On discovering new music: hell yeah, The Decemberists

I’ve written before about the magic that new music can bring to your life.

(c) heathre on Flickr. Totally not my photo. Click to check it out

(c) heathre on Flickr. Totally not my photo. Click to check it out and a bunch of other great ones

My most recent “new” music – i.e. that I’ve just discovered, rather than actually new ‒ is the album The King is Dead, by American group The Decemberists. Currently formed of Colin Meloy, Chris Funk, Jenny Conlee, Nate Query, and John Moen, it hails from Oregon, and this is the band’s sixth and most recent album, according to this peerless record.

But although I enjoy their vaguely revolutionary, historical-sounding name, and appreciate their background, I actually just bloody love this music. I could happily travel for miles in discomfort if I had this on repeat – it’s the aural equivalent of a comfy pillow, warm blanket and whisky-laced, milky coffee.

Aaand apparently they’re bringing out a new album this month! *CLAPS HANDS LIKE A JOYFUL SEAL*

Released in 2011, The King is Dead is a beautiful and uplifting melding of influences, including American and British folk ‒ using instruments such as accordions and fiddles alongside the usual pianos and guitars ‒ and seems more reminiscent of country standards and lackadaisical acoustic tunes than modern US pop-rock.

This is especially evident in the single Rox in the Box (above), which features a harmony of the often-covered tune the Raggle Taggle Gypsies, making it sound unmistakeably folk. I am an unashamed country-music lover (proud!) and similarly cannot get enough of acoustic-style folk songs.

Whether English, Scottish, Welsh, Irish, American, Breton, any tunes of that ilk make me feel heart-burstingly better about the state of the world – see Bellowhead, Kate Rusby, Fleetfoxes, Cara Dillon, Seth Lakeman, Show of Hands, Mumford & Sons, Blake Shelton…even (especially?) Taylor Swift, Kacey Musgraves and Miranda Lambert make it on my go-to happy-place list…

I particularly love how the genres’ “of the people”, vernacular nature means they cover vast subject matter, from mournful and incredibly emotional laments, to tales and legends from history; from hilarious and tongue-in-cheek observations on society, to fantastically toe-tapping jigs, and politically-important protest songs.

The King is Dead is more at the emotional, tongue-in-cheek, knees-up end of things, but also throws in a dash of history and lamentation too.

Its rhythms and melodies are shot through with a golden streak of major-key positivity, with lead singer’s Meloy’s voice reminding me strongly of the more upbeat Michael Stipe (of R.E.M) numbers (such as Shiny Happy People) – an influence that seems less strange when you learn that Peter Buck of R.E.M. contributed to three tracks, including Calamity Song and Down By the Water, which was nominated for a Best Rock Song Grammy Award in 2011 (and sounds straight out of an R.E.M album if you ask me!).

I bloody love it. I might move on to a few of their other albums too, but for the moment, I’ve got The King is Dead on repeat. It’s damn difficult to pick a favourite song from ten great tracks, but here are the rest of my top five at the moment (in addition the one above)…

June Hymn

Calamity Song

January Hymn

Dear Avery

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5 reasons to visit L’Anima Cafe, London

An edited version of this post originally appeared on About Time magazine here.

Italian chef Francesco Mazzei of Liverpool Street’s fantastic restaurant L’Anima, has just opened a younger, cooler sibling mere paces from the flagship original.

No stranger to casual dining (he’s appeared on BBC Saturday Kitchen, and his Calabrese pizza appears on the Pizza Express menu), Mazzei now wants to offer his familiar Calabrian dishes in a more chilled setting.

After a quiet soft launch, L’Anima Cafe is now officially open. Here’re five reasons why we think it’s about time you went:

1. The food

Some London restaurants seem all about the hype, less about the food. Not here. This is the gooey, crunchy, fragrant and foodie equivalent of a lazy morning, with nothing and no-one to answer to.

Think aubergine in tomato sauce with mozzarella and a wood-fired sheet of bread; lamb with al-dente pasta rings and an intensely-spicy smudge of n’duja; flash-fried squid with baby tentacles, plus tangy tomato, basil and olive oil.LanimaCafe064

A mosaic-tiled wood-fired oven near the bar means it would be practically illegal to come here and not try a pizza: mine came piled high with whole smoked garlic cloves, mozzarella, and Calabrian ham, all draped languorously over a crispy-chewy base…Dessert was just as good: Our dollop of tiramisu came with lightly-whipped mascarpone on a boozy biscuit layer, sprinkled with cocoa. Heaven.

2. The service

For evidence that L’Anima Café is related to L’Anima, look no further than the flawless service. Smartly-dressed bar staff were friendly and accommodating, the manager was enthusiastic (if perhaps, just a tad too much). We didn’t wait too long and everyone was helpful. Overall, the impression was simply of someone wanting – and managing ‒ to do a good job. You can’t argue with that.

3. The price

It’s not exactly budget, but the value for money here is surprising. Large antipasti start from around £6 per plate, while mains start at £9-10 (compared to L’Anima, where starters begin at £9.50).

If you were after a light dinner, you could get away with spending little over £20 for a good meal including a glass of wine, which is actually pretty damn good for a restaurant with one foot firmly in the City.

4. The atmosphere
It’s no cute bohemian joint, but who could expect that after the monochromatic lines of Mazzei’s other place?

Instead, this site somehow manages to deliver a relaxed atmosphere without totally forgetting the crisp, upmarket setting of its big sister.

A wide bar area encourages pre-dinner drinks, cool lighting throws shapes around the walls, and there’s no white tablecloth in sight. It even has a delicatessen in the back, should you ever get a daytime craving for the best ham Italy can offer.

The entrance even has a “market stall” display of bread and glossy vegetables, which screams “hot sunshine” and “Italy” no matter the weather outside. *Happy face*.

5. The Vespa!
Just as you were getting a bit depressed at the thought of leaving, fear not – there is an actual Vespa in the entrance area. Yes, really.

LanimaCafeInterior120

If you’re really lucky, (or one too many cocktails down) the waiter might indulge your jokes threats to take a seat on said bike, letting you imagine a trip through groves to the nearest sun-soaked Calabrian town to your heart’s content.

And yet, even if your visit doesn’t involve a motorbike ride, you won’t be disappointed.

I wandered back to Liverpool Street imbued with deep satisfaction, a faint whiff of smoked garlic and tiramisu, and the sense that L’Anima Café is somehow that rare London thing: a great meal in a friendly place, for not too much.

L’Anima Cafe, 10 Appold Street, London

Nearest tube: Moorgate / Liverpool St / Shoreditch High Street

An edited version of this post originally appeared on About Time magazine here.

Because everyone likes a food festival

So I finally made it to the Foodies Festival this weekend, after multiple failed attempts (well, multiple Googles, a few “I should maybe definitely go” thoughts, followed by subsequent missings of the advance-ticket-offer.)

Foodies Festival is a travelling food fair, including bars, ice cream vans, product stalls, cookery demonstrations, juice trucks and seating areas. So far, so excellent.

Anyway, because I can apparently only do something after months of procrastination, I finally booked a ticket for the Battersea Park venue. Now, I think it’s mildly cheeky that these places expect you to pay around £15 for entry, only to then charge you loads to actually buy anything once inside. Thanks to my 2-for-1 offer, I actually paid £7.50 each, which was a *bit* better, but still not great…

However, my indignation felt short-lived once I’d discovered that Foodies Festival GIVES OUT SHEDLOADS OF SAMPLES. YES.

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Blogger guilt: In which I totally fail to review stuff

Wanna read a random list of stuff I’ve done recently with no extra info? Nope, didn’t think so! At the very least, you want to know what I thought about it, right? Whether there’s anything there that might help you, I don’t know, decide which book to read or movie to see?

Well, the short answer is – YES, you should do and do/see/read them.

Being the amiable(-ish) kinda girl that I am, I pretty much enjoyed every single one of the below, more or less, which is maybe the only reason I have to not have ACTUALLY reviewed any of them.

Not a single one. I always think, immediately after an event, or final page, or discovered song, right, I’ll review that – and then promptly don’t get round to it.

WHAT, I ASK YOU, JUST WHAT KIND OF WRITER AM I?

One who has wayyyy more ideas for blogposts than I ever seem to have time to write, that’s what. I admit it.  I have serious blogger guilt. And this goes further than just being a self-obsessed millenial with nothing else to do.

Isn’t the whole point of blogging to share ideas?

In this spirit, in true (cringeworthy, yes) millennial style, I even take photos of pretty much all the restaurant food I eat and find myself making mental notes throughout movies, so I can reference them later.

I also find myself mentally making notes of what it is I like about books, even as I’m reading them – how “real” the characters are, how beautiful the writing, how honest the storytelling, how well they captured that mood or event.

For the most part, I’m also gauging whether they live up to the reviews and hype I’ve inevitably read up on before downloading to the Kindle or watching on Netflix or bought on iTunes or *gasp* actually GONE OUT to the cinema to see.

And yet, I hardly ever ACTUALLY MANAGE TO WRITE THE THING.

Frankly it’s hard enough to find time to even make a list.

Maybe the simple act of writing down ALL THE THINGS will free up some space and time (literally and mentally) for me to actually sit back and consider what I actually thought about something.

I know the world is JUST HANGING on my every word (nope) to see my views on the latest Coen Brothers’ outing, but even though probably no-one will read my thoughts except me, I like to think that, as a journalist who’s interested in a BILLION things, it makes sense to record experiences and reactions to things.

It’s not about showing off or obsessively making notes (after all, a quick look at the list below will disavow you of the thought that I live in any way an especially exciting or noteworthy life).

But what’s the point of personal blogging if not to share experiences and thoughts? Especially about cultural things that other people might enjoy?  

Especially when one of the things I most love about blogging is that it opens up your eyes to a whole world of other bloggers.

People who have done, seen, read, tried the same stuff as you – or stuff you’d love to try but are too busy/scared/poor/disorganised ‒ and whose reviews and tidbits only serve to enhance the experience when you actually get round to it.

Where would I be without those reviews of books, films, restaurants or events?

I mean, I also work on a restaurants and hotels magazine – writing about some of this stuff is pretty much literally what I do for a living.

And yet, I hardly ever manage to apply that experience to my own life.

I hardly ever manage to pay back all those bloggers or Google searchers; anyone who may wish to come across my blog, and for that fleeting moment, go “OMG YES, that’s mildly interesting” or “OMG yes that’s exactly what I wanted to know” (that’s what I think when I read a great blog, anyway).

There comes that blogger guilt again. I need to pay it forward, people. Not to mention practising actually writing stuff.

So, in an attempt to at least make amends, or a start, at reviewing some of the good things I’ve had going on recently, I’ve made some lists (with pictures, to make it pretty).

Maybe it will actually spur me on to tell you whether you should read/see/listen/do any of the stuff anytime soon…that is, if you haven’t already read/seen/listened/done it all already….

Films watched for the first time in the past few weeks

Books read recently

Restaurants/bars I’ve been to recently

Places travelled to in the past few months

Music I’ve discovered

Shows I’ve seen

Other vaguely significant (to me) stuff I’ve been up to

My painting: In the style of Mucha

Aren’t Mucha paintings wonderful? To me, they’re a fabulous mixture of dreamlike composition and stunning skill, redolent with silky textures, serene expressions, swirling hair and delicate features.

A Czech artist working in Prague and Paris in the early 20th century, Alphonse Mucha painted adverts, flyers and posters – and sometimes just art for art’s sake – entirely representative of his own, Art Nouveau time (Art Nouveau is up there in my top 5 kinds of design, mainly for its unbelievable “fussiness” and delicate swirls).

The women depicted are more often than not softly curved, swathed in luxurious fabric and haloed by a mass of unruly tendrils and pleasingly-complex geometric shapes, either dancing or triumphant, or laid-back, smoking, drinking, sitting.

They are ladies of understated leisure and artistry, as creative as the artist who paints them. They have all the beauty and traditional femininity of a pre-Raphaelite Rossetti or a Stanisław Wyspiański, without the often-found “downtrodden woman” vibes. Here, the woman is centre stage, the owner of the picture, the mistress of all she surveys, drinks, eats or smokes.

And they’re often incredible records of the design and pastimes of the time, due to their role as adverts and flyers for everything from chocolate to cigarettes to alcohol to play performances. The history geek in me just can’t get enough.

Plus, I also think they are stunningly beautiful.

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On discovering new music: How I found and fell for London Grammar, plus my other recent musical picks

Alanis Morrissette, and other people I’m not “supposed” to admit to liking 😛

It’s not often that I discover completely new music. As many have testified, my music taste ranges from the “ridiculous” (Taylor Swift) to the supposedly “awful” (Phil Collins, Alanis Morrisette, James Blunt, Coldplay), via some classics picked up from my parents’ old record collection (Elton John, Fleetwood Mac), some country and western discovered on the internet “radio” Last.fm (Johnny and June Carter Cash, Rascal Flatts, Kenny Rogers, Dolly Parton, Tim McGraw), and a few of the poppier chart hits from years and months past (Katy Perry, Beyonce, Bruno Mars).

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