To see out 2014, I put together a (short) playlist containing some of my favourite tracks of the year. Some are cool, some definitely aren't, but I liked them all.
The water’s frozen to ice.
There was a time I believed Danny McNamara, frontman of British indie rock quintet Embrace, was a remarkably gifted lyricist, though this lyric makes that hard to believe. I looked up to him during my late teens and early 20s, when my hair was long and an acoustic guitar was the ultimate instrument of self-expression (these days my hair is rarely longer than a toothbrush bristle, and like most grown-ups I’ve realised self-expression is best eradicated.)
Having scrobbled Embrace tracks over 2,000 times, of course I was curious to listen to their self-titled return, released in 2014 some eight years after their previous album, This New Day.
Imagine you had eight years to write an album. That’s ages: the Olympics come and go twice in that time. It’s certainly long enough to develop the same rudimentary grasp of chemistry demonstrated in those opening lines.
I wish I’d misheard this lyric, or that this interpretation – as found on LyricsMania.com – was the right one:
The watre’s frozing to eyes
While researching this article to make sure I didn’t make myself look an idiot, I actually searched “is frozen water always ice?”, just in case there had been a huge advancement in our scientific comprehension of water in the years since I last opened a chemistry book. That’s how bad this lyric is: it introduced my Google search history to the most stupid question yet.
I in the interests of fairness, the writing credits for this song are shared between Danny and brother Richard, both of whom should know better.
More Opening Lines
For Christmas 2012, Hannah bought me a GPS watch. It’s one of the best presents I’ve ever received, as I’ve told her about a thousand times since.
I didn’t run much in 2013; I got to 10km once, thought that was good enough, and stopped. In 2014, though, I did a lot better, completing about 600km over the course of the year. In total I think it was about 70 hours of running (yep, I am very slow) which gave me plenty of time to think. I haven’t run at all this year because of injury, but I still wanted to post this. Here’s what I’ve learnt from putting one foot in front of the other.
I’m a slow runner. Really slow, in fact; I finished in the bottom 15% of the Great Manchester 10k in 2014. My average paces don’t even make it onto the pacing charts in my running diary. At my pace, I’d be lucky to finish a marathon before they close the course.
I am fine with all of this.
That doesn’t mean I don’t want to get faster, though. After my disappointment with my result in the Manchester 10k, I started a half-marathon training plan. During the plan, I set a new 10k PB which, had I run it in Manchester, would have put me in the top 40% of the field. And I finished two 21k training runs, which I didn’t think I could have done in 2013.
I do not get medals or awards for running. Nobody high-fives or cheers for me. I do it for myself because I enjoy it and I know it’s good for me. And if you do the next thing that’s required of you, you get a bit better, and so on, until you’re somewhere you’ve never been before.
Unfortunately it hasn’t taught me everything: it hasn’t taught me how to go easy on myself when I fail, or to think something other than, “I wish I was that fast” when people speed past me (I have that on my bike, too.) But considering I never thought it would teach me anything, I’ll take what I can get.
If I should stay, I would only be in your way
One of those lyrics we’ve all heard a hundred times – and one that sends me scrambling for the skip button, if I’m honest – but like most great lyrics, follow it back to the source and you find the real story.
That story is Dolly parting ways with manager and former duet partner Porter Wagoner around June 1973. The song wasn’t released until a year later: imagine having to reconnect with that emotion in performances a year after the fact, again and again, as the song grew more and more popular. At the song’s heart is strength masking vulnerability; in the Whitney Houston version, it totally overpowers it.
The song is full of difficult admissions – We both know that I’m not what you need, that (perhaps ill-advised) spoken word section – all stemming from that first realisation: that two people are stronger apart than together.
Interesting story: Elvis wanted to record a cover once the song became popular, but Dolly Parton refused to sign over half the publishing royalties in return. Not many people would say no to Elvis, but then, as this song shows, not many people are as strong as Dolly Parton.
More Opening Lines
Ooh, I bet you’re wondering how I knew
About your plans to make me blue
With some other guy you knew before.
Between the two of us guys, you know I love you more.
In those first four lines we witness confrontation, envy, dismissal (“with some other guy” cuts like a knife) and what could be either a plea or a goodbye, depending on whether you hear “love” or “loved” (I can hear it either way, depending on my mood, and can’t seem to find the official lyrics online). “I bet you’re wondering how I knew” is a phenomenal line on its own: when secrets come out, the response is often “how did you find out? Who told you?” The song latches onto that paranoia from both sides right away, and keeps pulling on it: People say believe half of what you see, and none of what you hear.
The song’s lyrics never reach those early heights again, but then few songs since have even come close.
Note: I know this wasn’t originally Marvin Gaye’s song – Smokey Robinson and the Miracles had their version rejected, then it launched as a song for Gladys Knight and the Pips – but it’s definitely his song now. Listen to the Gladys Knight version again, and the difference is thrown into stark contrast.
More Opening Lines
Do you like drugs?
Well, that’s certainly one way to start a song.
Do You…, the fourth track from Miguel’s 2012 opus Kaleidoscope Dream – which I’ve written about before, you might remember – gets straight to the point. It’s a solid icebreaker: do you like drugs? I suppose if the answer is no, you can safely skip to the next track, though you’d miss out on a typically cheeky track that hits maximum romance right at the outro (but we’ll also save that until the end.)
But that line’s just the first line of the intro, not the verse, which picks up in territory to which everyone – even avowed drug-haters – can relate.
Have you ever felt alone?
Do you still believe in love?
A one-two punch of intimate questions, bam-bam, that’s almost enough to convince you that you’d misheard the very first line. But, if you’re in any doubt, it’s short-lived.
But do you like drugs?
Yeah, forget about your dreams for the future, or that suffocating loneliness that grips you at night: it’s really important that we find out if you like drugs. Because Miguel does (MDMA on occasion, apparently). And you know what else Miguel likes, of course: sex.
I’m gonna do you like drugs tonight.
What’s clever about that is how it reframes the persistent question, and even though I’m not sure how one would go about “doing” a person like drugs (roll them up and burn them?), Miguel’s gift is that he doesn’t half make it sound like fun.
More Opening Lines
To see out 2014, I put together a (short) playlist containing some of my favourite tracks of the year. Some are cool, some definitely aren’t, but I liked them all.
Postpartum – Taylor Mcferrin, from the album Early Riser
This intro track from a great rainy day album sets the mood to “cool” from the get-go.
Time Will Wait – The Submotion Orchestra, from the album Alium
The sort of music I imagine proper grown-ups listening to, all atmosphere and subtle brass (it is possible!). The album is all this good by the way.
Sound of a Woman – Kiesza, from the album Sound of a Woman
She does belt them out, our Kiesza. She reminds me of a less timid Lisa Stansfield; if you like early 90s divas, you’ll like this.
Monument – Röyksopp & Robyn, from the album Do It Again
Hands down my favourite saxophone solo (a baritone sax, to boot) exhales its way into a brooding track about legacies and statues or something.
Love XYZ – Luke James, from the album Luke James
Luke, Luke, Luke. Your whole album should have been this good: great harmonies, beats, synths. Sadly it’s downhill after this (until I Want You, his best song but disqualified from this list as it dates back to 2013) but still, this is good.
V. 3005 – Childish Gambino, from the album because the internet
I haven’t listened to because the internet as much as I’ve listened to Camp, but crikey this song is catchy.
Blood – Patterns, from the album Waking Lines
Pleasantly melodic indie-pop from Manchester. Not groundbreaking, but it all works. Words that come to mind include “tropical” and “hopeful”. I don’t know what the lyrics are about because I can’t make them out.
Up We Go – LIGHTS, from the album Little Machines
Concluding the synth-pop section of the playlist, it’s LIGHTS’s ode to friendship and togetherness and never, ever giving up. Had a bad year? Give this a listen.
Panic Tree – Jimi Goodwin, from the album Odludek
I could have included Oh! Whiskey (the aspirational/deluded “One of these days I’m gonna give myself a real good talking to/And recover some youth, maybe give up the booze” got me through a great many long, slow runs) but there’s something about the honky-tonky piano that makes this yarn about chopping down a tree a real knee-slapping good time.
You Go Down Smooth – Lake Street Dive, from the album Bad Self Portraits
Speaking of good times, here’s 3:29 of pure musical enjoyment. It all skips along effortlessly, and produces two moments that still get my hairs standing on end. Crank it up for the choruses and hear those harmonies and brass really glisten: I have never once made it through this song without tapping something in time with the beat.
Rental Love – Lake Street Dive, from the album Bad Self Portraits
My final track of the year is the final track from my album of the year. Sounding like a long-forgotten blues standard, sung with precision and purpose by Rachael Price, it’s just lovely, lovely music.
I’m a bit late to the Miguel party. He’s been around for about eight or ten years or so, but he first came to my attention a couple of years ago with “Many Times”, a pretty dirty collaboration with the dependably grotty Esthero. Then last year I found out about his album Kaleidoscope Dream, and listened to it an awful lot.
Have you ever felt alone?
Do you still believe in love?
But do you like drugs?
So go the most memorable lines on an album full of them. Miguel doesn’t take himself too seriously, so you get songs asking whether you like drugs, or how many drinks it would take you to leave with him. Listening to the album is like Miguel chatting you up, then having an aside while he wonders to himself who got there before he did.
An album full of good music and peppered with humour, it’s really worth a listen. There’s a deluxe version with two alternate versions of Adorn (admittedly the best song on the album) and a remix of that song about drugs I mentioned, but it’s more for fans and completionists, really.
My first listen to Lanterns on the Lake was back in late 2011 (or that’s when I first scrobbled them, anyway) but I’ve been listening to them a lot more recently. In January of this year I saw them live in a church in Darmstadt for a memorable evening. So far they’ve released two albums: Gracious Tide, Take Me Home in 2011, and Until the Colours Run in late 2013.
A great album to listen to on a wet night, or if you’re feeling a bit homesick. If you’re listening through headphones there’s something unsettling, invasive almost, about the opening clicks of “Lungs Quicken”, but the rest of the album is warm and comforting, like coming home to a hot fire after being caught in the winter rain. In fact there’s quite a lot of aquatic themes and references threaded throughout, but it’s not an album borne of the beach, but of the quay or the docks, perhaps.
Musically accomplished and full of striking moments of harmony, it’s an album I’m really glad I discovered.
A much louder and more guitar-oriented album than the first, run through with interplay between vocals and electric guitar: the guitar line in “The Buffalo Days” is one of my favourite bits of music of the last few years.
Less obviously melancholic than the first album, with richer seams of colour and some really good drum and guitar work, it’s simply a very good listen.
On 13th February, prosody.co.uk will celebrate its 10th anniversary. What started as a dark blue site to host my music became a place of experimental blogging, then truly a “collected writings” as it evolved to capture everything I ever wrote at Nintendo Life, and later its sister sites.
Primarily for my own interest, here’s an evolution of prosody.co.uk over the last decade.
OK, so I had the domain from 13th February, but the site didn’t go live until a bit later. The text was a reference to that Grolsch advert, but we changed “beer” to “website”, setting a high standard of linguistic creativity that the site continually fell below.
This very, very blue site had everything a musician nobody had heard of could need: a guestbook, forum, biography, that sort of stuff. I think at one point the forum had around 20 members, so you can tell how big things were getting.
In January 2006 (I forgot exactly when, and Web Archive did too), I started writing at prosody.co.uk/blog. It used Pivot and had a really nice rainy blue theme with a fountain pen, if I recall.
This was the first time I felt excited about writing online.
(Note: this link is actually to November 2006, just because it’s the first archive of this page that looks right)
I changed from Pivot to WordPress in June 2006, and launched the first proper “Collected Writings”. This was the first design I really loved – the top banner changed every month, and I did banners for special occasions, like this one for Tails’ 14th birthday.
This version of the blog was home to a lot of ideas, as I basically did anything I wanted. I wasn’t studying or working full-time, so I had time to write diaries for my Harvest Moon farmer; virtually cycle from Land’s End to John O’Groats using an exercise bike, Microsoft Virtual Earth and Wikipedia; do podcasts, and that sort of thing. Truly it was a golden age.
What this site means to me has changed enormously over the years. What started out as a promotional site for my ill-fated musical endeavour turned into a place I could try any idea I wanted. I created a Blog Carnival, podcasted, wrote match reports for Pro Evo 4, and loads more. It helped me develop my writing style and create a portfolio – there are over 1.25 million words here, spread across more than 7,200 published posts – and have a huge amount of fun in the process.
Since moving to Germany for work, I haven’t shown this site any attention. I’d like to change that in 2014.
Happy anniversary, URL. Thanks for everything.
This was fun, but it's time to call it a day. Thanks for reading!