Year: 2013

Play Off: Picking 2013’s Best Song – Round 1

Welcome back to the somewhat-delayed Play Off tournament, where I’m pitting tracks against one another for the title of Best Song of 2013… but, hey, I explained this already.You can click the above image to embiggen and check out all 32 contenders, but it’s about time we set these bloodthirsty songs loose in the no-holds-barred arena that is Blogspot, and narrowed them down to 16. I recommend listening along on Spotify here.For simplicity’s sake, I’m going to split this into four parts, starting with: Kavinsky – Rampage vs Camera Obscura – Every Weekday We open with a match-up between two tracks from pretty much opposite ends of the spectrum of my taste. Rampage is a condensed package of propulsive energy. No words, just a constant neon beat carrying you on into the night. The details kind of blur as you speed past, and then the song drops a ’70s cop show sting, slams on the handbrake, and is over. The beauty of Every Weekday, meanwhile, lies in the individual moments, and particularly the way that Campbell twists little chunks of lyrics. There’s a real performance to her vocals, which turns a line like “I don’t want to sound like I’ve written us off” into a series of hills and valleys, a whole song’s worth of brittle, beautiful drama in ten words. It’s a song of delicacy and subtlety, two characteristics Kavinsky couldn’t be accused of – but this year, that kind of swaggering momentum was just something I needed more. Winner: Kavinsky – Rampage Fat Tony feat. Kool A.D. & Despot – Hood Party vs CHVRCHES – Recover Chvrches pretty much ruled my year in 2012. I fell for the sharp purity of Mayberry’s vocals, and even more the way each song distorted them into something nearly tactile; as natural as cold silt, as inorganic as a lab-grown hamburger. Unfortunately, they’re about to get knocked out in the first round. Hood Party is the sound of the greatest, loudest party you’ve never been invited to. Its huge blown-out bass doesn’t quite sound like you’re at the party, but just outside of it. In the queue, or across the street, or maybe in the toilets, watching your breath condense on the vibrating warehouse walls, just as you pick out the bassline of that song you’ve been waiting all night to hear. The song has many, many more facets than that, which we’ll get round to in future rounds, but that alone is enough to carry it to victory. Winner: Fat Tony feat. Kool A.D. & Despot – Hood Party Daft Punk – Giorgio by Moroder vs Daft Punk – Get Lucky (Radio Edit) I swear this pairing was a coincidence – and prepare yourself, because there’s another equally unlikely one coming up shortly – but it gives us the perfect chance to talk about the Daft Punk album. Get Lucky was always the obvious lead single, but Giorgio, essentially a musical memoir, is a much better representative of what Random Access Memories is actually like: noodly, unusual, overlong, a little pompous, but never less than interesting. In a way, I think putting Giorgio out first would have lessened some of the disappointed backlash the album faced on release. As it was, we all heard Get Lucky a couple of billion times, and I know for a lot of people that killed it. The song is so familiar to me now that it’s hard to remember hearing it for the first time, to imagine ever being surprised by it. In a way, Get Lucky feels it has always existed, has become part of the canon, and that’s dangerous for a song that’s so much about being joyously alive. But it also feels inevitable. The song, as I’ve argued before, is designed to be played over and over, practically begs for it. It’s a series of interlocking loops, a circular song that fades out but could very well go on forever. Get Lucky‘s magic is still there, but its grooves are worn down by over-use. And while Giorgio has little to offer the hips, there’s plenty for the head – and has the advantage of still feeling brand new every time I come to it Winner: Daft Punk – Giorgio by Moroder Holy Ghost! – Okay vs Autre Ne Veut – Ego Free Sex Free Often, with my favourite songs, it’s all about scratching an itch. There’s got to be something that means you keep coming back to a single track, that makes you crave it in the mornings like a cigarette or a cup of black coffee or a bowl of chocolate-coated Frosties [delete as applicable]. In Okay, it’s this little instrumental call-and-response that opens the song, a moment-long series of interlocking sounds, like a cheat code unlocking something deep in my brain. After delivering your fix early, the song takes it away, dropping occasional fragments throughout but making you wait till the end of the chorus to get the full thing. And, strong as the rest of the song is, for the addict it’s pretty much all a tease – something which fits nicely with the lyrics’ tale of late-night missed calls and lapsing back into an old relationship. “And the punchline isn’t far”, sings Frankel at the end of each verse – but it’s always too far away. Ego Free Sex Free, meanwhile, is all itches. The song is constantly playing every trick it’s got, moment piling on top of moment. Here’s the sound of a choir, ebbing in and out of existence; here’s the crystalline smashing of virtual glass; here’s Ashin’s own voice, sharpened into a spike. There’s structure underpinning it all, yes, but the surface is constantly fidgeting, never letting you – or itself – get comfortable, always making sure there’s something new to engage with. Winner: Autre Ne Veut – Ego Free Sex Free The next lot into the mincer: The Juan Maclean – Feel Like Movin’ vs Vampire Weekend – Step I’ve mentioned before how I really don’t […]

Play Off: Picking 2013’s Best Song – Intro

So: I have no idea what my favourite song of 2013 is. This year’s music failed to crystallise into a neat handful of songs like it normally does, which is both a good and a bad thing. Yay, because it’s a symptom of just how much fantastic music there’s been. The 32 songs we’re going to be talking about in these posts are only a small (hopefully representative) fraction of the stuff that I loved this year. But also a mild boo, because it also means the year was lacking in truly definitive songs. I guess it was the year of Get Lucky, but while I clung onto my love of that song long after most had burned out from over-use (more on this in later posts), you’re not going to find any Call Me Maybes on the list this year. With that in mind, this approach seemed like the obvious choice: take a tournament-sized chunk ofsongs, and pit them against each other, one on one, until we have a winner. Y’know, like they do in Pokémon and, I believe – am I pronouncing this right? – ‘Sports’. It’s also neatly reflective of the way I used music this year. The format is adapted from Tom Ewing’s Mincer which, for two months in the spring, ruled everything around me. You can read all about it elsewhere on this blog, but basically: randomise your tracks; listen in pairs; pick a winner as quickly as possible after the tracks end; delete the other; rinse and repeat. But my listening habits have been strangely competitive in general all year. Possibly thanks to the sheer quantity of quality releases, possibly out of a sense that last year slipped through my fingers slightly, but I found myself pretty much refusing to listen to anything that wasn’t current, my increasingly labyrinthine sets of Spotify playlists felt like an exercise in narrowing down everything I heard and liked into shorter and shorter lists – which is exactly what we’re doing here. We should probably establish some ground rules, baggy as they are. During the selection process, each artist was limited to two songs – and there had to be a good justification for doubling up, which we’ll touch upon when we hit those tracks. Each song had to be one I heard for the first time this year, and it had to have a clear 2013 release date. I’m sure we’ll realise I unconsciously cheated on some tracks along the line. Some tracks are here representing the entire album they’re lifted from, but they’re inevitably here on merit. It’s just that In lieu of a seeding system – which seemed foolish, given that I’d be choosing both the seeds and the winners – I gave the tracks a couple of randomisations until it felt ‘about right’. This means there aren’t any hot contenders facing off in the first round, as far as I can tell, and the neat thematic pairings are genuinely random, sort of. I’m letting myself listen to each pair of tracks on repeat as many times as I want during the writing process, which makes the decision process less spontaneous than the Mincer’s one-shot policy but also, that would likely drive me insane. I haven’t listened to the Beyoncé album yet, because I suspected it might screw the whole thing up. You can follow the tournament live on Challonge here, listen to our 32 contenders on Spotify, and I’ll be back on Monday with commentary from the first round of matches. To reiterate, I have genuinely no idea which track is going to win. I hope you have as much fun finding out as I do.

GTA V: Keeping the Peace in Los Santos

The first time I fired up Grand Theft Auto V, as the install disc slowly unpicked the world held within and built it anew on the Xbox’s hard drive, I had an idea. Talking to friends about the game, it struck me that the thing which has really stuck with people about GTA is that one story: you can hire a prostitute, kill her and take back the money you just paid for sex. For some people, it’ll never escape being another example of an Evil Violent Videogame. And fair enough, y’know? That stuff is horrible, and the GTA games – all the way to their fifth instalment, based on the reviews I’d read – are violent and sexualised and a lot of other things besides. But the game I’d read about, watched trailers of, was also beautiful. It contained a city of crisp fidelity, fresh opportunities for exploration and experimentation, and a soundtrack that stretched, like the best record collections, from Britney Spears to NWA, Clams Casino to Simple Minds. So, as the ‘percent loaded’ meter ticked up into the final digits, I started to wonder: what if I just engaged with the bits that interested me, and avoided the violence altogether?  It would mean stripping out a whole part of the game, but faced with such a richly detailed world – where each fragile pedestrian has their own fashion sense and voice, each of their cars’ radios playing just the right station as you tear them from it onto the asphalt – pacifism felt like the only sane option. I It quickly becomes obviously that GTA does not want you to eschew violence.  About three minutes into the opening mission, a bank heist gone wrong, you’re forced to put a bullet in the head of a guard, before he does the same to your friend. After seconds of careful consideration, I tried shooting shooting him in the leg. MISSION FAILED. Retry, pull the trigger, and move onto the next setpiece, which drops a few dozen heavily-armed police between you and progress, and places a fully-automated machine gun into your hands.  Clearly, a compromise would be necessary. This was all prologue, a decade before the game proper, I reasoned. Besides, when I’d killed those people, I was playing as Trevor, one of the game’s three controllable characters, a gleefully murderous psychopath filling the role of group id.I was soon handed the chance for a fresh start, as a cutscene picked up with Michael nine years later – presumed dead after the bank robbery, now leading a peaceful but unfulfilling life in witness protection, with a wife, two kids and a therapist – before introducing the third and final character, Franklin. Franklin’s a young black man, a petty criminal who, unlike his partner Lamar, seems disinterested in the glamour of crime, and certainly not the kind of guy to go on a killing spree. This was my man. And this was the plan: GTA V features a stats screen which lists each character’s achievements and misdemeanours down to the most granular detail. It’s a series tradition, something I’ve occasionally wished for in real life. Looking at this screen, I could see that Trevor already had 22 dead cops to his name – but maybe Franklin could keep a clean sheet of 0s. II It took just a few minutes for my new plan hit a roadbump. A fleshy one. In GTA, it’s not the guns or the petrol bombs or any of the other weapons you can wield that’s most deadly – it’s your car. Driving is much tighter than the Bambi-on-ice handling of GTA IV’s vehicles, but it’s still possible to lose control of a car, especially when you’re impatiently nosing your way through speed-limit-observing traffic. Each character has their own special ability, reflecting what they’re best at. Mostly, these make it easier to kill people, but, as a skilled car thief, Franklin is able to slow time while driving. It’s pretty much a get-out-of-jail-free card for when your back tyres start to spin out and tug you off the road. But in the first mission, as Franklin and Lamar forcibly repossess two gleaming sports cars and race them across town, I did not know this yet.  So when, during a shortcut through a narrow studio lot, a man in a green rubber alien costume jumped out in front of the car, I plowed right through him. His ragdoll corpse bounced off the car’s roof, and crumpled to the ground. I paused the game. There, in the stats screen, it read ‘Vehicular kills – 1’. There was no other choice. Reader, I restarted the whole damn game. III Fast forward through the heist, the police shooting gallery, that first stolen car. This time, I cruised carefully through the movie lot, avoided the men dressed as aliens – there’s actually a trophy for not running them over, ‘We Come in Peace’ – and stepped out into the world for the first time. I unfolded the paper map that comes in the game box, picked out a few potentially interesting locations, and drove in their general direction. Just taking in the scenery, which to my British eyes is slightly too bright and shiny, like being on holiday. Enjoying the way it all mingled with, say, the creaky bedsprings of Mirror Maru on the radio. Playing with the Instagram-styled camera function of the in-game mobile, snapping graffiti, people on the street going about their business, and selfies. Oh, the selfies. I climbed ladders and clambered up suspension cables just to see how high up I could get, took a pic of the blown-out orange sunset, then toyed with the idea of jumping off. I shot targets in the Ammu-Nation gun range, earning meaningless medals until night turned into day. After getting my hands on a BMX for the first time, I spent one enjoyable hour just pedalling and bunny-hopping it around a reservoir, into Los Santo’s sewer systems, marvelling at the little […]

We Share Our Mother’s Healthpoints: Rogue Legacy

Rogue Legacy is currently available on Steam at the bargain price of £7.49, a discount of 40%. It’s the game I’ve played most this year, and here’s why: Family, eh? In Rogue Legacy, you play Sir Scorpio, the latest in a long line of knights, mages and barbarians on an inherited quest in a strange land… until the moment you die. Then you play Lady Chun Li, the latest in a long line of knights, mages, barbarians and undead bloodsuckers on an inherited quest in a land that, thanks to its randomly-generated levels, is strange all over again. The quest – to clear a castle full of ghouls and ghouls, plus five bosses – isn’t the only thing you inherit. The death of your predecessor grants you their long-coveted possessions, yes, but as their offspring you’re also prey to all the genes that brought them to a sticky end in the first place. As in life, so in Rogue Legacy. The former means any gold picked up by your predecessor on their run through the castle – picked up by smashing furniture, beating enemies and finding chests – and which powers the game’s hybrid level-up/shop system. The latter … well, it’s the game’s masterstroke. After dying, you pick one of three heirs, each with their own combination of class, spell, and traits. Traits are the kind of role-playing characteristics you don’t see in the Skyrims of this world: everything from colour blindness, which turns the screen monochrome, to OCD, which rewards you for smashing every box and barrel in sight, to congenital baldness, which … makes you bald. It’s silly good fun, but the variety this introduces also helps keep the game feeling fresh, and adds an extra layer of exploration. Discovering what hypochondria actually did in-game, for example, was a great laugh-out-loud moment. I won’t spoil it here. This is just one of the many ways Rogue Legacy draws you back in for one more go. The levels, shuffled afresh for each run, offer variety and plenty of one-off surprises: rooms with knife-throwing challenges, or histories of developer Cellar Door’s previous games. And then there are the upgrades. Remember that inherited gold I mentioned? Before the next game starts, you have the chance to spend it all on equipment, upgrades and unlocks. These can be incremental, like a shinier sword or an extra health point, or tangible game-changers. Buy the Air rune to gain the power of flight; unlock the Paladin class and you’ll be able to block enemy’s attacks. These post-death upgrades make Rogue Legacy the ultimate ‘one more try’ game, an endless cycle of explore/die/spend/explore/die/spend that cost me a good chunk of the summer. But this persistence also serves to undermine the power of permadeath. In other roguelikes, you build up a character and progress deeper and deeper into a randomised world, the odds stacked increasingly against you until finally you’re overwhelmed. There is a neat horror in that moment, the loss of invested time providing an analogue to the loss of life, which is also part of the fun. Here, all you really lose is the set of levels generated for you this time round, which you can keep for a penalty – and so each death is just fuel. Sometimes, I’d catch myself dashing a character against the rocks to grab one final chestful of gold, knowing they’ll die but also knowing it’ll give me enough to buy that next sweet upgrade. It’s never quite a grind though, even when the clunky keyboard controls make the game’s more bullet-hellish screens difficult to navigate, because all money gathered has to be spent before the next run starts, meaning you can’t stockpile resources. And while you’re playing, it’s never anything less than great fun. Still, it’s easy to come away from a two-hour binge – which, make no mistake, is how you’ll play Rogue Legacy – feeling a little empty. In the quieter moment of play, you can hear that little lizard voice at the back of your mind whispering ‘grab the money, die, buy the shiny things’. Sometimes, I didn’t feel like a hero so much as a prudent investor, putting away something for the kids’ future. Maybe that’s part of the point, though. I automatically looked at Rogue Legacy from the perspective of a child but it also has you playing the parent, in an endless loop of sacrifice and gain, unconditional love and selfish hunger. …Family, eh?

Glass: Half Empty, or Half Full?

I’ve been fascinated by Google Glass since the first day I heard about it. It’s the sci-fi-ness of the thing, I suspect, the idea that it will eventually evolve into a Minority Reportesque digital contact lens, a HUD for everyday life. Well, one of the perks of being a (sort of) tech journalist is that you have an excuse to try these things out. So I slipped on a pair, wandered around central London for a couple of hours, and wrote about it for the latest issue of Mobile Marketing Magazine. The resulting feature takes a tour through the history of Glass, what it does, and what lies ahead for it, both in terms of potential and obstacles. Oh, and most important of all, it’s got my own impressions of trying it out (complete with a picture of me in Glass looking very serious indeed). It starts something like this: “It’s been hailed as one of the best inventions of 2012 by Time magazine, and has also been condemned as a dangerous invasion of privacy. Some people believe it will revolutionise mobile technology, for better or worse, while others think it will struggle to find any sizeable audience. Google Glass has been dividing opinions since the moment it was unveiled.” Read the rest here And if you enjoyed that, good news! This issue also features a piece by me on mobile marketing at music festivals, from apps to recharge tents, and how it all breaks down in an isolated field with mud where you’d usually have access to electricity, and yelling crowds where you’d usually have phone signal. ““People increasingly want to stay in contact at all times,” says Vodafone’s Ben Taylor – and while that’s true, the practicalities of a festival can get in the way of this. Frankly, the events are an endurance test that smartphones were never designed to face, and it’s for that reason that many festivalgoers end up defaulting to its less glamorous ancestor – the feature phone.” Read the whole thing here

Dead to Writes: Talking Corpses and Stories on The Escapist

There’s apparently something about the The Escapist that brings out my morbid side. The last thing I wrote for them was about how Disney films handle death, and what games could steal. This time, I’m talking corpses, and the stories they have to tell. “What appear to be three plaster cast statues sit around a dinner table. A daughter looks sheepishly at her empty plate, forever. Mother’s arms are tied behind her back. Father is at the head of the table in his rabbit mask. It’s at this point – his slashed wrists are outstretched and bleeding onto the whitewashed table – that it becomes clear what they are. Not statues at all.” The night after submitting the article, I was chatting about it to someone I’d just met. ‘Oh,’ he said, ‘like that bit in Left 4 Dead 2?’, before casually reeling off an example so perfect it made me want me want to run home and beg for my copy back. But, mysterious Southern dead guys or no, I’m pretty pleased with how the article turned out. I just still can’t believe I got away with that big fat Robyn reference. You can read the whole thing here.

Five Things I Learned From Croquet (And Games Could Too)

I’m not sure if croquet is a sport – I never saw any medals being awarded for it during the Olympics last summer – but if it is, rest assured that it is by far my favourite one. Having spent last weekend at the family home of Imogen ‘The Other Half’ Dale, playing barefoot croquet on her wonderfully large lawn, I came away mulling over what makes this game, which I play four or five times a year, so satisfying. Here’s what I came up with: 1. The core interaction is fun Most games are built up from one or two base units of interaction: jumping in Mario, say, or shooting in Doom, or rotating a series of hat-shaped blocks in Hatris. These are what developers and poncey games writers like myself refer to as a game’s verbs, and they’re the beating heart of the game. They’re what the player does, how they effect change on the game’s world: Mario’s jumps can squash goombas, for example, or knock power-ups out of blocks. And rarely has a game been centred around an interaction as innately satisfying as croquet’s: wielding a heavy wooden mallet that would make Thor proud, and using to smack brightly coloured balls into one another. The comparison is perhaps unfair to games – no amount of force feedback can hope to match up to the thwack of wood meeting plastic, the slight shudder running up to the shoulder, watching a ball skitter away across the lawn – but it can certainly be emulated with something that feels as natural and pleasurable as steering Mario’s jumps. If croquet was just a case of hitting a series of balls at a series of gates, it would still be excellent fun. There’s just enough skill involved, just enough risk/reward, and the most  But the best games take their central one action and builds around it, adding a story, complexity of rules and/or an element of competition. 2. The rules are easy to learn – and pliable Croquet has a clear goal – take your ball through six gates in order, hit a peg in the centre, win the game. It’s so intuitive that, if handed the equipment and pushed onto a set-up lawn with no idea of how to play, you’d probably figure out something very close to the real game. On top of this it layers a couple of simple rules to win an extra go – either by going through a gate or hitting another ball – which build on the risk/reward of taking a shot. Got it? You’re ready to play. …And so we did, for hours, until someone turned up who’d actually played croquet before, and it turned we hadn’t been doing it properly. Actually, the game is to be played with two balls per team, which both have to make it through hoops and to the peg to win, and hitting another player’s ball (whether your teammate’s or an opponent’s) actually lets you move your ball next to theirs, taking a shot which pushes them around the lawn, and then take your free shot. Which is where tactics come in, and it starts to get really interesting. 3. Your decisions mean something This skews the game’s focus towards targeting other balls, and using them to advance your own around. The games’ turns work on a team basis: Team A goes first, then Team B, and so on, but a team can choose which of its players will actually take the turn. This is where the choices start: do you give the turn to a ball which has fallen behind, so it can catch up? Or do you make sure to get the leading ball through the next gate while it has a chance? Or do you give the turn to whoever is closest to your opponents, so you can sabotage their game? Because the game is turn-based, with no time limit, you’re encouraged to really chew these decisions over. Not just in your turn but beforehand, as the opponents line up their shots: what’s he hoping to achieve with this? If he make it, where does that leave us? Then what’s the best way to retaliate? That means the other team’s turn is as interesting as your own. You spend it watching closely and guessing. Praying quietly that they’ll miss this key shot. Cursing loudly when they don’t. 4. Cooperation feels good… You and your teammate have to rely on each other. Not just because you’ll both have to pass the finish line to win, but because you need to protect each other. The two players become interdependent, in a way I’ve rarely seen in games of Capture The Flag. Ideally, a team’s two balls will want to stay clustered as closely together as possible. A bad miss, or a great hit from an opponent, can push your ball far away from the next gate, slowing down both players, This plays neatly into the decision-making process. It’s not just a question of whether the lagging or leading ball should take this turn, but whether the leader could actually loop back, clip the other ball, push it forward, and then take the extra turn to push through ahead itself. Do you attempt a rescue mission, or just make your opponents aren’t able to twist the knife any deeper on their turn? 5. …but screwing friends over feels even better Of course, you’ll be doing your fair share of twisting that knife too. Like many of my favourite games, croquet provides a safe space to be a real bastard to friends and loved ones. You’re actively rewarded for knocking opponent’s balls off course (and in the very best cases, off the course). Sabotaging carefully-laid plans is satisfying enough on its own, but it’s often also the only way to get round corners, or set up a winning shot. And honestly, it’s not like you’re going to need much encouragement. Let me show you why croquet is great: Something […]

This Is How I Jammed, Jan-April

For me, the music itself is only half of the fun. How we consume and, especially, discover the music we end up loving is a fascinating process to me on every level. In the past, I’ve toyed with This Is My Jam, the musical social network which gave this series of blogs their name, read a variety of blogs and magazines, documented every song I listened to, stolen from friends…So far in 2013, three new methods have presented themselves to me. Shall we take a look? SPOTIFY TEAM PLAYLIST An idea nicked off’f Kieron Gillen (aren’t they all?): select a few of your most musically-minded friends, set up an open playlist, and watch the tunes roll in. It’s so easy it almost feels like cheating. I’ve been fascinated by Spotify pretty much since the moment I discovered it, but this team playlist has fiercely reignited my love for it, so much so that I finally took the plunge and went Premium, instantly revolutionising my music-listening habits. Offline playlists now dominate the paltry 8GB of space on my iPod (and on my phone, and on my laptop), and that’s led to me playing with a few other methods of music discovery which… well, we’ll come to those. The playlist is here if you want to listen/collaborate. If nothing else, it’s a great set of songs, thanks to everyone who’s taken part (and thanks, to everyone who’s taken part). Just don’t blame me if clicking that link ends up costing you £10 a month. Song highlight: SONGDROP At any given moment, my web browser of choice (Chrome, if you’re curious) .will have about 50 tabs open. Half of those will be songs I’ve found, mostly through blogs or friends’ recommendations, and have listened to once or twice. They haven’t taken over my brain yet, but I’m not ready to let them slip away into the ether of the net. If they’re not on Spotify yet, I have no way of storing them. Can you see where I’m going with this? SongDrop is simply a piece of technology I can’t believe didn’t exist before. It adds a button to Chrome, which when pressed detects any music on the current webpage, and allows you to drop it into a single centralised playlist. It’s a tool I’ve barely scratched the surface of yet, but like the best ideas, it solves a problem I barely I knew I had. You can access my drops so far here. Song highlight: THE MINCER Two tracks enter, only one leaves. This is an idea I stole, just for the sake of variety, off’f Tom Ewing. The Mincer is a way of gamifying music playlists, by pitting songs against one another. You take 64 tracks, put them in a playlist, randomise it, and then as you listen (no skipping allowed), mentally pair the songs up. Pick which of the two you’d rather hear again, and delete the other one. Rinse and repeat until the playlist is finished, then top it up again. (You can find my exact step-by-step method at the bottom of this post.) It’s a great way to encourage listening to all those songs on your hard drive, or in your Spotify playlists, that haven’t received the attention they deserve. It puts a neat framework around the whole thing, which helps to make listening to music less passive, and really forces you to concentrate on what you’re listening to. I’ve been thinking that the issue with the mechanics of The Mincer’s ‘game’ is that it has slightly too many tracks, which you don’t get intimate enough with to make choosing between two tracks (on the second go-round particularly) as hard a decisions as I’d like. I’ve been thinking of running it tournament-style, until only one song remains. But it’s only reading the rules again now that I realise I’ve actually been doing it wrong. You’re meant to run through the playlist until only 32 of the 64 remain, then shuffle and start again until you have 16 before topping up. Seeing this now, I can see how it provides a neat middle-ground between the method I’ve been using, and a full-bore tournament. Expect to hear about these variations on the formula next time on Those Were My Jams. But for the next month or two… that’s all, folks. Song highlight: My Mincer Method1. On Spotify, create a feeder playlist with all the songs you want to mince. (ideally you want this playlist as large and varied and possible) and an empty Mincer playlist.2. Select all the tracks, copy, then paste them into this randomiser tool. Press random (a couple of times, if you enjoy the ritual of this), then copy and paste back them over the original tracks.3. Take the top 64 tracks, cut and paste them into the Mincer playlist.4. Repeat step 2 for this smaller playlist.5. Play the tracks (with shuffle turned off).6. After each pair of tracks, decide which you’d rather hear again, and delete the other.7. Repeat until the end of the playlist (you can do this in bursts, as long as they are even-numbered bursts), leaving the ‘winning’ 32 tracks.(Here’s where I’ve been going wrong. Remaining steps courtesy of Ewing’s original post:8. Randomise again.9. Play (no skipping allowed).10. Go through the shortened playlist until you have 16 tracks.11. Add another 48 tracks to the playlist.12. Repeat.)

Those Were My Jams, Jan-April: Bowie, Nash, Tegan & Sara

I’ve already documented my love of Kavinsky’s OutRun, and Daft Punk’s Get Lucky. But what of all the other music I’ve listened to over the last four months? Here are two more albums, and one more track, that I’ve spent a lot of that time in the company of. It’s far from everything I’ve dug (sorry Chvrches, Why?, Kitty, et al) but it’s the stuff that most insisted I write about it. So let’s dive in. DAVID BOWIE – THE NEXT DAY I find it strangely difficult to separate The Next Day, David Bowie’s 24th studio album, from David Bowie Is…, the V&A exhibition dedicated to him. They landed at about the same time, after such a long period of Bowielessness, and it felt like it’d been planned this way all along – the two prongs of the Big Bowie Resurgence of Early 2013. Honestly, though, I think I prefer the exhibition. It has a rare vitality, between its pleasantly short attention span and wonky half-successful experiments with technology, that feels very Bowie. For a record so drenched in his history, from the persistent Berlin references of Where Are We Now? onwards, Bowie actually feels a little absent from The Next Day. It feels like that could be intentional, a thematic touch – the cover, pasting over “Heroes”; the video for The Stars (Are Out Tonight), casting David as the regular guy and transplanting Bowie the icon onto a range of wondefully androgynous women.So, maybe that’s the point, the removal of all superficial Bowie iconography from the equation, leaving just that unmistakable drawl and the same musical talent that has surrounded it since the ’70s. But at times the album sounds a little old-fashioned – in the clunkier lyrics of Boss of Me or I’d Rather Be High, in the U2-ness of If You Can See Me’s opening. It feels like a very strange thing to say about Bowie, forever pop’s archduke of the cutting-edge. Maybe that’s the only way to sidestep how much his influence saturates modern music. But there’s not the flash, the ideas, the showiness that I’ve always liked most about Bowie – the same stuff that was so present in a museum, of all places. Maybe it’s all just surface stuff that I miss. But this is pop music, and that’s at least as important as the tunes, right? KATE NASH – GIRL TALK I’ve always liked Kate Nash best when she’s angry. I still maintain that it was the genuine frustration sitting under the surface of Foundations which launched it and her into the public consciousness, where they sat for one long summer. I love the blunt feminist rage of Mansion Song‘s spoken word. There’s just something in the way her voice catches and you can sense she really means it that cuts perfectly through all the cute twee stuff and her habit of stating things outright. The good news is, on the evidence of Girl Talk, Nash seems to agree with me. The album starts out innocuously enough, the logical extension of what she’s done previously. It has the odd moment, but is fairly unremarkable. Then, a minute into track five (Sister), you realise the music has been creaking up a ramp into the sky and you’re sitting at the top-point of the rollercoaster. There’s a whispered two, three, four…, and everything fires downhill. The album builds up speed quickly, and on the best tracks, Nash is an absolute dynamo, metabolising influences from Poly Styrene’s sandpaper-rough squeal to Kim Deal’s disinterested rumble as she goes. From moment to moment, she might channel MIA, Kathleen Hanna, and/or Kimya Dawson. The best of girl-fronted Britpop. 1960s close-harmony girl groups… It’s like (Birmingham’s best clubnight in the world) Atta Grrl condensed into one record. And as with Atta Grrl, the music here feels heavily, pointedly gendered – the album is called Girl Talk, after all, and I don’t think it’s a tribute to the mash-up artist. It’s great and… well, hang on, you can always rely on Nash to put it as straightforwardly as it needs to be put: “You have a problem with me,‘Cause I’m a girl.I’m a feminist.And if that offends you,Then fuck you.” Honestly, that most likely tells you everything you need to know about whether you’ll enjoy Girl Talk or not. It’s a bit blunt, sure, but if you can stomach that, you’ll probably enjoy the ride. TEGAN & SARA – CLOSER Tegan & Sara’s Heartthrob is actually a very fine album, but it’s first single/first track Closer in particular that has imprinted itself on my heart. It’s music for dancing in your underwear to you, solo or (preferably) with a partner. Music for flirty supersoaker battles. Music for making out on the grass to, as a long-forgotten barbecue turns meat into charcoal. It’s got this wonderfully braided structure, with a chorus which relies on the rhyme of “physical/critical/typical”, then pulling out “critical” and building a second chorus around it. Inbetween, verses are dropped as if in paretheses. Oh, and it both opens cold onto the titular line and ends on it. It’s a fidgety song, as befits a song about wanting to get it on. Throughout, the music slows down, hangs for a moment – one of those beautiful parentheses, with music as descriptive as the lyrics, singing “the night sky is changing” and it just sounds like stop-motion footage of orange-purple clouds – and then kicking back in. I can almost see the advert it would soundtrack, for Skins or hair product, or whatever young people are meant to be aspiring to. But that advert hasn’t been made yet, I don’t think, so I’m going to enjoy  the hell out of Closer before it is.

Those Were My Jams, Jan-April: Daft Punk

More of the music I loved in the first four months of this year. And so from one example of French electronic dance music which uses a sheen of fiction to keep the real humans firmly behind the scenes (Kavinsky) to another. Daft Punk’s Random Access Memories is on its way, the radio edit of Get Lucky is the first single, and it’s spent the last two weeks infecting my brain. Here’s why: The most potent metaphor for how a Daft Punk record sounds is still Michel Gondry’s video for Around the World. Five sets of cartoonish characters – robots, mummies, skeletons, synchronised swimmers, giant baby-headed athletes – each embody one element of the song, and are shuffled around, stopped, brought higher in the mix, according to the music. Like all the best Daft Punk songs, that’s pretty much exactly how Get Lucky works. There are a few basic sounds at play: a near-falsetto vocal hook and two verses, courtesy of Pharrell; the disco-future spangle of Nile Rodgers’ guitar; some pelvis-thrusting bass; the simplest of drum patterns; and some handclaps. These essential building blocks are all established quite early on, the song’s first minute just laying them out like a magician shows the audience a set of interlinked rings, or an empty sleeve. Then, as they loop these base elements, Daft Punk start to work their magic. What if you stripped back the instruments, and pushed handclaps to the fore instead? What if you replaced Pharrell’s voice with a decaying digitised version? And what if you then brought Pharrell back and made it him duke it out with his robotic double, at opposite ends of the octave? The song just toys with those same few elements – and maybe some synths, though they sound as if they’re building off samples of other bits of the same song – for 4 minutes 44 seconds, and then it fades out. Honestly, there’s not much to Get Lucky. It’s a very slight song, in a way that invites being played on repeat (and knows that it will get just what it wants – that “Like the legend of the phoenix/All ends with beginnings” opening salvo is a cheeky wink). I’m talking about how it sounds, how it feels, the surface stuff, because I know if I probed any deeper I’d find it was hollow inside. But the genius of the song lies in its precision. On the surface, it seems joyful and easy-going, but given that I haven’t been this addicted to a song since the aural crack of Paper Aeroplanes, I can only conclude that it’s actually very serious business. Each sound is weighed out carefully, mixed in alchemically exact combinations, and ultimately weaponised into something that directly attacks my nervous system in a way that makes it get exceedingly funky. I don’t think that’s just dumb luck.