Tom Ewing

22
Jan 18

2018 Music Diary Week 3: The Week Of Appropriation

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NEW MUSIC

fob mania

Day 19: FALL OUT BOY – Mania: Short, and making no secret of its modern pop inspiration (there’s a song here with a reggaeton beat!), Mania underlines Fall Out Boy’s flexibility and their continuity. Basically, they’re all about those long, epigrammic lyrical unburdenings – what makes FOB FOB is their cadences, not their instruments. Wentz’ lyrics don’t necessarily even connect, they’re a series of verbal poses and the songs, in whatever style, are the catwalk.

15
Jan 18

Read Harder Challenge (1 of 24): SIX TO SIXTEEN

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Six to Sixteen: A Story for GirlsSix to Sixteen: A Story for Girls by Juliana Horatia Ewing

Read as part of the Book Riot Read Harder 2018 Challenge (Category: “A children’s classic published before 1980”)

She’s no relation, but I’ve always had a curiosity about the work of my mid-Victorian namesake Mrs Ewing, author of dozens of books and short stories for children. In her time a bestseller – enough that her early death sparked an 18-volume memorial edition of her collected works – hardly anyone reads her now, but there’s a chain of admiration linking her to the present day. There’s something of Mrs.Ewing’s unpatronising interest in childhood concerns in the work of E. Nesbit, for instance (who is not much read herself but whose flame is kept alive by Pullman and others).

Even so I was a bit scared to approach Six To Sixteen – I had the idea Mrs Ewing’s books might be rather dry and improving, since she was keen for them to lead her child-readers along virtuous paths. But I was wrong. If there’s a central message of Six To Sixteen, it’s one that’s orthodox today but I suspect was a good deal less widely agreed in the 1860s – the need for girls to have an education and lifestyle that strongly emphasises curiosity and “intellectual pursuits” (everything from art to naturalism to languages) over the traditional domestic and social spheres of the Victorian feminine.

2018 Music Diary Week 2: The Week Of Intensity

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NEW MUSIC

camila lp

Day 12: Camila Cabello – Camila: Short, well-put-together pop LP which puts “Havana” fourth – I don’t really get how post-physical media track ordering works, but back in the day this would have been a statement that yes, she has plenty of others where that came from, thank you. And it’s true – the sound of the LP is the woozy, sparse mid-tempo mode of current pop, but with stronger songs and Cabello’s slightly raspy, bullshit-weary tone to elevate it.

9
Jan 18

Popular Crystal Ball: 2017 – Islands In The Stream

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Tom, enjoying Havana

Tom, enjoying Havana

Its Sheeranmania bookends might fool you into thinking that 2017 was just as bad a year for Number Ones as 2016. It wasn’t. For a start, very little could be. But while last year saw the charts reeling under the impact of streaming, this year they adjusted. New rules: get people in the first 30 seconds or GTFO (aka fail to count as a play, fall off the Spotify playlists, etc.) The emerging formula – with some variations – is to put the chorus first and then, if we’re lucky, fool around with variations and guest spots later. Those stars big enough to ignore this imperative often used their power badly.

Anyway, the Number Ones of 2017, in order. I’m pleasantly surprised at how far down this list I have to go before I get to singles I would turn off rather than hear. I’m also pleasantly surprised that – assuming I ever get my groove back – the future of Popular holds the opportunity to write about Young Thug, Quavo, Daddy Yankee, Chance The Rapper, and more. But I’m disappointed that I don’t really love any of these songs, even my favourite.

8
Jan 18

2018 Music Diary Week 1: The Week Of Flutes

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Last year I posted the new records I listened to every day on Facebook, deliberately writing nothing about them. This year I’m still listening to a new (to me) record every day, but I’m trying to be more thorough about what I think of them, and I’ll be posting this every week on here.

NEW MUSIC (2018)

cupcakke ephorize

Day 5: CupcaKke – Ephoriser: New LP from the Chicago rapper – last year’s Queen Elizabitch got the balance just right between ear-burning sex raps, conscious stuff, put-downs of the competition and introspective jams, and the beats were sproingy good-time things. This new one is a lot less fun – consciously so in places – but even the filth sounds jaded, dutiful even. Some strong, melancholy beats – a lot of woodwind – but they don’t suit CupcaKke’s aggressive, barking flow that well.

3
Jan 18

Good Comics I Read In 2017

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seven sacksI’m not doing a comics poll this year – the slack is being admirably taken up with Pete’s new TV poll – but I still read a LOT of comics last year. Here, in no special order, were some of the best ones, new to me if not always to the world.

HOW TO BE HAPPY (by Eleanor Davis; Fantagraphics)

I loved this, a collection of beautifully composed stories and vignettes in a variety of styles, from gorgeous colour-saturated paintings to quick, fluid multi-page sketch stories that reminded me of Jules Feiffer (who’s also a reference point for Davis’ sharp observations of human neuroses). Some of the stories are glimpses into imagined worlds – like a near-future family reunion – others, like the eerie, funny, “Seven Sacks” – draw on folklore tropes. Davis’ skill at capturing the movement of bodies makes the simplest of ideas sing on the page.

2
Jan 18

Provenance And Use AKA A Vague Critical Resolution

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Culture circulates online within algorithm-driven networks: Google, Twitter, Facebook, Spotify, etc. These are also automatic measurement systems. Two particularly valuable things they measure are attribution – the path you took to reach something – and conversion (in its crudest form, did you buy it? but we can also throw in engagement, sharing, and other such soft interactions).

I’m using “valuable” here in the sense of “this is data marketers want”, which is why I’m also using the hard, gross language of attribution and conversion. Emotionally there’s a temptation to try and disengage from this, treating cultural objects (especially art, music, etc) as separate from the networks which reveal and sustain, but also exploit and reduce them.

I feel strongly that I don’t want to do this. If that data is powerful, I want to reclaim and name it for myself. I’m not talking about having more power over the algorithms that affect us and more visibility of their outcomes. That kind of thing is vital political work but as a writer about culture I also feel I should be keeping sight of the human and personal dimension of attribution and conversion – or, to use better words, provenance and use.

20
Dec 17

TFTACOXS – December 18: When Is A Christmas Sandwich Not A Christmas Sandwich?

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tesco pulled beef For this entry we are approaching the fuzzy boundary of the Christmas sanger, where taxonomy begins to break down. I’m not talking about Christmas wraps, burritos, salads, pies or even pizzas, which have all been declared legitimate. I’m talking about the Tesco Finest Pulled Beef and Aged Red Leicester sandwich (with – this is crucial – BBQ sauce). Is this a nice sandwich? Certainly it is – red leicester (aged or youthful) is a rare and undervalued sandwich cheese; the pulled beef is reasonably flavoursome and juicy and the BBQ sauce appropriate. It wouldn’t become a regular choice but I was happy to try it.

18
Dec 17

TFTACOXS – December 16th: The Laziest Sandwiches In Britain

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caffe nero Yes, I’m aware of the ironing of posting a complaint about laziness two days late – away with such carping – this post is one of stern rebuke to the chain that has made least effort in their Christmas sandwich range. I am talking about CAFFE NERO.

I have spent a lot of time in Caffe Nero this year. Too much time. It is the only chain coffee place in my South-of-Croydon backwater, and it’s also the coffee shop at the base of my work building. In fact I’m writing this very entry in Caffe Nero, and abusing its hospitality mightily by doing so. I go there to write stuff for work when the office environment is too distracting, and that puts me in a good position to expose the half-arsedness of the Nero Christmas experience.

12
Dec 17

TFTACOXS* – December 11: Pret Ham Hock, Stuffing And Apple

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ham hock *The Freaky Trigger Advent Calendar Of Xmas Sandwiches OF COURSE

Pret’s Christmas sandwich line may be the one to beat, but it is not without flaws. One particular recurrent problem gives anger to the Sandwich Gods: Pret continually use very crumbly ingredients. Crumbliness is a Bad Thing in sandwich terms particularly if – as is surely the case with Pret! – a sizeable chunk of your customers will be eating them at their desks. Keyboards and jumpers beware – there is no controlling the crispy onions in the Christmas Feast.