Sunday, 19 January 2014

My Top Ten Albums Of 2013

I listened to a lot of new music in 2013. A cursory glance at my music library in MediaMonkey tells me that I bought a total of thirty-five albums released last year, as well as three EPs and five singles, totalling 436 tracks. A few friends have thrown up end-of-year lists detailing their favourite artists, albums and songs from the last twelve months, and I thought I'd get in on the action as well. I've opted for the traditional format - a countdown of my top ten albums released in 2013, with some brief thoughts accompanying each entry.

Before I get this list properly under way, I just want to give a quick nod to some of the albums that could have made it onto this list, but didn't get short-listed due to me not spending enough time with them. So sorry to Black Spiders' This Savage Land, to Arctic Monkeys' AM, to Stereophonics' Graffiti on the Train, to Deep Purple's Now What?!, to Steven Wilson's The Raven Who Refused to Sing (and Other Stories), and all the other albums I neglected in 2013. I promise I'll be playing you a little more often this year. Also, if music-based lists are your kind of thing, a couple of friends have put together their own musical reviews of 2013 - be sure to check out Tom's Top Ten Artists of 2013, and Matt's 2013 PhantomMJ Awards.

11. Project 17 - Dan Kempster

Not technically a number eleven but more of an honourable mention, Project 17 is my own debut solo album. A concept album inspired by events in my own life, it tells the story of the five-year period between my seventeenth and twenty-second birthdays. Originally conceived in early 2012, I spent much of the last two years writing, composing and recording this twelve-track record in its entirety. On December 16th it was officially released in a digital format - a huge personal achievement for me. I'm not going to pretend it's anywhere near approaching the quality of the other albums on this list, because it isn't. But speaking as its creator, I do think it's a good album, and I'm mighty proud to have put the whole thing together and put it out there with my name on it. If any of you are interested, you can download the entire album from my Bandcamp page. It's available on a pay-what-you-want basis with no minimum spend, so if you want to download it for free you can, or if you want to contribute some money for it you can do that too. Either way, I'd be hugely grateful to anybody who takes the time to give it a listen.

With that little bit of self-promotion out of the way, let's do the proper list now, shall we?

10. The Weight Of Your Love - Editors

After 2009's synth-heavy In This Light And On This Evening, I didn't think I'd be able to get excited about an Editors album again. Not that it was a bad album, per se - it just didn't contain any of what I love most about the band's music, those screeching squalls of guitar that electrified their first two records. The Weight Of Your Love isn't a complete return to their original sound, but it is a welcome step back in that direction. The departure of Chris Urbanowicz and the introduction of new members Justin Lockey and Elliott Williams has definitely changed the dynamic of the band's sound, but at its core it's still unmistakably Editors, thanks in part to singer Tom Smith, whose voice has never sounded better. Dark and brooding in places and intensely uplifting in others, this loosely conceptual album about the many forms of love did something I thought was impossible - it got me excited about Editors again.

Favourite tracks: Sugar  -  What Is This Thing Called Love  -  Two Hearted Spider

9. Home Brew - Old Country Union

Without a doubt the most obscure of my picks for this top ten, Old Country Union are a classic rock band based in my home town of Tring. They're incredibly popular on the local gigging circuit, frequently playing at the biggest local events and venues. In December my own band, Sudden Gunfire, were fortunate enough to support them at a charity event at our local theatre, and their live performance was incredible. Home Brew is the band's first album, independently released towards the very end of last year. Its seven original tracks run a little short at just half an hour in total, but every one is an exquisitely crafted musical gem. The songs are evocative of influential bands like the Eagles and Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, telling captivating stories through frontman Frank Walsh's excellent lyrics against lush backdrops of acoustic and electric guitars. It's a highly accomplished record from a brilliant band, and I hope to catch them live again soon so I can hear these songs come to life once again.

Favourite tracks: Sweetwater Shack  -  Smokin' Gun (I'm The One)  -  Old Country Union

8. 13 - Black Sabbath

If you put it all down on paper, the Black Sabbath reunion is something that probably shouldn't work. The fact that Ozzy Osbourne, Tony Iommi and Geezer Butler conspired to create new material after such a long time apart is astounding enough - the fact this is arguably the band's best work since 1970's Paranoid is practically a miracle. It's a throwback record through and through, full of sludgy, doom-laden riffs and bluesy break-downs that hark back to the band's earliest material, but it's done in a way that actually re-invigorates the band's style - no mean feat considering it could easily have come across as hackneyed and lazy. Ozzy's voice sounds surprisingly great throughout the album, Iommi wields his axe brilliantly, and Rage Against the Machine/Audioslave's Brad Wilk does a fine job in the absence of original drummer Bill Ward. I've seen 13 referred to in places as the true follow-up to Paranoid, and considering the strength of the album, I'm inclined to agree.

Favourite tracks: God Is Dead?  -  The Loner  -  Zeitgeist

7. Mechanical Bull - Kings of Leon

There was more than a hint of trepidation in my decision to pick up the sixth studio album from Tennessee rockers Kings of Leon. Their previous effort, 2010's Come Around Sundown, wasn't a bad album but it felt phoned-in compared to their first four. Looking back now, I'm not sure why I was so worried. Mechanical Bull is a resounding return to form for the Followill clan, largely because its eleven songs are all played with the key ingredient missing from the last album - a ton of heart. Caleb sounds like he actually cares about the words he's singing again, and musically it sounds like the band is having fun again instead of simply going through the motions. It was definitely worth the three-year hiatus, and it's great to have the boys back again.

Favourite tracks: Supersoaker  -  Don't Matter  -  Family Tree

6. We Need Medicine - The Fratellis

I've been a Fratellis fan ever since I picked up Costello Music in 2006 and first heard the opening chords of Henrietta. Since then I've followed Jon Fratelli through pretty much everything he's done, from Here We Stand through Codeine Velvet Club and his awesome solo record Psycho Jukebox. We Need Medicine is a logical progression for the reunited trio, using Jon's much-improved songwriting as a jumping board and marrying it with an energy that's unmistakably Fratellis. It's a more mature record than their previous output, a fact that's evident in Jon's carefully considered lyrics and the bluesier instrumentation. That's not to say it isn't danceable, though - as I said above, that trademark Fratellis energy is still here in spades. The result is arguably the most 'complete' Fratellis album to date. It's a real shame that these guys seemed destined to go down in history with the popular music press as a one-hit wonder off the back of Chelsea Dagger, because if We Need Medicine is any indication, the band has never been better.

Favourite tracks: Halloween Blues  -  Shotgun Shoes  -  Jeannie Nitro

5. Lightning Bolt - Pearl Jam

I first got into Pearl Jam with their 2009 release Backspacer, an energetic record that played recklessly on the borders of punk rock at times and danced beautifully on the edge of balladry at others. In spite of the four-year gap between releases, Lightning Bolt isn't too far removed from its predecessor - it still offers up an eclectic mix of rock songs ranging from the frenetic to the anthemic. Where Lightning Bolt actually supersedes Backspacer for me is in the quality of those songs, and particularly Eddie Vedder's lyrics, some of which are his best in a long time. I honestly wasn't expecting to have a new favourite Pearl Jam album by the end of 2013, but it's happened, and I'm mighty happy about it.

Favourite tracks: Sirens  -  Infallible  -  Swallowed Whole

4. Opposites - Biffy Clyro

When I first started sketching out this list at the start of December, Opposites was languishing in around eighth or ninth place. Don't get me wrong, I loved the album, but it didn't quite grab me in the same way that Biffy's previous two releases, Puzzle and Only Revolutions, did. It suffers from the traditional double-album complaint of feeling a little bloated and outstaying its welcome when listened to in one sitting, and some of it is blatant filler. But on returning to it at the end of 2013, I gained a much greater appreciation of what Simon Neil and the Johnston brothers have put together here. Maybe it's because I was finally able to lay some of my own demons to rest in the closing weeks of last year, but I found Neil's lyrics to be much more relatable. Musically it's their most diverse record since 2004's Infinity Land, but unlike fellow alt-rockers Muse, the Biff haven't let their sonic experimentation compromise the quality of the songs. The new material is great live as well, a fact I can attest to having seen the band at the O2 Arena back in April.

Favourite tracks: Black Chandelier  -  Stingin' Belle  -  Victory Over The Sun

3. Furiosity - Monster Truck

I like to think of Canadian hard rockers Monster Truck as the country's sincere attempt to apologise for Justin Bieber. Their debut album Furiosity was released this year, and it's every bit the raw, rough, rockin' record that its name suggests. Classic rock influences abound through its riff-laden twelve tracks, evoking the likes of Deep Purple, Led Zeppelin and Mountain while still managing to feel like something new and exciting. It's a high-octane album by and large, with a lot of the songs lending themselves well to raucous sing-alongs, but the Truck also aren't averse to slowing things down and cranking out some epic blues-rock in places. Furiosity is one hell of an album, and I cannot wait to see these tracks performed live when I see the band in March.

Favourite tracks: Old Train  -  Psychics  -  My Love Is True

2. The Temperance Movement - The Temperance Movement

The Temperance Movement came along at just the right time for me. As a huge Black Crowes fan who's spent most of the last four years lamenting the lack of any new studio material from the brothers Robinson, it was almost cathartic to hear their spirit alive and well in the music of this British five-piece band. Their self-titled debut record is a melting pot of rock, blues and soul, and the results aren't too far removed from the likes of the Crowes' Southern Harmony and Musical Companion. It's a wonderfully versatile album too, boasting boot-stomping raucous rock tracks sitting side-by-side with more contemplative acoustic numbers. Every one of its twelve tracks is expertly crafted, which makes it even more astounding that this is a debut release. If this is where The Temperance Movement are starting out from, I can't wait to see where they end up next. I'm seeing them live in April, and the gig cannot come soon enough.

Favourite tracks: Ain't No Telling  -  Midnight Black  -  Smouldering

1. Earth Rocker - Clutch

I don't think there has ever been a situation where my personal album of the year was sewn up as early as April, but that's exactly what happened in 2013 with Earth Rocker. Pretty much from the very first listen, I knew the latest offering from American hard rockers Clutch was going to be in strong contention for the top spot. Seeing them live in the middle of the year pretty much cemented that as the new songs came alive on stage. The year went on and other contenders came and went, but it was apparent that nothing was going to topple their tenth studio album from its lofty pedestal. The riffs are huge and unforgettable, frontman Neil Fallon's vocal performances can only be described as godly, and the entire album is alive and burning with a hard rock energy that simply refuses to let up. It's easily their best record since Blast Tyrant, possibly their best record ever, and without a doubt my personal favourite album of 2013. If you like guitar-based music, you need this album in your life. Sing it with me now: "I'm an Earth Rocker..."

Favourite tracks:  Earth Rocker  -  Gone Cold  -  The Face


There we are - those are my top ten albums of 2013. If you have any albums you loved last year and want to praise or recommend, please do so in the comments below as I'm always on the look-out for new music to add to my vast library. Until next time, thanks very much for reading and I'll see you around.

Saturday, 9 November 2013

Announcing Project 17

Credit for the album cover photo goes to my friend Tom. Thanks buddy, you did an awesome job.

In past entries for Writer's Unblock, I've tentatively teased something called Project 17. A concept album inspired by the last six years of my life, it began life as a bit of a pipe dream. I mean sure, I could write lyrics around that theme, but the whole thing would never get set to music - chances of my old band Self Diagnosis reuniting were slim at best, I couldn't expect my current band Sudden Gunfire to bend to my creative will, and although I'd been playing drums for some time, I didn't know a thing about actually writing music. Nonetheless, I indulged the creative side of my persona and penned roughly fifteen songs over the course of 2012. I told myself I'd keep the lyrics to hand, just in case Self Diagnosis got back together or Sudden Gunfire became receptive towards the idea.

What actually happened was rather different. In November of last year, soon after finishing the last of the album's lyrical content, I picked up a guitar. I spent a lot of time in early 2013 getting to grips with the thing, learning a few basic chords and just feeling out what sounded good through trial and error. It wasn't long before chord progressions started to emerge, and the first musical seeds of Project 17 were sown. Through this year I've been pumping a lot of my spare time into crafting music to accompany my lyrics. The original plan was to cut some crudely-recorded versions of the songs in my bedroom and put them out on the internet for free, but the scope of the album has grown in a way I never expected.

As I write this in the early hours of the morning on November 9th, Project 17 is almost complete. Of the fifteen or so songs assembled for the album, twelve have made the cut, three of which have had their lyrics dropped and now serve as instrumental pieces. I've spent the last three weeks hopping between rehearsal studios and home, laying down every song one instrument at a time, and I've finally reached a point where all twelve tracks are now musically complete. Friends have donated their own equipment and time to the cause, and the result is a bunch of songs that sound better than I ever thought possible. All that's left to do now is record the album's vocals, which is a very daunting prospect (I may have scraped by attempting to play guitar, but singing is another matter entirely), but I'm cautiously optimistic about the way things will turn out.

If everything goes to plan with the vocal recordings then on Monday November 18th, at midnight GMT, I'll be releasing the digital version of Project 17 through my profile on the website Bandcamp. I'll be adopting a pay-what-you-want pricing model, so people who are willing to throw some change my way in exchange for the music can do so, but at the same time there isn't a compulsory price barrier to render the album 'off-limits' to anyone. If you want to download it for free then that's fine, this isn't studio-quality music by any means and I won't hate you for not paying for it. On the other hand, if you're willing to pay a little something, then there could be a little something extra in it for you in return...

If the album makes a bit of money, I plan to put it towards printing a small run of physical CD copies. If you pay £3.00 or more for the digital version, your name will automatically go on a priority list for a free copy of the CD, should I make enough money to make that happen. Otherwise, the CDs on their own will most likely be available for sale for around £5.00, either from myself in person or through the Merch section of my Bandcamp profile. If the album continues to perform well, then I'll get a second run of CDs printed up, and so on.

Before I wrap this up, I just want to say a massive thank you to everybody who's helped to make this album happen. To those of you who've let me borrow guitars, amps and other equipment for recording purposes, you've helped elevate this album from a lo-fi fuzzy mess into something actually listenable. To those of you who've spurred me on with words of encouragement at every stage of the creative process, I would have stopped working on this album ages ago without you. This album is technically as much a piece of your work as it is my own, and you can be sure you'll all be named on the Special Thanks page of the liner. If it weren't for you guys, this thing would never have been anything more than a pipe dream.

Sunday, 22 September 2013

September Update - 'Project 17' and 'NaNoWriMo'

It's been a while since I last threw anything up on Writer's Unblock. As usual, I'm going to fall back on the age-old excuses of work and other commitments keeping me too busy to update this blog, but we all know that's a thinly-veiled attempt to disguise yet another prolonged period of procrastination. In this brief returning post, I just want to address a couple of points and fill you all in on what will be going on with me for the remainder of the year.

First off, I need to say sorry. To those of you who were waiting on the last few entries for Project: Create 2013, I apologise. I tried to use my last few days to write a lengthy short story set in the same world as The Hawker, and failed spectacularly. As a result, I don't have anything to show for days twenty-seven through thirty-one of the project. If that makes either me or it a failure, then so be it, but I had a lot of fun working on creative ideas throughout July. I'm a little gutted I didn't see it through, but the rewarding feeling of accomplishment from all the things I did create far outweighs that.

Most of my creative energy has been poured into writing music rather than prose these last couple of months. This is all with a view to completing my solo song cycle, Project 17, an ambition that's now closer to fruition than ever. With all but one of the twelve envisioned tracks nearing completion both musically and lyrically, I've been thinking about the next stage of turning ideas into something tangible - recording. I have some time off work in October, and I've managed to book some time in a local rehearsal studio with a view to laying down at least the music for the project. I still have a lot of prep work to do, but most of that just involves getting hold of some more equipment, picking guitar tones, and finalising what's already there. Only one song still needs significant work at this point, and I'm confident I can get it to the same standard as the other material by next month.

I've got two four-hour sessions in which I'm hoping to record all the 'core' music for the album. Vocals and guitar solos will probably be overdubbed later on. When everything's recorded, I'll be aiming to mix the tracks down and finalise everything with a view to digitally releasing the album. The price will most likely be absolutely free - although I've incurred a few costs in making it, I don't have any desire to recoup them. It's been much more a cathartic exercise for me, a means of addressing the events of the last few years of my life that I would probably be doing in some other form, if not music. As soon as it's finished and available for download, I'll be sure to let you know through Writer's Unblock. Hopefully it'll be done and dusted some time in November.

Speaking of November, I'm also planning to take part in something called National Novel Writing Month (or 'NaNoWriMo' for short) in this year's penultimate month. Yes, I know it's an American thing, so technically my participation doesn't conform to the 'National' part of the challenge, but to Hell with such technicalities! Taking inspiration from the mentality instilled in me by the 'create-something-every-day' premise of Project: Create, I'm eager to apply the same concept to putting together a short novel. At its most basic, the challenge tasks writers with putting together a 50,000-word manuscript in the thirty days of November. It's something I'm really keen to attempt, and I'm hoping that I'll end up writing at least more regularly (if not more prolifically) off the back of it. I have a couple of tentative ideas that I could explore for NaNoWriMo, and I'll be sure to give you more specific details about it nearer the time.

Finally, there's the matter of my Giant Bomb blog. As of writing this, I've not written anything video game-related in over two months, a stretch of time that I'm fairly sure makes for my longest ever hiatus as a Giant Bomb blogger. I'm hoping to address the matter soon with a brief, recap-style blog not dissimilar to this one (albeit with a few more mentions of high-scores, boss battles and whatnot), and after that I intend to go back to maintaining a fairly regular blogging presence on my favourite video game website. With Grand Theft Auto V in my Xbox 360, Pokémon X and Y just around the corner, and my end-of-year awards to start considering, I'm sure I'll have plenty to write about.

I'm sorry it's taken me so long to write this, and I'm sorry that it ultimately says so little. I'm just hoping that everything it mentions will serve to make amends for my laziness in the remaining months of 2013. Thanks very much for reading, and I'll see you around.

Friday, 26 July 2013

Project: Create - Day 25

Today's submission for Project: Create was supposed to be something awesome and exciting. For those of you who may not know, I play drums in a hard rock and heavy metal covers band called Sudden Gunfire. We've been playing together for about eighteen months now, and are just starting to get a footing on the local live music scene. Tonight was scheduled to be my our first band practice in three weeks (the two previous practices having been cancelled on account of some Earth Rockers and a Gimp Fight). Not having played with the guys for a while, I was pretty excited about thrashing out some of our standards, as well as wrapping our heads around some new songs we've decided to add to our repertoire. I spent most of this afternoon at work with Rage Against the Machine's Killing in the Name going through my head, desperate for the evening to roll round so we could finally try playing it as a band.

We arrived at our rehearsal studio just before 8pm this evening to find another band already set up and playing. As I understand it, the guy who runs the studio double-booked it by mistake, and we were the band unfortunate enough to arrive second tonight. We got an apology and his word that we can use the space free-of-charge next week, but it was still an incredibly bitter pill to swallow, especially being so stoked to play music with the band after what felt like an interminable break. We all went for a beer at a nearby pub instead, but although it was nice to catch up with the guys and relax after a long day at work, it was still gutting not to be able to play music.

To make matters worse, tonight's practice was supposed to play host to my Project: Create submission for today. As well as my drum kit, I took my laptop along to tonight's practice, with the intention of recording our practice session. I was then planning to cherry-pick the best tracks from the recording and put them up here as a mini-EP, a taster of what we're all about and what we're capable of as musicians. No practice means that idea sadly hasn't come to fruition. That makes me doubly gutted, because I was just as excited by the prospect of putting together such an EP as I was about practising in the first place. Our next practice won't be until August 1st, which falls just outside the boundaries of Project: Create. That means you probably won't be hearing anything of Sudden Gunfire (at least on this blog) for quite some time.

To compensate for the lack of a mini-EP, I've poured what remains of today's sapped creative energy stores into building and publishing an official Facebook page for Sudden Gunfire. It's a page that I hope the band can use to continue to build its local fan base, and to better inform those who are interested in seeing us as to precisely when they can see us. It's still in its infancy, but I think I've laid a pretty solid foundation that myself and the rest of the guys can build on throughout the rest of the year. If you're interested in the checking the page out, or if you want to 'like' us (it would be hugely appreciated), then you can do so by following this link here. It's no mini-EP, I know, but hopefully it'll suffice.

Thursday, 25 July 2013

Project: Create - Day 24

Including today, how many days do I have left of Project: Create 2013? Here's my good friend Jon to tell you all:

...God damn, I love this video. Whenever eight days remain of or until something, I will spam this wherever possible.

In all seriousness though, this feels very much like the home stretch. I have a few ideas for things I want to put together over the last week of this challenge - all being well, tomorrow should bring a musical contribution, I have an idea for a short story set within the same universe as The Hawker, and if all goes to plan there will be a new episode of the much-loved podcast Mayhew and Kempster Pop Culture! next week. It's an exciting time to be creating!

For Day 24, I figured I'd put a bit more effort into Project 17, my work-in-progress song cycle about the last five or six years of my life. I've spent my evening focusing on the song Seventeen Again, a song that's existed in an unfinished state both lyrically and musically for some time now. Tonight, I managed to finally complete both aspects of the song, by writing the remainder of the lyrics and stringing together some new chord progressions to round out the musical side of the track. While I can't share the latter with you tonight, I can at least present you with the finished lyrics for the song, which I've included below. The song is going to have a nostalgic, longing-for-years-gone-by vibe reminiscent of Bryan Adams's Summer of '69, so try to imagine these words set to a similar kind of tune. Hopefully in the next week or two I'll be able to share the music with you too.

Seventeen Again

I had it pretty rough in the back end of '06
A year of breaking up and breaking down
But granted one more year, my head began to clear
And my feet at last made contact with the ground

I built a new life
With all this insight
No need to take my cues from you

With everything in ashes, like a phoenix born anew
I gaffer-taped a broken heart, I mended and made do
Kept telling myself good things were just around the bend
And now when I look back at then
I wish I could be seventeen again
I wish I could be seventeen again

In need of a new focus, I picked up a set of darts
And started working to a whole new dream
Every Tuesday night, I'd pack my stems and flights
And throw to represent my local team

I built a new life
On all those late nights
And counting back from five-oh-one

The smell of smoke and taste of beer, I never could forget
Nor so the eccentricities of characters I met
Those nights felt so perfect and they never seemed to end
And now when I look back at then
I wish I could be seventeen again
I wish I could be seventeen again

When Joe brought his guitar to school and said 'let's form a band'
I instantly agreed to learn the drums
We found ourselves a space, enlisted Jash on bass
And wrote a bunch of really rocking songs

I built a new life
Keeping that band tight
And letting loose a 'crash-boom-bang'

We may have just been kids, but we were kids living the dream
With vision and ambition and our youth to keep us keen
Treading that fine line between what's real and pretend
And now when I look back at then
I wish I could be seventeen again
I wish I could be seventeen again

I built that old life
Time took it out of sight
And left behind this almost right
But not quite

These days all those things are lost, with nothing more to gain
And though I've still got darts and drums, neither feels the same
What makes a moment special is the time, the place, the friends
I'll always look back at then
And wish I could be seventeen again
I wish I could be seventeen again
I wish I could be seventeen again

Tuesday, 23 July 2013

Project:Create -Day 23

It's been a long time since I wrote poetry in a sonnet structure - I honestly don't think I've done it since GCSE at school. I figured I'd try my hand at it again tonight as my contribution for Day 23 of Project: Create. I'm certainly no Shakespeare, but hopefully it'll read okay.

I cannot help but feel I waste my time
As I lay idly in this slothful state.
A sense of balance lost, my body primed
For action, but instead I vegetate.
I long to renovate this space of mine
And turn it into something beautiful,
But effort is a luxury denied,
And all creative spark has left my skull.
I make light of my real 'bucket list',
But stickers bring not betterment of self.
My real aim in life is only this;
To see a book I've written on a shelf.
Life is a privilege; a blessed gift,
But life is not a life if left unlived.

Project: Create - Day 22

For Day 22 of Project: Create 2013, I decided to record another cover of an original song by my old band Self Diagnosis. Specifically, I wanted to try my hand at a solo cover of what is undoubtedly my personal favourite SD song, Lore Finding.

First, a little background on the song. I wrote the lyrics to Lore Finding in the early summer of 2007. I'd been through a difficult break-up about nine months previously, and the song is largely about the aftermath of that relationship and coming to terms with no longer being part of a pair, but on my own again. The writing process was directly kicked off by finding an old bus ticket down the side of my bed - a ticket that represented a journey I'd once taken to visit this girl I was in love with. I wrote the song's lyrics in their entirety in probably about an hour - it was very much a 'spur-of-the-moment' thing. The recording was equally spontaneous - after recording the rest of our self-recorded album Remnants, we were left with about twenty minutes to spare. I produced the Lore Finding lyrics, the guitarist Joe brought forth this beautiful acoustic riff, and they meshed together perfectly. It was an inspired moment, one that brought about perhaps the highest moment of our creative efforts so far.

So, on to my significantly lacklustre cover. I recorded this while half-drunk, after returning from a night out at darts, and as a consequence I'm really not happy with it. The guitar playing is sub-par, even for me - a lot of the picking is far too clumsy, as are some of the chord changes. My voice is also pretty flat throughout, so I apologise for that. However, this is Project: Create, and this is what I created tonight. For better and for worse, I need to let it stand as is. Speaking of which, here's the finished product:

Monday, 22 July 2013

Project: Create - Day 21

Those of you who've been following Project: Create will be aware of my current attempt to complete the Topps Premier League 2013 sticker book. One of the side-effects of that attempt has been the accumulation of a huge pile of doubles, duplicates of stickers that are already in my album. Given that nobody else I know has been working on the same sticker book, I don't have anybody with whom I can trade these doubles. So, last night, I settled on a new use for them - I made an enormous sticker collage.

After getting in from scoring the weekend's cricket match, I set about putting together this huge mish-mash of stickers. I taped some sheets of A4 paper together, and began peeling the stickers away from their backs and layering them over each other in a very haphazard fashion. I tried to keep team mates separate, so as not to overwhelm any one section of the collage with the same team colours. I tried to keep some of the more prominent players that I identify most with my sticker-search as visible as possible. The centrepiece, a David Luiz sticker over a triumvirate of Barry Bannans, seemed like a fitting tribute to both my most and least favourite players, and a welcome reminder of the last six months of sticker collecting.

The collage is laid out across eight overlapped sheets of A4, so its full size is a little smaller than A1. It took me almost two hours to put together, and although I can't be 100% certain, I'm pretty sure the finished article uses over 350 stickers (and I still have loads left!). I've embedded a few photos of the collage below, to show you how it looks. It may not be the best creation that this project has given birth to, but it's definitely one of my favourites, both in terms of originality and the sheer amount of fun I had putting it together. I think it's definitely going to be mounted on my wall for the foreseeable future.

Sunday, 21 July 2013

Project: Create - Day 20

For Day 20 of Project: Create 2013, I decided to write another entry for my Giant Bomb blog. It's by far one of my proudest achievements as a writer, a little corner of the internet that I've cultivated for the last five years and managed to fill with over 260 individual write-ups to date. My latest blog post is just a quick recap on some of the games I've been playing recently, as I wanted to clarify (more to myself than others) which ones to drop and which ones to pursue. I've copied the blog and embedded it below, but if you'd prefer to read the original version on Giant Bomb, you can do so here. A text-only version follows.

Cleaning The Slate

The last month or so has felt pretty stagnant for me games-wise. In a move that's more reminiscent of me five years ago than me right now, I've been wanting to start a lot of games, attempting to start quite a few of them, and not finishing any of them. I've ended up with a few games that currently stand unfinished, a couple of which I've lost all desire to play. This blog is an attempt to clear my gaming slate, by drawing a line under some of those games and vowing to tackle the others with renewed vigour. I'll begin at the most obvious place...

Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker
Readers of this blog will be aware that back in May I embarked on a quest to play through every canonical Metal Gear game as part of a Metal Gear Madness challenge. Peace Walker is the eighth and final game of the challenge, but try as I might, I just can't muster the will to keep playing it. It's not that it's a bad game - quite the opposite, I think it's one of the best games in the series. Its gameplay is an awesome evolution of the micro-management concept debuted in Portable Ops, and its position in the series' overarching narrative makes it a very interesting game to follow story-wise. I just... don't want to play it any more. I think I'm just all Metal Gear-ed out right now, having played seven other titles in the stealth-action series back-to-back. I've made it up to the point where Snake fights the third AI weapon (the Cocoon?), but just cannot bring myself to play any further. I'll probably return to it and play through the remainder of the game before the year is out, but right now I just want to put it down and forget about it for a month or two. Apologies to anybody who was awaiting the final instalment of the Metal Gear Madness blog series, but you're going to have to wait a little longer.

Pokémon LeafGreen Version
I started playing Pokémon LeafGreen back at the end of April, with a view to gradually working my way through an adventure in every region from the franchise before Pokémon X&Y are released in October. I kept up my Pokémon training alongside the first few Metal Gear games in the first half of May, but my commitment slowly began to taper off until I put the game down in mid-May, and I haven't returned to it since. Right now my team of level 50-something first-generation Pokémon are sitting on the steps of the Indigo League HQ, braced to face the Elite Four, and as yet I haven't taken the plunge and stepped through those hallowed doors. Right now I'm in two minds as to how to re-approach LeafGreen. One option, the sane option, is to turn the DS back on, pretend the two-month hiatus never happened, lay waste to the Elite Four and watch the credits roll. The other, much less sane option is to start my adventure from scratch and train a whole new bunch of critters from the Kanto region. The first option is the most likely, and it probably won't be long before I take that plunge and add LeafGreen to the list of games I've beaten this year. Then I can comfortably move on to SoulSilver and have some fun in Johto.

Final Fantasy Tactics Advance
It's incredible to think that my on-again, off-again relationship with this game has been going on for around a year now. It was either late summer or early autumn that I turned to Final Fantasy Tactics Advance to scratch my strategy RPG itch, and even though I've sunk around sixty hours into it, I'm still quite a way from the end. Recently I've been feeling my desire to get back into it return, so I'm sure it won't be long before I rejoin Marche, Montblanc and the rest of Clan Gaslight on their adventures in Ivalice. I think I'm about two thirds of the way through the main story missions, with about 130 of the game's 300 missions completed. Hopefully another twenty hours or so will finally see me able to cross this off my Pile of Shame after all these years.

Saints Row 2
I won't beat around the bush here - the primary reason I'm playing this game is because of Ryan. One thing that's been nagging at me since I heard the news is the memory of his voice on pretty much every Bombcast of late 2011 saying, "You should play Saints Row The Third!". So I bought the Full Package edition for my PS3, but I've run into some problems with the console overheating and have had to put the game on hold, at least until this unbearable heatwave is over. Unable to play SR3, I've instead fallen back on Saints Row 2, which I own for the 360. It feels a lot closer to my memories of the original Saints Row than the opening hour or so of SR3 did, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. I've taken over about two thirds of Stilwater at this point, having crushed the Ronin and nearly finished dealing with the Sons of Samedi. It's an exercise in silliness and mindlessness, but there's no denying that causing wanton destruction on such a large scale is damn fun. At this rate I anticipate I'll be done with SR2 within the next week or so. Hopefully by then the heatwave will have passed, and I'll be able to play my PS3 again.


So that's where I'm at games-wise right now. My immediate plan is to drop Peace Walker for the time being and focus on Saints Row 2. In the meantime I'll probably wrap up the unfinished business in Pokémon LeafGreen and then swap it for Final Fantasy Tactics Advance, which I may even start taking to work and playing on my lunch breaks. When all that's done and dusted, I'll be able to consider my slate clean (or at least significantly less messy than it is right now). I realise this is a blog written primarily for my own benefit, but if any of you have stuck around long enough to reach this point, then you have my thanks for reading it. Take it easy, Giant Bomb, and I'll see you around.

...Oh, and while I remember, there's one more loose end to tie up:

This is coming back, very very soon.

Saturday, 20 July 2013

Project: Create - Day 19

I don't know if today's Project: Create submission really counts as creativity. The same could probably easily be said of some of my other recent submissions, but in today's case even I'm not entirely sure I'm doing this right any more. But it's late, and I've been thinking about this on and off all day. It may not be a short story, or a poem, or an illustration, but I think there might be just enough constructive thought and inventiveness in what's about to follow that I can pass it off as a creation. Maybe. Let's just see where it goes, shall we?

As you may have gleaned from a couple of the earlier entries in this series of submissions, I work in a dispensary as a trainee dispenser. I put together prescriptions for patients, handle simple queries and do lots of general busybodying that makes me feel like I'm making a difference to people's lives. It's a pretty awesome job, but it does have its fair share of problems. Today's Project: Create submission is an idea to try and address one of those problems. The problem in question is that of dressings. When we're not dealing with the oodles of tablets, creams and suppositories that fill every corner of our little dispensary, we have to order and store dressings for patients. This in itself isn't a problem - it's part of the service we offer. The problems come further down the line.

To lay it down in the simplest terms, requests for dressings typically come from one of two places. The first kind of dressings are those wanted by the nurses who work in our surgery, who order stock to dress patients' wounds within the surgery building. Our nurses bring prescriptions for specific dressings into the dispensary, and we use those to order the correct stock. The second kind of dressings are those ordered by the community nurses, who visit patients that can't make it to our surgery and dress their wounds in their own homes. These requests almost always come through as faxes, which are used to generate prescriptions before the stock is ordered.

There are also two kinds of patients who might have dressings ordered for them - dispensing patients and non-dispensing patients. Dispensing patients live a long distance from a chemist, and so may use our dispensing service. Non-dispensing patients live near a community pharmacy, and so we cannot dispense their prescriptions from our stock. This means that when ordering stock, there are two different methods. For dispensing patients, we order stock through our regular supplier. For non-dispensing patients, we must order the stock through another company called North-West Ostomy Supplies (NWOS). Because of these two different possibilities, non-dispensing prescriptions are kept separately from the dispensing ones. Following so far? Good.

Now for the problems. The first is that our own nurses have problems distinguishing between dispensing and non-dispensing prescriptions, which often results in prescriptions ending up in the wrong places and can mean dressings aren't ordered promptly. The second problem (and the most irritating for me personally) is that when dressings arrive, they're all stored in the same place with no regard for who they were ordered by. We don't distinguish between those ordered for use within the practice and those ordered for collection by the community nurses. Whenever a nurse comes in to pick up dressings, we spend a lot of time sifting through piles of dressings to find the specific patient they need.

As a result of a couple of irritating incidents involving dressings today, I've spent quite a bit of my day thinking of potential ways to address these problems. I've come up with two potential solutions for the first problem. The first is to spend time teaching the nurses how to make that distinction, a method that has already been attempted with little success. The second (and my preferred method) is to do away with the need to make the distinction altogether. Rather than giving the nurses a more complicated system, I think it would be better to have them put all their dressing requests in one place, for us to then sort through and organise accordingly. Given that we know the system and the nurses struggle with it, it would make things easier for them without making them any harder for us. It would reduce errors and result in more dressings being ordered accurately and promptly.

My solution to the second problem is so simple, I'm surprised nobody's put it forward before. Whenever a prescription for dressings comes into the dispensary, I think it should be marked according to whether it was ordered by our own nurses, or the community nurses. This would mean that when the prescription is filled, we would be more aware of its destination and could act accordingly. Our nurses have storage space set aside for patients having regular dressing changes. If we could keep all their requests separate, we could hand them over as they arrive, rather than holding them in the dispensary and waiting for the nurses to come and collect them. This practice might also help in preventing nurses from running out of their stored stock, something that does occasionally happen under the current system. On the other side of the same coin, making this distinction would mean that all the dressings left in the dispensary would be those ordered by community nurses. Since these are the ones awaiting collection by either patients' representatives or the nurses themselves, they're the only ones that need to be kept in our dispensary

So there you have it, my feeble attempt to disguise my irritation at work practices as something creative. The dispensary team are scheduled to have a meeting on Tuesday to discuss matters related to our department. I'm probably going to bring this up and propose it, so hopefully we can at least get it running on a trial basis. Fingers crossed that will happen - I don't see how it could end up being worse than the system we currently use.