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reflecting my eclectic life

Favourite Albums of 2015

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It’s that time again for my favourite albums of the year. The years seem to pass by so quickly, and 2015 has been a particularly busy and eventful one for me. Despite that, I’ve listened to well over fifty new albums, so here are my favourites (in alphabetical order of artist).

Belle and Sebastian: Girls in Peacetime Want to Dance
This is their ninth studio album and a really enjoyable listen, great musical ideas and songwriting. An album characterised by kindness, sensitivity and tunefulness.

Blur: The Magic Whip
A twelve year gap separates this and Blur’s previous studio album, and fans will appreciate this excellent return to form.

David Gilmour: Rattle That Lock
This is only the fourth solo album by the Pink Floyd guitarist; there were two early ones that are well worth a listen (I often return to them), and the excellent On an Island (2006). He’s been working on the material for this album over five years, and one track goes back eighteen years. A very polished and accomplished work from a consummate musician.

Drenge: Undertow
I first came across this band following the resignation of Labour MP Tom Watson from the Shadow Cabinet in July 2013, when he wrote in his public resignation latter, “And if you want to see an awesome band, I recommend Drenge.” This is the second album from this English two-piece band.

East India Youth: Culture of Volume
William Doyle’s first album was one of my favourites from 2014, and the British electronic musician has followed it up with another excellent offering. Maybe not everyone’s cup of tea, but worth a listen for his unique sound and style.

The acronym FFS stands (of course) for Franz Ferdinand and Sparks. It’s an interesting and fun collaboration album that features the ironically titled Collaborations Don’t Work.

New Order: Music Complete
On the death of lead singer Ian Curtis, Joy Division became New Order; the influential post-punk band evolved into a leading band of the dance scene. Music Complete is their tenth studio album, and their first album of new material in a decade. I’ve returned to this album many times since its release in September.

Public Service Broadcasting: The Race for Space
In this album the musical duo mix live music with recordings of the American and Russian space programs of the 1960s mainly. Here is the visionary speech of JFK committing the USA to landing a man on the moon before the decade is out, Sputnik, the fire on the Apollo 1 launchpad, the first walk in space, as well as the Apollo missions and moon landings. My nine month old boy Freddy loves the track Go! when I make up actions to fit the words of the title.

There’s a few albums that got away, because I wasn’t able to hear them (not available on streaming services): Björk: Vulnicura and Adele: 25 (although I’ve heard a couple of tracks from the latter). Also, I haven’t had a chance to listen properly to the winner of the Mercury Prize, namely Benjamin Clementine: At Least for Now – but, from an initial listen, it’s worth coming back to.

Now for my top three: Third place goes to East India Youth, second place goes to David Gilmour, but my favourite album of 2015 is Public Service Broadcasting. Bring on 2016…

Charity Clothing Bags

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2015-01-04 16.37.07-1

This is what a year’s worth of charity clothing bags looks like, thirty-seven through the door in 2014. British Heart Foundation was runner-up with seven in total, but the winner was Mind with eight. Both worthwhile charities deserving of our support; many will suffer from heart disease and one in four of us will suffer with mental health issues in our lives.

The interesting thing is that there were no envelopes for monetary donations during the year. Not long ago there would have been lots of these coming through the door, with someone calling back to collect them a few days later. It seems that most charities have moved on, I know the Salvation Army still does door-to-door collections in some areas (years ago I spent much of February every year going from door to door in this way) – but I was surprised not to get a Christian Aid envelope in May as they have the resources of all the churches in an area to cover it effectively.

Clothing collections, charity shops, and chuggers (charity muggers) in the High Street seem to be the way forward these days, as well as giving through your payroll with the amount increased by Gift Aid. It’s clearly a competitive market for charities, but there are so many good causes in a troubled world with economic constraints. I hope you’ll give regularly to worthy causes in 2015, and please share your thoughts on charity collections and campaigns.

Note: The Salvation Army does have clothing collections, but I never received a bag from them in 2014.

The Sound of Silas

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The Sound of Silas

Following on from my Favourite Albums of 2014, I need to give a special mention to my friend Thomas Mathie‘s netlabel weareallghosts and the great music regularly published there, especially that of Cousin Silas.

I first came across his music a few years ago, especially liking Adrift off the Islets of Langerhans – still one of my favourites. In 2014 Naomi and I had a chance to meet him, and it was great to see an online friend in real life – I often say my online friends are simply friends I haven’t met yet!

During 2014 I’ve enjoyed many of the albums on weareallghosts, and last year was notable for the first physical release by the label: The Sound of Silas. I received this as a Christmas present, which was fortunate as the double CD is a limited edition that’s now sold out. But fear not, it’s available for streaming and download here. Well worth a listen in 2015.

Written by John Ager

January 1, 2015 at 5:19 pm

Favourite Albums of 2014

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The Endless River

I’ve managed to choose my ten favourite albums from a shortlist of twenty I’ve particularly enjoyed during the year, although it was a struggle deciding which ones to leave out. This list actually goes up to eleven (in true Spinal Tap fashion) as I give one a special mention. So here are my favourite albums of 2014 (in alphabetical order of artist).

alt-J: This Is All Yours
For some reason I missed alt-J‘s debut album in 2012, despite it winning the Mercury Prize, so This Is All Yours was my introduction to their music. I wasn’t sure about the album at first, but it grew on me and has found a place in my top ten. alt-J could be described as an indie band who explore electronica and experimental rock, they are skilled musicians who are unafraid of crossing genre boundaries, as well as being willing to try something new. A refreshing album that concludes with an interesting cover of Lovely Day (Bill Withers) as a bonus track.

Bombay Bicycle Club: So Long, See You Tomorrow
The influence of world music on this fourth album by Bombay Bicycle Club marks a change of direction, and it was the particularly Indian feel that drew my attention it. Like alt-J, their music spans a number of genres and is therefore difficult to pin down. During the final concert of their 2014 tour at Earls Court in London, band member Jamie MacColl introduced a special guest saying; “This man gave me my first guitar and was one of the first people to play this venue, and by my count has played here more than 27 times.” This was Pink Floyd member David Gilmour, who then played with the band on their song Rinse Me Down before a performance of Pink Floyd’s Wish You Were Here. An album definitely worth checking out.

Damon Albarn: Everyday Robots
I guess Damon Albarn needs little introduction as the front man of Blur and Gorillaz, but this is his first solo album. Damon describes it as “the most personal record I have ever done”. The album focuses on the idea of nature versus technology, and tells certain significant moments in his life. The album ranges from a song for a baby elephant to a wonderful description of people fixated with their smartphones: We are everyday robots on our phones/In the process of getting home/Looking like standing stones/Out there on our own.

East India Youth: Total Strife Forever
This debut album by William Doyle is a real electronic delight, comprising wonderful layers of musical ideas that get under your skin (in a good way) and swirl around in your mind. Part of its appeal for me is the influence by the work of Brian Eno, whose own album (in collaboration with Karl Hyde) appears later in this list. A passage from Robert Whitfield’s review hits the nail firmly on the head: …a brutal electronic album, but one that still retains a very humanistic core – this juxtaposition is a thematic thread which runs throughout the album. Doyle then sculpts and defines the music in order to create tension between these two disparate elements, or else uses their differences in order to surprise and engage the listener. This is done within individual songs and across the record: over 11 tracks you’ll hear acid beats, euphoric electronic pop, ambient passages, drone, krautrock and more. What’s incredible is how East India Youth has managed to bring all of these elements together and construct a cohesive record.

Elbow: The Take Off and Landing of Everything
This album grew on me during the year, and eventually made it here. I’m not really an Elbow fan, but this is a wonderful album. Singer Guy Garvey says of it: It’s…[about] life events. There are five members of the band – people have split up, got together, had children. It never stops, this stuff. Especially round the [age of] 40 mark…and yet I wanted to remain celebratory about that. Everybody’s feeling relief, with remorse, next to joy, next to loss. But I think laughing very hard and worrying very little is a good way to keep young. Basically, that’s what the album’s about; check it out, you won’t be disappointed.

Eno & Hyde: Someday World
I may be a little biased when it comes to Brian Eno as I enjoy just about everything he produces, and have done since the 1970s. Someday World is a collaboration with Karl Hyde; although not one of his best albums, it’s an enjoyable listen and I’ve come back to it many times during the year. It began as a collection of half-thoughts salvaged after browsing through a stray hard drive; a selection of beginnings waiting to galvanised into life. It might not come from the most promising of starts, but (like everything he produces) it’s most definitely worth a listen. It’s effectively a double album, as High Life was released soon afterwards.

Future Islands: Singles
Singles is the fourth album by the American band Future Islands. They’ve reached a much wider audience in 2014, largely due to a performance on the David Letterman show. The album’s a great balance of pop and melodrama, built around a sturdy new wave beat; a bunch of great songs you can listen to in depth or simply in the background.

Leonard Cohen: Popular Problems
Popular Problems is Leonard Cohen‘s 13th studio album, released the day after his 80th birthday. There’s not much more to say really, he’s a legend and a master of cool. He not so much sings as speaks over the music, but he’s Leonard Cohen! What’s not to like?

Royal Blood: Royal Blood
Royal Blood is the eponymous debut album by the British rock duo Royal Blood, a band that sounds far greater than the sum of its individual parts – you have to pinch yourselves to remember there’s only two members! It’s a glorious return to straightforward rock with some great songwriting, both lyrically and musically. The album has been well received by music critics and has done well commercially. Play at high volume!

Thom Yorke: Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes
Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes is the second solo album by Thom Yorke of Radiohead; it was first released by BitTorrent and later on Bandcamp. Along with his long-time producer and collaborator Nigel Godrich, Yorke has been critical of music streaming services, in a press release they wrote: It’s an experiment to see if the mechanics of the system are something that the general public can get its head around … If it works well it could be an effective way of handing some control of internet commerce back to people who are creating the work. Enabling those people who make either music, video or any other kind of digital content to sell it themselves. Bypassing the self elected gate-keepers. If it works anyone can do this exactly as we have done. The album is primarily electronica, and it can be obtained by clicking here.

I couldn’t end the year without giving special mention to Pink Floyd‘s final album The Endless River (named after a line from the song High Hopes on their 1994 album The Division Bell). The album that just missed out and didn’t get into my top ten is Lost in the Dream by The War on Drugs, so the list goes up to twelve!

Now for my top three: Third place goes to East India Youth. Joint first place goes to Eno & Hyde and Thom Yorke. It’s been a great year, but I’m already looking forward to what 2015 has to offer musically.

Note: See also The Sound of Silas

Christmas Thought 2014

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Christmas War Cry 2014

After his baptism, Jesus was tempted in the desert. This might seem a strange way to start a Christmas thought, in fact it’s not as strange as at first sight. The story concerns power, it’s about Jesus being tempted to exercise power over people; ultimately he chose the power of love over the love of power. I’m reminded of the words of Jimi Hendrix: When the power of love overcomes the love of power the world will know peace.

The simple message of Christmas is that God has chosen the way of love and vulnerability over power. A baby born in humble and vulnerable circumstances can’t exercise power, yet that was how Jesus came and lived.

The cover of the Christmas Salvation Army War Cry 2014 illustrates this beautifully; it’s a picture of vulnerability that sums up the incarnation in today’s world. Take a few moments to reflect on it.

The traditional story tells us how Jesus was placed in a feeding trough (manger from the French verb to eat), but in this modern nativity he’s placed in a familiar manger – a supermarket trolley! I’m not sure if this was intentional, but it caught my attention.

Finally, here’s something I read recently in the context of the feeling that Christ is being squeezed out of Christmas: The whole story of Advent is the story of how God can’t be kept out. God is present. God is with us. God shows up – not with a parade but with the whimper of a baby, not among the powerful but among the marginalized, not to the demanding but to the humble.

As we welcome Jesus this Christmas, we’re reminded that he entered our world as vulnerable as us; ultimately he nailed that vulnerability to a cross for us – all our fears, insecurities and sins. We can only marvel that he came in this way, reaching out to a world in need.


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