Tuesday, 27 December 2016

Best of Newly Heard in 2016

This year’s list is surprisingly up to date, with four of the top six recommendations being released in the last twelve months. When looking for new music suggestions I often start unseasonably picking through the abandoned remains of the previous year’s 'best of' lists long after they’ve been published and forgotten. It feels slightly illicit, like finding a box of Christmas decorations on the hottest day of the year and deciding to hang them up, but they are still a good source for scavenging high quality recommendations. This influence is more visible in the longer playlist which contains the six songs below plus eleven more.




Monday, 21 December 2015

Best of Newly Heard in 2015

As surely as night follows day and unlistenably long ‘best albums of …’ lists follow twelve months of music reviews, here is my contribution to stealing the last of your ear’s remaining music-free moments.

In what is becoming a standard, below are my top six tracks, but the Spotify playlist also contains all those that almost made it; with a total length of a very reasonable 49 minutes.




Sunday, 16 August 2015

Four Hours in Amsterdam

Between flights I lock my bag somewhere in depths of Schiphol Airport and take a yellow and blue train to the centre. The outlines of thousands of passengers are worn into the fabric of the seats, leaving a faded silhouette in the centre of each one. The train is well used and unglamorous, but seems to work to everyone’s satisfaction. I’ve changed planes here many times before, but never made it outside, beyond the concourse, the duty free shops and the sense that you should be queuing somewhere.

As I get off the train I think seeing the river might be nice, but the waterfront next to Amsterdam Centraal station is all function and no fun, squashed between the road and the water it's either a ferry ramp or under construction. I barely avoid being run over by rushing bicycles before walking around the station and heading south into the canals and old streets, some of which are frighteningly narrow. With cars parked on the railing-less canal edge there is just enough room for another car to squeeze past, if you step aside and find refuge amongst the locked bikes.


Tuesday, 21 July 2015

Morocco 3 - Edge of the Desert

It took nine hours of driving to reach this chain of unhappy camels sat in the thick yellow light of the late afternoon.

Ours was one of the many long-wheelbase white tourist Transit vans climbing through the winding roads of the High Atlas. We stopped, along with the others, at the bends with the most spectacular views and were sold packets of dates and dyed geodes by small groups of souvenir sellers who waited at even the most remote curves.

The High Atlas were orange with collections of dark green shrubs that thinned with altitude. We stopped on the other side in the Dades Valley to visit the old fortified city of Aït Benhaddou, whose tight collection of mud brick castle-like square houses climb a small hillside overlooking a dry riverbed. We walked through the streets, keeping to the shadows to avoid burning in the noon-day sun, a white heat on the skin that made the sun feel within arm’s reach.

The bricks are crumbling and parts of the town look like they’re melting back into the ground. A guide told us that the first meter of each wall is a stone foundation, but above that they are made from mud bricks that last only two years before the sporadic rains wash them away. The whole town is constantly being re-built and most people have moved to the new town across the river, leaving only four families to live in the miniature city. Aït Benhaddou is a ruin being constantly re-built. The outline and form not preserved in ancient half-forgotten stones, but in ancient, half-forgotten memories, continuously being refreshed in brown earth.




Wednesday, 24 December 2014

Best of Newly Heard in 2014

As usual I’m not limiting myself solely to what was released in the last twelve months, just to what was new to me. 2014 has been surprisingly difficult, so the Spotify playlist Best of Newly Heard in 2014 is longer than the six songs I’ve high-lighted below, but everything is worth a listen.



Sunday, 2 November 2014

Morocco 2 - Marrakesh

The crowds on the square move in eddies and whirls, dragged in arcs by the gravity of drummers, snake charmers, fortune tellers and food sellers.

The square of Jemaa el-Fnaa is the heart of Marrakesh, surrounded by narrow twisting souks it sits in the middle of the old city. We watch the sun set from the Grand Balcon du Cafe Glacier. As the traders and crowds change from day to night the skeletons of food stalls rise, square steel frames hung with long sheets to cover rows of dining benches. Electric lamps and gas powered kitchens make them glow from within.





Friday, 3 October 2014

Morocco 1 - Rabat

The compartment went black as the electricity failed. The emergency stops came on, filling the train with the hot bitter smell of brakes. The other occupants in our compartment barely reacted; the lady on left carried on texting, the white glow of her iPhone now the only light. The children opposite carried on sleeping on their mother. The young man on the right swore once in arabic, but he seemed in a hurry. Muttered complaints filtered through the carriage, but no-one reacted with surprise. Moroccans react with a calm fatalism that makes it impossible to tell if you’re experiencing a rare bad event, or if that’s usual and everything going to plan is the exception.