Greater Than the Sum of Our Parts

a miscellany of the wonderful and the banal

Archive for June 2011

Review: Emmy the Great, “Virtue”

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Album cover showing Emmy next to a gingerbread house

I was fortunate enough to see Emmy perform some of the material from this album at the Purcell Room at the South Bank Centre back in March (which is, by the way, an excellent venue to experience any kind of music in, given how perfectly acoustically designed it is for listening), and so listening to the album now does tend to bring back images of blue filtered lights and Emmy tapping hypnotically at a string of sleigh bells. It also moves me to use that tired old saw of reviewing, “it sounds better live”, with the addendum “please don’t listen to this album through rubbish laptop speakers”. Really, Ms Moss’s voice deserves better reproduction than that.

As to the album itself, I suspect the term “mature” should be used to describe what has happened both to the subject matter and the lyrics; imagine a whole album of “Absentee”, with the aching undercurrent of loss toned down to barely subliminal levels. This is what maturity means in writing – becoming more literary, with more allusions to more out-of-sight touchstones that can be appreciated by a wider audience, but losing some of the bite that characterised First Love.

“Creation”, for example, is an examination of the coming-of-age story and the way it is always focussed on the achievements and trials of the young man, never the young woman; it is musically beautiful with hints of threat, and Emmy’s voice has become clearer and more powerful with time, it is a more passionate and chilling essay than anything anyone has ever written in their exercise books come exam time, but it is still an essay.

“Cassandra” is one of the the more solid songs on this album, and has been the one which caught in my head for the longest. The song itself cycles through images and notes on the unavoidable nature of beginnings and endings, with the motif of Cassandra (“keep it down”), the tragically-ignored prophetess of Greek legend, revising itself downward toward the question that makes up the backbone of it all: “What good is love if it always ends?”.

“Iris” is an uptempo track, which makes skillful use of dissonance; the twinkly melody and mentions of radiance bouncing off “what if the sight of you could take my eyes”. Like “Cassandra”, Iris is a single-statement/question song, in this instance, what the word is for the emotion the narrator or the subject (it’s not clear) is experiencing. It seems a little empty, made up of syllables to encase the central question, unlike the capsule stories which filled out much of First Love.

“A Woman, A Woman, A Century of Sleep” is, along with “Dinosaur Sex”, for me the stand-out track on this album; performed at the Purcell Room gig as the first of Emmy’s new material it produced shivers under the blue light, and the floral imagery seemed to crawl along the verses as it does over the walls of the house in the lyrics, punctured and punctuated by reference to pipes running bleach, or pipes running bone. Ordinarily I am not a great fan of anything which declares “I am a w0man” (being raised by second-wavers tends to leave one groaning “oh not this bloody affirmation again”), but as with “We Almost Had A Baby”, the shadows at the edge of the words keep the affirrmation from becoming too saccharine.

Leaving my favourite song from this album for last, there is “Dinosaur Sex”, which I am going to include a video of (from the performance of it that I saw, in fact – isn’t YouTube wonderful?).

“Dinosaur Sex” has a broader, almost country feel to it musically, and shows a return to the darker and more final imagery and language which I am more familiar with from songs like “Paper Trails” and “Two Steps Forward”. The chorus is simple and catchy, the verses haunting and somehow sounding like the memory of long-ago summers. It is a very evocative and ties in with “Cassandra”, prophecying doom in sweet tones.

In conclusion, then, Virtue is a more mature album, a more literary album, but one which in moving away from the adolescent themes of death and love has lost some of the emotional weight that First Love carried; however, almost all of the songs Virtue contains are given a significant polish by being performed live, so if it is possible I would advise going to see Emmy’s gigs.


Written by Amelia &/or Delilah

June 23, 2011 at 3:01 pm

How to be a Good Boss

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Now, it’s been a while since I had a job, as I scampered back to full-time education and have been using this as an excuse not to get on with the demoralising business of lying to HR departments about my level of enthusiasm for filing things and trying to convince them that I am in any way a sociable human being. However, when I was in full-time employment I had a wonderful selection of terminally awful bosses, and one or two really good ones. The really good ones did things like give me free food, instill a sense of team unity without getting into disgusting bonding exercises, and ensure that they didn’t give us all contradictory instructions; the bad bosses did things like talk to me as if I was a dog, lean over my shoulder while I was working, and change the goalposts every five minutes (and refuse to train me to do my job because it was time-consuming and then yell at me for not being able to do my job: advice for large companies, if someone has been in the same role for 30 years and it doesn’t require specialist skills, you may want to consider keeping a close eye on them for psychopathic tendencies).

So here’s a nice list of ways you can get more out of your workforce when your workforce is someone like me:

  • Don’t micromanage. Everyone has different ways of getting a job done and if the end result is the same, whinging at them for doing things in the order you personally wouldn’t or for slumping while they do it is pointless timewasting. Go sit behind your desk and play minesweeper or something instead.
  • Make sure there is a steady workflow. If at all possible, give everyone a list of shit that needs to get done over the course of the day. If it’s supposed to be in a specific order, say so. And then let them get the fuck on with it. Interrupting to give people new work should only happen if the new work is urgent, otherwise just tack it on to the end of the list; and for fuck’s sake don’t take things off people when they’re in the middle of doing them. It’s disorienting and despiriting and depressing and nothing makes people more resentful and less productive than that. Furthermore, don’t give people one task and assure them it will take them all day, because it pretty much won’t. You can only ever have at best a vague understanding of how long your employees take to do something, and if they’re like me they will finish quickly, get bored, surf the internet while waiting for more work rather than interrupt you to get some or “take the initiative” and risk getting that wrong.
  • Be aware of how people work. Your employees aren’t machines. They have different needs and approaches; some people like to chat while they work, others prefer to listen to music on headphones; some people like to work in one long lump and then have a long break, others like to take lots of little breaks; some people dip between projects, other people concentrate on one at a time; some people have their most productive periods in the mornings, others after lunch; some people are sticklers for deadlines, and other people need to be told they’re two weeks earlier than they actually are.  It’s to your benefit to adjust to their methods of working rather than panickily trying to impose the same sense of order onto everyone and failing to get the most out of them.
  • Either sit down or piss off. If you work in the same room as your employees, work in that room. Sit down and type or make calls, but don’t prowl around the room like you have radio-controlled underpants. It’s distracting and threatening, and as you must know, nervous people make more mistakes than calm ones. If you have to flounce around, do it outside.
  • Set a good example. If you want your employees to be on time, not spend their entire time on the phone to their friends, have fewer coffee breaks, and dress smartly, you have to do the same. It gives a proclaimation a little more weight if you say “you don’t see me chatting away all afternoon” rather than, as one of my former line managers did, spending all day every day on the phone to members of your family within earshot.
  • Be flexible. A workforce that’s rewarded for its loyalty and hardwork with understanding and patience doesn’t even require as much in the way of material rewards. Most people would rather have a pleasant working environment – ie. one in which disputes are settled quickly and the boss (that’s you) doesn’t behave like a gorgon, a lunatic, or a prison-warder – than a large bonus, particularly if we’re in low-responsibility jobs. It also makes us more likely to volunteer for overtime.
  • Aim to be authorative. Not bossy, domineering, or shrewish. Don’t wheedle. Don’t attempt to explain the significance of the tasks you’re setting – we’re minimum wage slaves, we do not fucking care, and you cannot make us care. You’re the boss. I don’t give a blind monkey fuck why you want the files moving, just tell me to move them and I’ll move them. Don’t try to convince me of the worth of the work I’m doing, or cajole me into doing something. You are boss.
  • Don’t hotdesk. You can’t prevent friendship groups or cliques from forming, it’s a deeply ingrained part of human nature. Instead of forcing everyone to move out of the position they’re comfortable in, let them have their own dominion, and remind them not to glower at other people and to save their work gossip for outside of work.
  • Never make work socialisation mandatory. Just because we can get on with each other when we’re being paid to doesn’t mean we have any desire to see each other outside of the workplace. If we want to come, we’ll come, and if you make it an offer it’s far more likely to breed camaraderie than if everyone is required to spend additional unpaid time around people from work. Furthermore, not everyone is a great socialiser. They may well be a great employee, but you don’t get anywhere forcing the leopard to change her spots for the sake of “workplace spirit” – all this does is breed resentment.
  • Keep calm. You’re in charge, here. Your panic is contagious, and so is your anger. There are other ways to convey the gravity and importance of a situation or timeframe than by being emotional: they’re called words. If you’re straightforwards about the relative importance of various tasks and projects, people will respond accordingly.

It feels nice telling the boss what to do. Maybe I’ll try this again sometime.

Written by Amelia &/or Delilah

June 8, 2011 at 12:31 pm