voice a distraction, of Marco Armant or Melvyn Bragg and his guests, to pick at random - the balance is for you to decide, which is why it's best to download a podcast before pulling down all the back issues)   

Tech-ish (very broadly)
ATP - Accidental Tech Podcast: three guys talking about the latest developments in apple, but also their own programmimng and writting. Can be long but very listenable, even when I don't really understand what they're going on about. I like the interplay between them so much that I have downloaded their car podcast (Neutral) as part of my archives. Not the most up-to-the-minute tech podcast but does enough for me.
Pragmatic - John Chidgey, an Australian engineer (always nice to hear local voices) talks through techish issues like daylight saving, weather forecasting, staff selection and more. Has a pragmatic approach.
Talk show - John Gruber chatting to someone on tech issues but also life. One of my don't download them all categories. Always interesting but a lot of time
Storming Mortal - found when looking through recommendations as Anze Tomic did an episode with Casey from ATP. A Slavenian interview show which delves more into the personal and the cultural differences. A fresh difference
Thank You For Calling - found because Tiffany Armant did a show on wedding photography. About customer service, but an interesing interviewer (Moises Chiullan) and wide range - downloaded the back issues
Exponential - interesting tech and business discussion. More cerebral in a way - have downloaded the back issues

99% invisible - came across this and actually supported the latest season through kickstarter. Each week is an unusual or oblique look at design and architecture. Could do without some of the end credit stuff (won't mention Roman's kid) but that can be skipped through. The kickstarter led to the creation of a network - Radiotopia - which the following are all part of
Strangers - personal interview stories, well told - Lea Thau has a great voice
Benjamin Walker's Theory of Everything - varied meditations on a range of things
The Truth - improvised playlets, surprisingly good
Fugitive waves - historical perspectived documentaries
Love + Radio - more personal stories
The memory palace - not really part of radiotopia but a monthly-ish brief meditation, story.

Current affairs
Start the week - chat show on current issues, books, films with a panel. Andrew Marr ran it until his stroke, I have been less impressed with the standins, they seem less adept, but still usually worth it & he is coming back.
Sunday extra - from Radio National. Short pieces on news, politics, event, arts perfect for a sunday morning and I pick the best eyes. Includes Backgraound Briefing (available   separately) which is excellent investigative current affairs.

Big ideas - from Radio National, one hour each week night of thought provoking radio: interviews, debates, documentaries. Not always rivetting but worth checking out.
Religions and ethics report - a new one for me from Radio National. The name says it all, but it is more on the philosophical rather than religous end
Philosophers zone - after the untimely death of Alan Saunders this weekly program is refinding its feet. Can be challenging
BBC docs - BBC world service documentaries, Documentary of the week and Radio 3 Documentary each have great downloads. The range means you might not listen to some, but regularly fascinating
BBC books - the World Book Club has a monthly group interview with an author about an older novel of theirs; Books and Authors alternates between Open Book (Mariel Frostrup), a discussion of recent releases, and A Good Read where 2 guests join Harriet Weaver to talk about a book they like. Fabulous range of people come on it.
Guardian books - another weekly book chat
In our time - Melvyn Bragg's amazing discussion of historical, scientific and philosophical issues (Hildegard on Bingen one week, the Sun the next). Sometimes get's a bit Monty Python
Freakonomics - discussion on economics, science and society with a light hearted bent
More or less - BBC's statistics program. Alternates seasons of shorts and 30 minute episodes. Analyses stats in the news
Radiolab - enough said - amazing production, occasionally marred by too much geewhizzery
The Infinite Monkey Cage - Brain Cox and Robyn Ince have a panel discussion about science. Can be frustrating, Cox is Cox, but usually satisfying

Sound Opinions - interesting mix of news, a longer item and a review. One that I cherry pick but listen to more than I don't
Song Exploder - short piece where an artist describes how a song came together, explaing the individual components. Hits the spot most times
A History of Electronic Music - from the archives, a personal history of electronic music. A second series is planned but I wouldn't hold my breath.
Desert island Disks - an oldie but a great one. A guest interviewed (excellently) by Kirsty Young, and shares musical items. Sometimes you are glad 'the musical items are shorter than broadcast due to copyright' but the guests are often surpisingly interesting and I have found some music from here

The Bugle - a show that can creat the neologism fukeulogy has to be worth listening to. Satire at its best
Answer Me This - hovers on the boarder (dropped for a while), can get puerile and childish but overall satisfying
Richard Herring - a range of Herring podcasts, Warming Up has become flakey though and Me1 vMe2 has run out of steam!
Do The Right Thing - waiting for this nasty quiz show to return.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Andrew Collins - Circles of Life

OK - some years ago I started listening to the Collings and Herrin podcast. I can't remember how I got to it, but I had heard of neither of them. Richard Herring is a comedian, was famous in the UK in a double act with Stewart Lee (Fist of Fun, which I hadn't heard of either as I doubt it or the subsequent TMWR&J made it out here). Andrew Collins was 'writer, broadcaster, author' and played the straighter man.

They reviewed the weeks news (aside: I listened to the first few recently as I had started probably at about 30 I think, and they were talking about Madelaine McCann - and it is still in the news!), had running jokes, did live shows and basically had a good time - though often wandering into the land of bad taste.

It ran from 2008 to 2011, overlapping with a stint that they did on radio (it was interesting to see the constrictions of live radio on them). The break up could have been acrimonious - it is hard to tell.

Richard has gone on to become something of a podcast pioneer: he has had a number of topical shows: As it occurs to me (AIOTM) which featured an Andrew Collins Character (who always undercut what he said with an 'aside' negating the statement (which could be a reflection of the animosity) and more recently Richard Herring's Meaning of Life (also a video), the hypnotic Me1 v Me2 snooker and chat shows Richard Herrings Leicester Square and Edinburgh Fringe Podcasts (the first more mainstream, the Fringe one more the sound of a man exhausting himself over 2 weeks).

But this post is about Andrew Collins!

Gradually the straight man filled out a personality. Andrew had written some sitcoms which I hadn't heard of, had written for Eastenders (which I had), had started through art school to design to writing and editing on magazines that I definitely had heard of - NME, Vox, Q, Select - , had written autobiographies of his happy uneventful childhood, a biography of Billy Bragg. (I won't mention the Mitford's). Had travelled with some of the bands on tours. Now does a weekly video TV review for the Guardian, had a small hit radio comedy Mr Blue Sky and is writing more.

And often was funnier than Richard - and closer to the edge (listen to the audience reaction on some of the live shows).

Richard is the bloggers blogger (Warming Up has been going for years and produced a few books), Andrew is a more restrained, doing blogs when he feels like it: Never Knowingly Underwhelmed

Similarly on Twitter Andrew is restrained - some political posts, some of his baking, cat calendars, minor updates.

OK - to cut to the chase 

Last year Andrew decided to do a blokey thing with the songs he had on iTunes that he used to create a player playlist. He would choose his favourite tracks and create a list of the best songs in the world. He set rules: well one rule really
though this was malleable - if the worked in other groups, solos, collaborations, other names. And started work.

He thought it would be 50, but he kept going and after the first pass came to a stop at 143. Which became the magic number arbitrarily (though it is 13x11). Now the playlist can be no longer than that.

The list too has some flexibility - the favourite David Bowie track can change, under one circumstance.

Andrew decided to blog the list. So at irregular intervals (about weekly but sometimes the posts are like busses...) he writes up the story of a song - why he chose it, what it means to him (often an important aspect of our favourites; where how with who we heard a song). Once the song is blogged, though, it can't change. So Be My Wife is THE Bowie song.

Andrew's background in music journalism and broadcasting (and as a 65 baby) means that the range is a hoot - as I tweeted to him 'that's what is so great about the 143 - from Hiphop to the Eagles in one step!'. There is no logic to the order so always a surprise.

And as with any list (especially one as personal and constrained as this) there is lots to disagree with (I doubt anyone could agree on the best Beatles or Bowie or Stones or...), there is stuff to discover (Andrew has listened in areas I haven't), and as we get closer to the 143 we will start to wonder where our favourites are (will there be a John Foxx [or Ultravox], Steve Harley [or Cockney Rebel], Ian Anderson, Robert Fripp [or King Crimson], Jethro Tull, Brian Eno to name some of my known favourites. 

I would, not surprisingly choose others for the ones he has done - 10CC would have to be One night in Paris; New Order might be Temptation but the again... But he got Pink Floyd and Talking Heads (semi Eno) right!

That's the fun.

Debate is welcome on the forum.

Click on the image at the top and dive in: we're halfway there so there is plenty of new fun to be had.

(PS I know the freelance life is hard, but there is a lot of Andrew's life I would have liked for me!)
(PPS I think that it should come out as a book at the end of it all - selfpublish or persih)

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Me: The Beatles

A solipsistic post in response to Dave Stafford's (here) about his memories and experience of the Beatles. It made me think about their place in my musical sphere.

My earliest clear memory is my sister(s? was it both?) being taken with friends to see A Hard Day's Night - and having to travel some distance to see it. We then got various albums for christmas presents. And when we came to Australia one family friend gave us Help as a farewell present. I probably saw them on TV shows, but definitely saw the recording of All You Needs Is Love for the worldwide telecast. A Beatles single (Love Me Do backed by PS i love you, i think) was the first I bought for myself (I bought A Walk In The Black Forest for my mum).

We had a copy of Rubber Soul. I had a cassette taped copy of the double album (with Revolution No. 9 omitted). And at some stage got Abbey Road (through a record club I think). I also had the double single for Magical Mystery Tour which I sold to a second hand record shop years ago (I wonder what it would be worth now?  Hmm not much according to eBay, so I don't feel as bad). But we/I never had a copy of Sgt Peppers, Revolver, Let It Be. Though I did get the horridly ugly Rock and Roll double best of and single compilation.

Following the breakup I was more a Lennon man - collected either directly or via cassette (Sometime in NY City for example) most of his stuff. Had a bit of Ringo - the albums including and following that self titled one: it has the sort of cover that makes you long for 12" releases - full size Voorman diagrams to match each song. Wings was not much to me - I did get the live Wings Over America as it was cheap and gave a sort of best of. George passed me by as a collector - I had 'copies' of All Things Must Pass and Concert for Bangladesh but that was all - though Shankar Family and Friends was (and is) a great album that I still play.

And yet: I bought the Anthology book. Collected the anthology albums (I especially like the 2nd and 3rd) and now have copies of all the albums.

And Beatles music is an underpinning to everything. While I didn't own all the albums, most of the songs were familiar. They were part of my growing up and my development. (I have digital Lennon but not Ringo - says something)

I think what happened is they were at the wrong time for my collecting seeking absorbing specifically side. They were part of the atmosphere - I didn't have to seek them out. But as we turned into the seventies, I turned into mid-teens and started earning money, I moved from listening to my sisters' albums and buying my own. Some things were developments from their taste (Tull, Bowie), some were from friend's (King Crimson, ELP, Curved Air, Neil Young, Elton John) and some I eventually found myself. I was looking forward, not back (though I did follow some of my finds into their earlier past).

But it was as if the Beatles were just there. In some ways I felt that I knew all the music.

I am glad now that I have got it all and familiarising myself with it yet again - because they are amazing.

One thing that surprises me is the groups or artisist who started at the same time: how was it to be around at the that time? Was it a burden to be compared to the success and artistry of them or was it liberating that they had so much critical limelight that you could develop in peace? Or after, when the search for the next big thing was on?

Ah, nostalgia

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Calendar Apps

Having a calendar with you on the phone or tablet is great - makes it easy to add, check or change. We used to use Groupwise & there was a pretty pitiful client for the iPhone (which this post is based on) but things got better when we moved to Google apps. It links to the built in calendar, but I was never really happy with that for the reason of the first app.

I haven't tried many apps - I get hints from reviews and notices, and have three which I use for various reasons. I would note I am not a power user - don't share calendars, invite people or use a number of different ones. They are for me!

week cal
Itunes web link

This was the first calendar I got and I still use it. As an academic, during semester time week view is my main visual handle on my timetable - it changes from week to week and a good visualisation is essential. Week Cal's raison d'ĂȘtre is the week view (day and month views are available). Entering new events is straightforward using the normal touchdate/time, make selection about length from the tumbler etc. All the usual features expected of a calendar are there too - location, link to contacts, repeat, different calendars.

I was happy with it, but then read some reviews of other with different tweaks, and I now use 2 of them.

Fantastical 2
Itunes web link

The first thing is that this integrates calendar and reminders, so it is a nice integration, especially if you keep trying to get todo lists - at least they are together here.

Second, it uses 'natural language' item creation. Tap the + button and you get a text entry line and as you type it in the program makes its interpretations - meet student at 2 will start to create a meeting at 2 today, add tomorrow and it will shift the draft to tomorrow. Start the typing a todo and it will be a reminder (there is also a sliding button which will toggle between appointment and reminder. If it looks OK hit add, if not you can look at the details and fine tune it and add the regular stuff.

The next difference is the look. When you open it you get a ticker tape of days across the top (not showing sequences of more than 3 days without a meeting) with bars representing meetings for the day. Below is the current reminders and then a list of meetings.(Tap for more detail). As you scroll the list, the ticker tape slides across.

Drag down on the ticker tape and it changes into the month view with dots for meetings and also a search function.

I would use this as my main calendar except that the week view is available only when you rotate from portrait to landscape. As my phone is locked in portrait, that is a nuisance and effectively no use (one cal app I looked at had a button that shifted the view from day to week - much better - but it didn't add a lot more.
Who has their phone on rotation? As I say, mine is locked for  two reasons.
1. there is no consistency about whether the app will rotate (on the iphone the  iOS doesn't but it  does on the iPad)  . Browsers rotate, weather doesn't ; guardian rotates, ABC doesn't;  Music app does, ecoute doesn't). so you don't know what will happen
2. It makes me feel sick. I don't mind the parallax, but screens rotating and unrotating, doing strange things if you are lying in bed, - all too much for me.
However, with the iPad I use the  manual lock to change screen rotation & in fact tend to have it in free rotation - more programs rotate and I use it less, but in more defined places.

And finally, one with a very different interface which is breaking new ground.


I like this because it is looking at calendars a different way.

When you open the app you get a list of days as a series of horizontal tabs, a bit like some email. These are the days of the week view - so it is each day until saturday or sunday (depending on when your week starts) and there is a simple statement of date (small) day (bigger) and a bar indicating how much time is booked for that day. Tap on a day and a folding paper unfolds down with the list of appointments. Tap for details. tap again for it to fold away.

Below the week we get the rest of the month view, with a small bar histogram again giving you the time booked for each day (tap etc). the months are colour coded for season (so there are three month blocks) with a subtle (northern hemisphere [they're working on it]) icon for it.

This is all nice block colours (only 2 schemes at present, but I hope they don't offer too many options or it could get ugly).

The next innovation is the mechanism in adding events. long hold on the day and the event portal opens. Name ok. Press the start time and the whole screen opens to a bespoke time entry system - hours listed on the left, minutes right & you slide a marker up or down to select the start, am/pm below and then tick or cross to accept/change your mind.

then when we get to duration, hold your finger on and you are touching a histogram (note a trend) which you can slide up or down to give you the length, or convert it into a day event. Then there are options for repeat location etc. A very different interface which is more touch friendly, layer-operated than apples dials. And works exceedingly well.

2 other innovations. If you shake the phone you can get a 'wellness' reminder (just did & I got 'do what you love' which you can reject or get scheduled randomly soon. The other is more useful - if you cover the screen with your hand, or turn the phone upside down, it sense the shade and shows the time in nice big numbers. Very helpful if you keep the phone in calendar mode.

At the moment I am using all three because they have different advantages and fun (Peek) and would only go down to 2 when Fantastical can replace Week Cal.

But, for any big appointment entry work - like all my classes for the semester - the desktop is the only way. Thanks Google Calendar (I'm on PC).

Monday, February 17, 2014

iTunes radio hits Australia - whoop de do

OK - so it is exciting that it is here, that weare the second country in the world to get it. But it doesn't do much for me - probably because, as we'll see, I am probably not the target. But I'll comment anyway.

To start with I am not a music streamer for 2 main reasons

  • I have a fairly large music library which is made up of music from classical through rock, pop, electropop, experimental, ambient, electroacoustic, phonography through to labels like Dorobo, Stasisfield, and so on. I have a selection on my phone, on an iPod classic and on my iPhod, plus a backup of the music on a portable drive. So where ever I am I can get music that I want. And I'm an album man, but also like variety
  • Download limits - both at home and on the phone - I don't have enough and it's too expensive to waste on listening to music I might not like when I have what I want.
And for the same reason I don't listen to much music radio - OK I might miss a great new track, but I am pretty sure I'll hear about most somehow.

Then there is the implementation. First, it is through the music app which I have stopped using since they stuffed up the album view - now I have three players on there
  • Ecoute is my player of first choice: it has a nice grid view that shows 12 artists or genres on a 4s, then a small icon list view of albums in alpha order.The player is good & interestingly has dispensed with a volume function - assuming you'll use the buttons or earphones, 
  • Picky is interesting for large libraries and filtering - you can do it by number of songs, and then within an artist sort by name, release. It doesn't have a genre setting, but in Albums you can select genres, including more than one at a time, and
  • the interface of Listen is fascinating, very fluid and simple, but the selection process is difficult - it shows all the albums in a grid which extends alphabetically to the left. Dersigned largely for shuffling.
  • But my main player is Ecoute for music and some podcasts (Pocketcasts for ones that I haven't downloaded in iTunes which I do for ones that I want to put on Carol's iPod).
And then, very little styling seems to have gone into the design. The default block view that a lot of podcast apps use also, for your libraries. I don't think you can change the icon.

Finally, the choice, which seems to be
  • a group - like I like the Beatles but not a whole station!
  • generic chart stations - 70s, 80s and 90s; pop hits, etc
  • genre stations - like ambient. Genres are hard to define anyway, but these are either too broad (like ambient) or refine but not enough - within classical you can't pick 20th century or minimalism
Maybe if you have genius working, or iTunes match, or there is some sort of like/dislike the system might learn my preferences, but I haven't got the time. I would rather say to myself - i need some dirty ambient or some muslimgauze or a bit of atonal classical or some environmental sounds to complement my real world and pick an album or genre or artist from my library.

Like I said, not for me: but I wish they had made it look good! A stand alone app at least.

TIMR 25: The Official Andy Partridge Fuzzy Warbles Collector's Album

OK - I came to XTC just a little late: Life begins at the hop and especially Making plans for nigel were big hits and got me into the band and all their albums from Drums and Wires on came my way. This included the vinyl version of their first Best Of which was which came as a double album: Waxworks and Beeswax (the first was the singles, the second B sides). I got the numberered English Settlement, Black Sea in the green bag, the round Big Express, Psonic Psunspot, Take Away/Lure of the Salvage on a tape which was badly mastered with the 'start' about halfway through which made identifying the songs even harder!

I could be argied that XTC were the true heirs to The Beatles in broad musical terms

  • the move from punk/rock through to more complex deep music and unbridled variety
  • a pair of writers whose individual songs could usually be identified (made easier with XTC as they kept separate writing credits
  • a whimsical one and a darker one
  • lyrical and musical depth 
  • experiment - the dub experiments are like John and Yoko - XTC had more room for experiemntal B-sides (thanks to the Beatles)
  • a very britishness, although that musichall vibe comes from and through quite a long line
  • a sad internal decline
Anyways, XTC are THE group of the 80s I think.

At the turn of the century I got the rarities, B-sides etc that is a Coat of Many Cupboards.

Then quietly, unbeknown to me (why didn't he tell me) Andy Partridge started releasing the Fuzzy Warbles. These were compilations of demos (XTC, Dukes of Strosphere and more), musical musings and doodles, songs for soundtracks and more. Each covered a range of ground and included extensive liner notes and lyrics. the covers were based on  stamps
Between 2002 and 2006 8 albums were released, and it was about the time of 4 or 5 I became aware of them. As imports each was quite expensive, but the as the series was drawing to an end, the Collector's Album was released

This takes the stamp theme and runs with it. The box is a stamp album - with theedges printed to look like the sides of a book. It comes in a plastic slip casewhich has the album contents printed on it. Inside the front cover is a book plate for you to fill in.

The 8 disks are nicely arranged and separated by card, so it keeps neat. There is a long book with an essay by Andy about the project - how he did his home recordings. And two little extras. One is a sheet of the 8 images, plus the AP logo, as stick on stamps (who would stick them on something! mine are still here nice and pristine) and an extra cd in a card cover, entitled Hinges (those of you who have never collected stamps will be left in the dark about why that name, those who have will remember the little bag of hinges that came with stamp albums) with another 9 tracks on it - making 161 altogether. There is no seeming rhyme or reason to the individual volumes - they mix early, mid. late XTC with Dukes with other demos, with film music. So each is a lovely separate compilation.

I see the set is over $200 on Ebay or nearly $300 from Amazon links (well over $1000 for a new one from Japan) (even coat of many cupboards is about $250). But it isn't for sale, even though I have ripped it & when I play it, it's the MP3s that I play. Because it is a lovely Thing In My Room!

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Blancmange - Blanc Burn

After mentioning Blancmange as a nostalgic treat a couple of posts ago in the KTP I came across news that they were performing Happy Families in concernt and are rerecording/mixing and releasing it as Happy Families Too next month. And a bit of websearch revealed that an new album (their first in 25 years) Blanc Burn was released in 2011.

I had to get it. I got it.

Blancmange had a couple of big hits (Feel me, Living on the ceiling and some more) but were never as big as I thought they should be. They combined great beats, eclectic influences (mainly Indian), experimentalism, a great ear for a song (if you wonder about ABBA, listen to Blancmange's version of The day before you came).

After 25 years there have been technical developments and aging - Neil's voice is perhaps not as strong as it was, but this has added a greater air of world-weariness and possibly ennui. The opener, for example, By the busstop @ woolies uses a vocal that sounds like it could have been a voice message, and a focus on the local and small is reflected across the album

Musically it is strong and sounds fresh and very varied. There are some that sound like they could have been on the earlier albums - such as Drive me or The western and surprisingly they are the ones which excite the least - although they are exciting but more along the lines of developing the sound a bit rather than dramatically.

Ultraviolent, a story of local thugs in masks and with dogs as weapons, uses dense vocoder or autotune and has a descending chorus line which reminds me of the No no nos in I don't want to lose your love.

Radio therapy reminded me of Freeze Frame era Godley/Creme, and I'm having a coffee notes the focus in the album of the mundane smaller things.

What is hard to determine is how much I like this album because it's a new(ish now) Blancmange album and how much is the music itself? The way the songs have hooked into my brain I think it is probably the later - like Bowie's The Next Day the initial suprise and excitement has bled into just playing it because it is good. The name has probably helped push them through (though not so much that I had heard about the album!) but their skill has taken it on.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Sayonara Kyoto - Midwinter parts 1-9 (Kickstarter comment 3)

The third project I backed was Sayonara Kyoto's album Midwinter.

This one is more of a long shot. Chris Sheldon has some basic tracks for the album, but needs a significant injection of funds to master the album. This means he is looking for 3500pounds. At this stage he is a long way off, and suggested to me he was going to pull the project, but got a new burst of wind.

To me targets like this seem really hard for small, unknown artists to garner. Considering the maths, as I did in a message to Chris, a 5pound pledge gets you a download and beyond that you get additions like being on the liner notes, personal thanks etc. The 5 is likely to be the most common pledge, which means that you need to find 700 backers. Which would be decent sales for many small label CDs I would think where 500-1000 is common for limited editions (such as Muslimgauze).

I hope that Chris can find the funds or the means to get the album released - it is a strong album in the beated ambience field made popular by groups such as Tangerine Dream. The samples which are on the Kickstarter page indicate where the music is going and suggest that there would be a market for it - I just wish there was a way Chris could finish it for a little less! (But I don't understand the costs). He also mentions Mike Oldfield, Vangelis, Michael Jarre, Enigma - which sounds about right: and the last two have heardtracks and responded positively.

One other thing, the image that Chris used for Kickstarter is probably not strong enough - again, I don't know what WILL pull the punters, but the photoshoped text doesn't seem like a real eyecatcher. But then I did get past it, so it worked on me!

There is enough on the kickstarter page that allows you to hear how good the music is. Fingers crossed!

(just to note - my only connection to this project is as a backer, and as I was the first Chris has offered me a copy of the sound files if it is not successful & something else [such as a mention in the cover] if it is)

DUENDE - Bethseda Requiem (Kickstarter comment 2)

The next album I supported was DUENDE's Bethseda Requiem.

I actually backed this before hearing any of it because the description of it was intriguing - ambience built around sounds from the day of the assasination of JFK (it is actually part of a larger project) and (again) the relatively small target (200 pounds).

I then went to the bandcamp page where the album can be listened to or downloaded (I hope people listen to it, then pledge and then get a digital download when the target is reached rather than just buy it so that the limited edition CD does get released).

I got the album when there was a brief window of free download - and have kept my pledge. And my initial interest has been demonstrated to be valid.

This is a dense dark album that covers the events of that day and subsequently by judicious use of radio, television and police recordings which merge into the ambience which seems to be built from industrial and electrical samples - it washes across as a psychic recreation of the events and moods of the day. The tone of the spoken voices is reflected in the music, before the track titled Zapruder there is an optimism (though the future is pressaged in the elegaic opening A time to be born...). We know what will happen, but we are still transfixed and overwhelmed. 

I can sort of remember where I was, though as a Britain Winston Churchill's death and funeral has a higher impact factor. But the resonance around the world of the event, whatever we think of the reality of the JFK presidency and its actions, and the reiteration of it in other events keeps this a strong subject. 

This is an intense album. Even if you don't want to back it through Kickstarter get the download. It shows how music and documentary recordings can work together in a powerful and evocative way. 

(just to note - my only connection to this project is as a backer)

TimHeld - Alb(L)um (kickstarter comment 1)

Surprisingly my post about kickstarter late november has got the highest recent hit rate - anyway I am going to update 3 projects.

First, Tim Held was looking for $200 to help promote his album - and he achieved it. So iun addition to some stickers and other stuff, it now has offical release and is available through iTunes & probably elsewhere, such as soundcloud and bandcamp.

The thing that really attracetd me to the album is the cover - it is fantastic. The album title is annoying - I can't parse it at all - just one of those tricksy playful impossible to pronounce names (Update - have modified the post title to reflect the capital L in alb(L)um, was lower case)

But the music is great. He has crafted each track from sound samples with some voice pieces in there. There are some crazy beats, some intense sounds, some melody but primarily finely crafted tracks.

Trying to triangulate the music, acts that come to mind - in closest proximity are
Severed heads - not the very earliest cliffird stuff but a bit later, emphasis on the sounds integrating with spoken samples, interested in beats but not driven by them. Same sense of humour.
Snog - mainly the beaty sample stuff.
Eno/Byrne - a touch of the Bush of Ghosts in here, just a whiff.
A few of the tracks have thumping bass lines, others are more discreet, but none are very long - and in fact probably too short!

This is a really good album and highly recommended.

In terms of kickstarter it worked I think because of the striking image - something must draw you in to read more - and the modest target.

(just to note - my only connection to this project is as a backer)

Kissing The Pink

I am not sure when I first heard Kissing The Pink. I have a vague memory of them being on a TV show or perhaps JJJ. But I do remember buying their first album in one of the Impact sales. 

I doubt it was just the price and the intriguing cover that led me to buy Naked - I am sure I knew one or two of the songs. Released in 1983 it was part of the New Wave. What makes the album memorable is the eclectic mix of instruments and styles - sax, keys, strings. A lead singer who intones with a lovely rounded sound rather than sings, a beautiful female voice. It opens with The last film an anthem that returns in hymn form. Mr Blunt is rousing, Love lasts for ever should have been a hit single. The big man restless (so relentless), elegiac Watching their eye - and more. A complex and varied album, apparently they wanted Eno to produce it which is intriguing. I played it a lot & can sing many of the songs, but...

They weren't high in my consciousness - I didn't note the names of the members or who played what. They released 3 more albums & though I recognise the third one didn't buy any. They fell into that grouping of music you like but don't get immersed into collecting. 

And then, when the internet was still young, I found (no idea how or why, probably random search on obscure groups I was interested in) Jeff Grote's Kissing The Pink site ( - definitely the last word on the group (their Wikipedia entry is brief). I minimally added to it - if you go to lyrics, the Naked ones are a scan of the Australian inner sleeve which uniquely included them all. 

In addition to the information Jeff has a myriad of sound files - all four albums, remix albums, 2 live BBC sessions, outtakes alternatives and demos. You email Jeff for access to this - I am not sure how careful he is (perhaps more so as the music is now available as purchaseable downloads - the first 3 albums are on iTunes), but. Anyway, I now have nearly 150 tracks by them. 

The second album, What Noise, develops the sound and style of the first - more mature, political (Greenham, for those who remember for example), mixed moods. The other side of heaven could have been a single, but as with the first album, the overall package it what impresses as the songs weave their varied courses, which may be the problem. 

With Certain Things Are Likely they became KTP and perhaps closer to a dance mainstream. Another great album but it didn't break through. 

The swan song Sugarland develops the sound, retains a little quirkiness and again didn't find success. I imagine the third and fourth albums lost the fans of the first (true Cliffords, to mix bands) and didn't spark with new listeners. 

So here we are, 30 years on from the first album - why this post? Well it's my blog so.... Perhaps it's nostalgia, but groups from this period (like Blancmange) often get a play when I need something jolly - it is just really good music. Plus it shows the change in the music industry. They got support, backing, distribution from a label but also pressure to create a hit sound. These more independent days mean you can go your own way more easily, make music more easily, but find it harder to get heard and a decent audience. I don't know how much Dave Stafford makes from sales (now mainly bandcamp I think) but he hasn't quit his day job. And kickstarter is not easy for many (a post on that later). Plus you have old farts like me spending time with decades old music (but hey I do listen to some now stuff). 

And don't get me started (too late) on the focus on tracks: Naked is an ALBUM a sum of its parts. Yes some tracks are more immediately accessible but the variety and selection is what counts. 

Anyway, a group whose sound has lasted. Highly recommended. 

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

TIMR 24: John Foxx and The Maths: Rhapsody (UPDATED)

John Foxx - one of the more un-centred parts of my music history - important but more tangential or something. Perhaps, to explain....

I missed Ultravox! - I am sure that Hiroshima Mon Amour was on Countdown and the link with Eno was there, but their time and mine did not fit (recently have gone to those early albums and enjoy them).

After the split obviously Vienna and the new romantics were about and more prominent and while Underpass was a small hit for Foxx, the album didn't reach me. Then Impact Records in canberra sand its siren song to me and I picked up some 12" single in sales and eventually got the four Foxx albums - Metamatic, The Garden, The Golden Section and In Mysterious Ways. My favourites were 4, 2 , 1, 3 by the way.

Then he went quiet.

On a trip to England in 2005 in a small record shop I found the double album of the first two Cathedral Oceans albums - beautiful ambient emerging from The Garden. There was also a live album there - I think it was the Omnidelic - but I didn't pick it up - another missed opportunity.

Anyway, a few years later something nudged me & I looked into him on the web and found the resurgence with Louis Gordon in the late 90s/early00s. This developed his older material and also included some wonderful new albums.

His career has continued since - there have been more ambient albums; ambient collaborations with Harold Budd, Robin Guthrie; songs with Belbury Circle and Jori Hulkkonen this year; some great resissues and compilations; 

And most recently teaming up with Benge to form The Math - Rhapsody is their most recent release. There shared love of analogue synths provides great warm sounds to go with Foxx's still subtle and always striking voice, often half spoken.

Throughout this long career Foxx has revisited past material and released it in live and studio albums: Rhapsody is another in that line. It takes ten songs from Ultravox! onwards and re-records them, live in studio before going out on the road with them. These aren't radical reworkings but rather presenting the music with the current lineup, modified slightly and subtly tweaked.

As I say, Foxx (perhaps because he dropped out after 4 great albums) was never central in my music world, but those albums got a lot of play and still do, and the newer ones are also high in my mind when I want some joyous electro or thoughtful ambient. It is great he is back.

Caveat - there is one album of his I don't like: a collaboration with Theo Travis (flute, sax) and to me it is too close to New Age: I have also avoided Travis's collaborations with Fripp.

A great discography is at

And Foxx's own page is pretty great

UPDATE: Foxx's album A New Kind Of Man which is Metamatic, the first solo album, plus other tracks from the same period performed live in 2007 is now available from townsend records for pound1.99 - great buy, great bargain