Best of 2019 playlist

Another trip around the sun sounded like this.

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February 16th, 2020
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Playlist of the week: 16th February 2020

The playlist-with-a-theme guessing game!

If you guessed last week’s correctly, this one will be a piece of cake.

Last week’s playlist theme was: Sascha. Over the past week we’ve been looking after our friends’ dog, Sascha, who:

    * Is a border collie, therefore black and white
    * Loves to play frisbee
    * Didn’t let us sleep much on her last sleepover

See if you can guess this week’s theme, then.

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February 9th, 2020
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Playlist of the week: 9th February 2020

The playlist-with-a-theme guessing game!

You’ll never guess this one unless you know me in real life.

Last week’s playlist theme was: Groundhog Day. Of course it was! Last Sunday was Groundhog Day after all, something I didn’t realise until I started making the playlist.

More next week.

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February 2nd, 2020
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Playlist of the week: 2nd February 2020

The playlist-with-a-theme guessing game!

I didn’t plan this theme, it just sort of came to me.

Last week’s playlist theme was: self-pleasure. Yep, great pop songs all about a bit of alone time. Any excuse to use Carly Rae Jepsen and Hailee Steinfeld in a playlist!

More next week.

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January 26th, 2020
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Playlist of the week: 26th January 2020

The playlist-with-a-theme guessing game!

This is an easy one.

Last week’s playlist theme was: sandwich. It was a BLT! Bread, lettuce (Let Us Love), Mayo, Raphael Saadiq featuring Rob Bacon, tomato, and then more Bread.

More next week.

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January 19th, 2020
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Playlist of the week: 19th January 2020

The playlist-with-a-theme guessing game!

The idea is simple: there’s a theme running through this playlist. There could be clues in the lyrics, song titles, artists, albums, or some other kind of trivia: one playlist in the past was, “Songs covered by Lake Street Dive” (I’ll try to do less obscure ones in future!).

Answer for “Playlist of the week: 12th January 2020”: this was an unusually topical one! It was all about Harry and Meghan announcing they’ll step back from their royal engagements. Rejected songs included We Don’t Talk Any More by Sir Cliff Richard.

And now onto this week’s list!

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January 12th, 2020
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Playlist of the week: 12th January 2020

The playlist-with-a-theme guessing game!

The idea is simple: there’s a theme running through this playlist. There could be clues in the lyrics, song titles, artists, albums, or some other kind of trivia: one playlist in the past was, “Songs covered by Lake Street Dive” (I’ll try to do less obscure ones in future!).

See if you can guess what this week’s songs are about.

The answer will come with the next playlist.

January 11th, 2020
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How did I amass more than 300,000 outfits?

I love to buy clothes, and I realised that’s caused a problem: I have more outfits than I can wear in a lifetime.

January 5th, 2020
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Best of 2019 playlist

I’ve created one of these “best of the year” playlists almost every year since 2014 (something seems to have gone wrong with 2015’s playlist, which is just two rather mismatched songs — Transient by Synkro and Our Own House by Misterwives). Sometimes it’s been part of our New Year’s Eve programme, others it accompanies us on our travels. This year we listened to it while playing Codenames at home.

Best of 2019 playlist

Pharoah – Rosie Lowe, from the album Yu

Groovy is such an outdated word, but it fits this album and track especially. Dripping cool, name-dropping Egyptian gods, great dynamics: it’s not what I expected from someone from Devon, that’s for sure.

Come Home – Anderson .Paak feat. André 3000, from the album Ventura

I failed to finish this album many times last year, a shame given this assured opener which features a bizarre but sometimes brilliant guest spot from desperately romantic animal activist, André 3000.

Something More – Amber-Simone, from the EP For Those Moments

This or Strawberry Kisses, this or Strawberry Kisses… tough call. Good little EP this.

Remind Me – Emily King, from the album Scenery

Hey, this was on the playlist last year!
Yes it was: it was a single in 2018, and on the album in 2019, and deserved its place both times.

Gimme – BANKS, from the album III

I haven’t listened to III much at all, but often enough for this to catch my ear. Midnight city synths beneath a booty-call (“I let you lick it from the ground, ground/’Cause I’ve been drippin’ for your love, love”, and, because it’s a BANKS song, hooks everywhere.

Melt – JONES, from the album New Skin

Well, this one launched in 2016, but I discovered it in 2019 so it counts. It was hard to pick a single song from the album, as it’s all very much a muchness, but this was a standout.

Impossibly – Paige Bea, from the EP Burnout

The Impossibly music video features Paige’s parents and wedding videos. It’s cute. Bonus fun fact: In a September 2019 interview with Lock Mag, Paige named her biggest current musical inspiration as Rosie Lowe (from the beginning of this playlist!)

With You – Eryn Allen Kane, from the album a tree planted by water

I would have liked to have chosen one of the songs with a spoken word intro by Aja Monet, but felt this fit better. Great horns in the chorus.

After the Lord Mayor’s Show – The Divine Comedy, from the album Office Politics

Neil Hannon’s best album in about ten years: I completely skipped Foreverland, Bang Goes the Knighthood was inconsistent so 2006’s Victory… wins out. This song isn’t reflective of the album’s overall cheeky, eccentric tone (one song repeats “Philip and Steve’s furniture removal company” for about five minutes), but the piano Divine Comedy songs are often my favourites.

Single Player Mode – Litany, from the EP Single Player Mode

Beth, I’m really sorry. I honestly meant to listen to this a lot in 2019, but I forgot it came out, honestly. I’ve listened to it a lot over the last few days. I can hear the pain in this one, and the candour is gripping. Best vocal of the year.

Now That I Found You – Carly Rae Jepsen, from the album Dedicated

Ah, 2019; the year I discovered how amazing CRJ is. Overall Dedicated is a little below Emotion, but here’s a banger, with by far the most fun chorus of 2019.

Now That You Need Me – Taylor McFerrin, from the album Love’s Last Chance

The falling keys in the pre-chorus get me every time. And for a bit of ‘fun’ history: track one on my first “best of the year” playlist was Postpartum, the opening track from Taylor’s debut album, Early Riser.

Back in my Body – Maggie Rogers, from the album Heard It In A Past Life

I could have had a couple of Maggie tracks on this list, but this one – about presence, fear, alienation – always reached me.

Closing thoughts
It’s interesting to me that in past years, there’s been a single song that I’ve clung to, usually twisting the lyrics to represent whatever’s happening in my life. In 2018 it was I Can Change by Lake Street Dive, and later on, Rainbow by Kacey Musgraves. But in 2019, I evaded that behaviour, despite it not being a great year overall.

Music, I love you.

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January 28th, 2019
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Snowman Quest – pre-post-mortem

Over the past few years, I’ve often thought, “I enjoy video games so much – I should make my own!”, in a way that never occurs to me for films or TV shows. A few years ago, I started writing a text adventure called Super Shoplifter, where you had to steal things for some reason, but it got bogged down in the design phase and never made it to anything playable.

This past weekend, I “finished” my first game: Snowman Quest. I started it in January and challenged myself to complete it within a month. It’s a text adventure, made with the Quest text adventure creator, and although there’s still some polish left to add, I learned a lot from the road here.

Putting the fun in last

A huge part of the fun of text adventures lies in the descriptions of the world, and your interactions with the items and characters inside it.

For Snowman Quest, I focused on the game mechanics first: how to push objects to different rooms, how to open, close, turn on, and make other objects require other objects to function. It sounds simple, especially for a text adventure, but just getting the game up and running and “completable” was my most important task.

The core of the game – dressing a snowman – didn’t change much throughout development, but it wasn’t until the mechanics were done that I settled on the main character and overall mood of the game. I think having something playable was a big motivator for me, as well as helping me to avoid getting bogged down in the “nice to have” elements that are so fun to add.

Ideas come thick and fast

I never really understood the term “feature creep” until my ideas list started including things like “take your wellies off or Dad tells you off for walking mud inside the house”. The game takes place in a garden and house, and at points I also considered introducing travel to other areas: ride your bike to the shops, or go to a friend’s house. I realised that each time I added a room or idea, it had to enhance – not simply expand – the player’s experience.

It was very tempting to keep adding and adding these little touches, and my polish list still has quite a few things, but I’ll stick to things that fit within the existing game world.

Anticipation is everything

When you’re playing a great game, there’s often two kinds of actions: what the developer wants you to do, and what the developer expects you to try and has prepared something fun for. It’s the second kind that proved the most fun, especially as realistically I only expected two players, both people I know very well but with totally different experience levels with text adventures.

Knowing how my players’ minds work was my greatest ally when adding extra touches. That might mean nobody else outside my family would try or ever see these things – and in fact, looking back on my notes on the first playthrough, most of the extra actions were never used – but putting them in was a lot of fun on its own.

Some details matter

I spent a lot of time adding in scenery and background detail, to avoid the fun-killing “I can’t see that” or “I don’t know what you mean” responses.

In the first playthrough, I estimate only about 15% of those details were spotted, and those were in the first few minutes. Once my “subject” started amassing items and exploring more rooms, the details seemingly became less important, as there were clear actions to take. So knowing here to put the emphasis on detail was interesting.

Where challenge comes from

The biggest enemy of a text adventure is guessing the right text string to pull off the action that you know is required.

In my game, two items need to be joined together to create a new one. I added a command for “combine x with y” which also included the synonyms “connect x to y” and “add x to y”. But my player kept using “attach”, which wasn’t in my dictionary, so kept getting an error. That led to a lot of avoidable frustration. Next time, I’ll use a thesaurus to add verbs.

The road ahead

There are still things I want to add to Snowman Quest, and improvements based on the above, but I don’t know if I’ll create another text adventure in the foreseeable future. It was a lot of fun, especially the writing aspect, but partway through the project I discovered Pico-8, a so-called “fantasy console” that has sparked my interest. I’ve never done any coding before – Quest uses dropdowns, and although you can code it yourself, for me that resulted in many frequent errors even getting the basic “msg” command to work – but the idea of creating everything myself is very appealing. I’ve contributed music to others’ projects before, and it’s been a long time since I drew a sprite, but I think it’s a good place to start. So watch this space!

January 8th, 2019
Blog Entry

Best of 2018 playlist

2018 was not a banner year for me. But musically it had everything: bangers, sadbangers, and the return of Craig David.

Best of 2018 playlist

Magic – Craig David, from the album The Time is Now
Love the slight chiptune groove to the intro, the chorus is catchy as anything, but it’s the bridge that elevates it into genius:

M for the way you make me feel
A ‘cos you always keep it real
G for the girl that got me good
I C the world the way I should

God bless him for sticking with it when it got tricky at “IC”.

Missing U – Robyn, from the album Honey
Oh Robyn, you magnificent articulate disco elk. Your absence hurt, but now you’re back and this is what we wanted. Production, performance, arrangement, all on point. And it’s fun! But sad. It’s possible to be both.

Atletico (The Only One) – Rae Morris, from the album Someone Out There
Sad songs about regretfully watching other people dance are my very specific niche (Dancing On My Own by Robyn is my most listened-to song ever, remember) and here’s another cracker. Rhythmically wavy, a biscuit tin full of mini-melodies, bittersweet; really good.

I Like That – Janelle Monáe, from the album Dirty Computer
Not the most common favourite from this superb album, but one of Monáe’s best vocals, and the most luscious “ooohs” of the year (previous winners include You Go Down Smooth by Lake Street Dive in 2014).

Remind Me – Emily King, from the album Scenery (out 1st February 2019)
I forgot to add this to the list last year, which is quite an oversight considering I really like Emily King. When the beat comes in around 3:23 it’s great. I’m really excited about her new album and wish I could go see her in concert, but Berlin is too far. Sorry, Emily!

Still Cold – Cleo Sol, from the EP Winter Songs
Here we move away from the up beats and towards the down beats. If this playlist was a year, we’d be in late May, early June now, so it’s hardly lyrically apt but it is a real beauty: delicately orchestrated, sensitively performed,

I Can Change – Lake Street Dive, from the album Free Yourself Up
Down down down, but light still falls down here. Lyrically malleable enough to apply to probably any hardship you’ve had (“Escaping an old battle that clings on like a vine to me, and whispers dirty lies in my ear”). Important to hear at the end – or beginning – of any year.

Rainbow – Kasey Musgraves, from the album Golden Hour
Here’s an album that did not deliver on the hype for me, but you know what? After listening to it a few more times, I started to see the appeal. Here’s another addition to my long-running mental catalogue of “girl with piano” tracks (joining Sara Bareilles, A Fine Frenzy, et al). Recommended way to listen: on a slow train on 2nd January, as the clouds part, feeling you’re leaving a city and a whole year behind.

Roll Back – George FitzGerald, from the album All That Must Be
Filler, this, but good filler. Forms a bit of a bridge to…

PS2 – Litany, from the 4 Track EP
Bit of an abrupt transition between George and Litany, because on the EP this has its own intro track with the artists saying nice things about each other (“I would have crumbled without her”), but we haven’t time for retaining integral emotional presentation here. A purposeful beat, simple evocative childhood memory (“Remember when we met after school, and all my friends were making fun of you?”) and, second-best of all, it’s named after a night spent playing on a PlayStation 2. (Best of all is that Litany are from Harrogate in Yorkshire).

Honey – Robyn, from the album Honey
High on pretty much everyone’s end of year list, I would hope, so should need no justification. All I’ll say is, like all the best songs, getting to know this song felt like falling in love.

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