Mixed Media, Saturday 31 January 2015

Last Mixed Media post I said how much I was enjoying the start of season 2 of Arrow. The rest of the season was just as good – a roller-coaster ride from start to finish. There was no “filler” where Oliver Queen just hunted some bad guys. Every episode had something new and exciting to offer.

After binge-watching my way through Arrow I needed something else to sink my teeth into, so I wolfed down season one of Broadchurch. Very different from Arrow, but no less gripping and compulsively watchable. After that I jumped into Person of Interest…and ground to a halt. I’d heard so many good things about it, but compared to Arrow and Broadchurch it’s really dull. I’ve watched up to episode nine or ten, and so far it’s all villain-of-the-week stuff. A longer-term story arc involving the up-and-coming organized crime boss Elias is starting to take shape, but it’s moving at a glacial pace. The relationships between the characters aren’t changing or evolving at all. Maybe it gets better in later seasons, but I’m not sure if I’ll actually make it there.

(Also: in the early episodes of Continuum I found myself regularly annoyed by the crinimally fake depth-of-field effects applied in post-production. Blur for the sake of blur. Similarly, Jim Caviezel’s additional dialogue recording in PoI is terrible, and makes me grind my teeth whenever I hear another poorly edited cut.)

On my trip to Edinburgh last week I watched Gone Girl on the outbound flight, and Predestination on the return leg. I love David Fincher’s films, and I had hoped to catch Gone Girl in the cinema, but I didn’t quite make it. I haven’t read the book, but I knew the premiss. The first hour played out about as I had expected, but then it took a bunch of twists I hadn’t seen coming. The opening and closing shots are amazing bookends. Tony Zhou’s episode of Every Frame a Painting on Fincher gave me a lot to think about while watching the film, too:

Predestination is a subtle, clever, and twisty time travel story with a great lead performance by Sarah Snook. You kinda know where things are going to go, but how it gets there is patient, framed with empathy for characters who have to make sometimes awful choices. It’s not an action movie romp. The first half of the film is basically two characters talking in a bar, one narrating flashbacks of his own life story. But it’s content to tell a tall tale without being rushed. I liked it a lot.

I hadn’t listened to Lizzo for a while, so I spun up her album LIZZOBANGERS last week. Then I visisted her site to see if she had anything new cooking, and I found this track with Caroline Smith. Is it not happy and wonderful?

Searching for more Caroline Smith then led me to the album Pangaea by Toki Wright and Big Cats, the earlier album For My Mother by Big Cats, and Caroline Smith’s own album Half About Being a Woman. Good finds, all.

I’m still reading Harry Connolly’s The Way Into Chaos. To be honest I was disappointed by the start. Epic Fantasy isn’t normally my thing, and I found it hard to get on board with the unfamiliar titles and stilted courtly speech. The opening chapters also felt slightly simplistic, and somewhat young-adulty. I have nothing against young adult fiction, and I enjoy reading it; but it wasn’t what I had been expecting from the Great Way series. Also, being a kickstarter backer I was reading the book with writing a glowing promotional review in mind, and I just wasn’t feeling it — which made me feel reluctant about picking it up again each time…

However, with all that out of the way, something changed in chapter 12, and I found the characters coming alive for me. Cazia was making decisions of her own, rather than being propelled by events. Rescuing Vilavivianna gave her the opportunity to be a leader rather than a follower. Her increased agency made her more interesting as a protagonist. Since that point, I’ve found it more difficult to put the book down than to pick it up. It has found its stride.

Mixed Media, Monday 12 January 2015

Season 2 of Arrow dropped on Netflix (NL) just before Christmas. I thoroughly enjoyed season 1. It was unafraid to take risks with its characters, and shake up the relationships much more than the average weekly action show. I’m only about six episodes into season 2, but already it’s wow. It goes to some dark places really quickly, and it’s spawning new characters and elaborate plot lines at a ferocious rate. I’m loving it.

Last year I thought Sonic Highways by the Foo Fighters was a good album. Now that I’ve watched all episodes of the accompanying documentary, I’m upgrading that good to great. Dave Grohl calls it a “love letter to the history of American music.” It’s an amazing trip through eight cities, in which he interviews musicians, producers, studio owners, and other significant figures in the city’s recent musical history (mostly from the seventies onwards). The band recorded one song in an iconic studio in each city, and they let the flavour of the city and its people soak into the music. Each episode ends in a simple lyrics video of the band at the studio, and that’s when you hear all of the influences pouring back out. It’s simply glorious. If you’ve listened to the album, but haven’t watched the series, you’re missing out.

I’ve bought a ticket to see them at Murrayfield on 23rd June. Before now, I simply wanted to see the Foo Fighters live; now I have to see them.

I hadn’t known that Talib Kweli had a new album out…last year – until I read his article “Why I Left The Major Label System” yesterday (via Andy Baio). He’s selling the album direct to the public now through his own site kweliclub.com, which is cool.

Having a lot of Twitter followers is great for the ego. A blog once called me the king of “Black Twitter” for my ability to use my Twitter feed to create social discourse. So that’s nice. However, having all these “followers” is deceptive because while it makes me culturally relevant, it doesn’t translate into actual record sales. This is a generation that would much rather stream music than buy albums. I understand why consumers love streaming over purchasing albums, but they are mistaken when they think it is beneficial to the artists. I see what I make from streaming vs actual sales and theres no comparison. I make relatively nothing from streaming. For me to make the the buck I would make from one purchase of a song through streams, a fan would have to stream that same song almost 150 times.

I like it when I can buy albums directly from the artist. On first playthrough: sounds pretty sweet. I’m bummed about missing Mos Def Yasiin Bey when he blew through the Netherlands back in November. He and Talib Kweli are both up there on my “must see” list.


Thursday night in Edinburgh was house-rattlingly windy, with car alarms going off throughout the night, and much damage and disruption the following morning. My flight back on Friday evening was delayed and had a scary take-off and landing. Then this morning: wait…didn’t we used to have a fence there?

More view than I was expecting

A few hours of bodging, bracing, and strapping later:

We’d been planning to replace the fence this year anyway, but this moves it up the timetable a bit. At least we got rid of the half-dead tree last autumn before the storm season hit.

The Kelpies

I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s impossible to take a bad photo of the Kelpies. It may even be impossible to take a bad photo near the Kelpies. They look like they belong in Valencia’s City of Arts and Sciences, or perhaps in an alternate history Soviet Russia of peace, prosperity, and strength. But instead they’re in Falkirk, just a short drive from the marvellous Wheel. Wow.

The Kelpies

The Kelpies

The Kelpies
Even close-ups of the structure (for use as a phone lock screen background) are amazing. The statues are fractally awesome.
Sutherlands at the Kelpies
The Sutherlands
Fiona and Abi at the Kelpies
Fiona and Abi

The Kelpies

The Kelpies

Kildrummy Inn

The Kildrummy Inn

The Sunday after Christmas Abi and I took a short break inside our holiday. We drove North through Glenshee and Braemar to the Kildrummy Inn for an overnight. I’d found the hotel through Hotels.com, searching for accomodation in Aberdeenshire – I hadn’t heard of it before. The reviews were excellent, and the photos looked like the kind of place we like to stay in: Scottish rural, slightly old-fashioned, comfortable rather than swanky. The kind of hotel where we would not feel out of place going down to dinner wearing jeans and a sweater instead of “smart casual”. And indeed it was!

More than that: co-owner and chef David Littlewood was Scottish Chef of the Year 2013, and the Kildrummy Inn is clearly trying to make a name for itself in culinary circles – they won two AA rosettes in 2014. We arrived shortly after lunch service and were greeted by co-owner Nigel Hake, who saw us to our lovely room on the first floor. We hadn’t booked a table for dinner, because we weren’t sure what to expect. And to be perfectly honest, I had been thinking about an unpretentious fish and chips takeaway in nearby Alford. But despite not asking for it, he had kept a table aside for us anyway, and as soon as he brought us up the evening’s menu we were hooked.

We went down for a drink in the cozy bar shortly after 7, before being ushered through to the long narrow dining area at the front of the hotel. (There’s a second room next to the bar as well.) My starter was a chicken and apricot terrine with a black pudding bon-bon on top. The terrine was tender and flaky, but the subtle chicken flavour was overwhelmed by the intensity of the black pudding when I took them together. After the starter, we were served an intermediate course of rich and creamy celeriac soup with truffle oil, and dainty cheesy biscuits on the side.

For my main course…I had fish and chips anyway. I like it when a high-aiming restaurant serves simple food, and it was suitably delicious. The haddock was perfectly tender in a light batter that stayed crisp until the very end. The chips were double-fried, crunchy, and fluffy, and the accompanying pea puree was perfectly judged to lighten the deep fried goodness a hint of vegetable.

My dessert was a lemon posset, topped with burnt orange caramel, and blood orange sorbet on the side. I’d never come across a posset before, so I had to ask what it was: a milk pudding curdled with citrus juice. It was delicious.

My faulty digestion struck again in the middle of the night, and I had to forgo the pleasure of breakfast the next morning. Abi’s “Full Kildrummy” looked amazing, though. We had a nice chat with Nigel about computers, networking, and gaming before we headed off shortly after 11. We had originally planned to drive a bit further North-West and head back South via Aviemore, but we decided to just reverse our drive through the ridiculously scenic Glenshee instead. (Clear blue sky, hard frost on the ground, with snow-capped hills.) Abi had never been to the House of Bruar before, and we met Mum & Dad and the kids there for tea and a scone and some shopping in mid-afternoon.

Glenshee, looking ridiculously amazing
Glenshee, looking scenic
Abi in Glenshee
Abi, looking scenic