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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Painting: sunshine, the Cinque Terre and the Great British winter

It would be logical for me to say that as the weather gets colder and more miserable, I get drawn towards painting sunny countries as a reminder that summer isn’t far away.

And yet, neat as that sounds, this painting is more about my longing and fascination for all things Italy, whether or not it’s cold over here (after all, it can get pretty freddo there too). I was lucky enough to travel a lot in Italy when I was younger, and I have to say, it is still up there with my top 5 most beautiful, sunny, delicious, and stunningly-fabulous places I’ve ever been. Its landscapes, food, language and architecture take my breath away.

More generally, I also love the shape and look of higgeldy-piggeldy buildings, whether clustered over a mountainside or coastline, as they are here, or Victorian brick buildings raggedly arranged alongside a railway line, which I see on a daily basis on my journeys in and out of London’s suburbs. There’s a sort of awful, crazy-beautiful, intensely organic, human element to them, as patchwork and ad-hoc and shambolic – and yet still standing – as they are.

But for this, it was something about the Italian coastline, in particular the Cinque Terre, that I wanted to capture. It just makes me want to paint stuff. How can you not look at all that colour and blue sky and sea and shapes and not be inspired?

image

(c) Hannah Thompson – Cinque Terre (in the Great British winter) – acrylic on paper

Painting-wise, this just about turned out how I wanted, although I’m never bloody 100% happy, of course! The sea and sky are a bit more impressionistic than I had envisaged, and perhaps the sea should be less navy, more turquoise…on the whole though, it came out OK. The flowers don’t look so amazing in this photo, but overall they gave the impression that I wanted….more or less.

And maybe there’s some truth to the whole rubbish-weather-paint-sunshine thing, because thinking about Italy, roads across seas, and a blue/yellow sky is making me feel warmer already…

Painting lyrics: On loneliness, solitude, and hells YEAH, SILVER PENS

Whenever I listen to music, I always pick up on some lyrics more than others, and imagine those snippets as paintings. It can be any kind of music, but there are inevitably certain lyrics that resonate more than others, that I long to put down on paper as a backdrop for trying out a new technique, or a new mixture of colours.

Although it’s not exactly from the most sophisticated song I know (early 2000s, hello), I do love this lyric from Pink – Your Whole Life Waiting on a Ring to Prove You’re Not Alone. I especially like the dual meaning. There’s something very sad about the song (Glitter in the Air, above), but this line particularly speaks to me about the idea of loneliness vs solitude. After all, being “alone” is a state of mind, right? If you’re happy with your own space, and enjoying it (as I very often do), then you’re not really alone. Or lonely.

It’s only when you reflect on what else you might be doing, who might have called but didn’t, that you start to feel differently. It’s only when you consider that other people might be calling each other up to go out and do what your paranoid head thinks are impossibly-cool things, that you start to feel alone, when you were 100% fine before.

I’ve always enjoyed my own company, but I find this lyric interesting because it’s talking about “proving” that you’re not alone. It’s looking at it from the outside, from other people’s perceptions of your own loneliness. It’s not a coincidence that being called a “loser”, or “no mates” is such an apparently cutting insult.

People who like their own space and don’t care about being out at every latest thing, are often at risk from people who assume they must be sad and lonely, and missing something. It’s always an interesting balance between making the effort to go out and do things, realising that social interaction can be a wonderful tonic to life, and feeling comfortable enough in your own skin to be at home, alone, singing to your own hymn sheet, doing whatever you feel like, no matter who knows or cares. The latter is one of the upsides of being single, I think, but the wider perception is often more “cat lady” than “alone and happy”. Nice.

Equally, this lyric’s other meaning is clearly that of a “wedding ring”, and society’s still-prevalent perception that if you can’t find someone to marry you by a certain age then you’re probably a bit of an anti-social loser. (Again, that word loser. SIGH.) If you’re single (or simply alone for whatever reason) it can seem like the world is made for two – restaurant tables, hotel deals, double-your-income house prices.

People with the confidence – or shall we say, the don’t give a fuck-ness, to just walk into a restaurant or cinema, by themselves, often have to defend their actions to other people, like: “oh, it’s OK, I take a book,” or “It’s nice not to be distracted, ahem”. In a duo, or a big group of friends, people don’t question you. As one, you’re often seen as a odd, slightly weird, a bit of a loner.

Incidentally, on a slightly different point, I’ve never been one of those people to have a huge group of friends. My whole life, I have never felt comfortable in one of those big, loud, colourful gangs of impossibly-glamorous women, laughing over their cocktails at the hilarious, wild and varied lives they all do lead. I’ve always been a bit envious of people who can affect such insouciance with glorious abandon. I always feel like I’m the one at the back, pretending to have a great time but surreptitiously pulling up my tights, feeling like my hair needs a good brush, and wishing I could just talk to a few of my closest mates over a quieter drink.

[Katzp on DeviantArt – click for credit].

I’m pretty extroverted, but still much better in small groups – or even better – in a trio or duo. Or as a couple, say. There are advantages to being single, but the world likes pairs. It’s easier. It’s cheaper. It’s understood. People know what box to put you in if you’re part of a couple. If you’re not, you’re either probably looking to be in one, or you’re a bit dark and complicated and y’know, probably lonely as fuck.

There’s a balance to be had here – after all, it’s a famous saying that you can feel lonely as part of a crowd, and I can’t imagine anywhere more lonely than as one half of a bad relationship. Sometimes your own company is the best, other times, it can feel like your heart is literally bleeding out into your chest with the loneliness of it all.

In these days of Facebook weddings and holidays and updates from your most sociable friends, it can feel like as everyone else pairs up and hangs out, you’re even more alone. If you only had that ring – the phone call, or the sparkly left-hand diamond – you could “prove” that you’re not alone, that someone loves you. After all, right, if it’s not on Facebook, it didn’t happen. Because no-one posts a photo or status of themselves having a genuinely fantastic night in, painting, watching movies and drinking whisky-tinged hot chocolate, on a WEEKEND (cough). That would be like, so weird, or protesting just WAY too much.

There’s also that idea that unless you’re part of that perfect group – be it a firm Sex-and-the-City friendship circle, or a solid couple – that your life can’t really begin. Like everything before is just a perpetual, temporary adolescence (wtf?). It’s why people have wedding lists, even if they ostensibly have all the things on it already – NOT because they’re out for all they can get, apparently – but because they’re supposed to be “starting life” together. It’s An Established Thing.

And that, my friends, is why I decided to paint this lyric. It made me think of all that, and it’s just one sodding line. It also gave me a chance to mess around with colours, and use my silver metallic pens, and that, we all know, is a glorious chance just FAR TOO GOOD to pass up.

Your whole life waiting

Acrylics with metallic pen… 🙂

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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“Less bullshit, more awesome”: In homage to A Life Less Bullshit

A Life Less Bullshit. The dream...

A Life Less Bullshit. The dream…

Just a quick homage to the inspirational powerhouse that is Nicole Antoinette, over at the does-what-it-says-on-the-tin blog A Life Less Bullshit. One of my all-time favourite blogs ever (thanks to one of my other all-time favourites, Superlatively Rude, who told me about it), it basically provides you with periodic pep-talks about going out, getting off your butt, and putting the work in (however small or weak or rubbish you think the first step) to get what you want for your own life.

Its writer, Nicole Antoinette, doesn’t do things half-arsed. Not only has she become a runner from scratch – when once, by her own admission, she much preferred sitting on the sofa eating cookies – but she is planning to RUN ACROSS AMERICA. Seriously. It’s like, what the ACTUAL hell? If she can do that then I can probably manage a jog around the park, or whatever else I want to do.

Yeah, sometimes it feels easier said than done, but generally, her message is – just get out there and do it, and you’ll feel a whole lot better than if you sat there just thinking of excuses why you can’t do it.

As that other inspirational wonder, Jillian Michaels, says in the endless fitness DVDs I do of hers: JUST SHOW UP. Get out there with your trainers on, put on that sports bra, sit down at your writing desk – wherever you need to go – and just show up.

Looking through some of Life Less Bullshit’s tweets, I saw that she had had a canvas bag made with the motto “less bullshit, more awesome”. Well, I WANT ONE. Not sure how to get one (cheeky tweet about it, perhaps!) but wow. And also because you can never have enough canvas bags. RIGHT? Right 🙂

Want…

A letter to heartbreak – Maya Angelou, the light and the dark

maya-angelou

I miss all my boyfriends. You’re not supposed to say that. But it’s true.

Despite all my best efforts to have as few as possible, I’ve had three serious ones in my life – ones who I could have seen myself marrying, if the time had been right.

For someone with such a terrible memory, I remember quite a bloody lot about all of them – almost as much as the one from seven years ago as the one from this year. And I miss a lot, too.

How warm I felt when driving around that one’s uncle’s New Zealand dairy farm, and the soaring elation of standing on top of one of the huge hills, with a view in all directions. How the other one’s neck smelled when you leaned in to kiss it. The bone-crushing panic of realising you weren’t going to see that one again for six months (New Zealand again). The overwhelming joy when that one told you they loved you, too.

How his just-opened eyes collected with sleep after a long, warm night next to you. How the skin on his knuckles felt when you brushed your thumb across them, or how that one used to like to hold hands with one little finger tucked inside your palm.

How you admired their ambition, how their hips looked when they walked, how the texture of his cardigan felt on your back, how the weave of that one’s jumper lay across his chest just so.

The weird phrases they used to say, the slang they used that no-one else did. The way he moved his hand when trying to make a point; the incredible, moving-mountains-type smile he used to crack at you when you made a joke.

The nicknames they gave you, the way they encouraged you in your plans, the way they used to breathe, how they used to listen. The things they liked you to do when no-one else was there, the slightly embarrassed look they gave you when you touched their face in public.

The feel of their hips against yours when they gave you a hug; the shy look they gave you as you walked down the train platform to meet them, the way they could really get into a debate without getting angry. The passion you shared for that song; the pain you felt for them when they were tired, or frustrated, or sad. How they took their coffee, the amazing things they could cook with eggs.

The ridiculous beauty of their stupid guitar playing, and the way their hair felt in your hand, and fell over their face. The way they drove the car, their reliability in texting you back, how they humoured your indecision over what to order in restaurants, how their eyes used to roll when you faffed around getting ready.

How full of hope and joy and yes, sometimes fear (because you knew it could all end without warning), you felt when looking at them. How lucky you felt.

The poisonous, metallic feeling at the bottom of your chest when you realise they’re gone and not coming back. Different every time. Startlingly familiar nonetheless.

And while the pain lessens, it never goes away. You never quite forget. The injuries simply multiply, softly, and without warning. Even telling yourself not to get too attached doesn’t quite work. They seep into your psyche like water into cracks in the road.

It’s like that incredible Maya Angelou phrase: “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

Even if I’ve forgotten more than I realise – the feelings, I will never forget.

You’re not supposed to say that. You’re supposed to move on each time; nuke the memories of the last one with excitement from the next. You’re supposed to get stronger – although why getting your heart smashed in over and over would make you stronger, I’m not entirely sure.

And yet. You can’t just carry on getting hurt over and over. You can’t just keep on letting the injuries of years past build and build until there are only holes where the fabric of your heart used to be.

Instead, it might help to try and collect the tatters and the patches, seeing them with compassion, for what they are, what they represent. All those different people. Those experiences. That love, that trust, that hope. The silence – literal and not ‒ after they leave.

The key is to not become cynical, and close your heart to everything, forever and ever. (I might do that temporarily, though. This isn’t a sodding self-harm manual.)

Because, well, I hate cynics. They suck the joy out of what is already difficult enough. The temptation is to be cynical. But the truly strong thing is to carry on sitting, walking, standing up, breathing, moving, laughing – and the hardest thing, trusting ‒ when all you want to do is give up; end it all.

The hardest thing about heartbreak or grief isn’t to get up after it just happened. It’s to keep on getting up, the day after that, and the week after that, and the month after that. And the bloody year.

A wise friend of mine recently said, heartache and grief feel like you’re carrying a heavy jar where your chest used to be. That jar was full of all the things you loved about that person (those people?) – but heartache makes it empty. No matter what you do, where you are, who you see, that jar feels empty. A hidden vessel, just beneath your ribs.

But slowly, surely, the jar starts to be refilled. I like to think of it like sand – coloured, beautiful, light-reflecting sand. With time, patience, compassion, and maybe a bit more time, random experiences tip a little more bright, silky sand into that previously-empty space.

Before you realise it, the jar isn’t quite so empty, and the sand and shells and glitter that used to make you you, start to come back. That’s what I’m hoping for, anyway.

And I know for sure that you need light to make things shine.

Yes, the memories of past boyfriends are always there, dark shadows threatening to cloud your worst days and most difficult moments. Without warning, a memory will come back, threatening to cut off your breathing, a thousand times a day. On terrible days, the thoughts will cycle, over and over. But you keep breathing. You have to.

Because maybe, if the heart is a sheet slowly ripped through with holes, it makes sense to remember that without the holes, no light gets in.