Pastures New

It’s crazy how one’s priorities can change so much in the space of a year. Exactly twelve months ago, I published The ECP Diaries, Part 3. At that point, my dissertation project was merely a collection of relatively confused ideas with a long development process in front of them – they couldn’t have resembled the three finished products less. Now, said project is done and dusted, having assumed a final form that I am immensely proud of, and my focus has shifted onto pastures new. Some of these, I might have to keep under wraps, at least for the time being. Others, however, I can enlighten you on – and chief among them is something I’ve already alluded to.

I’m not actually going to launch into a long-winded anecdote here, although I’m sure there’ll be plenty more to come where those are concerned. Instead, I’m going to give you all something I promised last time – a link to my first published Music Is To Blame review. The piece I spoke of before was for an album, but that’s yet to be released, so this is a review of The Lottery Winners’ infectious new single ‘Sunshine’. You might say that’s an adjective that can be thrown around when it comes to music, but I think it definitely applies to this song. After all, it’s been on my On Repeat playlist on Spotify for two weeks now, and that doesn’t lie. As for the text itself, it is – as always – very exciting to see something I’ve written on display for everyone to read. I’ve spotted a couple of blunders on my part, but as a friend of mine pointed out, that just shows it was written by a human! It also gives me a valuable opportunity to refine my proofreading even further next time – and it clearly demonstrates that there is always scope for a writer to learn and grow that little bit more.

You can find the review by clicking here, and I heartily encourage you to listen to the single while you’re reading it. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did!

Mason

250 Is A Magic Number

I might still be searching for a job, but I nevertheless feel I am ending July on the crest of a creative wave. With this post, I will reach my stated aim of publishing four for the month, and I’ll be doing so with two new reasons to smile. Firstly, as revealed last time, I’ve started our next book club title – A Natural History of Dragons: A Memoir – and it’s proving very fruitful where my notes are concerned. In addition, I have added an exciting new string to my bow. Just a couple of weeks ago, I spotted an appeal on LinkedIn for contributors to a website, Music Is To Blame. Some items – reviews, interviews and the like – would be submitted free of charge, and others would be paid, but I didn’t really mind either way. I saw this as exactly what it was, a golden opportunity to gain greater exposure as a writer, and I couldn’t apply for it fast enough.

After some discussion with the editor, I was tasked with writing a sample review of an album of my choice – and it could be no longer than 250 words. I sat down and eagerly scribbled my observations away as Wolf Alice’s Blue Weekend, a record I’d recently enjoyed, played through my headphones. Little did I know that I’d finish having created a small problem for myself. There were detailed notes for every one of its songs, but I’d only be able to use a fraction of them in the final product. If I didn’t, I’d risk spreading myself too thin, but thankfully, I had enough experience with essays to feel confident in being selective – ruthless, in fact. If I came to a song about which I had nothing worthwhile to say, or was repeating myself, I didn’t talk about it. That meant that it was much easier to separate the highlights from the low points.

It was a new and exciting endeavour for me, and any worries I had about the word count soon evaporated. I became lost in how freeing the whole exercise felt – since music is an art form, I could talk much more expressively about what I’d heard and how it made me feel. I could delve so deeply inside myself that the text almost seemed to write itself (even if it did require some chopping back afterwards). Luckily, the result went down well with the editor, and because of that, I’m now pleased to say that I was welcomed aboard as a member of the team. Since the sample, I’ve written my first full-length review of a different album, which is yet to be published but came to a smidgeon over 1,000 words in its submitted form! I’ll be sure to include a link here when it is released into the world, by which time I’ll have completed my second piece – on a mysterious new single by a mysterious new artist I’ve not had the pleasure of listening to before. It seems that there’s an inherent unpredictability in reviewing for this website, as a lot of the music discussed on it is unknown to me, but I love that. Who wouldn’t embrace the challenge of never quite knowing what they’ll write next?

Mason

The Fire Still Burns

A little while ago, while we were all fully housebound by lockdown, my friends and I discussed our favourite songs of all time. We challenged each other to create Spotify playlists of these songs so we could all browse and comment on them, and – although we intended to list a Top 50 and I only got to 25 – the exercise reminded me of two posts I wrote here back in 2018 on the subject. One contained the first half of the then-definitive list, the other the second half.

As I gradually compiled this new Spotify selection, I realised that I now disagreed with every song choice I’d made in those posts two years ago. I thought of that revelation as another indication of how things change in life, how they fluctuate at a moment’s notice, even when it comes to personal tastes. Such changes can also be seen in Third Time Enabled, which as of two days ago is now five years old. More recently, you might have noticed a significant drop in the number of actual posts. It’s a decline that began in 2019, and that I was adamant wouldn’t continue in 2020, but life clearly had other ideas.

I’m still not entirely sure why I’ve had so little to write about, but it’s something I’ll continue to try to get to the bottom of privately. All I know for sure is that after five years, despite what the numbers may say, I’m still passionate about this blog. As I’ve already made very clear, it’s an ongoing portfolio of my innermost thoughts, feelings and ideas, and an invaluable outlet regardless of how often I update it. I feel as though every new Third Time Enabled post is the next step in a journey of some kind, one I’m committed to no matter what, and one that I hope might open a door or two for me along the way. The fire still burns, and I can’t wait to continue proving that wherever I can. Here’s to the next five years – and beyond…

Mason

 

 

Detox Days

After two excellent posts this month by Emily and Alex, I’m back, and for the first time in a while I actually have something worth saying. A week ago, without telling anyone, I entered into a temporary social media detox. I deactivated my Facebook account for three days, turned off all Messenger notifications and looked at Twitter and Instagram as little as possible. I started writing this post then, as I don’t consider this blog to be social media. After all, what you read here is largely all my own work, and as a lot of you will know by now, it’s been an invaluable outlet for my thoughts and feelings over the last five years, so it escaped the cut. I feel I really benefited from the break and, having now finished all my work for the second year of university (madness), I went into it with some new pastimes in mind.

I won’t lie to you, they did still mostly revolve around screen time or Spotify. I finished watching Normal People, searched for some new music I could listen to while concentrating, and even saw The Lego Movie 2 with Louis. Last night, I actually decided to get some use out of my Netflix (which I’m ashamed to say is neglected far too much), and watched one of the countless well-known films I’d never seen before. In this instance, it was the highly entertaining Ocean’s Eleven. Yes, none of these things abandoned technology completely, but I still felt calmer, like some kind of weight I couldn’t quite identify had been lifted. I was talking to Alex about this feeling just the other day, and how even though giving up social media entirely would disconnect me from too many people, I can definitely see why the idea is appealing to others. My little breather has exposed just how much of a difference focusing on yourself, even for a little bit, can make. I’ll certainly think about doing it again when I feel the need – and next time, I might aim for a week off instead of three days!

Mason

 

The Isolation Station

A fortnight ago, as the world became increasingly swamped by the coronavirus pandemic, the university abruptly halted all of its face to face teaching, with two weeks of the semester still to go. I understand why, of course, but I still felt a certain emptiness as a result of not being able to see the term through to its end. Several strange and uncertain months now lie ahead before my third year begins, but I’m entering that period working on some of my current assignments on a rather empty campus. I’ve also chosen all of my modules for next year and written my dissertation proposal – there’ll be more on both of those later, no doubt – but I also have even more free time on my hands, as do a lot of us.

Before I came home from Winchester last Wednesday, I didn’t leave my flat or the campus unless it was absolutely necessary, and that policy has obviously continued back in Somerset too. My total screen time has been even higher than it usually is. I’ve watched, chatted, written and played, and as you may have gathered recently, I’ve listened to a lot of music too. I’m still working my way through the list of albums I mentioned before, but I also got bored enough one day to create an isolation-themed playlist on Spotify. To keep the musical thread going in this blog, I thought I’d include a link. My friends seem to like it, and Lara suggested I share it, if only for what I hope will be your listening pleasure. Click here to get started – alternatively, go to Spotify and search for The Isolation Station. We’re living in strange times, so if this playlist puts even the slightest smile on your face, it will have been a worthwhile use of my time. Dig in – there’s plenty to listen to!

Mason

Press Play, Don’t Skip

In my last post I mentioned how I’d begun listening to new music while working in the library. It’s been bliss, and something of an education, since I’ve tried to restrict myself as much as possible to things released since 2015 (most of my Liked Songs on Spotify predate that). I haven’t just cherry-picked individual songs, either. I’m doing this the old-fashioned way, listening to albums by artists who are both familiar and unfamiliar to me, in an array of different genres. Well, that’s the intention, anyway. I’ve devised a list of the first records from the last five years that came to mind, and as I develop it I’m going to try and work towards making it as varied in terms of genre and gender as I can. As things stand, though, these are the albums I’ve listened to with only one rule in mind. I press play, and I don’t skip, even when I reach the filler tracks that most of us don’t hesitate to stop in their – well, tracks. Have a look at this completely random selection:

  1. Everyday Life by Coldplay (2019)
  2. When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go? by Billie Eilish (2019)
  3. Fine Line by Harry Styles (2019)
  4. Seeking Thrills by Georgia (2020)
  5. Gang Signs and Prayer by Stormzy (2017)
  6. Blackstar by David Bowie (2016)
  7. Madame X by Madonna (2019)

There are more on the list I’m yet to delve into, but recommendations are always welcome if you have any. Perhaps I’ll make this post the first part of a series, so I can keep you updated on how I’m getting on and what I think. Maybe it’d be a good idea to restrict my reviews of these albums to three words, to give myself a challenge? Stay tuned to find out…

Mason

Bearing Up

This week has been one marked by contrasts. I entered it on a high, having taken full advantage of the isolation imposed by Storm Dennis to shut myself in the library and get as much work done as I possibly could. At the time of writing, on Saturday evening, I feel I’m leaving it on a slightly lower note – a low-pitched squeaking, rubbing and rattling note, to be precise. That’s the noise currently making my eardrums bleed from an unspecified location. Despite my valiant efforts to trace the source by getting on my hands and knees and shining my iPhone torch into the chair’s inner workings, I am so far at a loss to explain it (although I do think something connected to the wheel could be loose), and since everything is packed into it so tightly, I can’t reach any of the parts. That means I have to leave it to the professionals and wait until an engineer turns up at some stage next week. By that time, I may well have scratched my own ears off. Oh well, at least I’ve got a quiz at the noodle bar where Lara works to look forward to tomorrow night. Let’s just hope I don’t manage to deafen the entire restaurant on my way in!

In the meantime, I’ve returned to the library, and I have a nice quiet booth all to myself. I’ve started listening to music as I work now – I never really did that before as I always felt slightly conspicuous wearing headphones in public – but it’s so much easier to get settled in a little cocoon of sound. I’m trying to use it as an opportunity to discover new music, as I find it too easy to slip into the habit of listening to the same artists, songs and playlists over and over again. Since Spotify offers such a wide-ranging array of lists, I’ve simply taken to reading their names, deciding whether I’ll like them based on that alone, and then pressing play and seeing what happens. It’s been quite exciting so far – maybe I’ll list some of my better discoveries in a future post (leaving out the more embarrassing ones)?

Mason

 

Stay Tuned To Find Out

Before Christmas, I shared my altered version of Coldplay’s ‘In My Place’, which I called ‘Endless Miles’. It accompanied three other songs as part of a submission for my Composing Song Lyrics module, which I handed in just last week – I therefore feel that now is a good time to show you the second of my songs, ‘Stay Tuned To Find Out’. This is an adaptation of Jamiroquai’s single ‘Automaton’, from their 2017 album of the same name, and it was included in my collection because I needed a song with attitude, something that contrasted with ‘Endless Miles’ to provide variety in my lyrics. The title came first, during a seminar, and I then had the idea of writing something about a person’s past sins coming back to haunt them – the words you are about to see reflect that. As with the last song, you can listen to the original and see how well you think they fit. There is a full rap verse in the Jamiroquai version, which I’ve attempted to start here as I was running short on the overall line count, but I wasn’t confident and I decided to stop before I made a fool of myself:

(Verse 1)

Up or down?

Now stay tuned to find out

Coming round

As all hope just bleeds out

Feel his heat

Breath burning your back

Avoidance of doubt

(avoidance of doubt)

Turn it on and up you get

 

(Chorus 1)

He’s not turned your corner yet

Blood-boiling, sizzling walk of sin

No matter where you check, you cannot run, no you cannot hide

From the march of fate

Out of the dark, into the light

Oh, when the judgement day is done

You’ll have your mind and soul destroyed

Stay tuned to find out

 

(Verse 2)

Out of luck?

Thirty second head start

He’s on his way

Hears the beat of your heart

It’s on the wind

Now pray for mercy

Oh, you can lie and you can cry, the end is nigh

(just stay tuned to find out)

Revenge is coming for you

 

(Chorus 2)

He’s standing right on your doorstep now

Eager to stare you in the face

Sets things the way they’re meant to be

And puts you in your place

Now come outside, time to pay your debt

Will he forgive all that you’ve done?

You’re past the point of no return

Stay tuned to find out

 

(Verse 3 – beginning of rap verse)

Now he’s got you pinned to the ground

Tied up hard howling like a hound

Will he leave you there just starved and bound?

Time to find out…

 

Mason

Endless Miles

I’m writing this sat alone in the Learning Cafe, having just finished tinkering with one of my essays, due on Friday. There is almost total silence, save for the background hum of a generator an annoying high-pitched whine I can’t quite trace the source of. Despite my solitude, I am happy, since I have a Christmas meal at Lara’s flat with all of the gang to look forward to tomorrow, and I’ve just listened to the new Coldplay album, Everyday Life, which is simply brilliant. Once I’d taken my headphones off at the end, I started thinking about my own adapted set of Coldplay lyrics, which I’m working on for Composing Song Lyrics.  I had to take them into class earlier this week so they could be critiqued by everyone, which is always a nerve-wracking experience. Even though I know it’s highly unlikely, I always expect everything I write to be completely torn to shreds, so you can imagine my relief when the lyrics came back with only a few notes for improvement at this stage.

My version of ‘In My Place’, entitled ‘Endless Miles’, is an intentionally cliched love song. Since I greatly admire the original, I was worried about accidentally making a mockery of it with my own words, but I knew I wanted to include it in my portfolio – and that any other lyrics I wrote for it would probably be no better. We are, of course, discouraged from including cliches unintentionally, but as long as you can justify your use of them, anything goes. Cliches can help to make a song more relatable or accessible to a listener, and as you might expect, they can be beneficial when you want to parody something. I wasn’t trying to do that, but I still found some of my lyrical choices laughably cringeworthy! I include ‘Endless Miles’ here for what I hope will be your enjoyment – although I haven’t made any of the changes that have been suggested just yet. Listen to the original track as you read these lyrics, and decide for yourself how well they fit:

(Verse 1)

Endless miles, endless miles

I’ve driven looking for you

Following your trail

But in the end, in the end

I rounded the final bend

And I saw no more

 

(Chorus 1)

There, the last call to let you go

There, no footprints left in the snow

There, the curtain to end the show

I go

 

(Verse 2)

Coming home, coming home

No-one and nowhere to roam

No-one on the phone

Is this love? Is this love?

You’re dropping me down from above

Down into the rain

 

(Chorus 2)

Here, the next chapter of my life

Here, when will I be free of strife?

Here, you cut me just like a knife

A knife

 

Darling

Why? Why? Why?

Why did you have to go?

No, no

Why don’t you say you’ll stay?

Now, now

Come on and talk to me

Please, please

I’m here at home

 

(Verse 3)

Endless miles, endless miles

I’ve driven looking for you

Now we’ve reached the end

The end.

 

Mason

 

Outer Space, Outer Space

I’ve recently started a new project, creating the 120-150 lines of song I need for my next Composing Song Lyrics assignment. Unlike others in my class, I don’t sing or play, so I’ve taken what is supposedly the easiest option by choosing to rewrite existing songs instead. The first step in all of that is choosing the tracks I want to work on, and as I write this, that’s still very much a work in progress. I do have one song set in stone, which I rediscovered my love for a few weeks ago thanks to Spotify’s random choices – Coldplay’s ‘In My Place’ (song titles go in single inverted commas, apparently). However, the only issue with being able to choose songs you enjoy is that you risk butchering musical masterpieces with your own mediocre words, and that was definitely at the front of my mind as I started to think about mine.

We’ve been doing various writing exercises in seminars over the last few weeks that we hope will get our creative juices flowing. Many of them have involved writing about different unrelated emotions or scenarios in prose or loose verse, so that we can pluck certain words and phrases for later use. In my case at least, some exercises have been more fruitful than others, but a few words, lines and images have helped me to get started. Last night, I went to the library to begin my new version of ‘In My Place’, and because the song has a relatively simple syllabic structure and rhyme scheme, I had written a draft I was satisfied with in around half an hour – giving me 39 lines of lyrics. A blank sheet of paper is daunting for any writer, so I initially focused only on getting started and committing to an opening line. What I came up with was “outer space, outer space”, which mirrors the repetition of the title in Coldplay’s original, since I felt a degree of pressure at first to be faithful to it. It had the effect of evoking something better, though, so I soon replaced it with something else. From there, the rest of the piece seemed to flow nicely, and my portfolio was officially underway.

Because I’m rewriting something existing, it is imperative that the new song exactly matches the syllabic count of the original. In some cases, there may be an opportunity for an extra syllable in a line where one has been stretched by the singer – but I have to try and remember not to get greedy. I have a feeling that whatever the next four songs are, their new words won’t come quite as easily as the first set did, and I’ll have a lot more to consider before I can make them work. Each submission has to be accompanied by a 30-second recording explaining what you were trying to achieve with it, so there are both technical and emotional aspects to think about. Even so, I’m finding the study of lyrics less highbrow and much more accessible than I did traditional poetry last year. I can only conclude that that must be because of the nature of popular music as something which is designed to be cherry-picked and enjoyed by anyone, regardless of age, experience or background.

Mason