Stuff I Liked 2009 – Music

2009 was about getting back into music in a pretty big way. Not only in listening to a whole lot more, but actually buying and even making some. I’ve pretty much dumped the idea of buying CDs from old skool shop type places and moved to buying it online or simply downloading it. I suspect this is because my music playing system(s) are all now digital. I haven’t had a CD player that works (aside from the laptop) for well over a year and my 30 year-old amp is fast becoming an anacronistic desktop weight rather than a well-used piece of music equipment. So I’ve started downloading stuff, which goes straight to the iTunes library and there to the numerous iPods/Phones that I have. And while purists might diss the quality of the mp3s and even the lossless compression versions, I really can’t tell the difference.

I even went back and saw some live events! And not just bullshit cello/turntable catastrophies. Seasick Steve in Manchester was great, the most superbly refrained standup audience I’ve ever been in with the exception of the devastatingly drunk lurching Chav Family, who found the experience so horrifying they had to stumble to freedom halfway through. But Daedelus at the ICA in July was awesome. Superb ninja shape cutting dancing and excellent music.

My own music is still in a very basic shape, but it’s slowly coming along.

Downpipe single cover

Downpipe single cover

So what was I listening to and what did I like in 2009. One useful side effect of digitising my entire music listening experience is that it can all be measured. Unfortunately, none of the various measuring elements link to all my devices, which is a pain. Anyway, of all of them, the iTunes list is probably the most comprehensive. According to this, my top tracks for 2009 are:

  • Blue Skies (Rabbit In The Moon) – BT feat Tori Amos
  • Downpipe – Mark Knight & D Ramirez vs Underworld
  • Theme From Long Good Friday – Francis Monkman
  • Surf Solar – Fuck Buttons
  • Gaia (Kaiser Souzai Remix) – Kaiser Souzai
  • Come Into My World (Fischerspooner Mix) – Kylie
  • Behind The Wheel – Susperia
  • Hazy/Crazy – Da Hool
  • Heaven Up Here – Echo & The Bunnymen
  • Shattered In Aspect – Faith & The Muse

All of which gives a somewhat skewed view of 2009. However, if you look at just the music that was released in 2009 (or was new to me in 2009), a slightly different picture emerges.

  • Downpipe – Mark Knight and D Ramirez vs Underworld
  • Tarot Sport (album) – Fuck Buttons
  • Temporary Pleasure (album) – Simian Mobile Disco
  • The Resistance (album) – Muse
  • Moon Soundtrack (album) – Clint Mansell
  • My Way (album) – Ian Brown
  • Tonight (album) – Franz Ferdinand
  • It’s Not Me, It’s Doctor Rosen Rosen (album) – Lily Allen
  • Runaway – Ladytron
  • Hands (album) – Little Boots

Stuff I Liked 2009 – iPhone apps

I don’t think it’s a secret that the last decade was all about the internet, and it’s possibly even less of a secret that the next year/decade is going to be about the mobile internet. Sure we’ve got a long way to go before our mobile ‘service providers’ can actually provide a halfway decent service (they’re still working on providing a mobile signal to large parts of West Sussex), but the groundwork has been done. Not least by the arrival of the iPhone. The revolutionary change in charging, so that you get unlimited data connection, meant that you didn’t constantly worry about being ripped off for actually daring to look at the internet while on the move, while the geolocation element meant that you could have a whole host of apps that gave you specific info based on where you were.

And that wasn’t all. In addition to being a great iPod and a vaguely OK phone (woefully crap reception in central London on O2), the iPhone is a mobile computer platform, which creates space for all those apps, some great, some useless and some so utterly pointless it’s a wonder anyone actually downloads them, let alone makes them. I’ve been thoroughly caning my iPhone for the last year, stuffing it with tons of apps many of which have lasted less than 24 hours. Now it’s time to sort them and find the ones worth keeping.

Best App

Jamie Oliver in his app

Jamie Oliver in his app

Fundamentally, I use my iPhone apps to take, manipulate and upload photos, Twitter, Tumblr and occasionally add to my WordPress blog, play games,organise and keep track of tasks, notes and stuff, do gym and sports routines, check social media, play around with music, play more games, get local information and, very occasionally do online shopping. So I’m kind of stunned that my best app for 2009 is all about cooking.

However, Jamie’s app, Jamie Oliver 20 Minute Meals,  puts pretty much all other info/instructional apps to shame – and here I’m talking about apps like the National Gallery’s Love Art and the Louvre’s, both of which are pretty decent. It looks like something that has actually been specifically designed for the iPhone and has had a load of thought put into it. It’s got a fair amount of good recipies (sure it could have more but that’s just quibbling), each of which has a ton of well presented info and is beautifully laid out with loads of photos. It’s got a shopping list area, which links seamlessly into the recipies as well as letting you add on your own items. But it also comes with a pile of excellent instructional videos that are pitched at exactly the right level for inept-but-enthusiastic cooks and will change the way you do your cooking. Personal favourite at the moment is the How To Cut Onions, but there’s basic advice about a whole load of things from chilies and buying fish to what you need in your kitchen and how to keep that chopping board in the same place. I’ve cooked more stuff from this app than I have from pretty much any of the other cooking books I’ve got, which is saying something. And it even tasted good.

Best Photo app

Along with being only an adequate phone (poor reception and the lack of a real button to let you hang up calls), the original iPhone has what can only be described as a shit pinhole camera. And it’s saying something for portability and the way it can link to sites like Flickr that I’ve totally ditched my 5Mb Ixus for this, but it’s also down to the way I can manipulate my photos prior to uploading them that makes all the difference. Now, I’ve used (and dumped) a load of image apps, but basically it boils down to two or three that I use all the time. For manipulating images I use Photogene (way better than the rather shit PS Mobile – hang your heads in shame Adobe), ColorSplash (for making those neat black and white with a little bit of colour images), Polarize (to make them look like polaroids) and TiltShift (to make those ‘lil people images). I have tried all those filter packages, but basically only CameraBag makes the grade and has any regular use. And for uploading I use Mobile Fotos (total connection to my Flickr content) and Pixelpipe (uploads to any/all my numerous social media sites). So it’s a tough choice pinpointing just one of them, but if I have to (and I have to) then my photo app for 2009 is Photogene as it’s the one I use first and always to correct the levels and colour of the original image.

Best Game app

This is a really tough one. Mainly because although I have spunked cash on way too  many games, I really don’t play them all that seriously, so most of those clever ports from Gameloft really don’t get the attention they possibly deserve and I’m not convinced that we’ve really seen a proper game done for the iPhone in the way that Jamie’s app or indeed Super Monkey Ball has been. Also gamewise, I’m more of a puzzle game type person than a swift-fingered action adventurer, so the bit in Assassin’s Creed where you have to carefully jump in a specific direction while double-tapping or something drives me into an uncontrolable frenzy of anger when I can’t do it and I tend to blank the game for a while afterwards to punish it. So based on a ‘how much do you actually play them’ test, my choice is down to Real Racing (way the best racing/driving game), Moonlight Majong and Sol Free Solitaire, with special mention to Sentinel 2, which the Boon really enjoy on a compulsive level. And, while it’s tempting to say none of them are really inspiring, I’d have to say that my best game app is Sol Free Solitaire. Hmmmmmmm.

Best Connection app

This is really what makes the whole mobile connection work. It’s not so much the provision of information that relates to where I am (step forward Time Out, FixMyStreet, Rightmove etc), but my ability to link what I’m doing to the digital world. And while apps that connect me to my cloud data are cool (iDisk, OmniFocus and Evernote), what really rocks is my ability to communicate instantly with the world. And this basically boils down to Twitter clients and other updating apps. Now I’ve tried a load of Twitter apps (Tweetie, Tweetdeck etc), but I’ve settled on Twitterific Pro as my client of choice. It’s simple, lets me do most of what I like and can track a variety of sources. The other updating apps let me link into my various social media spaces, including Facebook, LinkedIn, Flickr, WordPress and Tumblr. And while I have used the WordPress app to actually add new stuff to my blog, the ones I’ve really used on a regular basis are Tumblr (my site is essentially all about stupid stuff I’ve taken photos of), Pixelpipe (which lets me post photos to multiple sources) and Mobile Fotos (which is effectively my Flickr client). They’re all impressive and certainly increase my posting and interaction online, but my favourite has to be Mobile Fotos as it has completed that link between taking a photo (and manipulating it on my iPhone) and posting it directly to my Filckr account, and given me a level of instantaneous satisfaction that has meant my Ixus/Aperture combo now lies a distant second.

Best Music app

I have spent altogether too much cash on music apps, and I’m still not entirely convinced that the iPhone is a genuine music creation platform. Sure it packs way more potential than my first ever four-track (ahh the nostalgia of it), but it’s fucking tiny and fiddly and it’s hard to get stuff on and off it. They also suffer from the lack of any widely established space to share tunes and the built-in capacity to share them a la Flickr or Facebook – in fact I’m thinking that making music with the bloody thing is a right bad idea. But on we go… There are essentially 3 types of music making apps which have their own particular styles, some provide the music clips and make the process about messing with them and sequencing them (deadmau5’s app, iDrum and Looptastic), others find a super-complicated way of letting users add samples and rearrange them (Beatmaker), while the really extreme give you the world’s smallest piano to actually make music on (MusicStudio) albeit with a very limited number of different sounds. Now, they all work and some are great fun and I love iDrum Underworld, but it’s not really about making music, and while MusicStudio is, it’s bloody complicated and you need fingers as thin as matchsticks to really use it. So, based purely on the fact that I have actually used it to make some music at 4am one morning when I couldn’t sleep, my best music app is Beatmaker. To see whether it was actually worth it, check this out.

01 First Stab

Apps in 2010

So where are apps going to go? It’s clear that the keys to moving many apps forward are an understanding of location and the ability to share and possibly even collaborate on material with other users. And most apps are going to want to have some way of sharing with more than just Facebook and Twitter – if only to publicise the app. Apple needs to seriously upgrade the iPhone camera and the telcos are going to have to make 3G (and subsequent networks) actually work properly to enable us to really take advantage. And I’m probably going to have to upgrade my original iPhone.

Stuff I Liked 2009 – Movies and TV

OK – after what seems like an age, it’s time to recall some of the best things I found over the last year.

Movies and TV

Last year’s best movie was French (the awesome OSS117), so there was no chance of that happening again. Instead we went off on a sci-fi vibe, I guess some kind of instinctive reaction to the economic implosion and the apparent death of vision and dreaming made flesh in the doom and gloom of the real world. It seems to me that sci-fi is doing what it always did best, providing clear visions of the future based on the prevailing philosophies and moods of the present. As a result we’re seeing futures that, if not echoing the total dystopia seen in the 1970s, at least mirror some of the concerns of today. And at a time when no one, politicians, broadcasters, entertainers, media etc seem capable of presenting us with an even palatable vision of life in the next decade, it’s no surprise that sci-fi is coming back in a big way. What is surprising is that it’s coming at us from so many different angles – not just movies, but books, TV series, comics etc – and that this is the most comprehensive channel for discussion or thought about where we’re heading.

So … Best movies and TV

  1. Star Trek Never thought I’d be so impressed by a movie that didn’t feature the Gone or those crazy starfish things that flew at Kirk before sucking his brain out, but this was brilliant. The Fleet isn’t quite the Peace Corps in space it used to be, but it’s not the fascist theocracy of Starship Troopers either and in a year when movies like 2012 just showed how vacuous ‘effects event’ movies can be, it was great to see something that was really about story and plot. The best thing about it was that when it was over, you just wanted to get back on and go for another adventure with those guys.
  2. Moon Almost the exact opposite, a smallish budget movie with tiny cast centered round a clone on the moon, but really all about identity, dreams and freedom. Moon was like Alien, but with less budget and no scary monsters (unless you count Kevin Spacey in ‘HAL’ mode). Killer soundtrack too.
  3. Terminator The Sarah Connor Chronicles Series 1 starts off in that sketchy space that exists between Terminator 2 and 3, then catapults the Connors into an alternate timestream. By Series 2 it has its own mythology and features so many people zapping back and forth in time that it’s amazing that no one here has noticed. And yet again, while being superficially a sci-fi series it is actually about family relationships and multiple quests for identity, not least from the various Terminators at large in and around the LA area.
  4. Misfits I pretty much loathed Heroes. It seemed as plastic as it could be, the equivalent of those comic books like The Avengers, which exist solely to allow those fanboy fights that shouldn’t happen in a regular book (like Ironman’s dirty dozen v all the bad mutants in the world). Misfits, on the other hand, was genius. In keeping with the comic legend, a bunch of people are given superpowers. Only they’re young urban adolescent chav scum. And they don’t immediately set out to save the world. Fucktastic.
  5. GI Joe OK, so if we are going to go all CGI and spastic special effects on ourselves, then it might as well be in the hands of Junior Michael Bey Boy, Stephen Sommers. Sure it’s stupid, stupid, stupid and it does feature the usual Sommers plots of mad professor type doing bad things and having to be restrained, but it’s waaaaay funnier than Transformers.
  6. Spooks While I was initially blown away (in every sense) with Spooks dedication to incinerating almost all of its key cast members, I’m not sure Season 8 was up to snuff as it were. Sure we lose pretty much the whole team over the course of the series, and there was a vaguely satisfying overall plot (not as good as the Russian plot of series 7), but there was still the sense of one too many ‘terrorist of the week’ episodes. Also because everything moves so fast in spookworld, we really don’t see the effect of individual’s actions on them in much detail. Still glad to have got rid of Ross Myers. She sucked.
  7. Crank Fully in the Misfits camp, Crank is about turning everything up to about 15 (out of 10). It’s about The Stath with no inhibitions and the mind of a muckraker driven to doing anything to keep himself alive. At once both snot-snortingly hilarious and wince-inducingly cringeworthy, this is a movie that really affects you.  And at 88 minutes, it just flies by.

Meanwhile in the shit pit …

  1. Watchmen Was it really only this year that this was released? It seems like so long ago. Bum-numbingly terrible and another example of how comics are not simply storyboards for movies. Maybe, like Lord of the Rings, it works better for people who’ve never actually read the books. Although it  wasn’t as bad as Wolverine The Backstory.
  2. 2012 Yawn. Another day, another disaster movie from Roland Emmerich. And like all his other movies, all the best bits are in the trailer, with the added benefit of having the tedious exposition and dreary ‘human interest’ storyline removed. How far can this guy fall after Independence Day?

Some Cool Things I Did This Year – Music

While I managed to successfully resist the lure of the Maschine, I did fall victim to a few other musical bits and pieces – enough to warrent serious practice and a bit too much late night fiddling around. The main output being the first Lairds of Scunthorpe material.

Monsters in my Attic

It’s a mixture of experimental keyboard/sampling/beats and guitar. Here, hopefully, are a couple of examples.

Beats v1.0

Human League (Not)

Some Cool Things I Did This Year – Snowboarding

Not entirely sure how much progress I made over the course of the year, but I had at least one day when everything was gold.

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Some Cool Things I Did This Year – Diving in Marseille

While I didn’t do much diving this year, I did do more than last year (not hard I know). And the best diving was the trip down to Marseille. We spent four days in Marseille on an island (Isle de Frioul), which is next to Isle d’If where the Man In The Iron Mask was imprisoned. Having been told that there were no fish in the Med, we were surprised to find quite a few of them hiding in various places. The diving was a nice mix of nature diving and cool wrecks, which included a Messerschmidt 109E, shot down in WWII.

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Oh and some pretty spectacular little caverns, just the right things to be pootling about in for a while. Read more on the club blog