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Troika #29 - 10 Months Later

Troika #29 - 10 Months Later

Wow, it’s been a while since I’ve got around to making an episode of Troika, 10 months in fact, and a lots been happening since then. So for this episode, I’ve chosen three tracks that represent what’s happened since the last one!

The last episode was released on the night before the UK voted in the EU referendum, and I guess you could say its all been downhill since then. The shock of waking up that morning to hear that such a narrow majority had meant us giving up on everything that we’ve achieved together. Yes, I’m a remainer for sure.

Then I also got the news that my long running relationship with Opera Software was coming to an end. They were closing all the remote teams and focussing on having everyone in one office., which floored me completely. I’d been working part time as a consultant for 5 years and then full-time as a Design Team lead for them for almost another 2 years. It wasn’t an easy job – in fact it was extremely challenging for a few reasons, but at the end of the day I worked with a fantastic team of people on a product I believed in. It was great, and I miss it a lot.

‘Through City Lights’ is a sombre-sounding song from The Amazing’s 2016 album ‘Ambulance’ which was very much in my head as my tenure came to and end. It felt very sad at the time, but now I can listen to it and feel positive. It’s taken on a new persona thankfully!

So after Opera, It really felt like starting from scratch again, building up the business. After being unavailable for so long, the work enquiries had pretty much dried up and I had to do the thing I’d never had to do (consciously) before – self-promote. One thing I’d forgotten about freelance work, was how you could talk to lots of enthusiastic people about possible work, and yet never hear from them again. You have to keep so many irons in so many fires, and hope that enough works out. It isn’t easy, and I miss the teamwork.

Since October (when I got a PS4 for my birthday) I’ve been playing a lot of No Mans Sky. It’s been slated by the press and gamers alike, but I really took to this chilled space exploration game, and over the coming months out in quite a few hours on it. I found it really relaxing to play. One of my favourite features is ‘Photo Mode’ where you can art direct the perfect screenshot of gameplay. The cover for this episode is shot of my starship on some god forsaken but colourful toxic-raining planet.

I think I’ve finally had enough the game now, as every planet and its inhabitants look the same, and the constant resource hunting mechanics of the game are feeling tedious. However the soundtrack, created by 65daysofstatic, is something I’ll never tire of. I’ve chosen the final track ‘End of the World Sun’.

I share an office in Witney with several other freelancers. It’s something I’ve been doing since the Rissington days – finding others to co-work with. We’d been in our current one for 6 years, but in November, our landlord told us he wanted to develop them into flats to sell on, so we had find somewhere new to work. Where we live isn’t easy to find decent work spaces – its not London, Bristol or Brighton. You either find squalid cold rooms, or large out of town business parks for mid-large companies. A decent space for 5 is hard to find, but we thankfully found somewhere.

So as of mid-February, we’ve all moved into our new place, and its been great. Apart from getting modern amenities like heating, double glazing and hot water, it’s a nice change of scenery. The last song on this episode is one that I associate with this period. It’s from Rogue Wave’s 2016 album ‘Delusions of Grand Fur’, and one that I’ve played to death in the office, ‘California Bride’. The general sound sums up where I am now – positive, hopeful and enjoying the new variety of work coming in.

How to get this episode

Listen using the player above, download Troika #29 - 10 Months Later as an mp3, Subscribe to Troika with an RSS reader or via iTunes.

All music featured is the copyright of the respective artists.

Troika #28: DJ Derek

Troika #28: DJ Derek

I’ve never been into reggae. Ska I can at least listen to, but I’ve always found reggae harder work. It’s always felt sluggish, overly-repetitive and irrelevant – music for another culture that wasn’t meant for me.

Earlier this year I discovered DJ Derek, sadly because of his death, but have since been looking more into this fascinating character. Derek Serpell-Morris was an accountant who grew up in Bristol, who left his career behind to follow his passion of playing reggae, ska and rocksteady. Even into his 70s, he would travel the country with his record collection, DJing clubs and pubs, MCing in Jamaican Patois.

Daddy G of Massive Attack had this to say about him:

He’s a testament to the power of music to change individuals and, in so doing, change the idea of what it means to be British.

On a day when Britain is voting whether to leave the EU, a move which seems to be driven solely by intolerance, patriotism and xenophobia, his story seems apt. If this man could find relevance and connection with the music, then the least I could do is listen to playlists of his favourite records and try and pick three for a Troika. So that’s what I’ve done! The process hasn’t converted me, but at least I’ve found some songs that I’m happy to listen to…

  1. ‘Police and Thieves’ by Junior Murvin
  2. ‘I Chase the Devil’ by Max Romeo and the Upsetters
  3. ‘One love’ by Bob Marley and the Wailers

Excerpts were also taken from the excellent video interview DJ Derek Pt. 1 on Vimeo.

How to get this episode

Listen using the player above, download Troika #28: DJ Derek as an mp3, Subscribe to Troika with an RSS reader or via iTunes.

All music featured is the copyright of the respective artists.

Troika #27: Cuppa Tino

Troika #27: Cuppa Tino

Oooh, I love a cuppa. I have a special large mug which gives me nearly a pint of the lovely brown fluids. Thats all fine and dandy when I’m at home, but finding somewhere to get a decent cuppa when I’m out an about is jolly hard. You can get coffee from various degrees of mediocre to excellent, but tea only seems to come in awful. And all because they don’t know how to put fresh water in a kettle. Rant, rant, rant.

Anyway, enough whingeing. Here are three songs all about tea!

  1. ‘Cup of Brown Joy’ by Professor Elemental
    When I say ‘OOO!’ you say ‘LONG!’
  2. ‘Drink tea (For the love of God)’ by Kula Shaker
    Featuring the words of George Orwell’s monologue on tea
  3. ‘Tea in the Sahara’ by The Police
    A very mellow track, ideal for a tea break

Finally, here’s a picture of my favourite tea mug, its the ‘Cat in the Hat’ mug from Universal Studios in Orlando…

I have two of these now in case one breaks, but they’re very hard to get hold of! By the way, the title of this episode is a bastardisation of ‘Cupertino’, that there place where Apple lives…

How to get this episode

Listen using the player above, download Troika #27: Cuppa Tino as an mp3, Subscribe to Troika with an RSS reader or via iTunes.

All music featured is the copyright of the respective artists.

Troika #26: Windermere

Troika #26: Windermere

Its been a fair few weeks since the last Troika as its all got so busy recently, but here we go!

I studied Natural History Illustration at College in Blackpool, but it wasn’t my favourite place in the world to be. I met some great people there, but I never felt at home. However, in my second year I was given the opportunity to have a work placement for the Lake District National Park for a year and I loved it. Not only was it a great job, the Lakes in autumn is a beautiful place to be. The colour is gorgeous and it became one of my favourite places in the world.

Here’s where I worked, Brockhole Visitor Centre on the shores of Lake Windermere (the design studio was in the attic)…

And this me at my swanky hydraulic drawing board…

I learned the basics of graphic design while I was working here, and painted many illustrations for them. Some of the work I did back then (1992–93) is actually still in use on interpretation boards around Bassenthwaite Lake, which cheers me up no end. All in all, it was a great time!

So I’ve chosen three songs that are intrinsically linked the Lake District for me:

  1. ‘The New Physics’ by The Lost Dogs
    Taken from ‘Scenic Routes’ the debut release by the US band The Lost Dogs, a supergroup made from various Christian alternative artists.
  2. ‘Virgin and Child’ by Iona
    Iona’s second album was a concept record, based on the Book of Kells. This track in particular was always in my head as I sat by Windermere in my lunch hour.
  3. ‘Animal Nitrate’ by Suede
    Sadly, I had to go back to college for my third year, and this single came out near the end of my time in the Lakes.

How to get this episode

Listen using the player above, download Troika #26: Windermere as an mp3, Subscribe to Troika with an RSS reader or via iTunes.

All music featured is the copyright of the respective artists.

Besnard Lakes live at the Islington Assembly Hall

I discovered Montreal band The Besnard Lakes a few years via Racliffe and Maconies’ afternoon show on BBC Radio 6. Their music clicked with me instantly, and have become one of my favourite bands. This week I finally got a chance to see them live in London, and it was truly incredible. I felt awkward for them though, as the venue wasn’t exactly at capacity, but hopefully by the next time they tour more people will have come to discover their music.

The big advantage was that it was easy to get right down the front, and make the most of the iPhone camera to get the shot above. Second from left is Adam Franklin from local Oxford band Swervedriver – one of the many special guests that night, which also included a three-piece string section.

I’m planning a Troika on The Besnard Lakes soon, to serve as an introduction…

Troika #25: Valentines Edition

Troika #25: Valentines Edition

This Valentine’s edition is either really early, or a bit late, depending on how you look at it!

Love songs in general are either insincere, mawkish rubbish, cheesy, or all three. There so much chaff, but (for me at least) here’s the wheat! My three favourite love songs in ascending order:

  1. ‘Sick of Myself’ by Matthew Sweet
    Big fan of Matthew Sweet, and ’100% fun’ is definitely in my favourite albums of all time list. This is the cool power-pop opener from that album, and a song that takes me back to the summer of ’95.
  2. ‘Unravel’ by Björk
    Homogenic was the first album that Leigh ever bought me, and ‘Unravel’ was the song that I associate with the early months of us getting together. Its also has some interesting cover versions too, like this one by Adem
  3. ‘First Time Ever I Saw Your Face’ by Roberta Flack
    THIS. This is in my opinion the greatest love song ever made. It sends tingles up my spine and turns me into a blubbering idiot.

Dedicated to the love of my life, my ever lovely wife Leigh.

How to get this episode

Listen using the player above, download Troika #25: Valentines Edition as an mp3, Subscribe to Troika with an RSS reader or via iTunes.

All music featured is the copyright of the respective artists.

Troika #24: Dearly Departed

Troika #24: Dearly Departed

A bit of a delay in getting to this episode. I’ve hesitated over whether to do a full-on Bowie tribute as there are so many brilliant tributes already. It almost felt like jumping on the bandwagon. Instead I’ve bided my time, and its now evolved into a tribute to three people who’ve died too early in 2016: Lemmy Kilmister, David Bowie and Terry Wogan.

  1. ‘Shake Your Blood’ – Probot (Dave Grohl & Lemmy Kilmister)
    In 2004, Dave Grohl did a one-off project called ‘Probot’ where he wrote and performed with his musical heroes. The song he wrote with Lemmy could easily be Motorhead. “I wrote the lyrics in about ten minutes. . . It’s rock & roll, you know. It’s not one of those complicated things”
  2. ‘Sue (Or in a Season of Crime)’ – David Bowie
    I’d been listening to ‘Blackstar’, the latest (and sadly last) Bowie album for three days when the news broke. Blackstar sounded like someone still at the top of their game, with more than plenty of creativity and verve left. A great legacy, but perhaps there was still more ideas to come (he had in fact been working on a new album before his death).
  3. ‘T-WOG$ Pirate Radio’ – Peter Serafinowicz
    Instead of The Floral Dance, I’ve chosen this homage by comedian Peter Serafinowicz. What if after his Breakfast Radio Show he went off and did a secret show on Pirate Radio? I like to believe that this isn’t Serafinowicz, and is actually Terry. It’s the kind of thing he’d do. The rascal.

How to get this episode

Listen using the player above, download Troika #24: Dearly Departed as an mp3, Subscribe to Troika with an RSS reader or via iTunes.

All music featured is the copyright of the respective artists.

Troika #23: Best of 2015

Troika #23: Best of 2015

Its an end of year list! Only shorter! This threesome won’t take long to read or listen to, but it took me a very long time to choose just three from so much wonderful music in 2015. To make it easier, I excluded any music that has already featured in Troika, so without further ado, my three most-played are…

  1. ‘Satellites’ by Mew
    Mew’s ‘+/-’ is my album of the year, another epic from the Danish group.
  2. ‘Repetition’ by Purity Ring
    The Canadian two-piece’s second album is a stunner, and this is my favourite from ‘Another Eternity’ (I mistakenly call it ‘Beyond Eternity’ in the podcast – ouch!)
  3. ‘Winter Dress’ by The Amazing
    A slightly mournful track, but it really is gorgeous! I naturally gravitate towards the last tracks of albums, and this is why. A Troika on ‘closing tracks’ is planned for future…

The full Hickensian Playlist of 2015, can be found on Spotify, as well as embedded below for the javascript enabled…

The cover image is from Bring Me the Horizon’s gig at Alexandra Palace back in November, which I have to say, rocked.

How to get this episode

Listen using the player above, download Troika #23: Best of 2015 as an mp3, Subscribe to Troika with an RSS reader or via iTunes.

All music featured is the copyright of the respective artists.

Troika #22: A Hickensian Christmas II

Troika #22: A Hickensian Christmas II

Ho Ho Ho, Part 2!

Here we have another episode of Chrimbo tunes, this time with traditional songs covered by modern bands. These sound a bit more atmospheric compared last weeks more jaunty tunes!

  1. ‘Once in Royal David’s City’ – Sufjan Stevens
    My favourite carol, performed in a plinky-plonky piano style by Sufjan Stevens (again!). Achingly beautiful
  2. ‘Little Drummer Boy’ – Low
    Low specialise in a genre called ‘Slowcore’, and their ‘Christmas’ album from 2000 is a mix of upbeat ditties like ‘Just like Christmas’ to the really rather dark ‘Long Way Around the Sea’. This cover of the traditional favourite is somewhere in the middle.
  3. ‘The First Noel’ – Over the Rhine
    I first saw Ohio’s finest back in 1992 and immediately became a fan. This is taken from their first Christmas album ‘The Darkest Night of the Year’ from 1996, but they recently released a second called ‘Blood Oranges in the Snow’. This is probably my favourite piece of Christmas music – one for Christmas Eve by the fire.

Intro music is ‘Adultery at Christmas’ by Mr B The Gentleman Rhymer

This weeks cover star is our very own Golden Retriever, Olive, named after the Christmas film Olive, the other Reindeer. Next time, I’ll be choosing my three favourite songs of 2015, but until then…

Have a very Happy Christmas!

How to get this episode

Listen using the player above, download Troika #22: A Hickensian Christmas II as an mp3, Subscribe to Troika with an RSS reader or via iTunes.

All music featured is the copyright of the respective artists.

Troika #21: A Hickensian Christmas

Troika #21: A Hickensian Christmas

There’s so many decent Christmas songs, that one Troika isn’t going to be enough! So I’ve split them over two episodes – maybe more if I pull my finger out!

  1. ‘Oh Santa!’ – Mr B The Gentleman Rhymer
    While not strictly ‘explicit’ (there’s no swearing), it is a rather rum tale that minors may find disturbing. Mr B is the inventor of ‘Chap Hop’, a delightful blend of hip hop and chapness.
  2. ‘Get behind me Santa!’ – Sufjan Stevens
    Sufjan is the King of the Christmas song, if you need a good Christmas music that isn’t cheesy (at least unintentionally) you can’t go wrong with his many covers of traditional songs and original Xmas tunes. This one is a conversation between an Anti-Santa curmudgeon, and Santa himself.

    I don’t care about what you say, Santa Claus
    You’re a bad brother breaking into people’s garage

  3. ‘A Snowflake Fell (and it felt like a kiss)’ – Glasvegas
    After two songs played for chuckles, this Troika ends with a more serious tone from Glasgows’ Glasvegas. This is the title track from the Christmas EP, and I love this song, but I particularly put it here as its one of Leigh’s favourites!

More crimbo musicality next week!

(The intro music is ‘Winter Wonderland’ by Lew Stone & His Band)

How to get this episode

Listen using the player above, download Troika #21: A Hickensian Christmas as an mp3, Subscribe to Troika with an RSS reader or via iTunes.

All music featured is the copyright of the respective artists.

Troika #20: Take it Slow

Troika #20: Take it Slow

This time its all about taking it slow. Songs or pieces of music that either sound better, or take on a new form, when slowed down.

  1. ‘Feel it all Around’ by Washed Out
    Ernest Greenes’ project ‘Washed Out’ take the backing from Gary Low’s 1983 single I Want You and slows it to nice laid back pace, creating this lovely slurry sound. I’m told this is also the theme to the TV Series Portlandia, but I haven’t seen that yet.
  2. ‘How do I make you’ by The Chipmunks
    To record Chipmunks versions of songs, they have to be sung at a slower pace, so that when sped up, both the pitch and length is correct. So what happens when you slow the whole back down to the pace of the original vocal? Sludgepop! There’s loads more on Soundcloud. Check out ‘My Sharona in particular – I just felt it was a bit long for this episode,especially when you see how long the last track is…
  3. The Jurassic Park Theme – 1000% slower
    Drawn out to almost an hour, John Williams’ theme to Jurassic Park is a beautiful ambient drone epic! It does start quiet, but the volume builds towards the end! (Original Source on Soundcloud Jurassic Park Theme 1000% slower)

In this episode I also mention about how Hans Zimmer’s soundtrack for Inception was inspired by the slowed down version of Edith Piafs’ “Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien”, a musical motif used throughout the story. More on that here.

How to get this episode

Listen using the player above, download Troika #20: Take it Slow as an mp3, Subscribe to Troika with an RSS reader or via iTunes.

All music featured is the copyright of the respective artists.

Troika #19: Bleeps

Troika #19: Bleeps

In the early eighties I was really into artists like Jean Michel Jarre, Depeche Mode and Howard Jones. I loved synths! After about ’86 I moved away to more guitar-based music, Metal and then a wee folky phase in the early nineties.

During my last year at college in 94 I started rediscovering electronic music. As well as purveyors of ambience like Aphex Twin and The Orb, I also got into the slightly more ‘dancey’ end of the spectrum, even though I wasn’t a fan of dancing or nightclubs. I kind of just nodded my head along ;)

So, without interruption, here’s the three tracks I’ve chosen from : Leftfield, Future Sound of London and The Chemical Brothers. Enjoy!

  1. ‘Storm 3000’ – Leftfield
  2. ‘Dead Skin Cells’ – Future Sound of London
  3. ‘One Too Many Mornings’ – The Chemical Brothers
    This one is an all time favourite. Pure bliss!

How to get this episode

Listen using the player above, download Troika #19: Bleeps as an mp3, Subscribe to Troika with an RSS reader or via iTunes.

All music featured is the copyright of the respective artists.

Troika #18: Randoms

Troika #18: Randoms

Troika number 18 is a straightforward simpler episode! The only thematic link this time is tracks that I’ve discovered either by shuffle or playback glitches. Random songs! (Maybe a little bit of swearing too)

  1. ‘Cissy Strut’ – Butch Cassidy Sound System
    Butch Cassidy Sound System is a pseudonym Michael Hunter, who composed music for Grand Theft Auto.
  2. ‘Auditorium’ – Mos Def feat. Slick Rick
    From 2009’s album ‘Ecstatic’
  3. ‘Babe you turn me on’ – Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds
    Listen out for the bit where Nick Cave compares ‘Babe’ to an atom bomb, followed by an impression. In all seriousness, its a beautiful song

How to get this episode

Listen using the player above, download Troika #18: Randoms as an mp3, Subscribe to Troika with an RSS reader or via iTunes.

All music featured is the copyright of the respective artists.

Troika #16: Diddly-dum! Diddly-dum!…

Troika #16: Diddly-dum! Diddly-dum!…

With the new series of Dr Who starting this weekend, I decided it was time for a Troika on the iconic TV theme! There has been a lot of ‘official’ versions and many more covers (including a terrible disco-ified one by Mankind in 1979), but here is the original, along with my two favourite unofficial versions!

  1. Doctor Who (1963 original theme) – Ron Grainer & Delia Derbyshire
    Ron Grainer wrote the score, but it was Delia Derbyshire at the BBC Radiophonic workshop that brought it to life, using techniques that she and Dick Mills invented as they went along. It was revolutionary, and their work continues to inspire electronica today, especially in bands like Stereolab
  2. ‘Dr Qui’ – Bill Bailey
    Bill Bailey is the first artist to be featured again on Troika, and this time it’s for his Belgian Jazz (with french lyrics) version of the theme. (He also appeared in the show as Droxil in ‘The Doctor, the Widow and the Wardrobe’ fact fans).
  3. ‘Dr Who’ – Orbital (live at Glastonbury)
    The men with laser beams for eyes regularly perform this lively EDM version in their live set. This one is taken from the 2004 Glastonbury Festival. They came back in 2010, and performed it with the then Eleventh Doctor, Matt Smith. Not sure how much he actually did – maybe just twiddled a few knobs?

P.S – sorry for the abrupt ending, thats how the last track finishes! Tsk…

How to get this episode

Listen using the player above, download Troika #16: Diddly-dum! Diddly-dum!… as an mp3, Subscribe to Troika with an RSS reader or via iTunes.

All music featured is the copyright of the respective artists.

Troika #15: Sub Dove Rivers

Troika #15: Sub Dove Rivers

Troika number fifteen is all about twins from Manchester called Andy and Jez Williams. They started off recording in the 1980s as Static Mist before forming Sub Sub with bassist Jimi Goodwin in 1988. Their earliest single was ‘Spaceface’ but it wasn’t until 1994 that they had their first big commercial hit with “Ain’t no love (ain’t no use)” with Melanie Williams. The video for that song is great, as Melanie gets a studio to herself, while (initially at least) the band have to sit on the plumbing at the back:

A few years later, Jimi and the Williams twins ended Sub Sub, but stayed together and changed direction into an Indie Rock band on as Doves. According to Wikipedia), “the band’s studio caught fire and burned down, leading the band members to abandon their previous dance-oriented style and start afresh as alternative rock band Doves in 1998. On the band’s change of direction, Jez Williams said: “We were faced with a really black and white decision: throw the towel in or carry on. And if you’re going to carry on, you’ve got to put everything into it to justify it, because before that you’ve lost everything. That was quite a liberating feeling, actually.”

When Doves played live they often played old Sub Sub tunes (check out Spaceface, at one of their last gigs at the Eden Project). They went on hiatus in 2010, and now the Williams brothers are recording without Jimi Goodwin, under their new name ‘Black Rivers’. We finish with my favourite track off their self-titled debut album, ‘Voyager1’.

  1. ‘Ain’t no love (ain’t no use)’ – Sub Sub feat. Melanie Williams
  2. ‘Pounding’ – Doves
  3. ‘Voyager 1’ – Black Rivers

How to get this episode

Listen using the player above, download Troika #15: Sub Dove Rivers as an mp3, Subscribe to Troika with an RSS reader or via iTunes.

All music featured is the copyright of the respective artists.

Troika #14: Reading Festival

Troika #14: Reading Festival

Welcome back to Troika after a lovely summer break! Hope you all had a good one too.

Last weekend, Family Hicks went to the Reading Festival for a day. Now that the children are 12 and 14, we’ve been doing a few gigs with them, and thought it was time to try a proper festival, and the Saturday Reading line-up had something for all of us.

I was looking forward to seeing bands I knew well like Metallica, Royal Blood and Baroness, but I thought for this Troika that I would cover the bands that I ‘discovered’ at Reading.

  1. ‘Happy Song’ – Bring me the Horizon (contains sweary swears)
    Sheffields’ Bring me the Horizon are one of my daughters favourite bands, not to mention fashion label (lead singer Ollie Sykes runs Drop Dead clothing). Up until Reading, I’d never heard anything of theirs that I really enjoyed, and despite some choice comments that Ollie made to the crowd, this opening number was so gutsy it made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. It was that good! Nothing to with the fact that all their new album artwork is based on Pictograms…
  2. ‘All the Sad Young Men’ – Spector
    This song turned up on my first ever Spotify Discover playlist, and at the time I thought Frederick Macpherson’s vocals sound very much like Tom Smith from the band Editors. Spector played the NME/Radio 1 tent mid afternoon and having seen them live I moved away from the Editors comparison. Very clever lyrically, and a visually a very different band!
  3. ‘Tryer, you’ – And So I Watch You From Afar
    As I arrived early to get a good position to see Baroness, I caught the very last song of ‘And So I Watch From Afar’s set. They’re a four-piece from Belfast who occupy a space not a million miles away from Explosions in the Sky, in the sense that they do mainly guitar-based instrumentals. They were definitely a good live band, and kicked myself for not seeing the whole set.

There were of course, lots of bands that I missed that day, so perhaps I’ll do a ‘best bands I didn’t see at Reading 2015’ one day?

How to get this episode

Listen using the player above, download Troika #14: Reading Festival as an mp3, Subscribe to Troika with an RSS reader or via iTunes.

All music featured is the copyright of the respective artists.

Record covers - August

Here are a few record covers that have caught my eye in August, enjoy!

John Grant – Grey Tickles, Black Pressure

The world is a beautiful place and I am no longer afraid to die – January 10th 2014

Blackalicious – Imani Vol1

Troika #13: Oooph!

Troika #13: Oooph!

Graham Fellows has already appeared on Troika in his ‘Brian Appleton’ guise, but he’s most known for the Yahama-driven genius of versatile singer-songwriter John Shuttleworth from Sheffield, South Yorkshire. You may have heard classics like ‘Pigeons in Flight’ and ‘Y Reg’, but if you’ve never come across him before, here’s your first taster!

Graham came up with this character while working for Chappell Music in the 80s. Some demo tapes were sent in that inspired the music style, and the voice and mannerisms were based on people he knew in Sheffield. As well touring and recording as John, he has a Radio 4 show ‘The Shuttleworths’, on which he performs all the voices: his Wife Mary and her friend Joan Chitty, daughter Karen and son Darren, and not forgetting next door neighbour and sole agent Ken Worthington.

There’s a lovely innocence to the character and the humour is very gentle – the rudest he’s ever been is a song called ‘Eggs and Gammon’, which is about flatulence. I’m sure Mr Fellows will get sick of doing John (he may already be at the point) but I’ll always be a big fan!

  1. Mutiny over the Bounty
    Mars of Slough! You’ve really done it now! John was so horrified when they stopped putting a cardboard tray in the Bounty, losing vital protection. John’s finest protest song.
  2. Two Margarines
    We’ve all been there – two tubs of margarine (or low fat spread) in the fridge, one should be the ‘current’ and the other is the ‘backup’. But what happens when both are open? Two on the go?! It’s a nightmare scenario!
  3. I can’t go back to savoury now
    A melancholy ballad about starting to eat pudding, and then realising that there is still main course available. You can’t go back! This is one I regularly sing to the family. In fact, its my ringtone.

For more information on John Shuttleworth, visit his official website

How to get this episode

Listen using the player above, download Troika #13: Oooph! as an mp3, Subscribe to Troika with an RSS reader or via iTunes.

All music featured is the copyright of the respective artists.

Troika #11: All about the Bassists

Troika #11: All about the Bassists

Hello peoples! This Troika is all about the bassists!

Squarepusher (real name Tom Jenkinson) is mad multi-instrumentalist as well as mentalist. His music swerves from smooth electronica jazz to drum and bass, to (quite frankly) an unlistenable avant-garde load of bobbins. Mostly its somewhere in the middle! There is even an album ‘Solo Electric Bass’ that does what it says on the tin, but it’s in tracks like Hello Meow that I really enjoy his bass playing. Particularly that bass solo!

Les Claypool of Primus is one of those musicians that took the bass into weirder territory. I’d thought all slap bass sounded like Level 42 until I heard him play. He made sounds with that bass that I never thought possible, and raised it from being a ‘hidden at the side’ role in a band to the main instrument. So much so, he was the one that really inspired to want to be a bassist. I never stuck at it, but I still like Primus.

I couldn’t do this list without Flea, and while I could’ve played something lesser known like Atoms for Peace (a collaboration with Thom Yorke and Nigel Godrich), I’ve gone for an overplayed, you’ve heard it jillions of times already Red Hot Chilli Peppers song, By the Way. Because its great.

  1. ‘Hello Meow’ – Squarepusher
  2. ‘Jerry was a race car driver’ – Primus
  3. ‘By the Way’ – Red Hot Chilli Peppers

This was one of the hardest Troika’s to do, in terms of all the ones I left out. I could’ve included Jaco Pastorius, Paul McCartney, Melissa Auf de Maur, Steve Lawson to name but a few. They may be on future podcasts though :)

How to get this episode

Listen using the player above, download Troika #11: All about the Bassists as an mp3, Subscribe to Troika with an RSS reader or via iTunes.

All music featured is the copyright of the respective artists.

Troika #10: For Leigh

Troika #10: For Leigh

Eighteen years ago, I sold my car! It was a bright yellow early 70’s VW Beetle with Empi5 alloy rims (that might mean something to some people). I loved that car, but the long commute I was doing convinced me that I needed something that used less fuel, and went wrong less.

I was working for a charity in Leicester at the time, and through a colleague I heard that an ex-employee called Leigh was looking for a beetle. She was living in Oxford, and I was in Leamington Spa. Leigh came up to see it, and when she drove it away I realised I was sad, but not for losing the beetle. I had to see her again. Friends joked at the time I “just wanted my old car back”, but I’d met someone really special, and was bowled over. We married before a year was out :)

This Troika is all about songs that evoke that special time – May 1997. Meeting Leigh and those first few dates in Oxford.

  1. ‘Step into my World’ – Hurricane #1
    A week before I met Leigh, ‘Step into my World’ was being played a lot on Radio 1. Hurricane #1 was a new band formed by Andy Bell from Ride, who had split the previous year. I loved this single, especially the last half which is just Andy’s guitar, and played it to death. Then, on my first date with Leigh, she asked if I’d heard of Hurricane #1. Turns out she was good friends with Andys parents who lived around the corner! We got to meet Andy not long after, and I was typically star struck and didn’t have much to say for myself, and Richard and Rachel are the most lovely people you could ever hope to meet.
  2. ‘Don’t Whiz on the Electric Fence’ – Ren and Stimpy
    When I talked with Leigh about which songs remind her when we met, the first and last choices here were the obvious ones. The other one could’ve been Prefab Sprout (we were both fans), something from the Romeo and Juliet soundtrack (like the cute ‘Little Star’ by Stina Nordenstam). However one of the first things that came to mind was the answerphone message I had at the time, which is this little warning ditty from Ren and Stimpy.
  3. ‘No Surprises’ – Radiohead
    We were together just two weeks when Radiohead’s seminal ‘OK Computer’ was released. I remember the Headington roundabout had a huge vinyl banner advert with Stanley Donwood’s album art on it, and I was desperate to steal it! I’m sure many of you will have heard this song a jillion times, but like ‘Step into World’ it evokes a very particular, and special time in my life.

This one’s for you Leigh!

How to get this episode

Listen using the player above, download Troika #10: For Leigh as an mp3, Subscribe to Troika with an RSS reader or via iTunes.

All music featured is the copyright of the respective artists.

Troika #8: Misson Control

Troika #8: Misson Control

Headcold has gone, so back to having the speaky bit this week! This episode of Troika is a collection of music that uses NASA samples. A few years NASA released these online for free, but surprisingly few artists have used them, but here’s three of my favourites!

The first track is “Space Walk” by Lemon Jelly, which samples Ed White’s reaction to the first ever space walk on the Gemini 4 mission in 1965. He floated tethered to the Gemini for 23 minutes and enjoyed it so much, he described the order to end the walk it was the “saddest moment” of his life.

Then we have “V1 | 130” by Geremia Vinattieri. This was released as part of the Space Songs EP from Bad Panda records. The EP itself is free to download from Soundcloud too, and its all made from NASA samples. Apart from a short snippet of dialogue at the start, this one is all about the sounds. While there is no actual sound in space, everything vibrates and emits frequencies that can be translated into sound, and in this case they come from the Voyager 1 mission (hence the ‘V1’) that launched in 1977.

The final track, called simply ‘Go’, comes from Public Service Broadcasting’s second brilliant album ‘Race for Space’. It uses samples of the hubbub of Mission Control, the various checks that need to be made. I’m sure it sounds like one of the checks is for ‘Ginseng’ though?

Other space-sampled music

I could’ve included tracks like ‘Contact’ by Daft Punk, but the amount of sample used is very small, and it only appears at the start. There are other artists that combine sounds of space with music, notably The Kronos Quartet’s Sun Rings which uses sounds from NASA, including recordings of plasma wave sounds by the Voyager probe. It was just a bit long for what intends to be a short podcast!

How to get this episode

Listen using the player above, download Troika #8: Misson Control as an mp3, Subscribe to Troika with an RSS reader or via iTunes.

All music featured is the copyright of the respective artists.

Slowdive performing "Golden Hair" at Pitchfork

I love this video of Slowdive performing “Golden Hair” -at the Pitchfork Music Festival last year. The live version of the song extends the ending into an atmospheric jam session, combined with a luscious low golden evening light. Its a thing of escapist beauty that I watch as a tonic.

At least until yesterday, when Leigh pointed how much the extended part sounds like Sia’s ‘Chandelier’ and along with my daughter Samantha, proceeded to sing those lyrics all over it. Families eh?!

Troika #7: Donuts

Troika #7: Donuts

I discovered the music of J Dilla (aka James Dewitt Yancey or Jay Dee) by going backwards. I’m a big fan of the band Phantogram, and when they mentioned their sound uses ‘J Dilla beats’ I looked back on his extensive back catalog and found his influence everywhere. He’s one of hip hop’s most influential producers and artists, but his career was cut short at just 32 after battling the incurable blood disease, lupus. He’s produced for people like Tribe Called Quest, Q-Tip, Busta Rhymes and Pharcyde but was a prolific artist in his own right. I’ve got a lot to catching up to do.

The three tracks I’ve chosen represent his range – one he produced, one of his own, and one that was a homage. As Erykah Badu says in the last track “This one’s for Dilla“…

  1. ‘Let’s Ride’ – Q Tip (produced by, and with beats from, J Dilla)
  2. ‘So Far to Go’ (Instrumental) – J Dilla
  3. ‘The Healer’ – Erykah Badu

There’s no narration this week, as I’ve got a stinking cold, so just enjoy the music without any waffle from me! If you want to learn more about J Dilla, a good starting point is the documentary Still Shining on Vimeo.

How to get this episode

Listen using the player above, download Troika #7: Donuts as an mp3, Subscribe to Troika with an RSS reader or via iTunes.

All music featured is the copyright of the respective artists.

Troika #6: My Turn to be Poorly

Troika #6: My Turn to be Poorly

The theme for this Troika is a little more esoteric than normal – it’s comedians, singing parody songs, in the style of other artists. Weird Al Yankovic has made a whole career out of this, but these are maybe slightly less well known…

  1. ‘My Turn to be Poorly’ – Brian Appleton
    Brian Appleton is Graham Fellows, also known as John Shuttleworth, Jilted John, Dave Tordoff and host of other comic creations. Here his media-studies lecturer persona attempts to show that a song he wrote when he was ill was the inspiration for the nasal, whiney style of The Smiths. The man is a genius, and a Troika on John Shuttleworth’s music alone is due.
  2. ‘Unisex Chipshop’ – Bill Bailey
    In a tribute to Billy Bragg, Bill sings about the oppression of the girl that works in the chippy, and the “sexual fascism that was lurking, round the gherkins”.
  3. ‘Rodeohead’ – Hard’n Phirm
    A medley of Radiohead songs by LA Comedy Duo Hard’n Phirm, performed in a bluegrass style!

Also, I’ve now made my own RSS feed for Troika, as well as submitted it to iTunes. See the new links below!

How to get this episode

Listen using the player above, download Troika #6: My Turn to be Poorly as an mp3, Subscribe to Troika with an RSS reader or via iTunes.

All music featured is the copyright of the respective artists.

Troika #5: New Gaze

Troika #5: New Gaze

Back in the mid-90’s the British Music Press had decided that Shoegaze music was finished, and that if you weren’t Britpop or Grunge you deserved to be mocked. Bands like Slowdive disbanded and explored other genres, but it had left enough quality work to inspire the next generation of bands, nastily called ‘Nu gaze’.

We start with ‘Blackout’ by Amusement parks on fire, a great one for the ‘wall of sound’ guitars. The next one is a little different, more poppy perhaps. Alcest are a french band that I’ve recently come across, and they started life as a Black Metal band. They then mixed in elements of Shoegaze and invented yet another sub-genre called ‘Deathgaze’ that spawned bands like Deafhaven. By their last album all traces of Black Metal had gone, and the result is a rather uplifting pop song. Its one that I’ve had on constant loop since I discovered it.

To finish we’ll have The Cheatahs, and a track from their new Sunne EP called ‘Controller’. Happy Easter everyone!

  1. ‘Blackout’ – Amusement Parks on Fire
  2. ‘Opale’ – Alcest
  3. ‘Controller’ – Cheetahs

How to get this episode

Listen using the player above, download Troika #5: New Gaze as an mp3, Subscribe to Troika with an RSS reader or via iTunes.

All music featured is the copyright of the respective artists.

Troika #4: Light Music

Troika #4: Light Music

So welcome to Troika Episode 4! This one is all about a genre called ‘Light Music’, a form of orchestral music that was at its height in the 1950s and 60s. These were shorter, lighter, more whimsical pieces of music, often used in the soundtracks of films and Pathe News reels. That opening music was ‘Puffin Billy’ by Edward White, and is probably the most widely known of the genre. Even if you don’t what it is, you’ve probably heard it. Pixar used it in one of their early ‘shorts’ Tin Toy. It says picnics and ginger beer to me.

It has a certain ‘British’ feel, but wasn’t a ‘British’ scene exclusively, as the second example shows. It’s from French composer Roger Roger (Rogeur Rogeur?) who created the BBC test card music that was used in the 70s! He was also an electronic music pioneer, and developed Moog synth music under the alias of Cecil Leuter. You can hear this crazy work on YouTube. It sounds like Squarepusher from the 1960s! Anyway here he is with ‘Place de Clichy’ which is kind of the soundtrack in my head when I’m walking around town.

The last piece is from Dennis Berry (who is featured on the cover of this episode, at the top of the group) called ‘Bright Lights’. His themes cover quite long period, and can be heard in places as diverse as Little Britain and Spongebob Squarepants, and also collaborated with Roger Roger.

Till next time, pip pip!

  1. ‘Puffin Billy’ – Edward White
  2. ‘Place de Clichy’ – Roger Roger
  3. ‘Bright Lights’ – Dennis Berry

How to get this episode

Listen using the player above, download Troika #4: Light Music as an mp3, Subscribe to Troika with an RSS reader or via iTunes.

All music featured is the copyright of the respective artists.

Troika #3: Music for Cycling

Troika #3: Music for Cycling

I’m not a fan of Kraftwerk at the best of times. I have friends who adore them, but they leave me cold. I was listening to one last week that was all about using a ‘Pocket Calculator’ – “adding… and subtracting”. Gripping stuff eh? In particular, when there is a Cycling related programme on telly, the likelihood is that they will end up using their ‘Tour De France’. Its feels about as far removed from the experience of cycling as I can think of. I love electronic music, but for me it doesn’t have the right feel.

I think Rapha have got it spot on. They’re a high-end cycling clothes brand, but to promote their range they regularly publish videos of their rides. If you were cynical, you’d say these are just big adverts, which they are in part, but they’re also very inspirational. It was watching these videos that made we want to get a proper road bike and head out into the countryside. Maybe they’ve twisted my view of what ‘music to cycle to’ should be, but these are the sounds in my head when I’m riding.

Here are the three tracks, with links to the videos they were used in:

  1. ’The Climb’ – Keegan DeWitt (Rapha Continental Tour of California)
  2. ‘Stokkseyri’ – Jonsi and Alex (Rapha Continental Movie)
  3. ‘Mighty Rio Grande’ – This Will Destroy You (Rapha Rides Little Switzerland)

How to get this episode

Listen using the player above, download Troika #3: Music for Cycling as an mp3, Subscribe to Troika with an RSS reader or via iTunes.

All music featured is the copyright of the respective artists.

Troika #2: (not so) Guilty Pleasures

Troika #2: (not so) Guilty Pleasures

I heard an interview with Jarvis Cocker (he of PULP fame) where he was asked about ‘guilty pleasures’. His response was “There’s no such thing as a guilty pleasure. If it’s music, and you like it, why feel guilty about it?”. Quite right – there’s too much music snobbery. Somehow there’s this rule that certain types of music are to be embarrassed about.

With that in mind, I want to present three songs on a similar ‘power ballad/rawk’ arena that all come from the 80s/ early 90s. They’re not the kind that get repeated ad-infinitum on commercial radio though.

  1. ‘Green Tinted Sixties Mind’ – Mr Big
    I still have the 12” picture vinyl of this single, and while I never really took to their other music, I absolutely loved this. Even though I was at the start of my ‘crusty folk phase’ having just seen the Levellers play in Nottingham. Great chorus, get ready to powergrab!
  2. ‘Rough Boy’ – ZZ Top
    ZZ Tops’ Afterburner was one of those summer-y records that helped me pretend I was American for a few minutes. Rough Boy had the added cool of a video with Hot Rod Space Shuttle.
  3. ‘Take my Hand’ – Toto
    When the David Lynch version of Dune hit the cinema, my friends and I took up a whole row at our local. I didn’t remember Return of the Jedi getting such a good turn out, but there we all were. I particularly loved the soundtrack by Toto, and with the closing credits was this plinky-plonky piano instrumental called “Take my Hand”…

How to get this episode

Listen using the player above, download Troika #2: (not so) Guilty Pleasures as an mp3, Subscribe to Troika with an RSS reader or via iTunes.

All music featured is the copyright of the respective artists.

Troika #1: Music for Stars

Troika #1: Music for Stars

Photo by Nick Mearly (CC)

This first edition of Troika is about ambient music. Not the bleepy,beaty, dancy kind, but the more soothing ‘neo-classical’ or drone style of Ambient. Music for watching the stars (amongst other things).

These tracks are all connected by Adam Wiltzie from Stars of the Lid. We start with Christina Vantzou (who Wiltzie worked with on ‘The Dead Texan’ project), then Stars of the Lid themselves, and finish with A Winged Victory for the Sullen (Wiltzies’ current collaboration with composer Dustin O’Halloran).

  1. ‘Homemade Mountains’ – Christina Vantzou
  2. ‘Don’t bother they’re here’ – Stars of the Lid
  3. ‘Steep Hills of Vicodin Tears’ – A Winged Victory for the Sullen

Stars of the Lid were named after the lightshow you see with your eyes closed, literally ‘stars of the eyelids’. So lie back, pop your headphones on and lets see where the music takes us!…

How to get this episode

Listen using the player above, download Troika #1: Music for Stars as an mp3, Subscribe to Troika with an RSS reader or via iTunes.

All music featured is the copyright of the respective artists.

Troika - a new music podcast

Hello, peoples of the internets! Troika* is a new, low-key, music podcast from Hicksdesign.

The idea is that I’ll present a set of just three songs, connected by some sort of link – either by genre, artist, songs that were important to a particular time in my life or just some other odd notion that happens to take my fancy. Sometimes I might have guests on board to choose their trio of music. Talking from me will be minimal – just a short introduction, and then the music! I have several episodes planned, and the first one is recorded and ready for listening.

I won’t be making a seperate website for Troika, or setting up its own Twitter/Facebook/whatever page as that would only add more work for me to upkeep, and I want to keep this low-friction as possible and a part of the Journal. So episodes will be posted here, and you can subscribe to Troika via RSS in whatever podcast app you prefer.

*The name comes from a Russian word that describes a configuration of three horses abreast, usually pulling a sleigh. Like so…

Hickensian's Year of Music 2014

If you’ve got Spotify, a spare three hours and a desire to know what music has floated my boat this year, here’s my end of year list! With a few exceptions (such as Slowdive, in honour of their reunion), it’s music released in 2014, and features Phantogram, I Break Horses, A Winged Victory For The Sullen, Purity Ring, Beck, Todd Terje, Mastodon, The Naked And Famous and Bombay Bicycle club. There’s also the genius ‘Shia LaBeouf’ by Rob Cantor, which is well worth your time!

Spotify Iconset

Last Autumn I was contacted by Andreas Holmström, Lead Communications Designer at Spotify, to see if I’d be interested in working on a new icon set to accompany the major redesign that was underway in-house. As a music fanatic, and a keen user of Spotify for about 6 years, I jumped at the chance! It’s fair to say I’ve discovered more new music with Spotify than any other medium, and I use it as much as a way of previewing albums I’m thinking of buying.

A month ago the full redesign was unveiled, and I’ve finally had a chance to write up some of the process and decisions that were made…

Discovery Phase

I always start a large icon project with what I call a ‘discovery phase’, where we select a few icons to look at first, and consider different approaches, metaphors and styles. It also helps ensure we get the size, format and file naming correct before cracking on with the rest. Working with Andreas, Stanley, Daniel and Sebastian from the Spotify design team, we set about defining the new icon set. The brief was to create an icon style that would be simple, rounded, friendly and intuitive (without being childish or cute), while considering existing brand elements such as the Spotify logo, Spotify Connect icon, and the Proxima Nova typeface that was being used for the redesign.

We started with Album, Artist, Collection (which became Your Music), Discover, Playlist, Profile and Radio:

One of the challenges was representing something that doesn’t have physical form. There are of course existing metaphors for parts such as the audio player controls, but how do represent the actual music? Spotify’s music library is immense, and yet doesn’t have any appearance as such.

An early idea was to use an iconic album cover – in this case, Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon:

In this case however, both Vinyl and CDs have a similar appearance – two circles within a square. We decided this much simpler design would work best. In particular, (my personal favourite) the Browse icon is intended to extend this, and hark back to the days of nimbly flipping through racks upon racks of albums. Nostalgia? Certainly, but it hasn’t done ‘envelope for email’ any harm.

We also tried out other music metaphors, such as a band’s setlist, or a cassette mixtape for Playlist, and a backstage pass for Profile. While mixtapes are decidedly ‘old school’ they are a unique and memorable symbol in their own right, but the simpler musical note is an established convention.

Iterating on these we developed a set of rules to design the rest of the iconset:

  • There are 4 main sizes for each icon – 16,24,32 and 64px. As the size increases, the stroke widths are scaled to a lesser extent to avoid icons looking too ‘chunky’ when shown large. So a 1px stroke at 16px doesn’t actually mean a 4px stroke at 64px (below right), rather a 2px stroke (below left).

  • Opt for the simplest metaphor possible in each case. For example, we decided the Your Music icon could work without the suggestion of the shelf at the bottom.
  • All corners are rounded off, except where an element exists beyond the boundary – such as the microphone stand in Artist. The radius is on average 1.5px at the 16px size, but it varies depending on the object.

Genre Icons

The next stage was to tackle the much larger ‘Genre’ icons that you can see in Browse. Unlike the main interface icons, there was more room for exploration and a little detail.

One fun idea I explored, but rejected early on were ‘busts’ (busticons if you will)

Left to Right: Gene Simmons (KISS), Redfoo (LMFAO), Michael Jackson and a generic ‘Workout lady’

Redfoo was used for the “Party* icon (Party Rocking?) but we decided it could all be too obscure. It’s also harder to portray categories like Mood this way.

The direction we decided was this: for specific genres of music, convey it with an instrument that is representative of the genre. Particularly for rock and its sub-genres, there were several guitars that were ideal for each. Gibson Les Paul for Classic Rock, Flying V for Hard Rock, Fender Jaguar for Alternative and so on (these sub-genres aren’t visible in the app yet, but hopefully will be in the future):

I looked at showing the instruments in perspective, to allow them to be shown as a whole, but the result wasn’t as effective, or consistent with the rest of the set:

The other type were mood/atmosphere based which we represented with non-musical objects, such as the egg chair for Chill (right).

The project is still ongoing, and in particular there will be more Genre icons to add to the set!

Phantogram - Voices

What is the point, in this day and age, of releasing an album in just one country? I refer to this weeks US-only release of the new Phantogram album Voices, while other countries have to wait. Yes, there are obviously ‘other ways’ to get it, but not all of them will support the band I love or should be necessary. It should be as simple as “It’s out, buy and download it here”, especially when all their previous material has been available to buy.

It’s also a shame, because it really is a fantastic album. Four of the eleven tracks were already released on the Phantogram EP (which months later after the US release, has finally been released in the UK this week) but the album has a whole is their strongest yet. I’m finally going to see them live in London on May 13th and can’t wait!

Here’s a taster, the video for ‘Fall in Love’ featuring the art of none other than Mr Praystation Joshua Davis!

A Winged Victory for the Sullen - Live in Pittsburgh

I’m loving SoundCloud right now, as there are some real gems out there. This is a live recording of A Winged Victory For the Sullen (AWVFTS) with the ACME string ensemble at the Carnegie Museum of Art’s Hall of Sculpture in Pittsburgh on November 2nd 2011. I’ve raved about AWVFTS on here before, but they are a collaboration between composer Dustin O’Halloran and Stars of the Lid member Adam Wiltzie. Think ‘Classical Ambient’ to get an idea of the sound.

And that sound is just beautiful – perfect late night music!

Hickensians Favourite Music of 2013

2013 was definitely the year of the Besnard Lakes for me…

Before the year ends, I’ve just got time to publish my favourite tunes of 2013!

As this is a Spotify Playlist, it lacks a few artists, namely Atoms for Peace, Burial, Bill Callahan and the latest self-titled EP from Phantogram (the latter of which is still bizarrely not available in this country!). Without doubt, this was the year that I discovered The Besnard Lakes and fell in love with them!

Also, usual rule applies: most on the list was released this year, but not all.

To sum up, my top ten favourite albums this year were:

  1. The Besnard Lakes: “Until in Excess, Imperceptible UFO
  2. The Besnard Lakes: “The Besnard Lakes are the Roaring Night”
  3. Christina Vantzou: “No 1”
  4. Steve Mason: “Monkey Minds in the Devils Time”
  5. Atoms for Peace: AMOK
  6. Phantogram: “Phantogram EP”
  7. Midlake: “Antiphon”
  8. Teen Daze: “The Inner Mansions”
  9. Hammock: “Oblivion Hymns”
  10. Anna Calvi: “One Breath”

Strangely, albums by SPC ECO and The National don’t appear this year – there were good songs on both new albums, but the album as a whole didn’t grab me.

Finally, it was sad to see to news today that Benjamin Curtis of School of Seven Bells (a regular on my end of year lists) has died after a year long battle against cancer. He was only 35.

Current Listening: Antiphon by Midlake

The sumptous ‘Trials of Van Occupanther’ was my favourite album of 2006, but the change in direction for the third Midlake LP ‘Courage of Others’ tested my folk-tolerance to its limits. It’s not a bad album, but didn’t get as many plays as Occupanther.

Now that Tim Smith has left the band, they’ve changed direction again, to a sound that’s more of a continuation of the second album, but definitely a progression. Here’s the title track:

Loving the album so far! Its new, but its undeniably Midlake.

British Sea Power - Machineries of Joy

The film has two stars – triathlete Kate Tiernan and a 1970s road bike by Allin Cycles of Croydon. Apparently, as well as filing frame lugs into elegant filigree-like patterns to save weight, the Allin Cycles staff would also sell gramophones to boost winter income. Now the worlds of cycling and recorded sound are once more combined in the British Sea Power video.

This song is in constant rotation in my head at the moment, I absolutely adore it. The lovely sunny video with vintage bike is a bonus!

Via Road.cc

Starflyer 59 - IAMACEO

I feel it’s a Hicksdesign tradition to point out new Starflyer 59 releases, and the new album ‘IAMACEO’ is a bit special. It’s their first release not on Tooth and Nail Records – instead it was crowd funded via Kickstarter. Being a big fan, I put my two penneth in, as much for the buzz of getting my name in the liner notes of the CD as helping one of my favourite bands continue to publish music.

The result is one of their best of recent years, topped off with a classic SF59 style cover. It’s available now via iTunes or directly from their Undertow Store

Hickensian's Favourite music of 2012

I’ve not kept up this tradition for a couple of years, so this is a post to remedy that. As usual, not all of these were actually released this year, but without further ado and in no particular order, my favourite albums:

Grimes – Visions

A real breath of fresh air, and bursting with creativity.

I Break Horses – Hearts

I’ve discovered more new music through the last.fm plugin for Spotify in 2012 than ever before, and this Swedish duo is the one of the highlights.

Joy Formidable – The Big Roar

This Welsh trio make a fantastic noise and a new album is due out in a few weeks! Yay!

Oceanographer – Spilling Blood

Best bandcamp purchase of the year. Atmospheric Brooklyn Rock. Hope they come and play the UK this year!

Baroness – Yellow and Green

Many felt this double album was too much of a leap away from the Metal of ‘Blue’, but I found it to be an epic.

Mastodon – The Hunter

This would’ve been on 2011’s list (if I’d got off my bottom to write it), but I played it so much in 2012 that it deserves to be on this one.

The Abassi Brothers – Something like Nostalgia

Another Last.fm discovery, and one from 2008 too. Instrumental post-rock.

Phantogram – NIghtlife EP

Eyelid Movies has joined the list of favourite albums of all time, and until a new album ‘proper’ comes along, this 6 track EP more than fills the gap.

Professor Elemental – Father of Invention

Mr B and the Professor may have made up their Chap-Hop differences, but to me, the Good Professor still has the edge musically for me.

A Winged Victory for the Sullen (self titled)

A side project of Adam Wiltzie of Stars of the Lid, and a downright beautiful one too. Sublime ambient soundtrack.

I’ve set up a Playlist on Spotify of my favourite tracks:

A late entry (not available on Spotify) would be one of the most pleasant surprises of the year. None other than Charlotte Church, who has gone all Bat For Lashes:

Phantogram - Nightlife

Phantogram are making all the right moves to become my favourite band. I played ‘Eyelid Movies’ to death, and the last few months I’ve been doing the same with the mini-LP ‘Nightlife’. I say ‘to death’ but I’ve never got tired of it, and needed a break. It’s that good.

Please come and tour in the UK chaps!

epic45 - 'Weathering'

I only discovered epic45 a few months via the other Jon in our office, but they’ve already become one of my favourite bands. I’ve only just caught up with their back catalogue (‘May Your Heart be the Map’ in particular has been my soundtrack to cycling) and already there’s a new album, called ‘Weathering’ out!

I’ve tried to find ways of describing the music, without using wanky terms like ‘dreamy pop soundscapes’, but it’s hard. Something about their sound instantly makes me think of childhood summer adventures in the countryside and suburbs. You see? Hard not to make it sound pretentious. They describe it as:

There is a long tradition of pastoral music capturing a quintessential Englishness, running from Vaughan Williams through the English folk tradition to more recent names like Robert Wyatt and Talk Talk. Further down this line you’ll find Epic45.

Which sounds much better. They’re also one of those bands that has the whole package of music and artwork, and the latest album cover ‘Weathering’ is my favourite so far. It continues the sound of the last 2 albums ‘May your heart’ and ‘In all the Empty Houses’, but builds on it with different guest vocals, Stephen Jones from BabyBird, Rose Berlin (Dean Garcia of Curve’s daughter) and other artists.

You can pick up the CD or download (in many different flavours) from the Epic45 Bandcamp page. It should allow you to preview the tracks, but last time I looked it wasn’t working. However, if you have Spotify you can try out some epic45 with ease: have a listen to All the Empty Houses and May Your Heart be the Map

The Indifference Engine

The Indifference Engine CoverFirst album recommendation for 2011! Professor Elemental is an Explorer, Scientist and Exotic Dancer with a chimp butler called Geoffrey. It’s important to know this as Geoffrey gets referenced a lot in the course of the ‘The Indifference Engine’, his new album. Never in danger of becoming a novelty act, the Professor tackles various themes such as animal experimentation, exploration, sinister village fetes and invention in his ‘steampunk hip hop’ style. It’s all bloody good fun that helps cheer up these gloomy winter months.

As a good example of what you can expect to find, here is the glorious ‘Fighting Trousers’, with reference to aforementioned butler at the start:

Which as I listened, I realised was a diss of Mr B, the Gentleman Rhymer. I’d like to think it’s gentle mocking, but the more I listen, the more I think he means it. Apparently, the feeling is that Mr B is ‘biting’ Elemental and parodying his take on chap-hop. The reference to ‘sold out to Coca Cola’ is because Mr B’s previous incarnation as the lead rapper in Collapsed Lung, sold their song ‘Eat my Goal’ to be used in Coke adverts, and subsequently was the earworm of that year. This alone could be reason enough to hold a grudge, but I happen to like both chaps, and think that their music takes quite different routes. If you listen to previous ‘Elemental’ albums Gentlemen of Leisure (a free download from his site) and Rebel without Applause ( the ‘fairground hip hop’ album with Tom Caruana), this feels like the first proper record as the pith-helmeted ‘Professor Elemental’ persona. Those 2 previous albums are strikingly different in style, with the exception of ‘Cup of Brown Joy’, the worship song for tea:

Musically, this track fits in better on The Indifference Engine. All of it different to Mr B at any rate. Hopefully they can patch up their differences and treat the world to a duet?

Anyway, all of Professor Elemental’s songs can be previewed in his Emporium, so it’s now time to pop along for a listen!

Starflyer 59 - Changing of the Guard

There’s a new Starflyer 59 album on the way, which means 3 things: I get excited, I talk about it a lot, and people ask me who they are and what they should listen to for a Starflyer introduction.

Their sound has changed a lot over the years, from the debut album Silver, and it’s My Bloody Valentine-ish droning guitars to straighter rock, via New Order and Electronica. It’s hard to pick out an introduction playlist, but I’ve had a go, and you can listen to it on Spotify.

If you do have a listen, ‘Everyone but Me’ is my favourite track of all time, and Silver is in my top 5 favourite albums of all time.

Drink Tea (for the Love of God!)

This uplifting ditty and accompanying Python-esque video about my favourite refreshment was Kula Shaker‘s free Christmas single from 2007!

We wanted George Orwell for the narration, not just because he was a T.O.F.F., but because he actually wrote a very serious article for the Times newspaper in the 1940’s about how to make a perfect cup of tea. Whilst we don’t agree completely with his rather rigid, and to be honest, quite dogmatic creed of ‘no sugar’, we still admire his pioneering work as a social prophet and old skool tea drinker. Good old George.

Good on you chaps!

Kyle Bobby Dunn - A Young Person's Guide To

LP33

You may call it Ambient, Drone, Minimalism or Modern Classical, but I always think of this sort of music as being like bat detectors. In the same way that they change the frequency of the bat sounds so that we can hear them, it’s as if this is what nature sounds like once converted for our ears.

Whatever the pigeonhole, it’s a form of music I adore and Kyle Bobby Dunn’s A Young Person’s Guide To Kyle Bobby Dunn is in it. It’s a 2 disc collection of beautiful, atmospheric music. His site even has one of those mediaplayer widget thingies, so pop along and have a listen! Start with my favourite ‘Empty Gazing’ and go from there!

The National

national

Photo: ©Tony Park

When I last saw The National play the (now extinct) London Astoria on the Boxer tour in 2007, one person in the crowd asked for “Mr November… AGAIN!”. Such is the energy of this song live, and the presence of Matt Berninger when he belts out that he is Mr November, that you want it again and again.

Last week, I saw them again at the Royal Albert Hall, and the photo above by Tony Park is from that evening’s performance of that song. In short, the sound, atmosphere, band and venue all added up to be one of the best gigs I’ve ever been to. I was utterly carried along, particularly during the chorus of new songs like Bloodbuzz Ohio. I’m still smiling from that gig.

If you’re new to The National, please listen to Bloodbuzz Ohio on my Huffduffer account. If you like it, try the new album High Violet, available on 7digital for a mere fiver!

Little Big Planet Garden Theme

sackboy.jpg

Almost all the music from Little Big Planet is available, from The Daniel Pemberton TV Orchestra original score, to existing music like Jim Noir’s ‘My Patch’. Almost all, apart from the one that I really wanted, the Gardens theme by Mat Clark. There’s something unashamedly cheery and irrepressible about it.

Thankfully Matt Laskowski of Plastic Shards Blog, has recorded the music directly from the game, and is offering the Garden Theme as a high quality mp3 from. Yay!

(A comprehensive guide to the various LBP tunes is available here.)

Listen with Delia

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Delia Derbyshire has long been considered ahead of her time. One of the earliest creators of electronic music, she is most famous for her work with the BBC’s Radiophonic Workshop in Maida Vale, at which she created the haunting original Dr Who theme, in an age without synthesizers:

A lot of modern musicians like Orbital, Stereolab and Spacemen 3 cite her work as an influence, and it’s easy to to see why.

What sparked this blog post was the news that more of her work has been discovered, some 267 tapes to be exact! All of this is going to be digitized and made available, but in particular was this experimental dance track that she created in the 60’s. Made decades before ‘electronic dance music’ really happened, and yet it sounds like something created today.

This clip from a BBC Four documentary gives some insight into how she created music with reel to reel tapes:

Sadly she died in 2001 at 64, just after rediscovering her love of electronic music, working with Peter Kember (Spacemen 3, Sonic Boom), of which she said:

Working with people like Sonic Boom on pure electronic music has re-invigorated me. He is from a later generation but has always had an affinity with the music of the 60s. Now without the constraints of doing ‘applied music’, my mind can fly free and pick-up where I left off.

Discover more about her life at delia-derbyshire.org

dave-judgement_delia_derbyshire

Fleet Foxes - White Winter Hymnal

Fleet FoxesHere’s an album that feels like it’s release is timed to perfection. Fleet Foxes really suit the unusually summery weather we’re having in the UK. For an idea of the sound, I’d start with Band of Horses, and make it mellower and folkier, and well, a little more baroque. White Winter Hymnal is an ideal introduction, but don’t stop there, because the self-titled album is a blinder. A definite contender for favourite record this year, but then again, I’m always a sucker for harmonies.

Download Fleet Foxes – White Winter Hymnal. There’s also a session on Daytrotter for further free enjoyment.

On the playlist: Ladytron - Velocifero

All praise to the God of Electro – which I guess would be would be Numanus ? – Ladytron are back with a new album ‘Velocifero’, which literally means ‘bringer of speed’. The cover artwork by Brazilian art collective Assume Vivid Astro Focus is rather splendid:

Ladytron%20Black%20Cat

…and it’s at least as addictive as ‘Witching Hour’. Having only heard it twice, it’s still early days to pick favourites, but here’s a taster:

Velocifero is supposedly only available through iTunes until June 3rd, but I found it on play.com just fine.

My 2007 in Blogs, Music, Events and Apps!

As has been my wont since the early 90’s, I like to write up the things that have tickled my fancy for the past year…

Blogs

This is should actually be in the singular, as there has been one particular blog that has lit my fire like no others.

Ace Jet 170 seems to have the ability to find objects that trigger the same emotional reactions, like these Routemaster and Underground Signs. A new AceJet post is often followed by a trawl on ebay…

AceJet 170

Music

As usual, not everything in this list was released in 2007, but I couldn’t leave out Midlake’s Trials of Van Occupanther – 2006 be damned! Along with Midlake, the other big discovery for me was Band of Horses, and in particular ‘Cease to Begin’.

So limiting myself to only one song from each of my favourite albums, here is the top 20, in playlist style order:

Song Artist Album
Is There a Ghost Band of Horses Cease to Begin
Blackout Amusement Parks on Fire Out of the Angeles
Time Bomb Goldspot Tally of The Yes Men
Melody Day Caribou Andorra
It Covers the Hillsides Midlake The Trials of Van Occupanther
Intervention Arcade Fire Neon Bible
Isn’t Life Strange The Clientele God Save the Clientele
The Pills Won’t Help You Now The Chemical Brothers (feat. Midlake) We are the night
23 Blonde Redhead 23
Rest My Chemistry Interpol Our Love to Admire
Girl Sailor The Shins
Black Magic Jarvis Cocker Jarvis
You Can Make Him Like You The Hold Steady Girls and Boys in America
The Strangest Secret in the World London Elektricity Power Ballads
Mistaken for Strangers The National Boxer
Mutiny I Promise You The New Pornographers Challengers
Clever girls like clever boys… Pelle Carlberg In a Nutshell
Up Against a Wall Peter Bjorn and John Writer’s Block
Jigsaw falling into place Radiohead In Rainbows
Don’t bother they’re here Stars of the Lid and their Refinement of the Decline

There are few that didn’t quite make the final list, such as Of Montreal and Hammock.

Apps that have changed the way I work

Two apps have changed the way I work in 2007 like no others.

Coda

Coda IconSince I first raved about Coda, I’ve met people who have either hated it, or see it as manna from heaven. As I suspected, it doesn’t really suit the hardcore TextMate users, but for me Coda has caused some big shifts in the way I work, and everything I do bar graphics is made in Coda these days.

The biggest change for me is that web development tools in browsers have become less of a necessity. The browser is regaining its position of being ‘pleasure’ while Coda is for everything that’s ‘work’ – like the distinction between home and office. I don’t even use Firefox & Firebug anymore, the revised Web Inspector in Leopard has been incorporated in Coda and that does everything I need and more.

My design process has also been changed by Coda. I’m working on visuals less and less in Fireworks and Illustrator, and starting on the HTML/CSS much much earlier. There are so many things that are hard to convey in a static mockup, and writing the CSS and HTML in Coda is so fast, there seems little point making one. I feel that I can iterate quickly and try out ideas. I still sketch and plan on paper, but a middle man has been cut out.

There’s more to love. The ‘Sites’ view has become more like a project folder or workspace. The saved tabs in a site can include not only the site files, but the remote and local previews, the Textpattern admin panels, phpMyAdmin and the project on Basecamp. I can’t do that in Textmate. The split views in Coda are another favourite feature. Apps like CSS Edit have useful tools, like the ability to override site styles, but the multiple windows for editing and previewing drive me mad.

I could go on, but in short, if I ever see someone from Panic, they’re in danger of getting a big kiss.

Billings

Billings IconI mentioned Billings fairly recently, but beyond being a very well thought out time tracking and invoicing application, it’s meant that I have for the first time been aware of just how long I spend doing various different tasks, and how much I spend in terms of expenses and meetings. Having a timer in the menubar wins over a dashboard widget or floating window anyday.

Its also been a great motivator, making me more aware of time I haven’t spent working, without being annoying about it. If I had one request of Marketcircle though, it would be a quicker way of seeing which invoices are unpaid (such as an link in the sidebar), something I need to refer to a lot!

Events

  • Moving into the Rissington offices with John, Jon and Simon, and recording The Rissington Podcast. Its the design studio I always wanted.
  • The iPhone. Crappy camera aside, its the convergent device of my dreams. I can’t wait to see what happens when proper 3rd party apps are written for it. In particular I’d like a cut down version of Coda and a way of playing music wirelessly through airtunes.
  • 2007 has been a good year for visitors – Luke Dorny, Scott Boms, Derek Featherstone and Ms Jen (thrice!) popping by to see family Hicks.
  • Oxford Geek Nights are really something special
  • First year of partnership with Leigh! Many people ask me how well we’re working together, but not only does she run her own projects, she’s also busy making stuff.
  • The National, Imogen Heap and The Hold Steady were gig highlights.

Thanks for letting me get that out of my system – I’m done till next year!

Cover art for In Rainbows

It’s out, and I’m listening right now. It’s even better than I hoped it would be, but it’s bare bones at the moment. No cover art – well that just won’t do for this coverflow user. According to NME the art is coming, and it sounds like it will be a Stanley Donwood artgasm.

Here’s my attempt, with a 600px version available here. Do you fancy a go too? When you’re done, please post a 300px square copy here in the comments, using Textile (wrap the image URL in exclamation marks.). I’m looking forward to seeing what people come up with!

Midlake - 'Roscoe'

Midlake - The Trials of Van OccupantherLast year my favourite discovery was The National. This year, that role goes to Midlake. First played to me by Richard Rutter back in February, it took me while to get around to buying the album this track came from “The Trials of Van Occupanther”. I’ve not stopped playing it since though, its completely won me over.

‘Roscoe’ is enough to give you a flavour, but you really need to listen the whole album. Their first record “Bamnan and Silvercork” is good too, but quite a different sound to Van Occupanther, more Flaming Lips. If you buy one new album this year, please make it Van Occupanther! Also, make sure you check out their collaboration on the latest Chemical Brothers album “The pills won’t help you now” – just beautiful.

Download: Midlake – ‘Roscoe’
Buy The Trials of Van Occupanther at Amazon.

It's going to be a good year for music

It doesn’t seem like 5 mins since I was writing about my favourite albums of 2006, and already, I’ve bought some great music that are all contenders for this years top 5 list. In true Hicks style, 2 of these were released last year, but hey.

Raising your voice, trying to stop an echo – Hammock
Jarvis – Jarvis Cocker
Out of the Angeles – Amusement Parks on Fire
Girls and Boys in America – The Hold Steady
Neon Bible – Arcade Fire

All superb records, played non-stop.

Now I’ve heard that The National have a new album, ‘Boxer’, due out on May 21st, along with Wilco’s “Sky Blue Sky” the week before. Stereogum have a sample from Boxer, Fake Empire available to download. Crikey!

It’s going to be a good year for music.

UPDATE : Just discovered that Interpol’s, as yet untitled, 3rd album is to be released in June. Yay!

Arcade Fire - "No Cars Go"

Arcade Fire- Neon Bible

Arcade FireArcade Fire are the only band I’ve ever managed to discover before the world caught up. “No Cars Go” was one of the free demo songs available from their website, long before “Funeral” saw the light of day. I loved the song, so I was really chuffed to see that it made it on to their new album, Neon Bible. This is that original version, and while the quality isn’t tip top, it shows a band that would rightfully become very popular indeed!

Download: Arcade Fire – “No Cars Go”

Daytrotter

Normally a site I love simply gets a mention in the sidenotes, but I particularly wanted to spotlight the new(ish) music site Daytrotter. To quote the about section:

We’re going to give you something that you truly have never heard. We are not giving you songs from someone you love’s record album, thereby stealing from someone you love. We’re giving you exclusive, re-worked, alternate versions of old songs and unreleased tracks by some of your favorite bands and by a lot of your next favorite bands.

The list of bands recording sessions with Daytrotter is enough to get me excited (and the fact that they use Textpattern), but here’s the part I really, really love: illustration. There are a team of illustrators that work on the site, and rather than rely on publicity photographs, each session or feature has its own unique artwork. And damn fine illustration it is too.

As Mark Boulton said at SXSW this year “Illustration is missing in action on the web”.

Stock images in particular have become the fast easy way to illustrate content, while traditional artwork is barely anywhere to be seen. When A List Apart relaunched, they made the brave move to use illustration to accompany each article, and the effect was a huge breath of fresh air. Daytrotter joins that revolution! Rejoice!

BBC Radio in MediaCentral

I’ve been playing with MediaCentral a lot recently, as it keeps adding more and more functionality that impresses me. While not perfect (This MacWorld review expresses my concerns) its a good looking, snappy FrontRow alternative, with a lot of potential.

Screenshot of BBC Radio in MediaCentral

The recent 2.3.1 release brings support for .ram files, which finally means that I can listen to BBC Radio in MediaCentral. All you need is a .ram file for each station, and to make life easy, you can download my set of BBC Radio Streams. Assuming you have Realplayer, all you need to do is place it’s contents in your /My MediaCentral/My Radio/ folder, and you’re away.

Endings

Just some album covers - nothing importantI’ve had an idea for a while now about doing a one-off podcast on the theme of ‘endings’. Some of my favourite tracks happen to be the last on the album, but I know I’m never going to get around to recording a podcast or wading through the murky waters of licensing.

So, here’s a plain old text list of my (current!) favourite endings:

  1. ‘Everyone but me’ – Starflyer 59 (Americana) *
  2. ‘Walk into the Sea’ – Low (The Great Destroyer)
  3. ‘Comforting Sounds’ – Mew* (Frengers)
  4. ‘Burger Queen’ – Placebo (Without you I’m nothing)
  5. ‘The Party’ – Starflyer 59 (Everybody makes mistakes)
  6. ‘Sandpit’ – Curve (Doppelganger)
  7. ‘Reservations’ – Wilco (Yankee Hotel Foxtrot)
  8. ‘Mr November’ – The National (Alligator)
  9. ‘A Wolf at the Door’ – Radiohead (Hail to the thief)
  10. ‘Life is Sweet’ – Maria McKee (Life is Sweet)

(* This also happens to be my favourite song of all time. I’ll probably look back at this list in a few months time I wonder why I didn’t list x instead of y, but this one always remains at the top for me.)

A few of these tracks happen to be available via iTunes, so I’ve created an iMix of Endings, although the best parts of the songs tend to be after the preview cuts off.

Think of it as a meme if you will, and post your favourite ways of ending an album!

Pelle Carlberg - "Go to hell, Miss Rydell"

Pelle Carlberg - Everything. Now

Pelle Carlberg - Everything. Now Along with The National, Swedish singer/songwriter Pelle Carlberg is the second of my favourite finds this year.

The bitter tale of responding to a bad review, “Go to hell, Miss Rydell” makes great listening for those with a Belle and Sebastian or Kings of Convenience bent. The album “Everything. Now!” is just superb – while the music may sound light, the lyrics are far from lightweight. There’s some real sadness/venom/longing in there. Powerful stuff.

Download: Pelle Carlberg – “Go to hell, Miss Rydell”

Waiting for Songbird to nest on OS X

Despite what I said last year, working completely off a Powerbook does work (now that I have a functioning powerbook of course!). Only one thing mars the experience – high CPU usage from iTunes.

I have a lot of hungry apps open, Fireworks and Omniweb can be quite greedy, but they’re beginners next to iTunes with its range of 31-60%. Obviously, playing music from another source (such as radio or iPod) would solve this, but I prefer being able to play music from my computer. Especially when I have bluetooth niftiness such as Salling Clicker pausing iTunes whenever there’s a phone call.

Playing music is important part of work and home life, but on OS X, there seems to be no alternatives to iTunes. Audion has long since died, and while its still available, its no match for iTunes for managing and playing a library of music.

Songbird logo

This is why I’ve been keeping an interested eye on SongBird – an open source XUL based app for playing media. I have no idea whether it uses less CPU, or when a version for OS X will arrive, but I’m really keen to try it. I love what they stand for and the approach they’re taking. I have high hopes! (I also love the sound of this job, shame I’m not qualified! :D ).

So in the meantime, if anyone has any ideas for lower CPU music playback on OS X, or tips to reduce iTunes CPU usage, I’d love to hear them. Have I missed a good OS X alternative?

Update: Some of the comments gave me an idea – I turned off my Volume Logic plugin and CPU dropped dramatically! Aha, culprit found!

Starflyer 59 - "Wake up Early"

Starflyer 59

Starflyer 59Being my favourite band and all, I’ve been desperate to find evidence of a Starflyer 59 song released for free, and finally I got one! There are different sides to Starflyer, the earlier white-noise shoegazing sound gave way to dabblings into Electronica and even a New Order style sound on the last album.

“Wake up Early” is the opening track from “I Am The Portuguese Blues” (the album before the current one) and its a reet belter. I wanted a track that would demonstrate their noisier sound, and I got it.

Download: Starflyer 59 – Wake up Early

The Very Hush Hush - "Love, Like Love"

The Very Hush Hush

The Very Hush HushOakland California’s The Very Hush Hush use something in their music that’s always a winner for me – white noise. In this standout track from the album Mourir C’est Facile, I love the way the instruments all build up to one loud orgasm. Its the core sound of the shoegazing bands like My Bloody Valentine that I loved when I was at college. Its still a fresh sound to me.

Whoops, I’ve gone all wanky muso journalist by using ‘orgasm’.

Download: The Very Hush Hush – “Love, Like Love”

Lavender Diamond - "Rise in the Springtime"

Lavender Diamond - Rise in the SpringtimeWhile I have a fair sized collection ready for Found Sounds, I always like hearing suggestions. Props got to Dalasie Michaelis for telling me about Lavender Diamond

There are two free downloads available on their site at the moment, but my favourite was the delicate “Rise in the Springtime”, which evokes those time-lapse documentaries of buds and shoots springing forth. Enjoy.

Download: Lavender Diamond – Rise in the Springtime

Gregor Samsa "Three"

Gregor Samsa

Gregor SamsaBeing named after a character from Kafka’s novel Metamorphosis, would make you expect something of a gothic flavour from Gregor Samsa. Not so. Think more ‘ambient indie’.

Taken from the 27:36 EP, this song is perfect for late night listening. Add a glass of Bowmore, and you’re done.

Download: Gregor Samsa – Three

Hicksdesign's Found Sounds

Here’s another of those small steps.

I’ve been wanting to dip my toes in the podcast pool for such a long time now, not to bring my droning about OS X browsers to an audio format, but to share music that I’m into. Podcasts are too much like hard work, but I loved the way that Buzz Anderson has done his – ad-hoc linking to single track mp3’s in de.licio.us. So Found Sounds is in effect, a complete and utter steal of his idea, sorry Buzz.

Whereas Buzz looks like he’s going to be using Odeo in the future, I wanted to use Textpattern for mine, with Feedburner converting the feed, providing the support for enclosures. I just add a rel=”enclosure” attribute to the mp3 link and away we go. Thanks go to Tom Martin for the method.

The criteria of Found Sounds is simple. If a band or record company has provided an mp3 free on their site, and I love it, it goes in. Occasionally, there may be crossover with those provided by 3hive, but I hope to avoid repetition if possible.

So, here’s the first post, here’s the second post, and here’s the feed to grab for it. Feel free to use the comment fields on each post to tell me what you thought.

P.S – I also got around to adding tags to posts, thanks to this wonderful plugin

Mac Media Centre - iTunes Remotes

Despite constant bribes the children still haven’t broken the old telly, so for now, the Mac Mini is acting solely as a server for iTunes and iPhoto. Thats just fine though, as it was mainly for music that I wanted to use it, and there isn’t much time for TV/DVDs. What I have done though is pick up a cheap Airport Express off ebay which is a great for sending music to the stereo without trailing wires.

So far, I’d been using my s700i phone with Salling Clicker to control everything, and this worked great. The only drawback is that when I’m away with my phone, Leigh is left without a remote. (There’s still VNC of course, but its not really a ‘small remote’!) . So I’ve been looking into other options available.

The Keyspan Express remote and particularly the ATI Remote Wonder, are possibilites, but when navigating iTunes without the TV & FrontRow, you really need visuals for choosing albums and playlists. What you need is basically an iPod Nano that acts as a remote. Actually, hang that, how about a 40” screen displaying Coverflow with just a Griffin PowerMate underneath?!

Next up was Coverbuddy. If you have a Sony PSP, Coverbuddy’s web interface has a special version sized for it, and it makes a nice remote. However, not only do i not have a PSP, but Coverbuddy only plays albums, not playlists. webRemote does both playlists and library, but seemed quite clunky after what I was used to on Salling Clicker. Like Coverbuddy, it also needs a web browser to work from.

Cut to the chase, it just occurred to me that Leigh had a Palm Tungsten C, and that I could use Salling Clicker with that. This meant enjoying the full graphics glory of the buillt-in iTunes Controller that I didn’t get on my Sony Erricson s700i. It worked so well, I just laughed for about an hour, punching the air like I was ‘Living on a Prayer’. Job done.

Palm Tungsten C with Salling Clicker

The 3 yr old Tungsten C is a maybe little bulky by todays PDA standards, but I’m sure that somewhere there is a smallish, light, supported handheld (or phone with a reasonable sized screen) thats also cheap to grab off ebay. I’d be keen to hear what device you’re using with Salling Clicker that gives you graphics.

Tell me I haven't lost it...

Screenshot of iTunes warning window, asking if you want to import songs you already have!

I have this little quirk. I buy stuff from iTunes because its super-quick and convenient, but I prefer getting physical CDs. So, sometimes, if I really love an album I’ve bought on iTunes, it gets re-purchased in non-DRM CD form.

In the January Sales I picked up a ‘proper’ copy of Takk by Sigur Ros, to replace my DRM’d version. Yes I know I could’ve just burnt a CD and re-imported (or many other such tricks) but its not just about the DRM. Its about the status – in the same way that only the best apps get a permanent position in my OS X dock, some albums are too important to have as just a download.

This means that occasionally, I’ve bought the same album twice. Is it just me?

Come with me on a journey

Not another chuffin best of 2005? Of course, what else?! As is my want at this time of year, I sit back in a comfy chair, with water biscuits and a well stocked cheeseboard to mark my highlights.

Favourite things of 2005:

  • My Family. It sounds awfully trite, but I’m nothing without them. I love you.
  • Merlin Manns podcasts.
  • SXSW was amazing, meeting so many great people. Some I knew before, some I met for the first time, but all such good company!
  • Rob Weychert’s Musical Breakfast. (The first part of 6six).
  • VoodooPad. The more I use it, the more I love it. It has no equal.
  • Flickr for its provision of doing quick, easy blogging to a community without worrying about the site design. I just hope the crack down on ‘non photographic content’ doesn’t get out of control next year.
  • Safaristand for bringing Omniweb style tabs to Safari.
  • That people still stop by here to read and offer comments, despite having little to offer in the way of Standards discussion or ground breaking CSS techniques! The goodwill from the Firefox logo is sure to give out soon though!

Music of 2005

Without a doubt, Sigur Ros’s “Takk” has been my favourite sound this year. However, while there have been great albums, nothing got as heavy rotation as ‘Antics” by Interpol did last year.

  • Sigur Ros – ‘Takk’
  • Starflyer 59 – ‘Talking Voice vs Singing Voice’
  • Rufus Wainwright -”Want One & Two”
  • Ladytron – ‘Witching Hour’
  • Embrace – ‘Out of nothing’*
  • Low -’The Great Destroyer’
  • Arcade Fire -’Funeral’*
  • British Sea Power – “Open Season”

*I actually got these last year, just after last Decembers ‘best of’ post, but I love them too much to leave them out.

Cheese of the year 2005

Without a doubt, it has to be the Oxford Isis. A great all-rounder.

Hopes for 2006

  • Samantha starts school in January. This will be a big upheaval to our lifestyle – rather than finishing nursery at 5pm, she’ll be leaving school at 3pm. However, my hope is not that we ‘manage’ timewise, but that she makes friends and enjoys it. Our little girl is growing up! Sniff!
  • That Omnigroup will get a substantial update to Omniweb out, with the latest webkit, more interface polish and find as you type support. I so want Omniweb to succeed, but in some important areas, they’re behind Safari. Especially Safari on Tiger loaded up with Saft and Safaristand!
  • That I manage to create a mac-based home entertainment system – music/photo/movie/work server with my G5. Siobhan wants this too. I could just use Windows Media Center (which is excellent), but I want Mac-ness, and quite like the idea of cobbling it together.
  • That no more embarrassingly manky items of clothing end up on ebay.
  • That the practice of calling yourself ‘CEO’ of anything you create, will result in severe mocking and derision.

Predictions for 2006

  • John Oxton will retire from blogging in January.
  • John Oxton will return to blogging in March.
  • John Oxton will retire from blogging in May.
  • John Oxton will return to blogging in August.
  • John Oxton will return to blogging in September, forgetting that he hadn’t left it yet.

Concern for 2006

OK, here is my worry. It feels as if a lot of people are getting a bit too worthy, earnest, serious and po-faced in their blogging. I’m not naming names, but to me, there seems to be very little fun of late. I might well be guilty of this myself.

Balancing informative articles with wit and humour is hard but John, Jeremy Greg and Merlin seem to manage.

Finally, an apology

Bear with me, I don’t want to sound all Britney Spears about this, but I might. People send me emails, a quantity of which surprises me, and I’m finding that I just can’t cope with it. It goes against my beliefs, but I’ve had to learn to live with not answering all of them. I know how it feels to never get a reply from someone – its rude and it sucks donkey – but there just aren’t enough hours left after famiily and work. If you’re one of the people feeling dissed from not getting a reply from me, sorry, its not personal.

The Story of the Sex Pistols

Whilst sorting through some attic boxes, a hidden treasure was discovered that had been forgotten for over 20 years. “The Smash HIts Yearbook 1984” no less, from a time when Neil Tennant was still working for that popular pop music comic, before deciding to spend the rest of his life standing in front of a motionless Chris Lowe.

The best part of this find, was the comic strip “The Story of the Sex Pistols”. I thought this was so insightful, that I’ve set up a photoset on Flickr so that you too can learn the truth behind the seminal punk band! Here’s a little taster:

“They look like they mean it!” was a cry often heard at those early gigs…

A Musical Baton

I’ve been passed a musical baton by Richard, and how can I resist?

Total volume of music files on my computer: 19.48 Gb.

The last CD I bought was:
“Talking Voice vs Singing Voice” by Starflyer 59. Although I’m about to buy “Open Season” by British Sea Power.

Song playing right now:
Little Sister by Rufus Wainwright (very ‘poncey’)

Five songs I listen to a lot, or that mean a lot to me:
Like Richard, this is more a case of recent rotation:

  1. Everyone but Me by Starflyer 59
  2. Snowden by Doves
  3. Beautiful Child by Rufus Wainwright
  4. In the wilderness by Mercury Rev
  5. Homesick by The Kings of Convenience

Five people to whom I’m passing the baton:
Neil Lee
Leigh
John Oxton
Dan Cederholm
Jason Santa Maria
(apologies if you’ve already been ‘got’)

Rufus Wainwright

Leigh and I don’t get out to gigs as much as we used to. Apart from the rigmarole (and cost) of finding babysitters, Oxford, with the exception of the Zodiac in Cowley Road, isn’t gig central. There’s a thriving local scene for sure, out of which bands like Ride, Supergrass and Radiohead all came, but you really have to go London to see the majority of acts. Also, when you do manage to get out, there’s a heightened pressure to have a really good time – you don’t want to go through all that hassle and cost, just to see a bad movie do you?

So, giggling like teenagers let out for the night, we went to see Rufus Wainwright play at the New Theatre Oxford. No worries about a wasted night out, Rufus was engaging, compelling and moving. Somehow, he manages to keep going for hours, with his voice still as powerful at the 3rd encore as it was when he started. And what a voice.

The performance came to a real peak during ‘Oh what a world’ when the band strips down to lingerie or codpieces and don witches’ hats and cloaks. Some members looked more comfortable with this than others though. The contrast between Rufus (who also had a shiny pair of bright red high heels) and the blonde backing singer was very distinct.

I ‘really enjoyed’ listening to Rufus before – now I would count myself as a fan. Huzzah!

Lists of 2004

It’s that retrospective time of year again. Looking back over all the highlights of the year and recording them for posterity.

Albums:

Antics by Interpol

  1. Antics by Interpol
  2. Everybody Makes Mistakes by Starflyer 59
  3. Good news for people who love bad news by Modest Mouse

Quite simply, I’ve not been so excited, enthralled and addicted to an album as I have with ‘Antics’ in a long time. ‘Everybody makes mistakes’ didn’t actually come out in 2004, but I didn’t manage to get a copy until this year, and I’ve played it to death, so in it goes. Then end track “The Party” is a perfect song to finish the day on. Honorable mentions go to Wilco’s “A Ghost is Born”, Tanya Donelly’s “Beautysleep” (again, not actually released this year) and ‘I am the Portuguese Blues’, also by Starflyer 59 (which was released this year).

OS X Browser

Omniweb5

  1. Omniweb 5.1b4
  2. Safari (+ Saft + PithHelmet + Stand + Safarisource)
  3. Firefox

Ah, Omniweb how I love thee. The latest beta build is an almost perfect balance of features and performance. When I use other browsers, it just makes me pine for its doing-anything-with-them tabs, form editor and oodles of other things I can only do in OW. The interface isn’t perfect, but hopefully that’ll be improved in the future. Safari came in at a very close second. Depending on which day you ask me, numbers 1 and 2 can change places). Sorry Firefox, you’re not quite there yet on the mac, although you’re close. Maybe after 1.1? Camino has possibilities, but is still too bare bones for me. I’ve been really impressed by the latest Opera, with its combination browser/email/rss reader, but while being fully featured, it looks like a dogs dinner.

Site design I wished I’d come up with first:

  1. Airbag
  2. Jason Santa Maria
  3. Justwatchthesky

Blog Posts

  1. A story about someone else’s ass – Dooce.
    I cried with tears of joy
  2. Screen Grab confab – Cameron Moll.
    Fascinating insight into peoples work.
  3. I would RTFM if there was an FM to FR – Design by Fire.
    Andrei, I wish you blogged more often.

Events:

  1. The very first Geekend
    A very special time, and we’ve even managed to fit in 2 more before the year was out. Nice to finally meet you all chaps.
  2. Firefox
    I had no idea what I was getting myself into.
  3. Being called the 13th most influential design blogger. I’m nowhere near, but it was flattering all the same, thankyou Cameron.

finally…

Samantha and Daniel

Thankyou Samantha and Daniel. You’re the highlight of every year

Looking forward:

Before the year is out, the family of Hicks is heading out to Sydney for two and half weeks. Its 0 degrees as I write this, and 42 over there. I’m just gonna melt, but I can’t wait. I love living in England, but the weather can really lower your spirits sometimes. It can be like living in Bladerunner – always dark, always raining.

So…

Using the same categories, name your top 3’s!

Autumn Soundtrack

Hurrah. Today is September 1st, and (in book anyway) the first day of Autumn, my favourite time of the year.

This is the time when the sunlight is golden, low and casts long stretched shadows. The grass returns to lush green, and leaves turn, but the days are still (relatively) warm. Yes sir, I love this time of year, and it also makes me want to listen to a particular kind of music. Slow, introspective, often acoustic, maybe a touch melancholy, but never depressing.

Due the limitations of iMix (most of these aren’t available on the iTunes Music Store) here it is in screengrab form:

Autumn playlist

To also get us into the mood, P22 Type Foundry have released Stanyan Autumn, “a set of three fonts based upon a casual hand lettering text created by Anthony Goldschmidt for the deluxe 1969 edition of the book ”...and autumn came” by Rod McKuen”. Nice.

Daily Check Ritual

Every morning, the first thing I do is click on a tab group called ‘check’.
These are the sites it brings up:

Shortstats

Shaun Inmans Shortstats are what I’ve been looking for a for a long time. It displays just the information I need – in one page. From this I can see that there are still a lot of IE6 users visiting the site (shame on you!), and that there are people still using the pre-beta Safari. Eh?

Anyway. I’m watching you.

Technorati Link Cosmos

Who’s linking to me and what are they saying about me? Call me paranoid, but I like to know these things. Its also an easy way of discovering new blogs.

Camino forums at Mozillazine

While I don’t have time to post as often as I used to, I still dip in every day to see whats going on with Camino – hoping that there is a new unofficial build of Camino 0.9. No other OS X browser (‘cept maybe Firefox of course!) has got such a good discussion forum.

NetDiver

I lose count of how many design portal sites there are, but nobody does it quite like NetDiver. I’m sure I’m preaching to the choir here, but the outstanding quailty of design showcased here is nothing short of inspirational. Whenever the creative fridge has just got some mouldy cheese left in it, this is where I stock up on the fresh stuff.

Shiira project homepage

The nightly builds seem to come very regularly, so I always check to see what those crazy Japanese have done this time.

Textpattern forum

This is relatively new addition, but I’ve gained some much from it. There is a really good community here.

3hive.com

I’ve saved the best till last. 3hive has been the musical equivalent to NetDiver for me. The deal is this: every day, links to free mp3 downloads are added. Many bands offer free downloads via their sites, and this is resource to list all these freebies. Its a no-risk opportunity to try out new music, and I’ve discovered the band ‘Low’, who I’ve gone crazy for. It’s also helped me categorise the kind of music I like – Slowcore! (So nice that I’ve now got a name for it)

What sites do you fire up first thing in the morning?

Playing iPods via iTunes

My ‘working away from home’ kit consists of just 2 things. My worn but trusty G4 Powerbook and my iPod. The iPod means I can play music in the car, as well as backup work to it. I’ve been trying to find a way of playing the music on my iPod through the Powerbook, without losing the link to my G5 where the music library is kept. There are plenty of apps that enable you to copy the iPod library onto your computer (such as PodWorks) – but I just don’t have the HD space for such a task. It also seems a little overboard – why copy everything when I should be able to just playback from the iPod?

I tried an app called iPodRip, but was less than satisfied with its ramshackle, ugly-relative-of-iTunes interface, tendency to crash regularly, and inability to display tracks in the right order. A better solution, was a free little app called Music Publisher which shares your iPods music library, allowing it to be played through iTunes. This also works across networks.

Even better however is an undocumented feature that I found after prompting by Shaun Inman. When you plug in your iPod you’ll be asked whether you want to break the existing link with the other iTunes database, and sync with the powerbook’s. Select no, and click the iPod icon at the bottom of the iTunes window. Click ‘Enable for Firewire use’ if you haven’t already, and change updating to manual (deselecting all automatic options), and lo! The tracks and playlists from your iPod show up in iTunes!

Darkest Night of the Year

The darkest night of the year by Over the Rhine

At this time of year, I don’t actually mind the fact that its dark at 4 o’clock – it makes Christmas feel close. I can hear carolers outside in the street, but they’re teenagers that can’t hold a tune or remember more than 3 lines. So to get into the right mood, I’m listening to ‘The Darkest Night of the Year’ by Over the Rhine. Without doubt, the best Christmas album, a mixture of rearranged traditional carols, and new songs. No Slade, Bing Crosby or Wham, just decent, atmospheric music that creates a yuletide vibe.

lists of 2003

The end of the year is nearly upon us, and the time is ripe for a nostalgic look back over the year. In true boy-fashion, this reminiscing is reduced to a series of lists:

Events:

  • Daniel HicksThe main joy this year was the birth of my son Daniel (my mini-me) back in April. We are now a family of four.
  • Started playing with XHTML and CSS properly at the same time, I’d no idea where it’d lead…
  • Being linked to by Zeldman, Shea and everyone else kind enough. I’ve been overwhelmed by the sense of community and just plain nice folks out there.
  • Finally getting an iPod. As our American cousins would say, ‘It rocks’. It goes with me everywhere, in the car, on walks, even the loo. My life now has a soundtrack.

Songs:

  • “Growing on me” by The Darkness
  • “Light and Day” by The Polyphonic Spree
  • “Am I wrong?” by the Mull Historical Society
  • “The supermarket strikes back” by the Mull Historical Society
  • “Second Sight” by Placebo
  • “The Laws have changed” by The New Pornographers
  • “Natural Anthem” by The Postal Service

Typefaces:

Strong Bad Emails:

Inspirational Websites:

There are so many sites that visit/read and enjoy, so this is slightly unfair. But these are the ones that I wish I’d done…

I’d love to know what you’d have in your top lists…

The Postal Service 'Give Up'


// SP CD 595 // Sub Pop Records

the Postal ServiceThere’s something comforting about the way Jimmy Tamborello (LA’s Dntel) and Ben Gibbard (Seattle’s Death Cab For Cutie) collaborated to make this record. After initially working together on Dntel’s ‘(This Is) The Dream of Evan and Chan’, Gibbard started receiving CDs from Tamborello with beatsy electronic music, which he then manipulated in his computer, adding melodies and vocals along the way. A fellow Seattlite, Jen Wood, also added her vocals to tracks such as ‘Nothing Better’. It’s a mixture of new recording technology and old-fashioned communication that works like a dream – ‘Give Up’ is fresh, original and immediate.

The sound is best described as ‘delicate electro pop’, with elements of The Human League or early Depeche Mode, but also artists like Ben Folds and Ween. Don’t let those references put you off – the ‘bleeps’ might come straight of the 80’s, but the beats and guitars are contemporary. The final track ‘Natural Anthem’ wanders into drum and bass territory – it manages to avoid being too much of one genre.

Standout tracks are the delicious opener ‘The District Sleeps Alone Tonight’ , the single ‘Such Great Heights’ (available as a free mp3 download from the bands website), the dreamy ‘Recycled Air’ and ‘Brand New Colony’. However, this is an album with no filler, everyone is a gem in its own right. There’s also the added delight of Jeff Kleinsman’s beautiful sleeve artwork (these things are important!), a collage of decaying Art Deco and 30’s black and white photographs.

While both are continuing with their respective bands, the duo have made plans to record again in the future. Can’t wait…

Rating: 5/5

Links:

The Postal Service official website

light & Day

hicksdesign iPodAfter what seems like an eternity, my shiny new iPod has arrived! Opening the packaging is such a treat and so well thought out. Its just about stops short of releasing dry ice when you open it. Everything inside is wrapped in cool little silver pouches waiting for you to just … ahem. Sorry, getting a little carried away here.


Of course, the second you touch it, big greasy fingerprints stick out like a sore thumb. It needs to be kept in a perpetual state of polish to keep it looking fresh.


So what better first song to play on it, than the one that’s really doing it for me at the moment (and is also used the US volkswagen/iPod ads) – ‘Light & Day’ by the Polyphonic Spree! Filled with spiritual joy of life, I’m off to find a white sheet to make me a robe…

hail to the thief

Hurrah for the new Radiohead album ‘hail to the thief’. Its not a return to the OK Computer days (I can’t see that ever happening), but it’s definitely an album of good tunes. The packaging of the special edition is beautiful, created by Stanley Donwood and using ‘Mrs Eaves’, a lush serif font from emigre. The lyrics are different matter however:
“Dance you f****r/flan in the face” – quite.

am i wrong?

While I’m on the subject of the Mull Historical Society, the new single ‘Am I wrong?’ is out on June 2nd. Their website is currently streaming the video – a fantastic pythony/beatles affair.