Daily Prompt: Calm

via Daily Prompt: Calm

Calm

 Anyone with anxiety will know the struggle of trying to become calm: it’s almost an untouchable dream to be calm at the height of feeling anxious.

For me, I spent three long months at the beginning of 2016 trapped in an anxiety bubble, where the state of being calm seemed to be a million miles away out of reach of me, and almost impossible to achieve. Every action was tainted with fear and every thought was a catalyst to add to my distressed state – the complete opposite to how I feel now.

Though I still have my moments of crushing worry and an unsettled stomach, I find it easy to be calm, without even thinking about it or trying to force myself to be comfortable in my mind. Looking back on that period is impossible to believe and almost terrifying to consider that that was the way I lived for three whole months, though at the time it felt almost like three years, with each day dragging out like an endless ocean of jagged, choppy waves that never settle.

Florida Kilos [Lana Del Rey]

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 It would take you less than a week to catch on to the fact that I deeply adore Lana Del Rey and her music if you were to know me in real life, so of course there would come a moment where I write about her songs. I have already attempted three posts on other muscians I love (Tom Odell and James Bay), so it would only make sense (to myself) to write about my favourite artist.

Florida Kilos is a fairly random place for me to start when beginning to write about LDR, as it isn’t a single that has been on the charts – instead it is a bonus track on her album Ultraviolence, and one that I didn’t find until over a year after its appearance. However, there are hundreds of Lana songs that are unreleased, many of them difficult to track down, so discovering many of Del Rey’s songs is like stumbling upon a fiver you didn’t know you had in your back pocket.

Florida Kilos fits quite snugly on Ultraviolence – an album of dark and pictureqsue lyrics and clean instrumentals. It begins with a simplistic, lonesome guitar that brings a plucky American vibe, later joined by a quietly beating drum paired with a sharp kick that makes the track a snappy, summery tune. The music itself, as a whole, is swaying, the kind that helps one invision the high and free people of Miami dancing along in joy for their drugs.

One of the things that help create this summery feel is Lana Del Rey’s voice – sweet and babyish as she sings of her “daddy” and uses innocent, pretty terms to describe her drugs – “turnin’ diamonds into snow”. It’s this paired with the youthful “yayo” following each chorus, almost a sing-a-long, sway-a-long tune, that adds to the carefree vibe of the song – possibly a reflection of today’s drug culture where it becomes the norm within social groups to take drugs for recreational purposes, all part of the fun.

Del Rey’s voice has often been used in this ‘youthful’ way to demonstrate her Lolita-based character – a young woman who is in love with an older, more powerful man (or ‘daddy’) who can control her with just as much ease as she can seduce him with her innocent charms. Other songs that have included this theme have been Off To The RacesLolita and Diet Mountain Dew – though many of her songs include this storyline, echoing the novel Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov (her lyrics occasionally reference.

This is fascinating to me, the way she portrays a character in her songs, using her music to tell a story. Though this ‘character’ seems to appear in Florida Kilos, there are certainly people who relate to the thoughts, feelings and actions described in the song – the taking of drugs, the idea that Miami is the place to be if you want to live fast and free, the thrill of doing something illegal (lyrics include: “Prison isn’t nothing to me”).

As someone who does not take drugs and has a negative opinion of them, I don’t feel the connection between myself and the song, but I do enjoy her lyrics – in all her songs. Del Rey has a way with words, using visually pleasing words that create stunning imagery mentally when listening, and it is easy to see she is a woman who is keen to share beauty: she used to make her own music videos using cinematic clips, and her newer music videos are admirable.

However, back on the topic of the Florida Kilos lyrics, many stand out to me as being simply beautiful, for example: “Guns in the summertime, drink a Cherry Cola lime” or “White lines, pretty baby, tattoos”. For a theme I don’t agree with (drugs), I find the words she uses to create the vivid and attractive mental images inspriring.

Lana Del Rey is a wonder at writing lyrics – again, most likely due to her own possible inspiration of old-fashioned Hollywood movies and noir – and this makes me love both her and her music even more. As a writer myself (though it’s more me *wishing* I could make it as a talented one) I admire the way she uses her words, even on a topic I don’t agree with.

I’m still new at this review thing, I don’t know how to finish it.

Daily Prompt: Protest

via Daily Prompt: Protest

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 The smashing of glass mixed with delighted whoops and angered shouting makes my eyes fly open, confused as I stare around my dark room, though the flicker of orange from behind my curtains has me shooting out of bed and rushing to look outside in a flash. Behind the glass, the world is black and orange – black sky, dark shadows, men dressed in black clothing as they rush around under the orange street lamps, fire flickering as it consumes a car surrounded by my neighbours screaming and shouting.

But these men in black don’t seem to care – they are too quick and can easily dart away from the still sleepy car owner without much trouble. Judging from their whoops and catcalls, which echo up and down the street, they are young and cocky with the safety of their masks over their faces.

I had heard of the riots in the papers – the tales of protest marches turned violent and youths doing whatever they could to get their voices heard. I never expected it to break free from the heart of the city where it all began and stretch out to suburbia.

Writing practice.

Chaos and the Calm [James Bay]

Another review made too late.

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 One of the albums I was giddy to buy when it was first released was Chaos and the Calm by James Bay, back in earlier 2015. A few months prior (if I remember correctly) he had just released his first single, Hold Back The River, so he was fresh on the public scene. In honesty, Hold Back The River wasn’t the first single I heard, despite its successful place in the charts. It was my friend who had come to me telling me I should check out his music, as she assumed (correctly) that I would like his style.

 In doing so, I stumbled upon his YouTube channel, which had acoustic versions of his album’s song pre-release, many of which done all in one take with a visually pleasing backdrop. It was When We Were On Fire that I had first decided to watch and listen to, and I was immediately impressed with him. The riff of his guitar in this particular song/video was a pleasant surprise, as I didn’t know what to expect, but it was a perky, quick tune of abrupt notes that made me smile, and even better was his talented voice; his natural, acoustic singing voice is very much like his studio recordings, showing he needs no touch-ups to make himself sound passable as a singer, and there is an enjoyable warmth to his tone that emulates himself as a person (he comes across as a lovely person). After becoming hooked on this, I checked out his single and immediately loved it, with each pluck of the guitar string and the fabulous build up during the song’s progression to a storming jam that is impossible to not sing along to.

 Bay’s style was distinguishable from the off, and as I discovered and delved into more of his songs, the spirited feel of his voice and excellent instrumentals – always with his guitar at the forefront – I was getting more and more hooked on his sound. It wasn’t just his wonderful voice, however, but his personal style too: his discernible look of long hair and a hat, which almost echoes the ‘rock star’ trend but with a chiselled, polished clean-up. James Bay is clever in how he visually portrays himself – though he lets his music do the talking, he is recognisable as having the long hair, the hat, the guitar (and I’m sure his cheekbones have had their own recognition before), which is a good tool when becoming memorable by the public. Melanie Martinez, for example, has her own sweet and girly baby style, with pretty, childish clothing, and the King of Pop was remembered during his career for the militant jacket, the hat and the glittering glove – though James is far more reserved. [some very random examples of memorable style, I know]

 Of course, I’m not at all saying it’s his style people remember him for. It’s his talent. His perfectly indie rock/folk rock/soul voice has an earthy feel, not perfected (as I mentioned before) like most mainstream music is. It somehow makes his thoughtful lyrics more relatable, though they themselves capture real emotions, real thoughts (notably in Craving where he sings of the train of thought we all encounter – “Where do I go? What do I need?”)

 When I bought the album, it was a wonderful experience for the first time, with some eye-openingly brilliant songs, though brilliantly it doesn’t lose its appeal after several listens. Strangely, despite there being some quick-paced, chirpy songs, and tracks with stomping rhythm, I finish the album often with a mellow feeling – it’s perfect for some quiet background music.

 Each track has its own flavour and difference (predominantly): the cheerful yet thoughtful Craving, the hopeful and heart-warming Best Fake Smile, the slow and beautiful Move Together (with adorably polite sexual lyrics), the dirty and strained Collide* and, of course, the irresistable song that started it all: Hold Back The River.

 The way Mr Bay flows from emotion to emotion, with a multitude of stories and themes within his music and lyrics, shows his real passion for music: you can tell from his vocal ability and envious lyrical writing that he is a man in love with what he does. He isn’t a try-hard, he doesn’t perform for the money or write songs for attention – he does it because he loves it, which can only make equally passionate listeners feel more connected with the songs and the artist.

 In conclusion, I thank James Bay for blessing me with his music, as he is an inspired creative artist who inspires me. Which is a weird thing to say, but it is the best I can do as a closing note.

*my personal favourite.

Flaws of the ‘Flawless’: Bella Swan

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When I was a few years younger, I was very much invested in the young adult fiction series, The Twilight Saga by Stephanie Meyer, much like many teens were. As a girl who was obsessed with books – from the Harry Potter series in my pre-teens to the Jacqueline Wilson books which brought real-life dilemmas and family matters to my attention – I was very much into Twilight.

I adored (and still do adore) the writing style of Meyer, and did have a certain fondness and fascination for the characters, though I am somewhat less fascinated by them now. However, Bella Swan was always on the fence between my usual passion and connection between myself and the main character of a book, and the irritation and head-shaking she continuously inflicted.

I have seen several articles before criticising Meyer’s lead female as being a ‘Mary-Sue’ – an idealised version of typical teenage outcasts or in the very least ‘ordinary’ characters. Bella is incredibly beautiful, though not at all vain; Bella is very smart, though doesn’t boast that she shares the same intellect as a man who’s age is around a hundred years old; Bella gets all kinds of positive attention, particularly from the boys, though does not accept any of it. In fact, in order for Bella Swan to be ‘relatable’ to the bookish teen audience the novel was aimed at, Bella is an outcast, who seems to actively avoid human contact – until she meets the godlike Edward Cullen.

Even then, this epitome of perfection seems to love this apparently ‘completely ordinary’ human, and she in turn becomes an even better character: she’s selfless! She would die for him! Everybody praise Bella Swan for not only being generally clever, beautiful and humble, but she also has suicidal tendencies to protect the man (or vampire) she loves!

Of course, Bella Swan isn’t a Mary Sue – though Meyer tried hard to make her into the girl every female aches to be, Bella has some critical flaws that make me pull a face similar to wandering onto a farm and inhaling manure whenever I see these issues (that being said, I do not think Bella is entirely fecal and I do still think The Twilight Saga is an excellent series of books to read).

Putting aside some of her flaws (including her attachment to her vampire bae Edward, which is a tad worrying considering the intensity – as a fellow 17 year old, I can’t understand how she got so attached to this individual who really isn’t that special, to be frank), one of the flaws that frequently bugs me is her disregard to her real family.

As the novels progress, her relationship with the Cullen coven also progresses, and she sees them more and more as her family, and vice versa. However, this makes me feel concerned for her real family -particularly her long-suffering father, Charlie. Though she does his cooking and cleaning, she barely spends time with him, which I’m sure, despite their mutual acknowledgement of being awkward, he would have enjoyed and appreciated. Instead, she continuously puts herself in the path of danger: chasing after a (very old) boy who could kill her or get her killed at any moment; riding motorcycles with no experience; getting on motorcycles that belong to a stranger; cliff-diving into water in a ‘recreational’ activity without supervision or guidance from much more experienced divers; rushing of to Italy while Charlie was at a funeral (which isn’t dangerous from her father’s perspective, but I think it was just damn rude of her). The disregard for his feelings is concerning, and though it is clear within the books that she cares, she doesn’t do Charlie many favours (if we look at most of the saga from his perspective).

There many other things to say about Twilight – criticisms of the characters themselves and their actions, particularly Edward Cullen – but I feel the saga redeems itself enough to keep from being entirely critical of Meyer’s work. Though Bella does not stick with me as a likeable character and frequently frustrates me, she is still an interesting read with an entertaining story to tell, and she does have her positives and amusing moments that I just personally tend to overlook; like, for example, Meyer’s clear exaggeration of heady young love channelled through the flawed ‘flawless’ Bella Swan.

The purpose of this post was for writing practice (not hating).

 

Another Love [Tom Odell]

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 A few days ago, I wrote a post on Tom Odell, commenting my undeserved and most-likely biased opinion on his two albums. As I had previously said, Another Love – Odell’s first single – impacted me greatly, making me fall in love with each of his other songs and with him as an artist.

It was on the UK music chart compilation CD, Now That’s What I Call Music! 85, right near the end of disc two – the section of before-mentioned CD that I tend to ignore as I often don’t know the songs at that point. However, on a test listen of the track, it made me curious: I had never heard of this artist or the song (though I had vague memory of it which probed me to check it out on YouTube properly.

 The song’s beginning – the simple, isolated piano that already showcases the complexity of the emotions in Odell’s lyrics with each impressively layered note – had a sound that could have been a sunny song if it weren’t for the folorn tone. His voice was simplistic, growing hopeful as his notes raised then ended each line with a much quieter tone, the realisation resonating. Yet again, his distinctive voice and singing style fascinated me, as it wasn’t like anything I had quite heard before.

 As the song builds, with more instrumentals coming in and emotive gospel choir (a particularly enjoyable feature of his other pleasing-to-the-ear single Can’t Pretend), as does the soul-stirring (at least from my standpoint): feeling of your throat catching and breath changing, which is often the signal of an excellent song. Tom’s voice grows louder with a firmer quality to it, the underlining of a statement he wishes to make through song – the emphasis on hard letters keeps the song growing, progressing to a beautifully noisy and almost aggressive final chorus. The emotion in the music, the piano, his voice – it all impacted me as a listener greatly, and it’s a track I can barely sit still to now. His exasperated tone in his final six lines makes you want to sing, want to shout, want to cry, and, oddly, want to bop around in your seat in time to the thumping music.

 It’s a song that often makes me cry – in my sad or distressed times, I frequently use music as something to cry to, to trigger off the tears and allow me emotional release – and the sad storyline of using up all your love on someone you lost, leaving none left for those present, is a brilliant assistant.

 After a few more listens after the first intitial introduction to it, I was hooked. It wasn’t quite the same as any other song I had heard before, and I had grown up on all kinds of music and genre. There was something about Another Love that was unique, and touched my metaphorical core. Tom Odell’s voice, I also found, was (and still is) just as unique, which seemed to make his musical efforts more distinctive.

 His voice is what I would describe as ‘unpolished’; raw and without the autotune heard in many popular songs today. With allowing each strained note or vocal tremor to be heard in his tracks, you feel he is really there – not in a studio filled with buttons and technology that will perfect your real voice unecessarily – but live, like he is performing on stage. I did hear he had intended for his released music (digitally, on CD, etc.) to sound the same as it does on stage (don’t quote me on that), and indeed it does. I saw him live once (unfortunately not a Tom-centered show) and his voice was very much the same as it was on disc, so he fails to disappoint like some celebrities do when they often have to resort to lip-synching.

 Another Love, to me, is a track to be praised – it may not be everyone’s taste, but it found it’s way on the music charts and I firmly agree that was where it belonged. Much like the rest of his other singles, and his newer releases from the 2016 album Wrong Crowd, I believe he is becoming bigger as an artist, which is hardly a bad thing after all the edited voices we hear on mainstream radio today, instead giving people a refreshed view of a true musician and his talent.

Long Way Down vs. Wrong Crowd [Tom Odell]

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I’m sure the time to review his music has passed, but better late than never.

 Tom Odell is undeniably one my favourite artists, as much as I believe he is incredibly underrated. From the first listen of 2013’s Another Love, I was curious about his music – the instrumental is raw and his voice is filled with unpolished emotion that still never fails to provoke emotion within me.

The rest of his album was just as emotive, with passionate lyrics of young love and lost love, all pushed forward by his infamous piano. Clearly a key staple in each of his songs, his piano seems to bring a familiar flavour to each song, despite the clear differences between most of his songs, giving each track a bit of Odell flair, and it only serves to make my love for piano music stronger; it inspired a weak attempt to learn how to play the keyboard, though self-teaching isn’t one of my strong suits.

Though a few of the songs on Long Way Down didn’t entirely resonate with me – something which happens to me with most albums I own – there are some surely classic tracks that both broke my heart and filled it with joy. For example, I Know is a beautiful but blue song, with his wonderful voice wailing the misery I’m sure everyone will experience and recognise at least once in their lives. Can’t Pretend stuck with me very much, with the dramatic, dark vibe and moody vocals. To me, music isn’t good music unless it inspires me in some way (of course, in my own opinion), and at least gives me imagery to work with. Can’t Pretend evokes imagery of a dark, Victorian England – perhaps the song has been advertised on a period drama of a similar theme.

This simply powerful album bought me many tears along with much happiness, and a love for Tom Odell which I don’t see fading any time soon: so when his latest album, Wrong Crowd, was released, I almost had a fit of excitement at the prospect of new music to devour.

Listening to the lead single for the first time – Wrong Crowd – I was immediately hit with nostalgia (after all, three years is such a long time). Those first few notes like a dim heartbeat reminded me of why I loved Tom Odell in the first place – his particular sound on the piano, along with the eventual first few lines in his unique voice. I realised, as I bobbed my head along to the song, that he has seemingly taken a different turn from his typical, simplistic style, adding richer instrumentals and more layered depth to his sound. I also realised that I liked this ‘new’ Tom very much.

The music on Wrong Crowd is notably different from that of Long Way Down, with each song having a more distinctive tone and feel: the very ‘Top 40’s’-feeling Magnetised differed considerably from the quite seductive Concrete, whilst the borderline-Texan sounding She Don’t Belong To Me was not quite like the soft Somehow. The variation of music tones gives the album a more exciting feel, unlike the (still loveable) Long Way Down, which kept a familiar theme of downcast or ‘humble’ (as I prefer to call it) tracks.

Both albums have been important to me when it comes to inspiration and the connecttion between a person (me) and music, as I’ve not quite been hit as hard in the feelings as much as I have by Tom Odell and his two albums. Only close second to Lana Del Rey.

Of course, these are all my opinions – there have been quite different reviews on Mr Odell’s music, though mine are of course much more late and will most likely be never seen. I, however, don’t believe that makes them any less important. Tom Odell, thank you for your music, and I’m ready for you to break my heart all over again with the next album.