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Album review: @AnushkaUK // #BrokenCircuit

ANUSHK

An uncomplicated, fresh, beat-driven pop gem.

Anushka, producer Max Wheeler and singer/songwriter Victoria Port, dropped their début album – Broken Circuit earlier this month on Gilles Peterson’s Brownswood Recordings. The music is an uncomplicated, but brilliantly contrasting blend of layered harmonies and candied soul vocals pinned together with an underground-pleasing beat selection.

Broken Circuit opens with Impatient, a soulful lounger with a vocal from Victoria which reminds me a lot of The Noisettes’ Shingai Shoniwa. It’s a nice way to start the album, with some cool keys which sets a tone held throughout the LP.

The pace is upped slightly with the second track and single Never Can Decide, a track which takes Port’s frustrated tale of a relationship in turmoil, and turns it into an exhilarating disco-house floor filler.

There’s a vulnerability to Port’s writing which runs right the through album, non more so in the lyrics of Echo. The vocal on this track, one of the release’s highlights, is one of regret and insecurity. Wheeler’s production however, manages to achieve what many great pop records do, and that is to get your feet moving to the lyricist’s woes.

The album continues in a similar vein, the beats develop and get more interesting, from the drum and bass feel to Atoms Bombs, to the erratic glitchy-ness perfection of Kisses, which is for me the stand out track. It highlights perfectly what Anushka are about – a contrast of sweet, soulful vocals underpinned by a slightly darker, sub loving bass and beats.

Just as Broken Circuit begins to wind down we’re hit with Mansions, also one of the singles from the LP. It’s an absolute banger. Plain and simple, fantastic.

There’s so much on offer on Broken Circuit. It’s an album which works really well as a whole, it feels like a complete entity, as a good album should. Anushka have stepped up and produced an LP which instantly puts them on a par with the new wave of British electro pop artists like, SBTRKT, Disclosure, Rudimental and Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaurs. New Wave Brit-Electro-Pop, now there’s a genre and a half.

 

Header image taken from here

Hear some of Anushka’s music here 

REVIEW: @ZaraMcFarlane gig at The Sage, Gateshead

In many ways Jazz often gets away from me.  It’s something that I’m only just starting to get interested into seriously. I listen to a little Coltrane and love Mile Davis’ Kind of Blue but at times I struggle to appreciate the faster, more improvised, off the wall instrumental and vocal tangents that can occur.

In order to tackle this problem, I’m always looking to gain a better understanding of the genre through more accessible means.  I came across Zara McFarlane on such a search of the Newcastle/Gateshead venue, The Sage.  Learning she was MOBO-nominated and Giles Peterson-backed, the choice of gig was made easy and tickets quickly purchased for the second, and smaller, but no less impressive hall.

The gig opened with ‘Her eyes,’ one of the early tracks on her new album on Peterson’s Brownswood Recordings label: ‘If you know her’, a steady warm up which saw pianist Joe Armon-Jones play out his first of a number of mesmerising solos.  The night really got into full swing however, with the sultry ‘You’re going to get me in trouble’.  Bathed in simple but dramatic ruby lighting, the quintet oozed class as McFarlane’s bluesy vocals swung through the hall during one of the highlights of the night, which also firmly introduced the audience to saxophonist, Binker Golding.

Zara MFarlane herself cuts a confident, endearing and soulful figure that radiates her enjoyment of playing on stage with her friends, who she credits throughout for their musicianship.  Both sets of their hour and a half performance are punctuated with the stories behind the music, firstly with the very personal ‘More than mine’ in which she muses over an ex-lover’s new partner.

The second, darker tale is about witnessing a prostitute whilst on tour in Italy and culminates in the song ‘Woman of the Olive Grove’.  It’s a nice inclusion to the night and adds to the intimate feeling of the surroundings.  This would be my first time in Room 2 and I think I prefer it to the larger hall for this reason.

The acoustics in the smaller room are no less impressive either, enveloping the captivated audience with the hypnotic rhythms and jazz vibes emanating from the five friends.  My highlight of the night came in the second set, with the song: ‘Love’, which seemed almost like a duet between MacFarlane and her pianist, it was beautiful, haunting and melodic featuring Armon-Jones at his best on the night.

In a way, to say this was just a Zara McFarlane gig, would be to do an injustice to the musicians accompanying her, Max Luthert (Bass), Binker Golding (Sax), Moses Boyd (Drums), and Joe Armon-Jones (Piano), who commanded attention individually but excelled when at full tilt in unison.

There were a couple of moments that tested, not my enjoyment of the night, but my understanding of the Jazz to its limits.  A telling hand squeeze, a wordless expression of ‘what is happening?’ from my better half told me that that I wasn’t alone on the edge of comprehension.  But, whether it was a vocal scat/riff, a psychedelic, eyebrow knotting-solo from Golding or one of Luthert’s expertly meandering bass lines, it all added to an excellent, musical mind-expanding evening.

Quite frankly, if I could play like these guys, I would give up talking and communicate only through the medium of Jazz.

An authority on which, I’m definitely not, but I don’t think you need to be to appreciate Zara McFarlane et al, of whom I am now unquestionably a fan.  I would travel further and pay more to see the same performance again.  My only complaint is that there were no proper records to buy after the gig, only CD’s.  I had to buy the LP this morning from Rough Trade.

Review: @Lane7Newcastle

Having spent last years Valentine’s night in a fairly posh restaurant, feeling a little penned in with all the other couples, eating the same food, I wanted to do something different this year.

I opted for Lane 7 in Newcastle, a reasonably new ten pin bowling eatery, which had come recommended by a friend at work.

The main bar, and in fact the whole place, has a classic but contemporary industrial estate meets Americana vibe. The plaid-clad staff are numerous, helpful and suitably bearded to fit the scenario.

The drink selection is massive, and there is more than enough to keep you occupied if you opt to get there early to soak up the atmosphere. I’m pleased we did and enjoyed some Blue Moon lager which came with a slice of Orange (a strange but successful combo) and later on a Brooklyn lager, both of which are on tap. There is also a cracking selection of cocktails and mocktails and even alcoholic milkshakes. I gave the Yankee Doodle a whirl with my meal. Not something you could drink too many of, but very nice.

The food came quickly after ordering and was delicious. We opted for the Chicken Liver Pate, with spiced tomato and pear chutney. My better half and I generally share a pate when we go out and this was one of the best we’d had.

I opted for the Chilli Pimp Dog for my main course, although I’m normally tempted by the cheeseburger, the short rib chilli which accompanied appealed to my inner yank. I wasn’t disappointed. The dog, bread and chilli were spot on, the chilli could have be a little hotter though. It was laced with jalepenos and mayo, but lacked a kick I was looking for.

The ribs were massive and came with a little paint brush to help you apply your BBQ sauce. The g/f was suitably mute while she ploughed into her dish, and although she thought it wasn’t the best place to come if you were on a first date, I’m certain that you don’t necessarily need to shed all dignity when faced with a rack of ribs.

The post meal bowling was great, and I don’t mind admitting (I do mind) that I was beaten by my better half, by about 15 points. The maple topped lanes are 4 a breadth so it has an intimate feel which is lost in bigger bowling alleys. We would have stayed a little longer for some pool but the next available table was a 45 minute wait away which was a shame.

Overall, Lane 7 talks a big game, but has the balls to back it up. It looks the business, from the interior and staff to the serveware and games, and doesn’t disappoint. It’s very busy, so some forethought needs to be put into what you want to do when you get there as having a spontaneous game of pool may not always be possible. It’s a class restaurant, with a bowling alley in it: Check it out!

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Design Thinking (#U101) – Solution Design

The final submission of Design Thinking (U101) was to design a solution to a problem of my own choice.  This solution was to come in the form of 3 posters detailing the Problem, some thoughts on possible Solutions, and a final Solution proposal.  

The problem I chose to work on was ‘The attractiveness of using Performance Enhancing Drugs (PEDs) in Athletics’, and this was my submission:

Problem

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Solutions

 

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Final Proposal

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The Unity Games are a series of professional athletics meetings which allow men and women, of mixed ability to compete with and against each other.

The teams are invited by the governing body to join the league and compete for a championship in the same way Formula 1 is contested. The teams travel for a season and score points by winning games.

As they travel, the teams are legally obliged to ensure that athletes are fit and healthy and pass the testing for banned substances. In joining the Unity Games, athletes commit to using standardised sporting supplements and governing body approved nutrition. These athletes will also undergo stricter testing than amateur athletes with failure resulting in expulsion from games and fine for the teams.

The Championship consists of Team based prizes and Athlete centric awards, such as Overall Winning Team and Champion of Mixed Rugby, to Champion Sprinter, and so on.

The needs met here are:

Athletes: the opportunity for a career in athletics which provides earnings comparable with other sporting competitors, and also the chance to become part of a successful team.

Fans: entertainment, access in terms of TV coverage and promotions.

Business: sponsorship opportunity, Research and Development of new sporting goods and the marketing of these goods.

The teams may hire who they see fit to compete for them in the games. However, there will be a quota required in terms of the athletes mix .

The games will be competed like standard athletics meeting, over the course of the weekend, and have standard track and field games, with the added mixed games like Mixed Ability Rugby. The Games will culminate on Sunday night with the Mixed Ability Rugby Final, an emblematic feature of the Unity Games which is played in the centre field.

 

Design Thinking U101 – Game Design

 

 

My third assignment for Design Thinking was to design a board game based on a service provided in the local area.  The game I designed was to be used as a staff training tool, and based on a city alarm service.  This was my submission:

 

The game I’ve chosen to design is Dispatch! It is a board-based game to be played by between 2-4 players. Players work their way round a board, which is a street map of a small town, attending and resolving alarms which are received at a control centre and ‘dispatched’ to them. Players move around the board by rolling a single die, and must count out the full amount of places they roll. Once at the alarm property, they must roll an outcome die which will determine any delays they suffer dealing with the alarm. Three out of the six sides of the outcome die will show that the alarm has been resolved without issue. However, the three other sides will have a three-tiered penalty system based on various degrees of severity. For example: An injured resident will result in a 4 place deduction in the next roll of the die; a confused resident in need of reassurance will carry a 3 point deduction, and a resident who has challenging behaviour carries a 2 point deduction. This outcome roll only needs to be carried out once, and if the next roll is less that the deduction does not carry over. Each player must pick five blind ‘resident’ cards which carry the addresses that need to be visited. There are 20 residents in total. The player must then choose another 5 blind ‘alarm’ cards which detail the help required by that resident. They are displayed facing up and cannot be swapped or mixed. Alarms must be attended to in the order of priority P1 and P2, with P1 being the most urgent and the one being dealt with must be nominated and stated as the ‘current alarm’. This cannot be not changed unless the alarm is cleared or the wardens diverted. Whilst moving around the city, players will encounter penalty and bonus spaces on the board. If a player lands on one of these spots (the red ones), they must role to find out the outcome. Rolling an even number, an alarm is cleared, and rolling an odd number, an alarm is added. If a player is attending a P2 alarm and a penalty P1 alarm is added to their list, then the wardens must divert to that alarm and the P2 goes back into the queue of jobs to be done. If they are already dealing with a P1 alarm, then the new alarm goes into the queue. The game is won when a player’s jobs have been completed and they have made his/her way back to the home base from where they started. I have designed the game to give newly hired members of staff an insight into the roll Telecare plays for service users, whilst remaining playable. The game’s function is to teach how the alarms are handled and dispatched and how some alarms (P2) may be held in a queue for periods of time while the higher priority alarms are dealt with. It also hopes to give an idea of the difficulty the warden’s face manoeuvring through city and making decisions on directions to take and the order in which to do the alarms to resolve them the quickest. I also believe the game holds features that would see a successful player combining skills of strategy analysis, problem solving and luck, and could also be used as a team building tool if players are partnered up.

 

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