You Are Not a Number

One point eight million pounds.

That’s how much the UK government thinks your life is worth.

Placing an economic value on a human being is nothing new, indeed it is absolutely necessary in a growth-obsessed society that must ascribe economic value to everything.

But the coronavirus pandemic has brought out the worst in our government, exposing its laissez-faire attitude towards life and lucre.

Boris Johnson has let over 40,000 people die because their economic value was not high enough to merit them living.  That is the harsh reality of a government whose first instinct was to protect the economy, not human life.  Lockdown was resisted because of the inevitable economic damage it would have caused, but introducing the restrictions just one week earlier could have saved 20,000 lives.

Now, we are being asked to continue to accept harsh restrictions on our ability to see our loved ones.  For many, this is still not possible.

But rejoice! For Sports Direct is now open once more!

The reopening of non-essential retail is presented by government as a gift to us.  But the message is clear: “go forth and consume, your country needs you”.

In a way, the current UK government, unfit for office though it may be, is not the problem but rather a symptom of it.  Boris Johnson is the dry continuous cough that results from the virus of global neoliberal consumerism.  It is not merely this government, but our entire conception of what the economy is that needs overthrowing.

Placing a high value on the economy is fine when it exists to work for ordinary people (John de Graaf and David Batker’s brilliant book What’s the Economy For, Anyway? makes this point in far greater detail than I ever could).  But right now it doesn’t.  The problem is that lots of things have immeasurable value that is not economic.  And our obsession with the economy leads us to a kind of economic utilitarianism that gives rather unsavoury results.

Take the 20,000 people whose lives could have been saved by an earlier lockdown.  Valuing each of their lives at £1.8 million, their deaths constitute an economic hit of £36 billion.  A serious knock to be sure, but compared to the economic devastation of a lockdown?  It could well be worth it.

Put that plainly, it sounds heartless doesn’t it?

That’s because, to be honest, it is.  The doctrine of economic growth over all takes away our very humanity.  Why should the government care about whether or not we can hug our loved ones?  Such an action has no economic value at all.  And so, in our society, we are expected to accept that it is worthless.

We must not continue to accept that the economy must be maintained for its own sake.  The only people that continued economic growth benefits are the very wealthy at the top of the pyramid.  Our planet cannot sustain endless growth, as it is fuelled by a system which treats finite resources as if they are infinite.

Instead, we must demand that the economy becomes a tool that works for us.  That means schemes like Universal Basic Income, or a job guarantee.  It means massive wealth redistribution.  It means keeping fossil fuels in the ground.

It also means refusing to be merely consumers.  The Tory government wants you to flood to high street chains to line the pockets of their wealthy friends and donors.  They tell us that this will benefit us, because the wealth will trickle down and hey – you get a shiny new pair of shoes!

It won’t.  So don’t.

Support your local businesses, the ones run by your friends and relatives, the ones that have owners whose livelihoods depend on them.

Support the work of organisations like the Wellbeing Economy Alliance and the Center for the Advancement of a Steady State Economy who work tirelessly to challenge the economic growth dogma and create a society that puts your welfare above your economic value.

Join a Green Party, or one that supports a welfare economy.

Refuse to accept the consumerist bullshit that we are being fed.

You are not a number.

2020 NFL Mock Draft

  1. Cincinnati Bengals – Joe Burrow, QB, LSU

The consensus number one pick, and with good reason.  Burrow threw 60 touchdowns, won the Heisman and a national championship in arguably the greatest season we’ve ever seen from a college quarterback.  He’s not a perfect prospect – the ‘one year wonder’ concerns are real and he lacks elite physical traits and athleticism, but I’d take the pinpoint accurate passer and proven winner over the toolsy guy with no production any day.  It will be a big, big shock if the Bengals use this pick on anyone other than Burrow.

  1. Washington Redskins – Chase Young, EDGE, Ohio State

The Redskins really shouldn’t overthink this pick.  It might be tempting to trade down with one of the quarterback needy teams who could jump up and get their passer of choice (outside of Burrow) but doing so would likely involve Washington losing their shot to draft Young – the best player in this draft class.  He’s a special player capable of wreaking havoc in opponent’s backfields for a decade or more – just take him and move on.

  1. Los Angeles Chargers (TRADE) – Tua Tagovailoa, QB, Alabama

For the Lions, trading out of this pick makes too much sense.  Here, they move down to 6 in the hopes that they can still land the prospect they covet, knowing the Chargers and Dolphins are likely to go quarterback.  The Chargers grab their QB of the future in Tagovailoa who, were it not for health concerns, would likely be eating into Burrow’s consensus as the number one pick.  A mobile, accurate passer, Tua jumps into an ideal situation in LA where he can sit behind Tyrod Taylor until he’s fully healthy.  There’s no two ways about it, this pick is a risk, but ultimately Tua’s upside is too tantalising to pass up.

  1. New York Giants – Isaiah Simmons, LB/S, Clemson

There’s a lot of speculation that the Giants will go offensive line with this pick, but Simmons is the best player available and this is a team riddled with needs on both sides of the ball.  A freak of nature whose versatility is perfect for the modern NFL, Simmons would be a lynch pin of the defence for years to come.

  1. Miami Dolphins – Justin Herbert, QB, Oregon

I hate this pick, but it’s what I think Miami will do.  With their pick of the offensive tackle class, I think the Dolphins would be wiser to go in that direction, but the talk is that they like Herbert over Tua so grabbing him at five would make sense.  Herbert is a tall passer with a big arm and all the tools that NFL scouts look for in a quarterback prospect, but he struggles with decision making and accuracy.  This pick has bust written all over it.

  1. Detroit Lions (TRADE) – Jeff Okudah, CB, Ohio State

The Lions are the big winners of this mock so far, trading down and still getting the player they wanted.  Okudah is an elite cornerback prospect and will immediately fill the hole left by Darius Slay’s departure for Philadelphia.

  1. Carolina Panthers – Derrick Brown, DT, Auburn

The Panthers could take a tackle here, but they go with Brown to solidify their defensive line for years to come.  Brown is the best interior defensive lineman in this class, possessing versatility that will pair well with Kawann Short.

  1. Arizona Cardinals – Tristan Wirfs, T, Iowa

The Cardinals will be thrilled if the first seven picks play out like this, leaving them with their pick of the offensive linemen.  Honestly, which tackle prospect comes off the board first is anyone’s guess, but Wirfs is one of the cream of the crop and there’s reports out there that Arizona really likes him.

  1. Jacksonville Jaguars – Jedrick Wills, T, Alabama

The Jags are another team with a lot of needs and whilst they could look to upgrade the defence, I think securing one of the best tackle prospects makes more sense.  Wills is a day one starter, potentially on the right or left side of the offensive line.

  1. Cleveland Browns – Andrew Thomas, T, Georgia

The run on tackles continues.  The Browns are really giving Baker Mayfield no excuses with this pick, grabbing the offensive lineman with the highest floor in the draft class.  Thomas will start right away at left tackle, pairing with free agent addition Jack Conklin on the right side.

  1. New York Jets – Mekhi Becton, T, Louisville

So four tackles come off the board in a row, which may leave some teams scrambling.  Becton’s failed drug test might drop him to the bottom of the elite group of tackles, but reports suggest it’s unlikely to drop him too far down the pecking order.  He’s still a physical beast and might have the biggest upside of any of the offensive linemen.

  1. Las Vegas Raiders – Jerry Jeudy, WR, Alabama

The Raiders could go with any of the top three receivers here, or upgrade their defensive line, but Jeudy is my number one receiver.  I’m sure the Raiders would love the speed of Henry Ruggs III or the size and catchpoint skills of CeeDee Lamb, but Jeudy gives them a midpoint of the two.

  1. San Francisco 49ers – CeeDee Lamb, WR, Oklahoma

CeeDee Lamb playing for Kyle Shanahan is a scary prospect.  Jimmy Garoppolo gets anther weapon, and if this pick happens I really would expect Lamb to be a Rookie of the Year contender.

  1. Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Javon Kinlaw, DT, South Carolina

Whilst the Bucs would love to go tackle with this pick to protect Tom Brady, in this mock the run on tackles means that they can get better value by going to the defensive side of the ball.  Kinlaw provides them with some high-level interior pass rushing.

  1. Denver Broncos – Henry Ruggs III, WR, Alabama

Multiple media outlets are reporting that Ruggs will not fall past the Broncos at 15.  His blazing speed makes him an intriguing prospect, and I considered a receiver-needy team leapfrogging Denver and trading up for him, but with the Bucs staying pat the Broncos get their man.

  1. Atlanta Falcons – CJ Henderson, CB, Florida

Henderson is the clear number two corner in this class and provides the Falcons with an instant replacement for Desmond Trufant.  They need secondary help.

  1. Dallas Cowboys – K’Lavon Chaisson, EDGE, LSU

Chaisson lacked major college production but has huge upside.  He’d fit well opposite Demarcus Lawrence on the Dallas defensive line and whilst it might take him a little while to get it going at the NFL level, he could be a superstar if the Cowboys can get the most out of him.

  1. Miami Dolphins – Joshua Jones, T, Houston

After grabbing their quarterback of the future with the fifth overall pick, the Dolphins absolutely have to address the offensive line later in the first round.  There’s not a lot between Jones and Austin Jackson, but Jones was more consistent.

  1. Las Vegas Raiders – Kenneth Murray, LB, Oklahoma

Linebacker isn’t the Raiders’ biggest need, but Murray just seems to be a perfect fit in Las Vegas.  The Raiders love prospects from blue chip programmes who are proven leaders, and Murray is exactly that.

  1. Jacksonville Jaguars – A.J. Epenesa, DE, Iowa

Jacksonville could easily go with Justin Jefferson here, but they need a replacement for Calais Campbell and Epenesa can step right into his vacant position.  He’s a great scheme fit.

  1. Philadelphia Eagles – Patrick Queen, LB, LSU

Most people think this pick will be a receiver, but the Eagles are reportedly higher on their own receiving core than most analysts are and they are thin at linebacker.  Queen’s stock has been rising in recent weeks and whilst passing on his LSU teammate Jefferson would be a big call, I think the Eagles may well pull the trigger.

  1. Minnesota Vikings – Justin Jefferson, WR, LSU

Jefferson is not the best fit in Minnesota, but if he falls to them I believe the Vikings will be thrilled.  His skillset is similar to that of Adam Thielen, but he’d also be the number one receiver in most normal draft classes.  After trading away Stefon Diggs, the Vikings come away with an elite prospect to replace him.

  1. New England Patriots – Xavier McKinney, S, Alabama

I think New England is committed to Jarett Stidham at quarterback, at least enough to hold off on drafting one in the first round.  McKinney fits the Belichick model of defender – smart and physical.

  1. New Orleans Saints – Tee Higgins, WR, Clemson

The Saints could go several different routes here, but they seem so committed to Taysom Hill that I don’t think they’ll take Jordan Love at quarterback.  They could use some wideout help alongside Michael Thomas and the newly acquired Emmanuel Sanders.  This is a historically deep receiver class and there are concerns about Higgins’ speed, but his college production speaks for itself.

  1. Minnesota Vikings – Jeff Gladney, CB, TCU

Cornerback is Minnesota’s biggest need and, in this mock, none of the second tier of corners has come off the board, so they get their choice.  Gladney is undersized but plays with the fiery aggression that Mike Zimmer craves.

  1. Miami Dolphins – D’Andre Swift, RB, Georgia

Jordan Howard is not the answer at running back in Miami.  Swift is my number one back in this year’s class and could be a real difference maker in year one.

  1. Seattle Seahawks – Yetur Gross-Matos, EDGE, Penn State

The Seahawks need an edge rusher having lost Jadeveon Clowney.  Gross-Matos has enormous upside and would be good value here.

  1. Baltimore Ravens – Zach Baun, LB, Wisconsin

The Ravens don’t have many needs, so they can draft to fill their biggest one here.  Baun might be a bit of a reach at 28th overall, but with the roster that Baltimore has assembled it’s a reach they can afford to make.

  1. Tennessee Titans – Austin Jackson, T, USC

Tennessee lost Jack Conklin to Cleveland in free agency and already had a need on the interior of their offensive line.  Jackson could fill either and represents good value at this point in the draft.

  1. Indianapolis Colts (TRADE) – Jordan Love, QB, Utah State

Assuming the Packers don’t see Jordan Love as the long-term successor to Aaron Rodgers, I can see them trading out of this pick.  Whilst I don’t believe the Colts are massively in on Love (if they were they wouldn’t have dealt the 13th pick to San Francisco) if he slips this far they could seize the opportunity to jump up a few spots and draft him.  He could sit behind Philip Rivers for a year and iron out some of the decision-making shortcomings in his game.

  1. San Francisco 49ers – Ross Blacklock, DT, TCU

The Niners get their replacement for DeForest Buckner, who they dealt to the Colts for the 13th pick.  Coming away from that deal with Blacklock and Lamb would be a good outcome for San Francisco and leave them retooled for another Super Bowl run.

  1. Kansas City Chiefs – A.J. Terrell, CB, Clemson

I think the Chiefs will want to go with a running back here, but with only three corners off the board in the first round so far, I think it will be hard to pass up on one.  Terrell is a physical player who could help their pass defence immediately.

Hearts 2-3 Kilmarnock: A reality check for Stendel’s young guns

For a moment against Rangers, everything was going to be alright.

As Liam Boyce’s effort deflected into the net, Tynecastle started to believe.  This was the turning point in what has been a torrid season.  This was Daniel Stendel’s team now.

There had been optimism surrounding the German since his appointment, with fans generally approving of the cutthroat way in which he culled the deadwood (including club legend Christophe Berra) from the squad.  Nonetheless, until that glorious comeback against Steven Gerrard’s side, Hearts had remained without a league win under Stendel.  Once that all changed, and in such unexpected and dramatic fashion, who could blame the Gorgie faithful for believing that it was the start of the club’s restoration to where it should be – well away from the Premiership’s relegation places.

The Rangers victory was followed by a thrilling 3-3 draw with Ross County in which the messianic Boyce scored, then turned provider for another late goal, this time from the revitalised Sean Clare.  Whilst Hearts were shaky at the back, Stendel’s high-octane brand of pressing football was still yielding results.  The mood remained positive.

Then came Killie, and in the Tynecastle Park stands the hope had been replaced by expectation.  “We should be winning games like this” remarked one fan closeby to me.  He was not alone in that assumption, but though the fans would be treated to a late goal yet again, this time it would be too late to matter.

Hearts started brightly in an open game that saw chances at both ends.  Nonetheless, Hearts edged the early stages, only lacking the final pass to break through a dogged Killie defence.

Then it all went wrong.

Against the run of play, Killie scored from a corner.  Before half-time they had another, with Hearts’ defence sliced open all too easily by a direct ball over the top.

The home side needed a positive start to the second half.  They did not get it.  Goalkeeper Joel Pereira – whose positioning was questionable for the second goal – gifted Kilmarnock their third by failing to deal with a shot hit straight at him.  Fans began to leave the stadium after 50 minutes.

The game turned completely in the 79th minute thanks to a bizarre turn of events that included possibly the most brainless red card I’ve ever seen.  Killie goalkeeper Laurentiu Branescu brought down substitute Conor Washington in the box, receiving a yellow card in the process.  Sean Clare duly dispatched the resulting penalty, and ran to collect the ball from the net to salvage as much time as possible.  As Clare ran towards him, Branescu picked the ball up and booted it into the stands.  An inexcusable second yellow that would see Killie defend out their already diminished lead with ten men.

Hearts pulled a second back through high-scoring centre back Craig Halkett, but it wasn’t enough.  As the full-time whistle blew, the boos of half-time were absent – the fans had at least seen a spirited 15-minute fightback – but the mood was sombre nonetheless.  As one fan put it, “what was Rangers for then?”

Whilst progress has undoubtedly been made, the Rangers shock heralded a false dawn for Stendel and his new-look team.  They are not going to waltz up the league to a comfortable mid-table finish, they are going to be in a relegation dogfight for the remainder of the season.

Boyce has undoubtedly given the team a lift and is a proven goalscorer in this division.  Sean Clare, previously much maligned by the Gorgie faithful, looks like a completely different player under Stendel.  Transformed into an attack-minded right back, Clare was Hearts’ best player against Kilmarnock.  Jamie Walker looked lively off the bench, adding quality to the side when he came on.  But those were the only positives.

This is a very young Hearts side, and sometimes the kids are going to struggle.  Euan Henderson and Liam Moore were simply out-muscled by the more experienced Killie defence and as a result were ineffectual all game.  Andy Irving, impressive though he has been recently, had a terrible game, giving the ball away several times and arguing with Clare when the right back expressed frustration at Irving’s seemingly blinkered passing vision.

Stendel’s high tempo ‘Gorgiepressing’ style, modelled on the kind of swashbuckling football that Jurgen Klopp has employed to such outstanding effect at Liverpool, only works when the team is solid in the middle of the park.  Irving and new signing Marcel Langer simply did not provide that solidity against Kilmarnock, and Hearts were punished.  Perhaps another new addition, Toby Sibbick, will help with this, but this team is sorely missing Michael Smith’s experienced presence in the centre of midfield at the moment.

Whilst the youth movement is full of promise for the future, Stendel may have to face the fact that if he wants to stay up, he needs the likes of Walker and Smith in his starting eleven.  A return for Peter Haring would be welcome too, although it’s anyone’s guess when or if that will occur.

Kilmarnock brought a dose of harsh reality to Gorgie on Wednesday night.  Hearts are not even close to out of the woods yet, and the kids might not be enough to get them there.

Super Bowl LIV Preview

‘Offence wins games, but defence wins championships’.

It’s a cliché that seems applicable to any sport, a cautionary tale warning against getting carried away with the excitement of a high-scoring juggernaut.

Thing is, Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs might be worth the hype.

This year’s Super Bowl, like so many years before it, pitches one of the league’s premier offences against one of its most vaunted defences.  The Chiefs are headed to their first Superbowl in 50 years thanks to an offence that can strike so quickly, so explosively, that for their opponents no lead is safe.  The 49ers have a defence stacked on every level, with rookie revelation Nick Bosa leading from the front and veteran corner Richard Sherman locking down the back end.  On the surface, this would seem to draw comparisons to the big game four years ago, when the Denver Broncos’ suffocating defence dragged an offence led limply by the remains of Peyton Manning to a 24-10 victory over the league-best offence of the 15-1 Carolina Panthers.  But Super Bowl LIV is more complicated than that.

Yes, the Chiefs’ offence is great.  Mahomes might have seen an inevitable drop-off in his numbers in a season marred by injury following his 50 touchdown MVP campaign last season, but he’s heating up at just the right time.  The clinical explosiveness of Kansas City’s offence was best illustrated in their divisional round matchup with the Houston Texans.  Heavily favoured, after a catalogue of uncharacteristic errors the Chiefs found themselves trailing 24-0 in the second quarter.  Not only did they erase that deficit, they did it by halftime.  Kansas City scored 28 unanswered points, before continuing to put on an offensive clinic in the second half, running away with a 20-point win that seemed inevitable as soon as they scored once.  Head Coach Andy Reid has built a system and a roster that is perfectly suited to his generational quarterback, with speedy deep threats Tyreek Hill and Mecole Hardman and elite tight end Travis Kelce feasting on Mahomes’ ability to throw effortlessly downfield.  For most defences, this team would be unstoppable.

But San Francisco’s defence lives up to the hype too.  They have crushed teams during the playoffs, sucking the life out of two decent offenses in the Vikings and the Packers on their way to the Super Bowl.  The Vikings had experienced success all season by establishing the run with Dalvin Cook, then letting Kirk Cousins throw off play action.  Not so against San Francisco, who rendered the play action game useless by getting consistent pressure on Cousins, sacking him six times.  Against Green Bay, the 49ers shut out Aaron Rodgers for the entire first half, only surrendering points when it really didn’t matter anymore.  Their matchup with the Chiefs offence is mouth-watering.

What makes this year’s Super Bowl interesting, however, is that both teams are very good at their supposed weaknesses too.  Kansas City have quietly improved their pass defence from last season by a significant margin, aided by the offseason acquisition of safety Tyrann Mathieu.  Mathieu is everywhere on the field, breaking up passes and shutting down run plays at the line of scrimmage.  Frank Clark also provides them with a dangerous pass rush.  Their defence is no joke.

And for all the talk about their defence, the 49ers had the second ranked scoring offence in the entire league, scoring nearly 30 points per game during the regular season.  Head Coach Kyle Shanahan is this year’s Shaun McVay – an offensive mastermind who destroys defences before his players have even stepped onto the field.  In Belichikian style, he’s turned journeyman running back Raheem Mostert into a household name, making him the corner piece of a running attack that could not be stopped in the previous two rounds of the playoffs.  Such is the power of Shanahan’s offence that quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, talented though he is, barely has to do anything, throwing just eight passes against Green Bay.  This is not Peyton’s Broncos of 2015.

It’s because of Kyle Shanahan that I give the 49ers the edge.  His players have boasted to the media that they were able to enjoy the week leading up to the Super Bowl because their entire gameplan was already installed.  Don’t get me wrong, Andy Reid is one of the all-time great offensive coaches, but Shanahan’s innovation gives San Francisco the upper hand for me.  Ultimately, it will come down to whether or not their defence can slow down Patrick Mahomes enough to allow their offence to keep pace.

It’ll be close, but in this case I think the old adage will ring true.  There is a caveat though.  Defence might win championships, but only when you’ve got a pretty damn good offence too.

Top 10 Albums of 2019

I noticed after compiling this year’s list that it contains far more big-name artists than last year.  All that means, I think, is that artists are getting the recognition they deserve.  Or maybe my taste is just becoming more mainstream.  Who cares?  Either way, 2019 has seen the release of some truly breath-taking records, including…

YBN Cordae – The Lost Boy

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This list is in no particular order but… this is number one.  YBN Cordae’s debut is my favourite hip hop album.  Ever.  The versatility the 21-year-old displays on The Lost Boy is astounding.  From the captivatingly chilled out jazzy vibes of the opener ‘Wintertime’, Cordae moves seamlessly into trap bangers like ‘Have Mercy’ and ‘Broke As Fuck’, from the effortless over-the-top swagger of ‘RNP’ (“smell me – n**** that’s Chanel cologne!”) to the intimate realist introspection of ‘Thanksgiving’ and ‘Family Matters’.  The Lost Boy boasts an impressive feature list of more established rappers; most notably the electric chemistry between Cordae and Anderson .Paak as they trade lines on ‘RNP’, holding his own with Pusha T on ‘Nightmares Are Real’, and ‘Bad Idea’ being easily the best thing Chance the Rapper has produced this year.  This guy is going to be on the hip hop scene for a long time folks.

Luke Combs – What You See is What You Get

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The only country record on this list (surprising for me) was a predictable smash-hit.  Luke Combs has the genre’s devoted audience in the palm of his hand right now, and with good reason.  At 17 tracks, What You See is What You Get is a true rarity: a lengthy album with no fillers.  Combs is simply an exceptional songwriter and whilst his signature country-rock bombast pervades to this record’s merit, he really shines on sadder, more tender numbers.  ‘Even Though I’m Leaving’ is a gorgeously simple meditation on losing a loved one loaded with double meanings (“Dad we’ll be late, and Uncle Sam don’t like to wait, he’s got a big old plane that’s gonna take me far away”).  The album’s closer ‘Better Together’ is as good a piano-led-love-ballad as you’ll ever find.

Mr Hudson – When the Machine Stops

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I quite literally waited a decade for this album.  I was 12 when Mr Hudson released his 2009 debut Straight No Chaser and it was probably the first album that I ever became truly obsessed with.  Now, 10 years later, we finally have a follow-up.  It was worth the wait.  When the Machine Stops is pure synth-laden, hip hop-infused gloom from start to finish.  The album cover fits perfectly – this is a grey record in the best possible way.  With his distinctively British vocal delivery, Mr Hudson croons “Don’t give me sayonara, just give me cyanide” on ‘What Do We Do Now?’, and the infectious “I’m good, I’m good, I’m great” hook of ‘Slept On Me’ tells the story of a man exhausted by his attempts to convince himself he’s over a breakup.  Given the record’s limited exposure, maybe the world has slept on Mr Hudson.  It really shouldn’t.

Sigrid – Sucker Punch

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The first of two outstanding Norwegian artists on this list, Sigrid might have produced the perfect pop record.  With several of its tracks underpinned by a distinctive throbbing sawtooth triplet bass pattern, Sucker Punch manages to present both a compelling set of chart-worthy hits and a cohesive whole.  Sigrid just has a knack for an earworm – ‘Don’t Feel Like Crying’ reels you in with its rhythmic string punches, ‘Don’t Kill My Vibe’ has a truly delightful vocal turn at its heart (“You think you’re so important to me don’t you?”), and ‘Never Mine’ has the same pounding pop groove as the deserved smash-hit ‘Strangers’.  In amongst all this joy-filled catchiness is the wonderfully weird ‘Level Up’ and the guitar-led ‘In Vain’, which builds towards an emphatic climax.  But this record is made by Sigrid’s outstanding vocal ability as she combines an innocent-sounding purity at the top of her range with a guttural crackle when her songs require more weight.

Hobo Johnson – The Fall of Hobo Johnson

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Hobo Johnson is an odd artist.  Frank Lopes’ stage persona is a teen angst-ridden, perpetually panicking introvert making a wildly unique brand of emo hip hop.  At times in his debut, The Rise of Hobo Johnson, this spilled over into some uncomfortably ‘incel’ vibes.  But its sequel is an altogether more refined effort, whilst still maintaining the chaos that makes Lopes’ music so compelling.  The Fall of Hobo Johnson embraces variety, beginning with the thunderous guitar backing of ‘Typical Story’.  ‘Uglykid’ is held together by improvised jazz trumpet riffing, ‘Subaru Crosstrek XV’ and ‘Ode to Justin Bieber’ by odd 808 grooves, ‘Happiness’ and ‘Sorry, My Dear’ by simple piano loops.  Honestly, there are no standouts because every track is captivating in its own way, though my favourite is the closer ‘I Want a Dog’ – an outstanding lyric that sees Lopes envisage the perfect life he so desperately wants before reeling it all back to the realisation that “No Frank, you just want a dog”.  A record laden with real emotion (‘Sorry My Dear’ is an uncomfortable listen but its creatively jarring use of autotune is perfect for its suicidal thoughts subject matter), not just the ‘faux-deep’ sentiments that have sometimes plagued Hobo Johnson’s work in the past.

half٠alive – Now, Not Yet

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I really believe that the best faith-based music is the kind that stands up on its own and can be enjoyed in its own right.  The debut from Californian outfit half٠alive is one such album.  If it weren’t for the spoken word interludes, you’d be forgiven for missing the Christian overtones of Now, Not Yet, but once you know they’re there you begin to notice the faith-based foundation on which the entire record stands.  Stylistically, the band has an individual style that goes beyond the Twenty One Pilots comparisons they garnered earlier in their careers.  ‘Still Feel’ is an infectiously funky bop, ‘Runaway’ is carried by its breathless drumming, and ‘Rest’ is a starkly contrasting laid back lo-fi hip hop-inspired affair.  Now, Not Yet stays interesting throughout and finishes with one of the best Christian songs I’ve heard in a long time in ‘Creature’.  Fans of Kings Kaleidoscope (whose 2019 offering Zeal narrowly missed out on a place on this list) should really check this one out if they’re after more religious music that’s, well, actually good.

Aurora – A Different Kind of Human – Step 2

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So to the second example of Nordic pop brilliance.  Whilst still ostensibly a ‘pop’ artist, Aurora offers something very different to Sigrid, steering away from the relatable and concrete towards the abstract and ethereal.  The best example of this is the title track, in which Aurora sings in a language she invented on a song which tells the story of a peaceful alien voyage to a safer, better place for the misfits of society.  The song has a strange, other-worldly beauty to it and honestly might be my favourite track of the year.  Alongside its flawless title track, A Different Kind of Human – Step 2 features the dramatic environmental epic ‘The Seed’, the gloriously global ‘Hunger’ which incorporates influences from all sorts of musical traditions, and a host of straightforwardly good pop songs.  A hippie for the modern age, Aurora makes music that soothes the soul in an increasingly broken world.

Of Monsters and Men – Fever Dream

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Icelandic outfit Of Monsters and Men have shifted their sound with each record they’ve produced.  Fever Dream might be the best yet.  Their third album brings a move further away from the indie folk that established the five-piece as a major force and towards an emotional brand of chamber pop.  ‘Stuck in Gravity’ embraces synths and autotune, ‘War’ features a prominent funk bassline that wouldn’t sound out of place in a Daft Punk song, while opener ‘Alligator’ has a thumping indie rock feel.  A personal favourite is the melancholic ‘Róróró’ where Nanna Bryndís Hilmarsdóttir’s rasping tones soar over dramatic pianos and drums.

Bon Iver – i,i

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Justin Vernon’s music holds a special place in my heart.  He’s an artist whose sheer creativity and ability to fuse acoustic and electronic instrumentation has long been a source of inspiration to me.  i,i is perhaps even more chaotic than its predecessor 22, A Million, right down to its surprise release.  Saxophones play a more prominent role throughout, interspersed with spliced up samples and Vernon’s folksy vocals.  In amongst the carefully curated madness, ‘U’ is probably the most uplifting song I’ve heard this year thanks to its gorgeous piano playing courtesy of Bruce Hornsby and ‘Faith’ and ‘Marion’ are guitar led offerings that may go some way to appeasing fans of Vernon’s earlier work.

Madeon – Good Faith

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French electronic producer Madeon made a long-awaited solo return after 2015’s Adventure with a record that feels like an artist finding their sound all over again.  Refreshingly different to any of Madeon’s previous discography, Good Faith showcases the 25-year-old producer’s newfound ease with singing on his own tracks.  This is still very recognisably a Madeon record, complete with around-100bpm grooves and skilfully manipulated samples, but it feels new and exciting.  ‘Be Fine’ is impossible to hear without at least bobbing a head along – a sure-fire sign of an excellent dance track.  And closer ‘Borealis’ is a suitably dramatic ending for an album that makes for an excellent listen as one collective unit.

An SNP vote is not one for blind ideology – it’s a pragmatic vote for Scotland’s future

You don’t need me to tell you that this election has more at stake than just who walks the crumbling corridors of Westminster for the next five years.

Massive constitutional change looms over the UK.  For three years, the Tory Brexit tragicomedy has rumbled on, now complete with a scruffy yet carefully scripted buffoon in its lead role.  Prime Minister Boris Johnson (a phrase many within his own party would have shuddered at the thought of in saner times) is intent on pursuing an inward looking, populist-led Union that embraces the Trumpian era of post-truth and ignores the voices of dissenters.  Here in Scotland, we have a different vision.  With that in mind, here’s why I’ll be casting my vote for the SNP on December 12th.

I am not going to begin with independence.  Why?  Because independence is merely a means to an end, not an end itself.  What’s the point of self-determination if we’re not going to use it to do things differently?  A favourite trope of the SNP’s critics goes something like this: “Instead of focussing on independence, why don’t you get on with the day job? What has the SNP ever done for me?”  Well, I’d like to talk about exactly what the SNP has done for me.

I joined the party in 2016.  I was living in England at the time, as I had done for my entire life up until about three months ago.  I did not necessarily consider myself an independence supporter (I’d have used the term “sympathiser” more readily) and certainly would not have described myself as a “nationalist”.  No, I joined because when I looked at the SNP I saw a left-of-centre party with a proven track record of policy achievements that made people like you and me the priority.  A party that looked forward, not backward.  A party with a vision for an open and inclusive Scotland and a credible plan to make that vision a reality.  Since I moved here, I have seen those achievements and that vision first-hand.

Let’s start with the NHS.  As a sufferer of ulcerative colitis, a condition I will have to take medication to combat for the rest of my life, I’m accustomed to visiting a pharmacist to pick up my monthly prescription.  I was not accustomed to leaving my wallet at home when I did so.  Here in Scotland, the SNP have abolished prescription charges, saving people like me over £100 a year.  This afternoon, I have an appointment for an eye test, for which I will not hand over a single penny.  These services should be free, and in Scotland they are.  I’d invite you to ask yourself who you trust more to look after our NHS: the Tories, who have presided over a decade of cuts and privatisation; or the SNP, who have acted on the principle of a truly free health service during their twelve years in government?

Next to tuition fees, an issue in which the Tories, Labour and (need I remind you) the Lib Dems are all implicit.  As a graduate of an English university now enrolled on an MSc programme, my student debt stands at well over £50,000.  Here, my Scottish friends have a tiny fraction of that debt.  I am fortunate enough to have had the means to go to university despite the crippling debt it would saddle me with, but I know many here in Scotland who would not have gone if it wasn’t for free tuition.  How much potential are the Tories allowing to slip through the cracks simply because young people don’t have the financial means to support themselves?  That is not a party, not a country, that believes in social mobility.

Since moving here it has become starkly clear to me that Scotland is just different to England.  From the seemingly trivial – we have different bank notes, architecture, and at times unfortunately, weather – to the more pressing issues of our broadly different socio-political attitudes, there can be no doubt that Scotland is a distinct nation from the rest of the UK.  I don’t think this tension between competing visions has ever been more readily apparent than now, and that’s all because of Brexit.

Scotland did not vote for Brexit, and it wasn’t even close.  62% of Scots voted to remain in the EU, a far larger majority than those who voted No to independence in 2014.  The SNP Holyrood government has since offered to compromise with the Tory Westminster government time and time again, but they have been consistently ignored.  Initially, the SNP proposed a solution whereby the entire UK would remain in the single market.  Failing this, they suggested Scotland could stay in the single market even if the rest of the UK left.  The Tories said such a compromise was completely unworkable.  Then Boris Johnson came back from Europe with a deal that does pretty much exactly that for Northern Ireland.  I was in Brussels last weekend where a civil servant – an entirely neutral source of information – told me there was no good reason whatsoever that a similar solution couldn’t be implemented for Scotland.

But the devolved administrations have been denied any role in the Brexit negotiating process.  The Sewel convention dictates that the devolved parliaments and assemblies must give their consent for any legislation that would affect devolved competences (which obviously Brexit would), yet Boris Johnson has shown a total disregard for the conventions and laws that protect our democracy.  It is not just that we in Scotland are being dragged out of the EU against our will, it is that our voice has been systematically silenced during the process.  Scotland is a pesky inconvenience to the Tories – it won’t shut up and stay in its lane.  This is not a union of equals and for that reason it is time to file the divorce papers.

So yes, we do need to talk about independence.  Scotland is in a very different place now than it was in 2014.  The people of Scotland were promised that a No vote would protect their place in the EU, protect the economy and lead to greater devolution of powers.  Five years on, the news is dominated by Brexit, the pound has plummeted, and Scotland has less of a voice than ever before.  Brexit has exposed Westminster as a tyranny of the majority where English interests are put first.

Whilst the SNP are very explicitly pro-EU, it is misguided to pitch this election as a choice between two equivalent unions.  There is no equivalency between the Brexit and IndyRef movements and that same European Parliament civil servant gave me a very clear conceptualisation of why.  The UK could hold its Brexit referendum with no obstacles.  Scotland could not – our government is bound to ask the permission of the UK government to consult the people on independence.  The UK, within the EU, is still sovereign.  Scotland, within the UK, is not.  Independence is not about taking sovereignty from one union only to give it to another.  It’s about claiming sovereignty from a union which gives us none and sharing that sovereignty with a union that actually serves our interests and respects our voice as a small nation (the veto powers the EU gives to member states shows the influence small countries can have).  This is not an ideological decision – it is a pragmatic one.

Economically, the Yes side lost the argument in 2014.  But Brexit changes everything.  It is true that 60% of Scotland’s exports go to the rest of the UK.  It is also irrelevant.  The SNP are not advocating cutting off all trading ties with the rest of the UK, why would they?  Brexit has shifted our perception as to what is normal when nations leave unions, but the kind of economically disastrous divorce that the Tories are pursuing need not be replicated in an independent Scotland.  I certainly have no desire to see any kind of hard border with England – the country I was born in and where most of my friends and family still live.

Brexit has already damaged the UK’s economy and it hasn’t even happened yet.  Scotland can leap from the sinking ship into a sea of 27 other nations all participating in frictionless trade and allowing the free movement of migrants on which the Scottish economy depends.  Small, independent, left-of-centre nations such as Denmark and Finland have thrived economically within the EU.  What’s more, the sense I got from Brussels is that an independent Scotland is unlikely to have many problems joining the EU, a fact even pro-Union newspaper The Scotsman would back me up on. Brexit has shown that we cannot trust the Tories to manage Scotland’s economy for us.  Only independence, and only the SNP, can provide the economic security that we all depend on.

Scotland is a socially liberal, economically left-of-centre nation.  The UK is not.  For that reason, the Conservative and Unionist Party clearly do not represent Scotland’s best interests, but neither do Labour or the Liberal Democrats.  The Liberal Democrats have positioned themselves as fiercely pro-EU and conveniently forgotten that the easiest route to Remain is now independence.  Labour know they are finished in Scotland – they have failed to support the constitutional change that their broader policy goals depend on, policy goals that in many cases have already been achieved by the SNP.  That is all independence is – a means to an end.  You do not have to be a nationalist to support it, just a pragmatist.

Kawhi has saved the NBA – it’s just a shame he had to

For a week, the NBA’s most enigmatic star kept fans waiting with baited breath.  Free agency opened, but Kawhi Leonard made us wait.  The first dominoes began to fall, Kevin Durant opted to head to Brooklyn, condemning Knicks fans to another year of mismanagement and frustration, but Kawhi Leonard made us wait.  Jimmy Butler traded Philadelphia for Miami and finally became ‘the guy’ on a team bereft of other stars to challenge his ego, but Kawhi Leonard made us wait.  With the future of three franchises – the Raptors, Lakers and Clippers – in the palm of his hand Kawhi was determined to maintain his silence and take his time.  Until last night.

But the thing is, in the era of the ‘superteam’, Kawhi’s power extended even beyond those three teams – his choice would determine the fate of the entire league.

In recent years, the NBA has been dominated by the Golden State Warriors and their embarrassment of riches.  To be fair to them, this success was not initially bought, but eventually success breeds success.  The Warriors have drafted phenomenally.  Steph Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green provided a homegrown core that underpinned some of the greatest teams in NBA history.  But then came Kevin Durant, perhaps the best player in the world, arriving in free agency to pursue a virtually guaranteed championship.  Last offseason’s addition of DeMarcus Cousins, though he ultimately contributed very little, is further evidence of the fact that players will sacrifice financial gains for a shot at glory.  The Warriors provided that shot by destroying the league’s sense of parity.  Until Kawhi Leonard ended the old world order. Twice.

First, Leonard carried the Toronto Raptors to an unlikely Finals victory over the Warriors, albeit only with the help of injuries to Durant and Thompson.  With Durant’s contract up, the Warrior’s dynasty was effectively over.  They would still be competitive, but surely no longer unbeatable.

Then, crucially, he refused to countenance the passing of the torch of perennial winners from the Bay Area to the purple and gold side of LA.  Having acquired LeBron James last offseason, the Lakers had begun this offseason by adding the NBA’s best big man Anthony Davis via a blockbuster trade with New Orleans.  Thanks to the Pelicans cooperation, the Lakers were able to engineer this trade in such a way that it delivered them enough cap space for one more max contract.  Kawhi was the perfect fit.  Leonard, Davis and James would form a trio that perhaps even surpassed Curry, Durant and Thompson for sheer star power.  The league would once again have a presumptive victor, a team that would dominate for years to come.

Instead, Kawhi chose the Clippers and fans everywhere breathed a huge sigh of relief.  Suddenly, the NBA is anyone’s game.  In the West, in addition to the two LA heavyweights and what remains of Golden State, Utah have made significant gains, Denver, Portland and Houston will remain competitive, and then there’s the rising potential of the Zion-era Pelicans.  In the East, the 76ers should have a more balanced roster sans Butler, the Bucks will once more be led by the transcendent talent of the Greek Freak, Indiana have retooled and Boston figure to still be up there.  All bets are off.

But this shouldn’t mask the simple fact that the NBA has a problem.  The salary cap and the draft exist to preserve parity, to preserve the entertainment value the league provides.  Yet ultimately, they did nothing to prevent one man from deciding the fate of the league.  Thank goodness he made the right choice.

Basketball is a unique sport in that one or two transcendent players can totally carry a team.  With Kawhi, LeBron and AD it wouldn’t have mattered what bare bones free agents the Lakers filled their roster with – those three are enough.  This is simply not the case in, for example, the NFL where teams have to carry 53 man rosters of highly specialised players.  Just look at the limited success the Green Bay Packers have had despite possessing maybe the greatest quarterback of all time in Aaron Rodgers.  Because of this it is far easier for players in the NBA to make pacts to form ‘superteams’, just as we have seen this offseason with Brooklyn’s Durant/Irving pairing, the Lakers’ James/Davis duo and the Clippers’ Leonard/George combo.  The simple fact is, players want to win.  You don’t make it to such a high level without that competitive drive.  So can we really blame them when they put that desire to win over their own financial wellbeing, let alone the state of the league as a whole?

I really think it’s time for the Commissioner to step in with regulations to prevent this sort of situation arising again.  The cap can’t solve it.  As long as players value winning as well as money, the effectiveness of the cap is inherently limited.  Instead, we need to start limiting the options of the league’s best teams.

I believe there’s a very simple rule that could be introduced to greatly enhance parity in the NBA.  Any team already in possession of two players who have made an all-star game in, say, the last three years, should be disallowed from acquiring another all-star via free agency or trade.  You drafted 3 all-stars, a la the mid-2010s Warriors?  Good for you, that’s team-building in the right way.  But adding Kevin Durant to the mix?  That’s a no-no.

This rule would have had virtually no impact whatsoever on this offseason.  But that’s because this offseason, thanks to Kawhi Leonard, we’ve been left with a league that basketball fans everywhere can get genuinely excited about.  That simply should not be in the hands of one man.  So thank you Kawhi for saving basketball.  Commissioner, it’s time to take that power off his shoulders.

Nashville Roundup #2

This is the second instalment of a series of posts throughout the year basically tracking the country songs I’m really enjoying at the moment, so without further ado…

Tenille Townes – Jersey on the Wall

What is it with up-and-coming Canadian artists and fantastic country music?  The last time I wrote one of these I was singing the praises of Jade Eagleson, now I’m kicking this one off with a wonderfully crafted song by fellow Canuck Tenille Townes.  Townes has garnered some attention for her single Somebody’s Daughter (more on that later) but Jersey on the Wall blew me away.  This song was inspired by a tragedy involving the death of a high school student in a car crash.  Its subtly brilliant chorus directly addresses God, beginning with whimsical, light-hearted questions (‘how do you make a snowflake?’) before hitting you right in the gut with the final line: ‘why can’t you stop a car from crashing? Forgive me, I’m just asking’.  This is everything a country song should be – a story about the lives of real people that touches on something far greater.  Genius.

Tenille Townes – Somebody’s Daughter

I didn’t really want to include two songs by the same artist in any of these roundups, but I just had to.  Somebody’s Daughter was my first exposure to Townes’ utterly unique voice, which has quite a badass nasal sneer to it (I mean that in the nicest possible way – it’s captivating).  Couple this with a propensity for open guitar tunings (from the video for Jersey on the Wall I’m guessing she plays in DADGAD but with the entire guitar tuned down a tone) and you have an artist with an instantly recognisable and distinctive style.  Somebody’s Daughter retains the emotional appeal of Jersey on the Wall but musically displays Townes’ versatility.  It’s an absolute banger.

Austin Plaine – Never Come Back Again

This song is actually a few years old, but Austin Plaine has just returned to the scene with a new single (Something More – also absolutely worth a listen), and so I have my YouTube recommendations to thank for discovering this gem.  An anthem to losing yourself in the wilderness that wouldn’t sound out of place on Dierks Bentley’s latest record The MountainNever Come Back Again has that classic country groove underpinning Plaine’s folksy voice.  There’s a real fluidity and motion to the guitar fingerpicking that underscores the whole song and when this is coupled with driving drums, banjo and piano you’re left with a real earworm that manages to be both upbeat and thought-provoking.  Austin Plaine’s new album is out on 17th May and I can’t wait.

Billy Strings – Dust in a Baggie

Billy Strings is a rising star of the bluegrass scene.  A phenomenal guitarist with a decent set of lungs to boot, Strings puts it all on display with this performance.  You can guess what the song’s about.  I think it’s actually very clever how Strings uses such an old-timey genre as the bluegrass prison song to talk about a very real issue in the contemporary US (‘I got 20 long years for some dust in a baggie’).  Strings and his band play some mind-bending instrumental solos between verses and the overall effect is an absolute romp.

Eric Church – Monsters

I don’t really know what to say about this song, other than I love it so much it’s hard to express.  Monsters is about faith, growing up and conquering your fears.  It includes some lovely imagery right from the get go, describing killing your first monster aged 7 by simply turning on the bathroom light, and pulling a torch ‘like a sword’.  Church then moulds this into a chorus about faith (‘falling on my knees is my new turning on the light’) and what it means to be an adult (‘I’ve learned that the monsters ain’t the ones beneath the bed’).  Heartwarming and profound, this is a song that I have a feeling will be close to my heart for a very long time.  Just listen to it y’all.

Pete Buttigieg is a gay Christian. Get over it.

I, like many others, was only recently made aware of the presidential candidacy of Mayor of South Bend, Indiana Pete Buttigieg.  Having watched his official campaign launch, I’m all in.  Buttigieg possesses the natural charisma and charm necessary for a presidential candidate in this media-intensive age, but he couples that with a desire for genuine public service in the true sense of the term.  The speech that ‘Mayor Pete’ gave to launch his campaign reminded me of Barack Obama, not just because of the constant appeals to hope, but because of the ease with which Buttigieg came across as just human, something many politicians this side of the pond struggle with.  He manages this by not shying away from who he is: a ‘laid-back, intellectual, young, gay mayor from the Midwest’, as he told TV show host (and self-aggrandising blowhard) Bill Maher.

The thing is, according to much of ‘Christian’ America, one of those characteristics is not who he is, but rather a choice he has made.  Shortly after watching Buttigieg’s campaign launch, in which he made reference to both his faith and his husband, I read an article from the Washington Times by a man named Everett Piper.  The title of the piece was ‘Pete Buttigieg doesn’t get to make up his own Christianity’.  Right from the get-go my blood was boiling.

I tend to shy away from writing about faith issues because, as a relatively new Christian, I generally feel that others are more qualified, more knowledgeable than me.  But as far as I can tell, Everett Piper’s only qualification to talk about scripture is that he’s able to pick out the bits that serve his hateful political agenda.  So here goes.

In essence, Piper’s article is a drawn out objection to the following quote from Buttigieg, directed at Vice President Mike Pence, a man who has advocated conversion treatment for LGBT people:

“My marriage has made me a better man. And yes, Mr. Vice President, it has moved me closer to God. If being gay was a choice, it was a choice that was made far above my pay grade. That’s the thing I wish the Mike Pences of the world would understand, that if you have a problem with who I am, your problem is not with me. Your quarrel, sir, is with my creator.”

Piper describes this as an ‘attack’ on Pence, which strikes me as rather odd.  Buttigieg doesn’t attack Pence’s character, or faith, and he refuses to call Pence’s religious views homophobic or bigoted.  No, I suspect it’s the very fact that Buttigieg is happily married, to a man, that constitutes an ‘attack’ for Piper.  I pity anyone whose faith is so insecure that an individual being afforded equal protection of the law can blow a hole in it.  That is not the message Jesus died for.

Piper thinks that homosexuality isn’t a part of who you are, but rather just a thing you do.  Like washing the dishes or mowing the lawn.  It strikes me, as a straight man, how easy it is to say that, but also how unfathomably misguided it is.  What you are asking LGBT people to do is stop loving who they love.  I don’t know exactly how many times Jesus talks about love, but I do know it’s a lot.  I also know that he never once mentions homosexuality.

Piper says he doesn’t want to hear about Buttigieg’s sexuality.  So why is he so obsessed with it?  His entire faith seems to revolve around sexuality, and I just cannot fathom how one could read the Bible and come to that conclusion.  Put simply, there are just so many other more important things.  In Matthew 22, Jesus is asked straight up: what’s the greatest commandment? He replies: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’  This is the first and greatest commandment.   And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.'” (Matthew 22: 37-39).

The ‘Christian’ right can’t seem to understand that their obsession with minor scriptural issues contradicts the most important scriptural issue of all: love.  By denying LGBT people the right to get married, you are delegitimising who they are.  Not what they do, or a choice they make, but who they are.  You are denying them the love of neighbour that Jesus says is one of the two most important things about following him.

Now I’m not denying anyone the right to believe that homosexuality is a sin.  I believe that to do so is to read scripture in a fundamentally misguided way, but I respect anyone’s personal religious convictions.  When this becomes a problem is when people act upon that religious conviction to make political decisions and judgements that are contrary to the Spirit of Christ, and particularly when they do so in Jesus’ name.  That’s called blasphemy folks.  And it’s what the American religious right specialise in.

That’s why I view Pete Buttigieg with so much excitement and hope.  He represents something that seems all too rare: a Christian left.  His faith informs his politics, but his faith is not the narrow-minded, regressive faith of people like Everett Piper, it’s open and inclusive, just like Jesus.  It’s a faith that welcomes the poor, the sick and the needy, just like Jesus.  And above all, it prioritises love, just like Jesus.  This is not about sex, Mr. Piper, but it’s not really about marriage either.  It’s about whether you allow your heart to be ruled by the hatred of this world or the love of Christ.  It seems to me that you’ve chosen the former.  Pete Buttigieg isn’t the one making up his own Christianity.

 

Everett Piper’s article can be found at: https://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2019/apr/14/pete-buttigieg-doesnt-get-to-make-up-his-own-chris/ 

Nashville Roundup #1

Howdy folks!  I thought it would be a good idea to keep track of the country songs coming out of the States (and elsewhere) that I’m really digging throughout the year.  These songs might not have been released particularly recently, but they’re what I’ve been listening to lately and the aim is to maybe talk about some lesser known and up-and-coming artists on the country scene. So without further ado, here’s the first instalment of the Nashville Roundup…

Jade Eagleson – Got Your Name On It

I’m embarrassingly obsessed with this song right now.  It perfectly strikes the balance between an easy-going groove and just enough of a country rock feel to make it really… well rock.  Eagleson’s voice is a truly unique baritone, and the Canadian possesses far more natural country ‘twang’ than half of the pop-country southerners populating the Nashville charts at the moment.  A country love song from a male artist that comes across as genuinely joyful and not creepy seems an all too rare occurrence right now, but this is an absolute romp filled with childish enthusiasm.  This youthful exuberance is reflected in the most wholesome music video I’ve ever seen, where Eagleson is portrayed by a young boy lip-syncing to his low-pitched crooning – it’s fantastically tongue-in cheek and I absolutely love it.

Emily Ann Roberts – Stuck On Me & You

This is a really interesting one, but above all it’s just really infectious.  It incorporates elements of country and pop really well. Roberts’ voice definitely has some pop inflections but retains a really overt southern drawl, and the song feels quite poppy whilst utilising a traditional set of instruments.  If there’s one thing modern country music needs (in my humble opinion) it’s more fiddles, so this hits all the right spots.  It also finishes with a really lovely quasi-improvised outro.

Aaron Watson – Kiss That Girl Goodbye

Man, this is sheer breathless madness and it’s fantastic.  Kiss That Girl Goodbye has a relentless driving rock feel, with changing instrumentation throughout and vocals delivered at a breakneck pace.  It shifts through so many different phases and by the end of it I’m left with two thoughts: ‘what the hell just happened?’ and ‘whatever it was, give me more of it’. So good.

Robert Counts – Backseat Driver

Bit of a change of pace here, but this is probably the best written song on this list.  It’s a simultaneously heartbreaking and heartwarming ode to parents watching their kids grow up (‘I can’t be your backseat driver anymore’).  This is a real show of songwriting talent and it makes me very excited to hear more from Counts.  His voice carries it really nicely as well, incorporating enough grit to give that authentic aesthetic.

Brett Young – Ticket to L.A.

Had to include one more poppy, popular one on here.  I actually think Brett Young’s songs are often really well written, and this is no exception.  Uncomplicated but enjoyable, it has a very catchy chorus (crucial for songs of this ilk) and is quite simply just nice to listen to.  Young has one of the nicer voices on the poppier end of the country spectrum, and this song proves that it works just as well in more upbeat songs as in his relentless output of (admittedly pretty good) breakup songs.