Lists of 2015

I took a break from top tens last year due to… I don’t know. Something like not really being interested? Anyway, here we go again.


Top Ten most played songs from 2015 in my iTunes

  1. Destroyer – Dream Lover
  2. Destroyer – Girl In A Sling
  3. Modest Mouse – Lampshades on Fire
  4. Destroyer – Times Square
  5. Wilco – Random Name Generator
  6. Everything Everything – Distant Past
  7. Modest Mouse – Be Brave
  8. Caetano Veloso & Gilberto Gil – Terra (live at Jazz in Mariac)
  9. Blur – I Broadcast
  10. Everything Everything – Regret

A pretty interesting year. Probably my favourite album of the year was the Everything Everything one. Luke Kennard said he played that one so much that he sort of wore it out very quickly and I was the same. The Wilco one is probably the album I go back to most.


Top Ten most played songs from 2015 in my iTunes, adjusted to one song per band

  1. Destroyer – Dream Lover
  2. Modest Mouse – Lampshades On Fire
  3. Wilco – Random Name Generator
  4. Everything Everything – Distant Past
  5. Caetano Veloso & Gilberto Gil – Terra (live at Jazz in Mariac)
  6. Blur – I Broadcast
  7. Mark Ronson – Uptown Funk
  8. Sleater Kinney – Surface Envy
  9. Andrew Bird – The Fake Headlines
  10. Django Django – Shake And Tremble

The Sleater Kinney and Django Django albums are splendid. And you don’t like Uptown Funk? I think you’re wrong.


Other albums I liked not represented in this list

Julia Holter – Have You In My Wilderness

The Belle & Sebastian album was okay, but I haven’t really gone back to it. Good singles on El Vy and Dilly Dally albums. I’m only just scratching the surface of Kendrick Lamar and Kamasi Washington albums, but they’re pretty great so far.


Top Ten Films of the Year

  1. Mad Max: Fury Road
  2. Inside Out
  3. The Martian
  4. Brooklyn
  5. Star Wars: The Force Awakens
  6. The Lady In The Van
  7. Amy
  8. Selma
  9. Ant-Man
  10. Sicario


Worst Film of the Year

Kingsman: The Secret Service. I really disliked that film.


Top Five Plays of the Year

  1. I Want My Hat Break, National Theatre (Temporary Theatre)
  2. A View From The Bridge, Wyndham’s Theatre (Young Vic production)
  3. Pirates of Penzance, ENO, Coliseum
  4. King Charles III, Wyndham’s Theatre (Almeida production)
  5. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, Gielgud Theatre (National Theatre production)

Turns out I really like plays that transfer to the Wyndham’s.


Top 10 most played songs in iTunes – all time

  1. Queens of the Stone Age – The Lost Art of Keeping A Secret
  2. Spoon – Finer Feelings
  3. Spoon – Everything Hits At Once
  4. St Vincent – Actor Out Of Work
  5. Arcade Fire – Ready To Start
  6. Queens of the Stone Age – Go With The Flow
  7. Beck – Hell Yes
  8. Death From Above 1979 – Romantic Rights
  9. Janelle Monae – Tightrope
  10. Lambchop – Slipped Dissolved and Loosed


Review: Beck, Morning Phase

I’m an occasional contributor to Third Way Magazine, a magazine of Christian comment upon culture which is available by subscription.

Here’s a review of “Morning Phase”, the album by Beck, which originally appeared in the April 2014 issue.

Everyone needs sad songs occasionally. A little musical wallow can be an important part of the healing process – whether you’re getting over loneliness (Nilsson’s “Without You”), a departed child (The Beatles’ “She’s Leaving Home”), or the destruction of Jerusalem (the Book of Lamentations – not as catchy, that one).

Sea Change, Beck Hansen’s 2002 album, was a collection of tear-drenched songs inspired by the break-up of Hansen’s nine-year relationship, and as such provided some superior material for moping around your bedroom crying. These were songs performed at a glacial pace, draped in sincerity rather than the slacker cool of Beck’s career highlight Odelay.

Now, twelve years later, he’s gathered the same musicians together for a tonal sequel to Sea Change – this time the blood-letting coming not as a response to the death of a relationship, but following an extended period of incapacity because of an injury to his spine.

Because of this shift in the source of the misery, Morning Phase’s mood is more one of existential malaise than the raw nerve-endings of its prequel. Indeed, after a ten-year marriage and two children, Beck sometimes seems a little bit too happy to be singing sad songs – the music plucking the heart-strings, but the lyrics only offering formless cut-up poetry in response.

There are glimmers of commentary about his injury – lines like “Bones crack / Curtains drawn / On my back / And she is gone” from Say Goodbye are practically begging for lyric nerd interpretations on – but it’s more the mood of these quiet, slow songs that communicates the grief.

Stylistically, the homage to Sea Change is striking – Nick Drake-esque folk augmented by stately, deliberate country swing. The lush strings of Hansen’s father David Campbell are once again employed to great effect, washing over the finger-picked guitars; particularly on “Wave”, where the nautical swells of the string arrangements underline the woozy mood. However, taken as a whole, there’s an unnerving sense that Hansen is walking a path he’s already ventured down; the great innovator’s comforting retreat into the language of his past.

There are a few diversions – the emphatic piano stabs of “Blue Moon”, some lovely phased keys in “Unforgiven”, or the Gothic country of “Turn Away” – but the album’s tone is so monolithic, so uniform, that it slips effortlessly into a forgettable slab; Beck as background music.

As a second-generation Scientologist, Beck is – presumably – extremely familiar with the ‘auditing’ process, where individuals relive past traumas to free themselves of their baggage. It is perhaps unfair to suggest this, but maybe Morning Phase fulfils the same function. It’s Beck talking us through his post-injury isolation, telling us how it felt to be in that room. Lonely, motionless, inert – his thoughts fractured, his sense of self washing away on the tide.

Tom’s Perenially Inaccurate Top 10 of 2013

Each year, we go through the frustrating shambles of listing the top ten tracks in my iTunes. Here we go.

1) The National, “Pink Rabbits”
=2) David Bowie, “Where Are We Now?”
=2) Foals, “My Number”
4) Vampire Weekend, “Step”
=5) Arcade Fire, “Reflektor”
=5) Arcade Fire, “Afterlife”
=7) St Vincent, “Birth In Reverse”
=7) Vampire Weekend, “Ya Hey”
=9) The National, “Demons”
=9) Vampire Weekend, “Diane Young”

Some interesting wrinkles… the fad for releasing one track in advance has caused two problems. One of which is that, if the pre-release and album versions of the song “Reflektor” are counted together, they are easily the song I’ve listened to the most. But as they’re two tracks, they come in at joint fifth and joint eleventh.

We’ll have the same problem next year, I’ll warrant, with “Birth In Reverse”, from the unreleased St Vincent album.

Good albums this year, weren’t they? I found The National a bit patchy and Janelle Monae a bit less electrifying than her previous one, but Arcade Fire, Vampire Weekend and Everything Everything were all extremely strong albums. And the David Bowie one was a revelation. That kid’s alright.

Here’s the list, limited to one track per artist:

1) The National, “Pink Rabbits”
2) David Bowie, “Where Are We Now?”
3) Foals, “My Number”
4) Vampire Weekend, “Step”
5) Arcade Fire, “Reflektor”
6) St Vincent, “Birth In Reverse”
7) Everything Everything, “Cough Cough”
8) Daft Punk, “Get Lucky”
9) Destroyer, “Maria De Las Nieves”
10) Janelle Monae, “QUEEN”

The iPrune continues. We’re now down to 26830 songs over 135.57gb. And my iPod has recently stopped syncing. Thanks Apple.

And here’s the all-time list (last year’s position in brackets):

=1) Queens Of The Stone Age, “Lost Art Of Keeping A Secret” (1)
=1) Spoon, “Finer Feelings” (2)
=1) St Vincent, “Actor Out Of Work” (3)
4) Arcade Fire, “Ready To Start” (4)
5) Queens Of The Stone Age, “Go With The Flow” (5)
=6) Bracket, “Trailer Park” (5)
=6) Rolling Stones, “Tumbling Dice” (new entry)
=8) Beck, “Hell Yes” (new entry)
=8) Foals, “Cassius” (9)
=10) Death From Above 1979, “Romantic Rights” (new entry)
=10) Interpol, “The Heinrich Maneuver” (new entry)

There we go. See you next year.

Tom’s Continuingly Inaccurate Top 10 of 2012

(Previous years: 20112010, 2009, 2008)

Persisting with an annual charade that stands up to no scrutiny, here are the ten most played songs from my iTunes that were released in 2012.
=1) Rams Pocket Radio – 1&2
=1) Smoke Fairies – Let Me Know
=3) Django Django – Default
=3) Fiona Apple – Anything We Want
=5) Ben Folds Five – Michael Praytor, Five Years Later
=5) Frank Ocean – Super Rich Kids
=7) Ben Folds Five – Draw A Crowd
=7) Fiona Apple – Valentine
=7) Grouplove – Party Hard
=7) Standard Fare – Suitcase
Splendid albums from Frank Ocean, Fiona Apple and Ben Folds Five. Good ones too from Muse, Graham Coxon and Django Django. Could do with a couple more big hitters in 2013 – big hopes for the Foals album in February.
In memoriam, it was very sad to lose MCA. What a guy.
I’ve done a bit of an iTunes prune (iPrune?) this year, after my 160gb iPod filled up, so we’re now down to 27,488 songs over 136gb. (Sorry again, Cooper Temple Clause.)
Here’s the overall top ten, with last year’s position in brackets:
1) Queens of the Stone Age – The Lost Art of Keeping A Secret (3)
2) Spoon – Finer Feelings (1)
3) St Vincent – Actor Out Of Work (1)
4) Arcade Fire – Ready To Start (new entry)
=5) Bracket – Trailer Park (4)
=5) Queens of the Stone Age – Go With The Flow (new entry)
=7) LCD Soundsystem – Drunk Girls (4)
=7) Wilco – Company In My Back (6)
=9) Clearlake – Widescreen (new entry)
=9) Foals – Cassius (new entry)
=9) The National – You’ve Done It Again, Virginia (6)
=9) Spoon – Don’t You Evah (new entry)
The first year at number one for QOTSA. Quite happy with the list overall.
That’s your lot. See you next year for even less science.

Icon of the Month: Doctor Who

I’m an occasional contributor to Third Way Magazine, a magazine of Christian comment upon culture which is available by subscription.

Here’s an entry for their regular “Icon Of The Month” column, which didn’t get used in the end (someone had already done Doctor Who). It includes a joke about the Cartmel Masterplan, which you can read up on here if you want to be a NERD.

In the history of the long-running BBC TV programme Doctor Who, 5th October 1991 is not a particularly impressive date. The programme was in a period of indefinite hiatus, cancelled by the BBC after poor ratings, erratic scheduling, and an increasing reliance on impenetrable storylines and effects on a shoestring. But on 5th October 1991, I met the Doctor and asked if he was ever going to go on an adventure with Robin Hood, and he said that was a good idea. And it happened in a conference suite in Coventry…

Alright, it wasn’t actually the Doctor, it was Sylvester McCoy, and it was at a convention that lived up to all the cliches you’d care to throw at it – sweaty men-children in Vervoid costumes – but at that moment, a TV show, of all things, reached out and sparked the imagination of a small, thoughtful, bespectacled lad.

That’s what it’s been doing to children of all ages since it was first broadcast in 1963; its early years inspired not only by a need to fill the gap between Grandstand and Juke Box Jury, but also a desire by the Head of Drama Sydney Newman to create a science-fiction show that educated – where the time-travel was an excuse to inform kids about Paleolithic tribes, Marco Polo, and the Aztecs. Of course, most of that went out the window with the second story, which introduced The Daleks – faceless fascistic robots who terrorised both the travellers in time and space, and generations of children.

The creative inspiration of Doctor Who comes from the penny-pinching improvisation of those early producers and writers, who accidentally stumbled across the reasons behind the programme’s uniqueness and longevity as they struggled to get it made. The TARDIS was initially due to change shape every week to fit in with its surroundings, but it was the creative response to a lack of budget – or indeed “a broken chameleon circuit” – that made the Doctor’s ship a police telephone box, whether it landed in the distant past (a quarry) or the furthest reaches of outer space (a quarry). And rather than just replacing the actor when first Doctor William Hartnell’s deteriorating health got the better of him, the production team decided that the character’s alien nature could encompass “regeneration” into Patrick Troughton – the Doctor cheating death not for the first time, and certainly not the last.

And so the programme became a mainstay of BBC Saturday nights, with a host of monsters, and an evergreen central character who encompassed flamboyant authority (Jon Pertwee), toothy madness (Tom Baker), and doe-eyed cricket obsessive (Peter Davison). But by the time of Colin Baker’s Sixth Doctor – a barbed cynic unpopular with audiences – it was clear that the programme wasn’t connecting with the kids it had been created for. It needed a break.

And a break it got – sixteen long years from 1989 to 2005, with only a brief, Americanised, TV movie for comfort. By the time it was announced that it was returning to BBC Saturday nights, it was difficult to ignore that little voice that said “It’s not going to be any good, and – what’s more – Billie Piper’s in it…”

When it returned, it was at full strength. Showrunner Russell T Davies once again “regenerated” the show, making it vital to a new generation of kids – particularly focusing on making it fresh and fun for girls, who traditionally didn’t care what the Cartmel Masterplan was. I once met a writer of Doctor Who who grabbed me, a relative stranger, by the shoulders and said with obvious joy in his eyes “It’s back! It’s really back!” When I heard my six-year-old cousin yelling “Exterminate!”, I knew it was true.

Episodes may respond to the time they were created – robot versions of Trinny and Susannah from 2005 already seem as hopelessly dated as a 1963 episode’s in-jokes about impending UK decimalisation – but the idea of an eccentric wandering hero, engaged in adventures both exhilarating and terrifying, remains indestructably appealing. And it’s that central character that I think attracts Christians to Doctor Who – he’s rather familiar.

Kindly, a little bit mysterious, good with children, surrounded by doting friends… both completely alien (literally or figuratively) and wonderfully human.

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Tom’s Persistently Unscientific Top Ten of 2011!

(Previous years: 2010, 2009, 2008)

As previously stated, I’m building a masterpiece in my iPod – currently 27,855 items occupying 137.34 GB.
We’re reaching a tipping point here, people, where my iPod is struggling to cope. I’m going to have to do some trimming soon. That probably means jettisoning that Cooper Temple Clause album. Sorry, Cooper Temple Clause.
Each year, I make an unsatisfying auto-playlist of the songs that are dated that year in my iTunes, and rank them in order of most listened to. Here’s this year’s list.
1) Uberlin – REM
2) Downtown – Destroyer
3)= Stuck On The Puzzle – Alex Turner
3)= Blue Eyes – Destroyer
3)= Savage Night At The Opera – Destroyer
3)= Wake Up – Jason Pegg
7)= Poor In Love – Destroyer
7)= Civilian – Wye Oak
9)= Make Some Noise – Beastie Boys
9)= Song For America – Destroyer
A simultaneous “Hooray!” and “Boo hoo!” for the departing REM – probably my favourite band ever. I’m glad Uberlin is a splendid last hurrah on a mostly-great album. Probably the best album of the year was PJ Harvey, but it was just so bleak. Therefore the simply wonderful, neon-lit, sax-solo-covered, deeply-uncool Kaputt by Destroyer is my favourite album of the year. If you haven’t checked it out yet, please do. It’s superb.
Honourable mentions for those not mentioned in the list above go to St Vincent, who made a stunning album a bit too late in the year for consideration; King of Limbs by Radiohead which was alright, wasn’t it?; the Lonely Island for making some pretty good songs on a patchy album (less of the homophobia next time, chaps!); and Wilco, whose The Whole Love is their best album since A Ghost Is Born. YES! In your face, everyone else who’s already said that! I’m saying it too!
It was a good year, I think. There’s lots I have yet to discover. No time. I got married instead of listening to music. Sue me.
Here’s my current All-Time Top 10, with last year’s chart placement in brackets after it:
1)= Finer Feelings – Spoon (non-mover)
1)= Actor Out Of Work – St Vincent (last year’s number 2)
3) The Lost Art Of Keeping A Secret – Queens of the Stone Age (non-mover)
4)= Trailer Park – Bracket (new entry)
4)= Drunk Girls – LCD Soundsystem (new entry)
6)= Romantic Rights – Death From Above 1979 (non-mover)
6)= Tightrope – Janelle Monae (new entry)
6)= You’ve Done It Again, Virginia – The National (last year’s number 3)
6)= Tumbling Dice – The Rolling Stones (new entry – probably a re-entry, actually)
6)= Company In My Back – Wilco (non-mover)
6)= Good – Ghostface Killah (non-mover)
Pretty pointless, all in all.
This year, I don’t think I know of any new albums coming out. Maybe there won’t be any. That would be interesting, eh? I’m hoping to do something a bit musicky this year. Watch this space. It might actually happen.
(EDIT: Oh, and I’m on this ThisIsMyJam thing – come hang out, music-lovers…)

An Open Letter to the people of Kingston and Surbiton

I was brought up in Surbiton, in Surrey, and born in Kingston Hospital. I don’t live there any more, but I recently wrote an email to my friends and family who still do. This is what it said:

Dear Surbiton and Kingston folk –

I don’t live in Surbiton any more. I live in East Dulwich, in South-East London, under a Labour MP who lives in North-West London. That’s not important right now.

What is important is that I would like to do some tactical petitioning. I’ve signed this thing which sends an email to my MP protesting against the Health and Social Care Bill and cuts to the NHS, and I wondered if you’d do likewise.

My MP will argue against it because she’s on the opposite side of the House, and that’s how our screwed up, fiercely partisan Parliament rolls, but if you could send dear Mr Davey MP a reminder that he shouldn’t be kow-towing to mandateless hooligans intent on turning over our beautiful, free, envy-of-the-world NHS to changes even the British Medical Journal has argued vociferously against (, that would please me no end.

In return, I promise I will harangue Tessa Jowell MP about whatever you’d like. Lord knows I email her almost weekly at the moment anyway, but a little guidance on that would be most welcome. Maybe you want her to change the colour of her suit, or live in the constituency she claims to represent… It’s all fair game.

For what it’s worth, I like Ed Davey a lot, and think he’s brilliant at his job of representing the people of Kingston and Surbiton, but if he can’t see the irony of saving Kingston Hospital from closure only to lose 20% of its staff ( and thinks that inviting privatisation into any part of this mess would improve it one jot, then I think we ought to let him know that.

If you think I’m being an East Dulwich-living interfering git who ought to keep his nose out of Surbiton business, then I understand your position and respectfully ask you to delete this email. It is lovely, though, Dulwich. You can get really good sandwiches.

Much love,