Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Get Excited and Make Things

With time on my hands, I'm doing a lot of projects.

I've been sewing up some of my less promising fabric stash into a dress inspired by the Cos aesthetic. I can show you the back, because that bit looks ok. The front of the bodice has some problems with the bust darts. Two prominent problems with the bust darts.

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The project I'll be doing all year - graphically representing the temperature of my location each day - is coming on nicely and shows how all of a sudden, Amsterdam is warm and pleasant after all that dark blue unpleasantness at the start of February.

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And I've been doing lots of reading on my Kindle, which needed a better case, so I made it one out of some fabric that a lovely Glasgow friend sent me as a treat.

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I keep flitting from project to project without really settling on anything for very long. I've had a great idea for a computer game that I can use to teach myself python, I'm slowly working on an invention that you don't know you need yet and, oh yeah, I'm still looking for a job.

Saturday, 24 March 2012

Eurovision 2012 Preview - Part 2

You know the drill by now. The songs from Semi Final 1 are analysed in scientific detail in this post and this post contains the songs from Semi Final 2 and the pre-qualified countries.

You can listen to the semi final 2 songs on this youtube playlist and the pre qualifiers on this one

Serbia
Serbia have gone with Željko Joksimović singing a huge ballad called Nije Ljubav Stvar. It is no Molitva, but then, what is? It fits a terrific amount of epicness into the allotted 3 minutes, and there’s even a point after the stirring instrumental break where the glitter burst of celebration would look lovely with Željko clutching a trophy and jumping for joy. These Serbians know exactly what they’re doing with Eurovision.

FYR Macedonia
Kaliopi is from Fyrom and presents Crno i Belo (possible translation: ‘My language has badly distributed vowels’) and it’s a big metal power ballad that takes well over a minute to get going. When the chugging power chords and big strings kick in, and you realise that Kaliopi is wearing a Cher outfit, it gets quite good. Not as good as the Serbian one, but wait! WIDDLY GUITAR SOLO. Rock and flipping roll! I figured out what it needs - backing vocals. It’s just Kaliopi singing, and could be improved by shouty chorus bv.

The Netherlands
Joan is a young Dutch gal dressed as a Native American in a big frock and a feathery headress, in a manner which the internet gets angry about. The internet had better not look at the backing dancers dressed in ‘squaw’ costumes, or it’ll have one of it’s episodes. The song isn’t offensive though, in fact it is the very definition of inoffensive. It’s a gentle campfire singalong about being nostalgia for a childhood sweetheart. Not in anyway about Native Americans.

Malta
Malta present Kurt Calleja, who looks like the visual average of One Direction, but with a few years added. The band that appears in the video is very ‘oooh, we’re modern!’ as it has a lady drummer, a nerdy left handed guitarist, a guy on some decks (who isn’t doing anything reflected in the music), a bass player who hangs around out of shot and the aforementioned Kurt. Oh my. Breakdancy breakdown. The song has a ‘eh, eh, eh, eh, eh’ thing in the chorus, which is trying for earworm status, but failing. It’s ok.

Belarus
Litesound are dressed as motorbiking robots and their song is called ‘We Are The Heroes’. They are going for the ‘We are the winners!’ motif that Lithuania failed so hard with the other year. The singer is a bit on the nasal side, but you can’t fault them for effort. The costumes don’t really add anything, but the chorus is quite huge. It’s rocky, the drummer is enclosed in a plastic motorbike thing, and there’s a big heroic key change for the last chorus. It’ll do fine.

Portugal
Vida Minha, (Life of...something?) is Filipa Sousa’s slinky latin ballad. I miss all the Latin stuff that went into Eurovision in the late 90s and early 00s. There’s not a lot to dislike here - it reminds me a lot of the other recent Portugese ballad, Senhora de Mar, and gets progressively more and more overwrought and impassioned in an almost parodical manner. They have some gymnastic ballroom dancers twirling in the foreground. The lady shows a lot of gusset. Say what you see, say what you see.

Ukraine (wildcard)
Ukraine are going all out with Gaitana and Be My Guest - it sounds like a slightly naff David Guetta collaboration and it’s got one hell of a chorus. I can’t see it doing badly, and I figure if Ukraine are up for hosting next year, we may as well let them. Gaitana looks terrific in a wide range of frocks, hairstyles and CGI modesty flowers, and has an array of robot suit clad dude dancers. This is going to be great in May.

Bulgaria
Love Unlimited has Sofi Marinova dressed in a big floor length ballad gown, but is in fact a pleasingly plonky late night house record. You could be bopping to it as you queued to put your coats in a cloakroom in a fairly trendy club. Oooh! Fireworks! Fancy. Sofi has got some pretty wicked arm tattoos, and to be honest I’m surprised there hasn’t been a dress reveal. It’s really nice, and although it’s got a near zero chance of winning, it makes my Best of 2012 Playlist without question.

Slovenia
Another sodding ballad. Verjamem. It’s by Eva Boto, but we start off with a soprano backing vocalist with a huge roll of tulle on her head for a little tune. Eva is wearing a white frock, a cardigan and a belt made of leaves and forest flowers. It’s impassioned, the backing singers look totally ridiculous with the tulle, and it’s not really that memorable. The keychange section over the bridge is so much like Molitva that my eyebrows raised up as far as my hairline. It’s Molitva but with frocks instead of lovely suits.

Croatia
Nebo is sung by Nina Badric and has a very boring, grown-up dinner party soul intro. And first verse. And chorus. I keep expecting the disco fans to kick in and the song proper to start but evidently that won’t be happening. The beat just kicked in at 2:12 - far too late. It’s a big power ballad and all the hunks in pants in the world (that’s what the video is full of) can’t save it.

Sweden
More plonky, dubby late night dance! Euphoria is even a nice ravey title. Loreen isn’t a promising name, but this is ace. Arms aloft! Rave whistles! Loreen looks fantastic with huge hair, wearing a black catsuit and huge chiffon robe over the top, as she throws some awesome early 90s shapes, backlit in an iron cage. I am going to need to listen to this again immediately. Final chorus features a surprise dance partner and a blizzard! FOR THE WIN. It makes me feel good. I would like to purchase this song and dance routine to do on my various dance games.

PS: On the second listen I got goosebumps. This is awesome. Not just going on my Eurovision playlist, but my main everyday playlist. Takk, Loreen, takk.

Georgia
After all that excitement, whatever next was going to sound like a big old pile of poo. So Anri Jokhadze’s ‘I’m A Joker’ is probably in the right place. Anri (the Georgian version of BARROWMAN?) demonstrates various not-quite-rhymes for Joker, interspersed with some fiddle (2012: year of European fiddle abuse?) and a piano break following a rather extraordinary falsetto section. It’s sort of 21st century vaudeville or music hall, which I guess you could say is entirely suitable for Eurovision.

Turkey
Onward, ever onwards, to Turkey and Love Me Back by Can Bonomo. It’s got a beat and you can dance to it, at least until the vocals come in. Boatloads of traditional instrumentation and a general nautical/piratical theme, which always goes down well with me. I wish the vocal melody and lyrics were as good as the instrumental breaks though, it seems a bit disjointed the way it is. But Turkey never really struggle, so it doesn’t matter what I think.

Estonia
Another big sodding ballad. Ott Lepland sings Kuula in black and white with Adele’s pianist somewhere out of shot. Epically dull and just makes me think about how exciting that Swedish song was.
Sorry, I just zoned out there and accidentally looked at twitter. Yawn.

Slovakia
Oooh, I’ve already heard this one. It’s Don’t Close Your Eyes by the frankly ridiculous Max Jason Mai. It’s a shocking 80’s hair metal ballad throwback with speed metal verse guitars and a big silly shouty chorus. The video has the strange conceit of showing the shooting of a video of this song, complete with Max Jason Mai acting like a dick off camera, with a puppet. I’m sure Max will put on a superb show for us in May, although I can’t gauge Europe’s appetite for this song.

Norway
Tooji is a guy with very precisely shaped eyebrows. The song Stay is probably what you imagine a generic Scandinavian Eurovision entry sound like. It’s modern sounding, the dancing is impressive, the lyrics are arrant nonsense but it didn’t stir me in the way the Swedish one did. My boyfriend said that it was ‘Pretty boring’.

Bosnia & Herzegovina
Korake Ti Znam is yet another ballad. Maya Sar sits at the piano, unsafely suspended in a steelworks. Or something. It’s dull. The video has a donkey and a tiny donkey in it, which prompted a squeal of delight from your humble reviewer, but other than that, I basically was thinking about my dinner.

Lithuania (wildcard)
Donny Montell sings Love is Blind with a blindfold on. This doesn’t hide the fact that this song takes the form of a ballad. There have been so many different ballads that I can’t remember which one was which any more or what any of them sounded like. At 1:30, a beat kicks in and the blindfold comes off! Whoo hoo! It doesn’t improve it, but at least I’m still awake and listening.
(At this point, I stopped reviewing and had a massive dance around to Euphoria. It gave me the strength to carry on.)

United Kingdom
Ah, Englebert Humperdinck. It’s not bad. It’s not good, but it’s not bad either. Another ballad, which contains some interesting modulations to keep it from being entirely by-numbers. It’s pretty weak, and even on the studio pre-record Englebert doesn’t sound secure on the top notes in the key change. Maybe it’ll come alive on stage. Maybe.

France
And as we’ve said for a decade now, at least the French don’t take it seriously either. They’ve sent Anggun with a song called Echo (You and I) with a seriously irritating whistling hook in the pre-chorus and the unmistakeable spectre of autotune in the chorus. It’s pretty slick and credible, though. There are more hunks in pants in the video. For shame, France.

Italy
Now, I saw the video for Nina Zilli’s first song, which was a big ballad where she was dressed up as the ghost of Amy Winehouse. The actual entry is basically an Amy Winehouse song in the verse, and some sort of big pop rock mess in the chorus and she’s at least not wearing the beehive & eyeliner in the video I suspect they might come back out in May. It would be distasteful to submit an Amy Winehouse tribute act for Eurovision, right? She’s not even been dead a year.

Azerbaijan
I think this is the last big ballad I have to listen to tonight - Sabina Babayeva’s is called When The Music Dies. It has the distinguishing feature of having male backing vocals behind Sabina’s Celine Dion impression, but other than that, I wouldn’t be able to pick it out of a line-up of the Usual Low Tempo Suspects.

Spain
Aw hell. Spain have sent a big ballad too. Pastora Soler is emoting her way through a song called Quedate Conmigo. I have already forgotten what it sounds like, but you know what a big X Factor winners ballad sounds like and can probably recreate it for yourselves. Stirring strings, rising phrases, held notes, fists of pure emotion, slow motion gymnasts and frocks that are floor length at the very least.

Can we have more novelty records next year? I liked them, they were fun.

Germany
NO NO NO. It’s a sodding ballad. This time it’s a ballad sung by an indie chap with gauged ears and a wooly hat on. It’s a landfill indie ballad. It’s Roman Lob singing Standing Still. It’s a Train album track. It’s the soundtrack to an emotional scene in Doctors or Hollyoaks. It might not have gone down so badly if I hadn’t already listened to about twenty soggy ballads in the course of this. It is also very, very, very repetitive. Roman Lob is standing still, standing still, standing still, he’s just standing still.

Thursday, 22 March 2012

Eurovision 2012 Preview - Part 1

It's that time again! All the songs have been chosen for Eurovision 2012 in Baku, Azerbaijan, and it's time for me to do my traditional preview post. In the past, I've worked in alphabetical order, resulting in significantly short shrift for certain alphabetically challenged countries. This year, I'll split it up by semi final. Here is what is in the first one...

If you want to see all the videos I'm writing about, put this playlist on. I think it autoplays.
Eurovision 2012 Semi Final 1 Playlist


Montenegro
Ok, Rambo Amadeus, let’s get started. The song is called Euro Neuro and contains some very funky warbling synth bass and the most laid back rapper in the Balkans. I like the out of tune fiddle break and the line about something being good for rheumatism. Genuinely interesting and will be on my ‘Best of 2012’ Eurovision edit, but I can’t believe it’ll do well.

Iceland
This is a big dramatic duet between Greta Salome and Jonsi and also at times directly steals the bassline from Pink Floyd’s One Of These Days. It goes all Evanescence in the chorus, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing for Eurovision. More ethnic fiddles in the second chorus and, wait for it, HUGE FIDDLE SOLO. The video I’m watching also has a huge 10 second silence in it before the final chorus, which I’m sure will be shorter on the night. I think the worst I can say about it is that it’s a tad wordy.

Greece
Eleftheria Eleftheriou is singing a song called Aphrodisiac. It’s your typical vaguely Turkish electropop and also displays some misunderstanding over what exactly an aphrodisiac is. It’s the kind of thing that does really well, but the execution is all ‘will this do?’ and so it comes across as a slightly desultory effort. Also the video won’t buffer properly so I keep having to rewind and rewatch and it feels like I’ve been watching it forever. This is only song three. It’s going to be a long night. Oh, and they blew the golden key change opportunity. Fools.

Latvia
Beautiful Song is sung by Anmary who was born in ‘distant 1980 when Johnny Logan won‘ and contains some rather presumptuous lines about how she’s going to join the parade of winners. Well. It’s one of those self referential songs about how wonderful it is to write a beautiful song that is universally successful but unlike, say, ‘Number 1 Song In Heaven’ it isn’t actually that memorable a tune. It’s not bad, but the bit about Mick Jagger was a pisstake too far. Is this whole song a pisstake? The video certainly suggests a certain levity. Plus, airport flashmob dance routine in the final chorus.

Albania
To sing her song Suus, Rona Nishliu is all dressed up like Audrey Hepburn, but Audrey Hepburn with her feet trapped in a black granite tombstone. This falls into Eurosong Type B, or the Huge Impassioned Ballad, (Type A is the Cheesy Dancefloor Hit, Type C is the Folk Nonsense, Type D is the Unsuccessful Flirtation With Modern Music and Type E is, well, Novelty/Other)
I liked it. I liked the unsettling modern art in the video, I liked the song, and I would listen to it again.

Romania
As I tweeted earlier this evening, Mandinga’s song Zaleilah left me in a state of confusion and distress. The intro instrumentation of drums, bagpipes, accordion and soft synth pads was enough to remind me that Euro-time was indeed here again, and then when the jaunty beat kicked in, I knew where we were. A pretty lady writhes and sings about something or other to do with dancing, and there’s a chorus with a fairly catchy hook, but then there’s also the jaunty flipping accordion.

Switzerland
Sinplus have brought us a song called Unbreakable. I am sure this is not the first Eurosong with that title. It’s a bit like an Editors song, or something you might hear in a live session on 6music from a band that you subsequently never hear of again. Maybe I should institute the Type F Eurosong for this sort of thing. I like it, apart from the parts where the guitars are too noticeably U2-esque. The backing vocals are also really nicely done. It makes the playlist.

Belgium
Another big ballad, and this time Iris is our winsome balladeer. Her song Would You is perfectly inoffensive, but nothing profound. Her movement technique of bouncing from the knees in time with the music with her legs wide apart isn’t the most winsome and ladylike thing I’ve ever seen, but I’m sure she’ll work on that. The song is like the uptempo number on a Celine Dion album in the 90s.

Finland (wildcard)
I don’t know what Nar jag blundar means, but that’s what Pernilla Karlsson is singing. I think this is the incredibly dangerous hybrid between Type B and Type C, judging from the single dancer who is barefoot and dressed as a tree sprite and the dress covered in pine branches that Pernilla is wearing. It’s a lovely, lovely tune, a bit like a more relaxed version of the equally pastoral Horehronie that Slovenia sent a few years ago. Nicely done Finland, but will it get through a semi full of flamboyant nonsense?

Israel
Izabo’s song Time is one of the pieces of aforementioned flamboyant nonsense. With the strings and the general 70s vibe, there’s some sort of reaching for an ELO-type effort. The clowns in the video are deeply off-putting, and I hope that they don’t feature in the stage show.

San Marino
The Facebook Song makes the Fast Food Rockers sound like Bohemian Rhapsody. I cannot wait to hear the shoddy, hasty rewrite that makes it into The Social Networking Song. Awful. You can listen to it here if you must.

Cyprus
The lady representing Cyprus looks a bit Liv Tyler-esque. Her name is Ivi Adamou and her song La La Love is unforgivably catchy summer holiday dancefloor nonsense. The video features a lot of vaguely sexy Snow White stylings and has me feeling very well disposed towards the whole business. Excellent costuming. Ok tune.

Denmark
Should’ve Known Better by Soluna Samay is in chart ballad territory. I am not even going to mention the sailor hat and the stupid epaulettes, because she won’t be wearing those in the final. Will she? The song is ok. It meanders around and doesn’t really go anywhere and lacks that hard-to-explain rising upward quality that a song of this type needs in order to be a big Eurohit.

Russia
Genuinely great to hear traditional singing techniques in this song by Buranovskiye Babushki, at least for the first 20 seconds. Then the PARTY FOR EVERYBODY nonsense kicks in. It has a lot of charm, and a choir of six old ladies in traditional costume isn’t the strangest thing we’ve seen at Eurovision in the past few years. The woman emerging from the piano? The paper plate robot? Sebastian Tellier’s backing singers? That hallucinatory business with the Moldovan gnomes? In comparison with all that lot, this is just fine.

Hungary
Compact Disco bring their excellent band name and a slightly dull modern chart ballad called Sound of Our Hearts to Baku. I think it’s about homelessness and shutting up about first world problems. I lost interest and started worrying about my incipient carpal tunnel syndrome. See? First world problems.

Austria
Ah, Trackshittaz. With your exhortations to ‘Woki Mit Deim Popo’ you are really bringing new levels of boneheaded idiocy to Eurovision. Not only is your band called Trackshittaz, but when you say ‘woki’ (which means shake, apparently) with an Austrian accent, it sounds like ‘fucky’. It’s subversive, you see. ‘Popo’, of course, means ‘arse’. The whole spectacle is topped off with pole dancers in UV reactive catsuits with giant cartoon arses and tits drawn on them. Ah, well.

Moldova
Pasha Parfeny seems to be a much nicer boy than either of the Tuneshittaz, as he prances with his folk fusion band and sings Lautar. It’s rather nice, with a groovy twiddly trumpet break. Ooh! More fiddle! Key change! This is great!

Ireland
The Jedward have returnethed. I still think these guys are great. I may have said mean things about how they were stupid last year, but their sheer enthusiasm and curiosity and energy makes it pointless to be negative about them. The song is a bit different this time - it’s not a giant dodgy glam rock confection, it’s a huge Pat Benatar style pop anthem with a monumental chorus. Do you care if they’re singing the main vocals with significant help from the backing singers? No. Do you want to see them jump about like crazy little dynamos? Yes.

Yorkshire Interlude (Plus Bonus Abandoned University Campus)

I went back to Barnsley at the weekend, as it was Mother's Day. It was lovely, and was my sister's first go at having the full Mother's Day experience, lie in and all.

On the Sunday, we went along to the utterly stunning Yorkshire Sculpture Park to have a look at the Miro exhibition. I wasn't allowed to take any photos of the exhibits, so have a look at some general landscapes instead.

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Re Miro: I prefer the paintings to the frankly extraordinarily vulvic sculptures.

Anyway, you might not know that the reason that the sculpture park is there at all is because the Bretton Hall art college managed to obtain a bunch of Henry Moore works to exhibit on their land. The exhibit turned into a permanent display, and eventually the council formalised the whole thing as the sculpture park as we know it - the sculpture park continues to be a great success (hence the major new exhibition of more Miro works than I knew even existed).

But what happened to the art college? Well, it's closed down. You get to it by going to this pond and then continuing on down the hill. Mum & Em have apparently been down here before and didn't get arrested or anything, so we figured it was ok.

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So, feeling devilish and knowing that nothing bad would happen, we went for a wander in the supposedly off-limits site of the old Bretton Hall college.

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It's the entire campus and infrastructure of a small university, including student halls, totally abandoned and unused. The place got taken over by the University of Leeds at one point and then was just closed down. On the website of the college alumni association there's the hint that the site was supposed to have been made into a luxury hotel and spa complex. The plans foundered for reasons possibly connected to asbestos in 2008, and I should expect that whatever money was behind the spa scheme has thoroughly fallen through by now.

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If I were the more adventurous sort, I'd go and have a better look in the main buildings, as apparently the whole place was just abandoned in the manner of the Marie Celeste. The accommodation blocks still have furniture in them. It is pretty blooming creepy.

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I think part of the reason that it's creepy is that when I was a kid, my mum was doing teacher training here. My youngest sister went to the onsite nursery, and I definitely went along a few times with my mum - I have a really strong memory of going into the Uni bookshop and playing with some cut out papercraft Roman buildings. To see it empty and lifeless like this is just plain wrong.

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There really is a whole abandoned University in rural Yorkshire.

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I'll leave you with a photo of (from left to right) the Emley Moor mast, a huge Henry Moore sculpture and the stately home that forms part of the college complex, Bretton Hall.

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Thursday, 8 March 2012

Halfway



Yep, I'm about halfway done with this sewn map.

I keep trying to go to a lovely shop called de Afstap to buy DMC 647, which is a colour that I've nearly run out of. I have failed twice. The first time, I just panicked and picked up the wrong colour (645, which I'm not even using in this project) and the second time, I was definitely holding a 647 & a 646 while I perused the incredible selection of alpaca lace yarn and crewel wool, but by the time I got home I just had two 646. Not best pleased. It seems to require just slightly more attention to get anything done successfully while you're waiting for people to talk to you in another language.

I have since ordered two skeins of 647 off of ebay. I was too ashamed to go back to de Afstap for the 3rd time in a week.