Vacant Earth

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Fragile Earth by Mixtaped Monk (also known as Arka Sengupta) is one of my favourite independent albums of 2018; I loved it the minute I first heard it.

I’ll let him describe it: Imagine waking up one day and discovering that there are no human beings present around you. You have all the essential supplies of the world at your disposal. But you are left to fend for yourself. What would you feel? How would you react? What would you do with your time? How would you lead the rest of your life? Will you accept your fate? Or would you ceaselessly search for others like you?

Inspired by a dream a dear friend of mine had once, “Vacant Earth” tries to answer the questions mentioned above. Through sounds (and their associated emotions) the album tries to relate the story I imagined, with me as the protagonist, when my friend had first told me about her dream. Sonically, the album borders around post-rock, neo-classical and ambient music.

Note: You can see all my favourite albums in 2018 here.

2018 Favourite Albums

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I don’t know about you, but for me, 2018 hasn’t been the greatest year for new commercial music; but of the 91 albums I’ve listened to, here are my top ten (in alphabetical order):

David Byrne: American Utopia
Johnny Marr: Call the Comet
Mogwai: Kin [Soundtrack]
Nils Frahm: All Melody
Ólafur Arnalds: re:member
Paul McCartney: Egypt Station
Paul Weller: True Meanings
Roger Eno: Dust of Stars
The Good, the Bad & the Queen: Merrie England
Tony Bennett & Diana Krall: Love Is Here to Stay

Although not a particular favourite, Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino by the Arctic Monkeys deserves special mention. It features a rich sound embodying lounge pop, space pop, glam rock and psychedelic pop, as well as elements of jazz. It’s a major departure from the band’s previous guitar-heavy sound, an album less accessible than their previous work (which I prefer) and one which has divided fans.

My favourite live album is:
David Bowie: Welcome to the Blackout (Live London ’78)

Despite what I’ve said about commercial albums in 2018, it’s been another great year for independent music and (out of the 45 albums I’ve listened to) here are my top ten (again in alphabetical order):

Cousin Silas: Short Stories, Short Stories 2 & Short Stories 3 (3 albums as 1 choice)
Cousin Silas: Unlimited Boundaries
Cousin Silas & Kevin Buckland: Sacred Space
Cousin Silas & Kevin Lyons: The Fortean Project
Martin Neuhold: Embraced by Dusk
Martin Neuhold & Cousin Silas: Piano 2
Mixtaped Monk: Vacant Earth
Øystein Jørgensen: Sea Of Thoughts
Phillip Wilkerson: Reveries
Scott Lawlor: Remnants of Winter Memories

You can find my Bandcamp music collection here.

Let me know what you think about my favourites, and maybe share your favourites. Here’s already looking forward to what 2019 will bring.

Note: Another Bowie release might possibly have been my favourite live album had I heard it during the year, you can read about it here.

This is me (Helen Austin)

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I’m pleased to share this guest post by my online friend Helen Austin. It’s a deeply personal story with an important message. This is my edited version (with permission and approval) of her original post that you can find by clicking here.

The iconic song This Is Me from the film The Greatest Showman performed by Keala Settle has partly inspired this post.

‘I am not a stranger to the dark
Hide away, they say
‘Cause we don’t want your broken parts
I’ve learned to be ashamed of all my scars
Run away, they say
No one’ll love you as you are’

My life changed forever 11 years ago, late afternoon, walking past a building site I had walked past SO many times before. It took me on a journey I had no idea about. The journey of being a victim. A rape victim.

I had no idea what to do, how to be, how to move forwards.
I just put one step forwards at a time and somehow managed it.

Looking back there are things I wish I had done differently. I wish I had told people, my friends, especially those in London who had no idea and no idea why I suddenly moved after deciding to settle there. I wish I had told my Mum instead of feeling this fierce sense of protection for her, and not wanting to expose her to my mess. I wish I had found other ways to cope without drinking and self-harming, and trying to die a few times. I wish what had happened hadn’t happened.

But it did, and despite now wishing I had done things differently, I have found peace with the fact that I did the very best I could at the time to survive. In 11 years I’ve learned and I’ve changed, I’ve changed from being a victim to being a survivor.

For years the darkness was present and often overwhelmed, as did the thoughts, the ones in my head that told me I needed to hide, to hide who I was and my feelings, because no one wanted to know or cared, or wanted me, this person in ‘broken parts’.

I spent years being ashamed of both my physical and mental scars. Yet, somehow deep in my soul was this ability to not be totally grounded down to dust.

‘But I won’t let them break me down to dust
I know that there’s a place for us
For we are glorious.’

I was fragmented, with lots and lots of different fragments (hence the name of the anonymous blog I wrote for many years), but I wasn’t dust, and I started to find my ‘place’. A place to be and belong, not as an anonymous person hiding behind my stories.

As me, Helen, the survivor.
As me, Helen.
I am bruised, for sure but I am also who I am meant to be.

I’ve learnt to laugh again, and love again, and find joy in life again. I’ve learnt to let people in, to accept support, to accept I am who I am, and that is who I was and am meant to be, shaped by my experiences but not beholden to them.

This last year, in particular, I have learned to embrace being a rape survivor as part of my story. It isn’t all of who I am, but it is a part of who I am and that cannot be changed. My rapist (and his friend who was there) didn’t beat me, they have not silenced me.

‘I am brave, I am bruised
I am who I’m meant to be, this is me
Look out ’cause here I come
And I’m marching on to the beat I drum
I’m not scared to be seen
I make no apologies, this is me.’

On social media I’m passionate about talking about sexual violence and violence against women. As part of that I sometimes share my story. I know some people think I’m mad and some people wonder ‘Why’ I put myself out there in that way…

Well…

I do it because I am not afraid any more.
I’m also not afraid (and never have been) of what people think of me.
I genuinely don’t care if people don’t want to read what I have to say, as they don’t have to, although I hope they do!

People with voices and the ability to speak out need to be seen and heard. It’s 2018 and despite the successes (?) of online media campaigns such as ‘Me Too’, society still needs to see and hear survivors of sexual violence.

It’s 2018 and stigma still exists. Prosecutions and convictions are abysmally low and victims/survivors are failed every day across the country by local services and police.

So (if we are able) we have to speak out, challenge and bring about change.

I do this so other people know they are not alone. Being a victim of rape, or any sexual violence can leave you feeling incredibly alone and isolated and I spend a lot of time in contact with other survivors who find life hard, supporting them as a friend, and as someone who understands.

So I hope by beating the drum loudly if just one person knows they are not alone, and that someone out there cares, then it is worth it.

I’m thankful for the women who went ahead before me, beating their drums, mentioning, in particular, the rather amazing Jill Saward who was a forefront campaigner on this stuff, and a close friend, who personally taught me so much. We miss you Jill.

So, here are, 2018 and its 11 years on for me…

I am happy (apart from when the health stuff gets bad). I love life and living. I’m loud, bubbly, outspoken, fiery at times, passionate about Jesus; and loving people. I’m not where I ever thought I would be BUT I am where I am meant to be, and it’s a huge privilege to be able to use my experience to support others.

I am Helen, and 11 years later this is me.

Remember New Year Resolutions?

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Do you remember your New Year Resolutions? Yes, I know they soon get forgotten, but the start of September is a good time to review them (or any month actually).

For me, family life is very precious, as I’ve written about here. My New Year resolutions for 2018 reflected this, and I’ve tried to do justice to them: Look after myself better and sleep well (so I can be there my family and work smarter). Spend quality time with family every day. Live in the moment and worry less. Effective planning and organising in my personal and work life. Run twice a week.

I’ve not totally succeeded, but I remind myself that every day is an opportunity for a fresh start – not just at the start of the year.

Article 50 & Brexit Reflections

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Last year the people of the United Kingdom voted in a referendum to leave the European Union by a small majority. This immediately divided the nation in a number of ways and plunged the UK into a complex crisis, not least constitutional. These divisions seem to have deepened and there are ominous signs pointing to a potential breakup of the United Kingdom. I voted for the UK to remain in the EU, believing that to be the best way forward for the country and Europe as a whole.

One thing that concerns me is that such a huge change could be carried through by only a simple majority. Surely something so far-reaching should gain acceptance on at least a 60% threshold, or possibly even a two-thirds majority? With the UK split roughly 52/48 (and then not geographically evenly) there was bound to be division and tension with such a slender majority.

But worse was to follow the referendum. There was an immediate political vacuum, with no plan for what a post-Brexit UK (or disUnited Kingdom) would look like. In addition to this, it emerged that politicians (especially in the Leave campaign) mislead the population with promises from which they backtracked.

Many will say this was the democratic will of the people, but there is more to this than meets the eye, and more than I have the time or inclination to go into. Suffice it to say that many voted Leave for a variety of reasons (some simply as a protest vote) and some regretted the decision, not realising we would actually leave (unbelievable, but true), or became concerned for the negative consequences – for which we were warned.

One of the most worrying concerns of Brexit is the increasingly negative atmosphere towards immigrants and refugees which has resulted in increased hate crimes. We can all do something positive to help by reaching out in solidarity and respecting everyone.

I write as a concerned individual, seeking ways to be positive and working together with others to make our land and continent a better place for all its citizens, especially our children and grandchildren. Despite my reservations, and as Article 50 is triggered by Prime Minister Theresa May, I believe there’s hope for our nation if we and our political leaders work for the common good of everyone.

Like it or not, we are where we are and have to make the best of it, although because the negotiations with the EU going badly there is an increasing call for a People’s Vote on the final deal, and also concern we might crash out with no deal.

Updated Monday 14 January 2019