My albums of 2011

I didn’t think that I’d acquired many new albums in 2011, but I’ve just checked and my collection grew by 21 items (singles, EPs and albums), which was more than last year.

Here are my highlights, and unlike last year I’m starting with my favourite and working backwards.

1. Machine Head — Unto The Locust

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There have been some great metal albums released in 2011, by some major bands. But for me this has been the best: solid, tight, melodic, dynamic, perfect.

I thought their last album, The Blackening, was great—it was awarded Roadrunner Records’ “Album of the Century” after all. They seem to have either equalled or even excelled with this one. It’s a cracker of an album.

During the intro and outro of “Who We Are” on the recently finished Eighth Plague tour, Machine Head displayed fan testimonials on their projection screens that had been captured at that nights’ show.

The shots featured die hard fans that had stood in line for up to 10 hours before the doors opened, who, for their their dedication and passion, had their faces and messages shown on the three on-stage screens.

They became known as The Faces of The Eighth Plague.

Stand-out track: Who We Are

2. Mastodon — The Hunter

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My cousin Alan claims that Mastodon albums never release all their secrets on the first couple of listens. I like that quotation. There is an implication that there is a depth to Mastodon’s songs.

I’ve blogged elsewhere about this album, so I won’t repeat myself, suffice to say that even if the song Blasteroid is in the wrong place on the album this is one very solid, beautiful album.

Stand-out track: Curl of the Burl

3. Anthrax — Worship Music

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I’m going to be honest: I was sceptical about former, ‘classic’ Anthrax-frontman Joey Belladonna returning to the fold; I always preferred John Bush’s voice. But WOW! they delivered one killer album, and Belladonna’s vocals are the best they have ever been on record.

Stand-out track: In The End

4. Metallica – Beyond Magnetic EP

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The cynic might argue that Metallica only put out the Beyond Magnetic EP in light of the poor reviews and sales of their Lulu collaboration with former Velvet Underground frontman Lou Reed. The official reason was that it was to coincide with Metallica’s 30 anniversary celebrations in San Francisco.

Whatever the reason: four great songs, and I’m looking forward to whatever comes next from Metallica HQ.

Stand-out song: Hell and Back

5. Voivod — To The Death 84

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This is a demo tape that got lucky and it makes Voivod sound as new and exciting as when I first heard the opening chords of Killing Technology some time in 1987.

What makes it for me is vocalist Piggy’s spoken parts between songs: it’s up-close and personal, listening in to the Voivod rehearsal space. Great stuff!

Stand-out song: Hell Driver

6. Lou Reed & Metallica — Lulu

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Let’s make no bones about it: this is not a comfortable album to listen to. But I can’t help liking it. In many ways it reminds me of some of the twentieth century composers whose works I used to sing in the National Youth Choir of Great Britain. Those were pieces that you hated on first sing-through but became a part of you the more you got inside them.

The critics have slammed this album. The fans have decried it and despaired about what Metallica will come out with next. But they miss the point: this is not a Metallica album. It’s a collaboration. It’s a Lou Reed album with the four members of Metallica as backing band. If anything it is art.

It’s bold. It’s different. And I really like it.

Stand-out track: Dragon

7. Opeth — Heritage

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This album took a good few listens to, and a good few weeks of not listening to it in between, before I finally ‘got’ it. It’s a good album, not a great album, but I will continue to listen to it… even if I do really miss that Opeth fusion of heavy and quietly melodic.

Stand-out track: Häxprocess

8. Megadeth — Th1rt3en

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If I’m honest, I was a little disappointed with Megadeth’s thirteen studio album. Don’t get me wrong: it’s a great metal record. But for Megadeth it just feels… lazy. It doesn’t have the hunger of 2007’s United Abominations or the punch of 2009’s Endgame.

Guitarist Chris Broderick said that he could hear elements of the different eras of Megadeth in the various songs. I’m not surprised: some of these are ‘left-over’ songs from previous albums, and one (‘Millennium of the Blind’) is a re-recording.

Stand-out track: Never Dead

9. Radiohead — The King of Limbs

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This was an unexpected album for me this year but it’s a great album for listening to in a darkened room late at night. It’s like 2011’s answer to Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon.

Stand-out track: Lotus Flower

10. Cavalera Conspiracy — Blunt Force Trauma

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For their second album guitarist/vocalist/song-writer Max Cavalera promised a shorter, more intense, in-your-face album than their debut Inflikted, which was one of my favourite albums of 2008.

This is another album that disappointed me on first listen—perhaps my expectations were too high, perhaps I just wasn’t in the right head-space to listen to it. The album has certainly grown on me during the year.

Stand-out track: Warlord

Last fm charts

Of course, this year I’ve listened to more than just the music that has come out this year. Whenever I listen to music, and I’m connected to the internet, the tracks are recorded to my Last.fm account.

My top-ten most played:

Artists

  1. Opeth (579 tracks)
  2. Anthrax (518 tracks)
  3. Slayer (462 tracks)
  4. Mastodon (328 tracks)
  5. Queen (301 tracks)
  6. Lamb of God (301 tracks)
  7. Metallica (236 tracks)
  8. Machine Head (220 tracks)
  9. Testament (216 tracks)
  10. Big Country (201 tracks)

Albums

  1. Lamb of God — Sacrament
  2. Porcupine Tree — The Incident
  3. Opeth — Ghost Reveries
  4. Godflesh — Streetcleaner
  5. Slipknot — Slipknot
  6. A Perfect Circle — Mer De Noms
  7. Mastodon — The Hunter
  8. Anthrax — Worship Music
  9. Anthrax — We’ve Come For You All
  10. Opeth — Watershed

Tracks

  1. Pantera — Mouth For War (60 plays)
  2. Opeth — Ghost of Perdition (55 plays)
  3. Opeth — The Lotus Eater (47 plays)
  4. Opeth — The Drapery Falls (46 plays)
  5. Opeth — Blackwater Park (44 plays)
  6. A Perfect Circle — Magdalena (43 plays)
  7. Opeth — Bleak (43 plays)
  8. Metallica — Nothing Else Matters (42 plays)
  9. Opeth — Dirge For November (41 plays)
  10. Porcupine Tree — Lazarus (41 plays)

What about you?

Have you blogged about your favourite music of 2011, then add a link to the comments below. If not, what have you really enjoyed?

AWESOME! Christmas ident for E4

What do you mean you don’t know what an ident is? Are you like one of these people who has friends and goes out, and stuff?

Weird!

Anyway, come back after you’ve read up all about station idents on Wikipedia… That was interesting wasn’t it. They sure mentioned ‘FCC’ a lot, didn’t they.

My colleague @stepreo (not his real name, obviously) showed me this Christmas ident created by Treat Studios for E4. It’s called ‘Reindeer’ and has to be one of the most amazing 6 seconds of animation in the history of ever.

The Hunt for Gollum

Tolkien

I first encountered the writings of English writer, poet and academic JRR Tolkien, as I suspect many other teenagers did in the early 80s, when I received a copy of The Hobbit for the Commodore 64 back in 1983.

My copy of the computer game (on cassette) came bundled with a copy of the novel. I still have it—it’s a rather loose-leaf copy now; it has a cover price of £1.50. The game cost £14.95, which was more than twice the price of an average music album in those days, and took around 30 minutes to load.

As an aside, as I’m sure many other are, I’m keenly looking forward to seeing The Hobbit in the cinema next December.

It wasn’t until nine years later, in my final year at the University of St Andrews, that I discovered The Lord of the Rings, and years after that The Silmarillion, Unfinished Tales, and various other collections of his works documenting the history of Middle Earth.

The Hunt for Gollum

The Hunt for Gollum is a British fan-made, unofficial prequel to The Lord of the Rings film trilogy that documents Aragorn’s quest to find Gollum. And it’s really rather good, for a film shot in high-definition video on a budget of GBP £3,000.

The story takes place 17 years after Bilbo’s eleventy-first birthday party following Gandalf the Grey’s investigations into the original of the One Ring and he fears that Gollum will reveal information to the Dark Lord Sauron about Bilbo Baggins.

The film lasts just under 40 minutes.

Creating a web app with Ryan Singer of 37signals

Ryan Singer at Future of Web Apps, London 2010 from Ryan Singer on Vimeo.

I’ve long been impressed with the quality, simplicity and focus of the web applications that emerge from US company 37signals. I’ve used Basecamp very successfully as a project collaboration tool on a couple of web projects.

If you’re interested in web design or web apps and you’ve not read either of their books Getting Real (US $25) or Rework (US $22) then you’re missing out, they contain some fabulous insights. If you don’t fancy forking out for them, Getting Real at least can be read online for free.

This is a talk that I’ve been meaning to blog about for ages. It was given by Ryan Singer of 37signals at the Future of Web Apps 2010 in London. Here’s what he says about the talk:

In this talk, I walk through the steps of creating a web app including modeling, sketching, HTML, Photoshop explorations, and moving from static mockups to live running code. Each step is illustrated with a real example, including some live sketching and live HTML. I also wanted to give a sense of how we think about apps at 37signals, as a stack of different levels that we can iterate on individually.

A few points that I got out of this:

  • What can I do now that will simplify this?
  • Sketching out ideas in HTML, rather than first mocking then up in Photoshop or Fireworks, is clearly the way forward.
  • Emphasise the things that are important.

A day in bed

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Photo by Lillian Nelson | stock.xchng

Thank the Lord for grandparents who live only five minutes’ down the road, and who can take all three children at the drop of a hat.

Jane and I spent most of today in bed asleep, fighting some kind of fleeting, flu-like tummy bug. We ached all over: eyes, joints…everywhere! I felt very, very nauseous. I had a bucket beside my bed—it was that serious.

Reuben, Joshua and Isaac were delivered back to the sickhouse just before 6pm, as Jane and emerged from our half-day hibernation.

I’m still feeling quite fragile, but a couple of glasses of Coca Cola have really helped with the nausea. I just hope I can sleep tonight, though. Now, that would be ironic.

Christmas 2011

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Above: Isaac gives a knitted Santa a cuddle a few days before Christmas.

Christmas Eve

“I was very surprised that you agreed to preach at the midnight mass,” said Jane on Christmas Eve, “after you’d said last year that you were going to take a year off this year.”

“Did I say that?” I asked.

Apparently so, but I’m glad that I had forgotten because the midnight service at All Saints’, St Andrews was beautiful. The nave (where the congregation sits) was in darkness, lit by hand-held candles, there was a procession during which the baby Jesus was placed in the crib, which was then blessed. The choir was small but enthusiastic; and daring (In dulce jubilo in German). My sermon was warmly received, with another member of the clergy team saying to me afterwards that he thought that it was “spot on”, which I found encouraging.

I drove back to Anstruther around a quarter past one, glowing and thanking God. While I was waiting for the toast to pop-up at home I tweeted:

Fabulous midnight mass at All Saints, St Andrews. The good news of Jesus preached. Feeling very blessed. Happy Christmas one and all. x

I retired to bed for about four-and-a-half hours.

Christmas Day

The drive to Selkirk wasn’t quite as I had planned; particularly the 30 mph winds. I don’t think I’ve ever been so scared while driving. The Forth Road Bridge was closed to high sided vehicles, buses, cars with trailers, caravans, motorcycles, bicycles and pedestrians: pretty much everybody apart from us. I crept across the almost deserted bridge at 30 mph, driving mostly down the line between the lanes.

Just south of Edinburgh, at Newtongrange we discovered that Isaac had a very dodgy tummy. And that we’d forgotten to pack a change of clothes. He turned up to St John’s in Selkirk wearing his pyjamas: a George Pig (Peppa’s brother) fleecy sleep suit. Very sweet.

Jane stayed at my Mum’s to prepare Christmas lunch while the rest of us (minus Reuben, who wanted to stay with Mummy) went to church.

We had Christmas lunch round a wallpaper-pasting table covered in a table cloth, which was a great idea and fit the space perfectly. Jane’s lunch was cooked to perfection—even the parsnips in honey and mustard which always go wrong for us.

Before and after lunch presents were opened, mostly by Reuben and Joshua regardless of whose name was on the label—they were so excited, it was great. And all too soon we were packing up bags and boxes and loading up the car again for the equally-windy drive back to Fife.

Once back home the boys all transferred effortlessly (and for us thankfully) from the car to their beds. We unpacked the car, reheated some Christmas dinner and crashed out in front of the telly to watch the season finalé of Merlin that we’d recorded from the night before.

Then bed.

Boxing Day

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Above: Joshua (left) and Reuben rip open a present on Boxing Day morning.

This was our stay-at-home day, with the majority of Reuben, Joshua and Isaac’s presents still to open. It was nice to stretch out their presents over the last two days rather than overwhelming them with everything all at once.

Jane had picked up a big box of action figures: underwater, mountain, space, etc. which you can see Reuben and Joshua opening in the photograph above. They have loved playing with them all day. At one point they were both lying on top of the dining room table totally engrossed in their play: fabulous!

It was also a tired day, as the busyness of the last few days caught up with us. Jane crashed out on the sofa around mid-day; I went for a sleep mid-afternoon; Reuben fell asleep on the armchair just before dinner.

That said, bedtime still took about three-and-a-half hours. And everybody wanted Mummy to put them to bed.

And to be honest, that’s where I should be now, so I’m going to be uncharacteristically sensible and catch up with as much sleep as I can get. That is, after all, the only thing that I asked for for Christmas: a sleep.

Night, night! And Happy Christmas!