#NewMusicFriday: ‘Cheetah Tongue’ by The Wombats

The Wombats are certainly painting an interesting picture as to what their upcoming album, Beautiful People Will Ruin Your Life. Their previous single Turn calmed things down a bit, but now the Liverpudlian trio have returned to vibes explored in Lemon to a Knife Fight with their new track, Cheetah Tongue.

Getting its first play on BBC Radio 1 on Wednesday this week, host Annie Mac referenced comments by lead singer Matthew Murphy (published on sites such as Dork and The Prelude Press) during an interview with the guitarist: “I wanted to make an album that had more swagger, was a bit more laid back, something that wasn’t punching you in the face every time you listen to it,” he had said. In a clear sign that the band have progressed since the days of A Guide to Love, Loss and Desperation and Glitterbug, the latest trio of singles have proven that The Wombats have been able to tone down their more pulsing rock, without that damaging their unique style.

After all, Cheetah Tongue (another bizarre but quirky song title) starts with tight, solid guitar strums underneath the opening verse, before an off-beat drum groove is introduced in the chorus – adding that traditional catchiness and kick to the single. Reading this, one might wonder what sets this era apart from previous releases. My answer? The Wombats have eased off backing vocals (seen on tracks like Kill the Director and Moving to New York) and slowed the tempo a little bit. The end result being a more stripped-back vibe, whilst still being brilliantly anthemic.

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Trump’s Fake News Awards show a perception of the press warped by his own sensationalism | Liam O’Dell

Wednesday evening in the United States. US President Donald Trump unveils the publications that are the winners of the Fake News Awards – in an event met with levels of interest ‘far greater than anyone could have anticipated’. Well, given the fact that the GOP site which hosted the award winners crashed shortly after Trump announced it was live, he’s not wrong there. The ‘importance’ of the awards, however, is subjective, and is primarily according to him – subjectivity being the crucial word at the heart of Trump’s relationship with ‘fake news’.

US President Donald Trump criticised publications for spreading. Photo: Gage Skidmore (Licensed under Creative Commons – https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/legalcode).

To begin with, Trump’s attitude towards the media is an intricate chain of perceptions and beliefs that stem from his own characteristics. With a strong aversion to criticism (as demonstrated by his pulling out of a UK visit last week) and an isolationist approach to foreign policy, the two combine to paint the press – in his eyes – as the enemy. In pursuit of the truth and the latest goings on in Washington D.C., journalists pierce the White House bubble in which Trump resides.

However, it’s not just the initial process of breaking the separation between the public and the President – through the media – which is of concern to Trump. As the awards show, it is also the coverage that follows which the businessman disagrees with, too.

Latching on to a phrase the majority of people didn’t know until the President’s usage of it, Donald was quick to label reports as ‘fake news’. By one of its many definitions – in this case, Collins English Dictionary – the term means: “false, often sensational, information disseminated under the guise of news reporting”. Yet, with the word still being quite ‘young’ and ambiguous (to some) in terms of its word usage, the question of what makes an article ‘fake news’ is often subjective unless it has been clearly disproven or it is a satirical article-level of obvious.

It’s a type of subjectivity which means that we can choose for ourselves what stories we want to believe, and who to listen to. Coupled together with the fact that we live in a society where the media is so heavily distrusted as ‘the arbiters of truth’, the rise of subscription news, echo chambers and freedom of choice over narratives, influential figures like Trump pose a very big threat in terms of ‘fake news’ and journalism.

It’s especially concerning when one considers the lens which Trump uses when consuming news and communicating on sites like Twitter. Known for his role in The Apprentice, the President has predominantly earned his fame through the reality TV machine. As a result of being in an industry packed full of sensationalism, he now views negative press as sensationalist ‘fake news’, and decides that certain words in his tweets warrant ALL CAPS like your typical right-wing newspaper.

“Despite some very corrupt and dishonest media coverage, there are many great reporters I respect and lots of GOOD NEWS for the American people to be proud of,” President Trump stressed on Twitter. It’s a tweet which subtly suggests once again that Americans should only support news if it has the ‘Trump seal of approval’. Such a statement does not excuse the unnecessary targeting of the mainstream media.

In addition to the sensationalist lens in which he views the media, it is clear that upon adopting the term ‘fake news’ to use for his own benefit, it was not a case of him knowing the original definition and deciding to twist it. As other outlets (like The Telegraph and The Guardian) have reported, most of the reports cited in Trump’s awards – post-publication – were corrected or led to much harsher consequences for the reporters in question.

In this regard, the President has confused fake news (that is, content deliberately designed to mislead) with the basic journalistic principle of announcing when one has made a mistake. Even if he fails to admit that, surely the fact that reporters are actively correcting themselves – and telling the public when their articles are erroneous – nullifies the claim that they’re being misleading and producing ‘fake news’? Crying out ‘fake news’ and saying that something’s misleading when the individuals themselves point out the ‘deceptive’ part of the story is like saying you’ve been tricked by a magician after they’ve revealed the secret.

We have always been surrounded by metanarratives or ‘belief structures’ such as religion and science, but we must now all accept that we have new versions of metanarrative which we can choose to follow – that being truth. Now, more than ever, we must consider whose ‘truth’ we believe.

#NewMusicFriday: ‘Only You’ by Shift K3Y

It’s been a while since I’ve listened to some music from Shift K3Y. With hits like TouchI Know and Gone Missing, I was drawn in by the 24-year-old DJ’s (real name Lewis Jankel) unique blend of synth with a deeper, buzzing club sound. Now, after a couple of promotional singles last year and the release of his album NIT3 TALES in 2016, Jankel returns with Only You – a single which mashes together some old vibes with the new.

With Jankel taking to the mic once again underneath vibrant piano chords, listeners will be reminded of the producer’s older material, before the track is quick to descend into a pulsing beat complete with deeper synth sounds. A constant back-and-forth between two styles, Only You keeps things flowing before the aforementioned styles come together in the final drop: a fluttering mix of piano chords with dirty synth underneath.

Returning with a more mainstream sound, Shift K3Y kickstarts 2018 off with a groovy club hit.

A change long overdue…

The start of a new year often prompts people to seek change, but in my case – and the case for this blog, The Life of a Thinker – these are improvements I’ve considered for many months now, and finally want to put in place.

Since the early days of this site, music reviews (under the Music Monday or Musical Discovery title) have, as the former name suggests, come out on a Monday. However, with ‘New Music Friday’ becoming a thing and most artists and band releasing music in time for the weekend, my review a few days later felt a bit late. Whilst I don’t obsess over numbers, it would make much more sense if such things were timely, and so, for a while now, I’ve considered moving these posts to Friday.

Yet, such a move would affect my Friday Article pieces – my weekly opinion pieces often on politics or disability issues. Naturally, such a series with a name based on the day of the week on which they’re published can face some problems with the change. Although, upon having a look at other opinion pieces, most headlines tend to adopt the approach of ‘HeadlineAuthor Name‘ (The Guardian is a good example of this), and if I want to get my name out, then following a similar style may help with that. From now on, such pieces, complete with a new feel, will be published on Sundays – tying in with a lot with those end-of-the-week political shows you see on television.

So with music reviews on Fridays, and opinion pieces on Sunday, what about the spaces on Monday and Wednesday? At the moment, nothing particular is set in stone, but then again, Wednesdays have often been a day for me to publish something different (most often a book or theatre review) so if reviews become a regular thing for me, that may just be Wednesday’s ‘thing’. I’m still keen to have a slightly personal theme for one day of my schedule (something which was taken up by my A Thousand Words series last year), but I’m looking to try something a little more different and creative for that. We shall see what happens.

Other than that, thanks for reading the occasional blog post in 2017, and apologies for content being a bit infrequent. Whilst the start of a new university semester does offer a moment to get other tasks done, it isn’t long before the work builds up again in the run-up to the final sprint. Hopefully this will still allow me to blog nonetheless.

Either way, here’s to another busy year…

‘Network’ review: Bryan Cranston is sensational in this timely adaptation of Chayefsky’s classic

I’m mad as hell, as I’m not going to take this anymore’ is the chant at the centre of Paddy Chayefsky’s classic film, Network. In a time of post-truth and outrage, Lee Hall’s adaptation for the National Theatre adds a present-day backdrop which makes the story all the more chilling.

Howard Beale is the anchorman turned sensationalist messenger in this thought-provoking production. Photo: Jan Versweyveld.

Enter Howard Beale (Breaking Bad‘s Bryan Cranston), a news anchorman who breaks down live on air, announcing his plan to kill himself on his television show in a week’s time. What follows is the tale of commercial corruption and opinion vs. fact as the network obsesses over the boost in ratings…

Over nearly two hours, the story unfolds in an immersive multimedia format that further adds a modern touch to the plot. A large screen towers on-stage and on a set that serves as a studio, newsroom and restaurant (from which lucky audience members can eat and view the show) all at once. Add that to moments of audience participation and scenes outside the theatre and Ivo van Hove’s immersive direction smashes the fourth wall, bringing us further into the dystopian world.

It’s an intensity compounded by Cranston’s performance, delivering powerful and thought-provoking monologues effortlessly. Naturally, such a portrayal of the main protagonist detracts from other sub-plots – in this case, the rather under-developed story of Head of News Max Schumacher (Primeval‘s Douglas Henshall) and Director of Programming Diana Christensen’s (Downton Abbey‘s Michelle Dockery) relationship. Although brilliantly acted by the pair, it’s overshadowed by a feeling of it all being a bit too cliché and – in amongst the more extreme parts of the play – feels out of place.

Yet, it’s a play which demands further thought after seeing it. With no interval, there isn’t enough thinking time to process it all until the final bow. At that point, one can consider Howard Beale’s words – including a powerful closing speech – and Max and Diana’s partnership in more depth. It’s the sign of three incredible individuals coming together. Hall’s writing mixes with van Hove’s production to create the perfect atmosphere for Cranston to take centre-stage, delivering a performance that is – in every meaning of the word – sensational.

Rating: 4 out 5 stars

Musical Discovery: ‘FOOLS’ by Troye Sivan

Hold music is an interesting concept. If it’s a bad song, it can make a 10-minute call to your bank feel like eternity, and if it’s catchy, then you can end up singing The Human League down the phone just as Steve from Apple tech support picks up. Sorry, Steve.

Yet, on this particular occasion, I didn’t have to worry about talking to anyone down the phone. One particular internet webinar – another intriguing thing – on social media had some rather catchy ‘hold music’ before starting. In amongst the dodie songs and other tracks, was a new musical discovery in the form of Troye Sivan’s FOOLS.

For someone who’s never listened to music for those ‘chill vibes’ (I’m either listening to songs to try and establish what exactly they’re saying, or because I like the melodies) or has been tempted by the thousands of Spotify playlists offering laid-back listening, Troye’s 2015 track is one of those few songs I can leave playing in the background when scrolling social media and not feel bad that I’m not giving it my undivided attention.

And that is not me saying that this is a song which isn’t worth paying attention to – not at all. FOOLS is a track which jumps from piano chords on a slow tempo to fuzzy synthesiser to keep things flowing. An electro-track that isn’t too heavy, it can certainly be both a ‘chill’ song for easy listening as much as it can be one to dance along to.

After all, it’s a track with a kind of synth-pop that one would expect from a collaboration between French DJ Madeon and Closer producers The Chainsmokers. Atmospheric chords commonly associated with the former combine with the hazier, bouncy melodies of the latter to form a staggering, jumpy beat which tie-in nicely with Sivan’s softly sung lyrics.

Despite reviewing this just over two years after its release, FOOLS still sounds current with a style that could easily slide in to the trap theme we’ve seen take the music world by storm lately with its off-beat rhythm and sprinkling of synth melodies.

Blue Neighbourhood (which includes the track FOOLS) is available on Spotify and Apple Music now.

Thoughts on my 2017…

I’ve never had a quiet New Year’s Eve before. Usually a night of music and fireworks would see me welcome in the next year with this weird sense of ‘happy sad’ as I’m stuck between looking forward and looking back. This year, however, I can reflect without the assistance of listening to Mr Brightside by The Killers, or gathering around the TV to watch the official countdown.

However, whilst there may not be so much of an opportunity to reflect in person this year, I can of course reconsider the past 12 months here, on this blog.

January contained one of the best experiences of the year: exploring the fantastic Bristol whilst on work experience with the BBC’s deaf magazine programme, See Hear. Weekdays were spent conducting interviews, researching, visiting politicians in London and brushing up on my British Sign Language, whilst the one weekend saw me see the Clifton Suspension Bridge and Banksy artwork around the city. It was fantastic (you can watch my vlog from Bristol on my YouTube channel).

February saw me conduct some interviews with some big names in entertainment, and it’s always a joy to have a chat with them about their craft. I spoke to Britain’s Got Talent runner-up and magician Jamie Raven, former BBC royal correspondent Jennie Bond, as well as the legendary singer behind the hit Amarillo, Tony Christie.

March involved me going on a placement at the local newspaper in Lincoln, The Lincolnshire Echo. As well as conducting interviews by myself I was also fortunate enough to find, source and write up my own news story, which became the most popular online story on the day and made the print edition that week. I also had the opportunity to get a sneak preview of Frances’ debut album, Things I’ve Never Said, before it was released that month (I reviewed it as well). On top of all this, I turned 20 too, but that’s no big deal…

April saw me do a talk to my local Youth Voice/Parliament about journalism, social media, fake news and so forth. I ended up staying for the whole residential and it was great to be involved in the group again since I was social media manager for them many years ago. It was also good to try my hand at public speaking again. I think I did okay. I became the Editor of the University of Lincoln’s student newspaper, The Linc, and I also found out that I passed my NCTJ 100wpm shorthand exam. Whilst that’s the speed level required to get ‘the gold standard’, I’m still planning to get my 120wpm shorthand at some point next year. I just can’t stop.

May was the month that I ventured up to Glasgow on my own to celebrate a friend’s 18th birthday. I made so many new friends and met a few old ones as well (that I hadn’t seen in so long). It was also great to be back in wonderful Scotland, as well.

June was the month where Theresa May called a snap election, and I was very lucky enough to a part of an election night radio programme, where I reported live from the count in my constituency, Mid Bedfordshire. It was an all-nighter which truly made me feel like a journalist as I camped out in the official press room, conducting interviews, editing them and then giving live two-ways at certain points as well. I also started my three-month job as an Online Community Intern at the disability charity Scope – a job which I absolutely loved (and now miss) doing. Glastonbury and seeing Busted and The Human League were all a hoot, too.

July was a busy and exciting time. It started with a visit to see a relaxed performance of The Curious Incident of The Dog in the Night-Time with a good friend of mine for the second time (it was just as good), then continued with the Future News Worldwide conference in Scotland where I made friends with so many international students journalists. Then came a week at the newspaper in London, which saw me get my name into print at multiple times throughout the week. Result!

August saw me make my first visit to Southampton with Scope. It’s always great to visit new parts of the UK and so that was good fun. Summer in the City happened, I made new friends and was my first year where I went for all three days. As well as that, I saw the incredible Harry Potter and the Cursed Child at The Palace Theatre.

September was a quiet month. Putting university aside, I didn’t have much on except for seeing the recording of a pilot of The Russell Howard Hour in London with a friend (which was great fun) and going to watch The Killers in concert at the O2 Brixton Academy – probably one of my favourite gigs of the year.

October was a month full of journalism. I reported on a council bye-election for The Linc and Siren Radio (Lincoln’s community radio station), interviewed Coasts (arguably one of my favourite interviews of the year) and became an official reporter and press photographer at Lincoln’s 2Q Festival, where I interviewed Marsicans and the lead singer of Circa Waves, Kieran Shudall. A busy and awesome month!

November was arguably one of the best months of 2017. I did a TEDx talk (something which I have always dreamed of doing), I made loads of new friends and I returned to Sky in London for two weeks’ work experience at Sky News. Brilliant!

December is the traditional end of the year. It was lovely to spend Christmas with family and have long-overdue catch-ups with people I haven’t seen for weeks, if not months, thanks to university life. My first semester of third year concluded with the publication of The Linc‘s first print edition of the academic year (something of which I was very proud) and then the rest of the month has been spent revising and working on my dissertation, before it’s all over in May 2018.

 

Speaking of next year, I don’t think I have any New Year’s Resolutions as such – at least, not yet. If I remember rightly, this year’s one was to capture more and take more videos and photos, but my anxiety around shoving a phone in people’s face asking them to pose for a snap still prevented that from happening, but I do like to think that I had a bit more fun with photography this year.

Resolutions aside, and I know that there’s some big and exciting things to come in 2018 after a superb 2017. Some things will reveal themselves as the year progresses, but one thing I know for certain, as mentioned above, is that my three years at the University of Lincoln will end around May next year – and I’m not ready. We naturally look ahead to the next milestone or event in our lives, but after May, I have no idea what happens, and that’s both exciting and terrifying.

Bring it on.

 

Review of the Year:

Song of 2017: Hello Hello by Fickle Friends or The Man by The Killers

TV Show of 2017: BBC Sherlock – Series 4 (A controversial choice, but new Sherlock always has me excited)

Book of 2017: Happy by Derren Brown

Play of 2017: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

 

Happy New Year!