My top music of 2011

It seems unlikely that I’m going to hear any new music before the end of the year so time to join boomkat, et al and find some semblence of order in the random variety of records I’ve purchased this year. For me, 2011 has been quite a poor year compared to 2010. Where’s the “God Was Like No” or the “Does It Look Like I’m Here?” because they’ve received far more plays than any of the albums below. Nonetheless, my top records in no particular order:

1) The Magic Place – Julianna Barwick. Beautiful music, great album, well implemented. Keep Up The Good Work is astounding as is Prizewinning.  Julianna’s layered approach to melody using just looped fragments of her voice is mesmorising. Would love to see her build them up live. The problem is that I think Florine remains the better work.

2) Ways Of Meaning – Kyle Bobby Dunn. Wonderful. But not the double disc masterpiece that was 2010’s “A Young Person’s Guide To..” I don’t feel like the composition has moved on since that record and suspect these were probably recorded at a similar point in time.

(Not from Ways Of Meaning but a fine example)

3) S/t – A Winged Victory For The Sullen. Not Stars of the Lid. But still looking forward to seeing them perform next year, particularly after my abysmal attempt at seeing Stars of the Lid in Birmingham. No such problems with public transport now I’m in London.

4) Ravedeath, 1972 – Tim Hecker. Love “The Piano Drop”. Heavy. Entire album is really good actually and this one grew on me as I got used to it being a bit less intense than I was expecting.

5) Please Stop Loving Me – Nicholas Szcepanik. Discovered this thanks to anti gravity bunny. I remember hearing earlier work on Drone Poets. This has improved a lot from there. Nicholas’s best work yet and probably, if forced, my album of the year. Not quite as enamoured as Anti Gravity Bunny but a mature emotive piece of drone that moved me. That’s all you can ask from music.

Great Soundtracks: Drive and Girl With The Dragon Tattoo. Also enjoyed We Need To Talk About Kevin but more of that when I do my top movies of 2011 since that’ll feature for certain regardless of how I feel About Girl With The Dragon Tattoo.

Quirky: Brandon’s shortwaves. It’s not the River by William Basinski which was very much a shortwave radio composition but this is still memorable. This is a collection of weird findings that you can probably only find out in the states. Makes me want to build my own receiver and see what I can find.

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The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

It seems like every single person on the tube must have read this book at one stage or another. It’s certainly the series I recognise the most, partly a result of the unusual size and cover design since the Millennium book series is from an independent publisher, Maclehose imprint, which is unusual in this era.

Novel cover in discussion

The book is an old fashioned crime novel set amidst a turbulent financial and journalistic landscape. There are two main characters: a likeable but bland journalist called Mikael Blomkvist and the more interesting slightly autistic Lisbeth Salandar. It’s the latter character who is the more compelling and in this book her prestigious abilities with computers seems perfectly reasonable given her Asperger syndrome like behaviour. In later book as her skill set seems to expand to any area requiring intellect this does become a bit over the top.

The central mystery is gripping, well-structured and compelling although everything does finish around 80% of the way through the novel with the latter fifth being loose ends. Since we’re interested in the characters and their relationship however this is still interesting although slightly less page turning. Given the length of the novel it does seem like a couple of extra twists may have been beneficial as opposed to the lengthy first act and epilogue.

I’m not a huge mystery or thriller reader so can’t offer advice to frequent readers about whether the reveal in this novel with prove a surprise. I suspect not since the same trick of many crime novels is pulled. I’m sure there will be one or two unexpected turn of events for most readers, however.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo was an enjoyable and more-ish read with characters who I’ll be interested in following in future stories. Mystery veterans will probably have already devoured this although other than solid characterisation I doubt that there was much new here.


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Adam Curtis on nuclear energy

Via Ben Goldacre comes this fantastic spot about a previous Adam Curtis documentary. I’ve been steadily working my way backwards through these and it’s amazing just how prescient Adam is at times. Seeing something like the Power of Nightmares is illuminating about our current world. However a documentary like Pandora’s Box, which has a very similar message, but was made in 1992 is extraordinary.

In particular episode 6 in the series, A Is For Atom, which talks about the problems with the Fukushima Daiichi plant’s reactors a little in advance..

In the early days following the quake I kept on seeing a lot of pro-nuclear people linking to this post. Obviously now any post made which ended with the conclusion “the plant is safe now and will stay safe.” is obviously wrong to everyone. The article is full of mistakes and misrepresentation and has been given a further debunking. I’m surprised at just how popular it spread though since it was fairly easy to not advance far before the first major error. Originally the article stated that the difference between 8.2 and the 8.9 is 7 times rather than 0.7. An almost embarrassing mistake since this is simply log10 maths and gave a little insight into how painfully wrong much of the rest of the post would prove to be.

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The Wise Man’s Fear

The Wise Man’s Fear is the second book in the Kingkiller Chronicles by Patrick Rothfuss and aside from the alleged release date of Dance of Dragons (I’ll believe it when it’s in my hands!) was probably the most anticipated fantasy release of 2011. Patrick’s skilful use of a framed story let us know just how far Kvothe, the central character, had left to fall following the end of the first story. With the knowledge that he considers himself responsible for a continent-wide war it was inevitable that the scope of this next book had to expand beyond the University where the first book was principally set.

This is achieved with mixed success with the story feeling slightly more disjointed that the first book where the sections between trouper, urchin and student felt more cohesive. In that book not being told about much of Kvothe’s early years as a street urchin made perfect sense as part of the framed story and the sexual abuse alluded to. Here a section between the University and Severen is left without detail and only a brief summary of a series of extraordinary events which, without further details, feels somewhat contrived.

I did find Kvothe’s time in Severen a complete delight. Kvothe is such a likeable, intelligent character who is constantly having to worry and keep several plates spinning at once made it very difficult not to get hooked on this book. As the scope continued to expand there were several very entertaining sections and the weakest part of the series so far where Kvothe has a particularly fantastical sequence of events.

Very pretty cover

Despite enjoying the sections outside the university these parts remain the best with the strongest narrative drive, the most interesting side characters and the most intrigue. After the end of the last book the framing sessions for the story were made more tense and since their importance has been revealed were more enjoyable than in the first book.

Rothfuss’s mastery of story structure, narrative drive and likeable distinctive personalities continues in this second book. I was caught up in this story and almost missed my tube stop several times as a result. I can’t think of higher praise than that! The next book can’t come soon enough for me.

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Prisoner Ben on hunger strike

Just after things finally start looking up with Ben reaching open prison this happens. It’s worth bearing in mind that this isn’t just an isolated case who we happen to hear about. This sortof bullshit happens continually to all prisoners. Constantly being messed about either deliberately or as a result of our crap prison service. It’s not just annoying for the prisoner – think about the costs involved in transporting a prisoner about the country just to arrive and find there are no places.

In other news I’m not blogging much lately. Feeling a bit down about life so it’s difficult to work up motivation to write. Visiting Cardiff to see Beardyman and my sister this weekend so hopefully that’ll cheer me up.

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Dan Wells on Social Network

Dan isn’t one of those bloggers who tries to say something everyday (*ahem*), instead he blogs when he has something to say. This usually results in excellent posts which are insightful and thought provoking. Particularly enjoyed reading his post comparing and contrasting unlikeable protagonists in The Social Network and Jumper. Dan captures those crucial differences which have such an impact on our feelings towards the characters (although the fault of Jumper goes way beyond protagonists you don’t..) and relates it to his own work writing about John Cleaver. Read the post and I recommend you check out his work. Dan is an author who thinks about what he’s trying to achieve and hits his targets.

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UKIP Resurgence

UKIPs Barnsley byelection result was a bit of a surprise and despite the frantic spin must have come as a bit of a shock to the Lib Dems. To come in 6th place behind a independent candidate can only be interpreted as a vote of confidence. Nigel Farage’s aim to become the third force in British politics might seem a bit fanciful but recent YouGov polling shows they don’t have far to go. From a weighted sample of 2458 people 11% would vote Lib Dem in the next election compared to 5% UKIP. If AV doesn’t go the way the Liberal Democrats are hoping I can really see the party falling apart with internal bickering and dropping even further in the polls. Whether voting intentions translate into seats is a different matter altogether from polling data and the area where small political parties have always struggled to capitalise and without AV I can’t see this changing.

Edit: Via Guido I see that there’s another large poll with the Lib Dems only 3% in front of UKIP. Obviously a bit of a spike is occurring due to bad media coverage in the last week.

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