Thursday, 25 May 2017

Book Review – Rejection Proof

Book Review – Rejection Proof

Review by Casey Douglass

Rejection Proof


Rejection? It's nothing to be afraid of …

Maybe you avoid situations where you might be rejected. You don't apply for that dream job. You don't ask for that pay rise. You don’t ask that person on a date. But it doesn't have to be that way – the only thing standing between you and your goals … is you.

Jia Jiang had allowed his fear of rejection to rule his life. But he decided to take radical action: he quit his job and spent 100 days deliberately seeking out scenarios where he would likely be rejected, from ordering doughnuts interlinked and iced like the Olympic rings to asking to pilot a light aircraft. And something remarkable happened; Jia not only learned how to cope with rejection but also discovered that even the most outrageous request may be granted – if you ask in the right way.

In this infectiously positive book Jia shares what he learned in his 100 Days of Rejection, explaining how to turn a 'no' into a 'yes', and revealing how you too can become Rejection Proof and achieve your dreams.

I first came across Jia Jiang while I was browsing a variety of TED talks on YouTube. In his, he told the story of how he embarked on a 100 Days of Rejection experiment to see if he could tame this thing that has such a hold on so many of us. I recently saw his book: Rejection Proof, on a shelf in my local Waterstones and realised it was “the rejection guy”. I bought it, read it, liked it, and now, here I am writing about it.

In the first chapter, Jia fills the reader in on the various elements of his early life and how they seemed to be shaped or affected by rejection, from his dreams of inventing a roller-shoe, to his desire to create a company so large that he could eventually buy Microsoft. Even though he ended up in a pretty comfortable job, he wasn’t happy, and ended up giving his entrepreneurial dream a try. The rejection that he received when trying to get his new app developed is what drove him to his notion of experiencing “100 Days of Rejection”, writing about it and filming it online.

As a reader, I enjoyed vicariously experiencing the variety of challenges Jia set for himself. He starts with the notion of asking a stranger if he could borrow $100, his internal physical responses and coping strategies to how this went helping to inform his knowledge of how rejection seemed to work for him, and how he might approach future experiments with this new knowledge in play. In this instance, he learned that if he’d been more open to the idea of what the stranger said (“No. Why?”) he might have been able to keep the conversation going and learn more than he did. As it was, he later finds out that giving someone a “why” turns out to be very helpful in getting a “Yes” from them.

That is the lovely thing about this book, seeing Jia experiment, assess and experiment some more, refining his approach to the topic, and people, that he engages in his rejection experiment. The other enjoyable aspect is the seemingly nutty ideas he tries, from asking a stranger if he could play soccer in his back-garden, to the experiment that went viral in which he enters a doughnut shop and asks for Olympic ring-shaped doughnuts... and gets them! This is pretty much the pattern of the book, Jia’s inventive experiments detailed and recounted, and the lessons he learns along the way. This makes it a very easy read, and I’m sure most readers will relate to Jia’s rejection experiences in a number of ways, even if they’ve never personally asked if they can give the safety message on a plane.

Rejection Proof is a fantastic book and a great, in-depth accompaniment to Jia’s TED talk. I’ve embedded his TED talk below, but you can also find videos of his various rejection challenges on YouTube. You can also visit his website here to learn more about the other things he is doing. If you struggle in any way with rejection, whether from others, or by way of self-rejecting yourself so that others never get the chance to reject (or accept) you, reading Rejection Proof will give you a new way to look at the issue, and handy tips in how to deal with it when it rears its head in your life. I give Rejection Proof a hearty 5/5.

Book Title: Rejection Proof
Author: Jia Jiang
ISBN: 978-1847941442
RRP: £8.99

Rejection Proof Cover Image © Copyright Random House Business.

Wednesday, 12 April 2017

Food Review: Plantain Chips

Food Review: Plantain Chips

I like to expand my horizons when the opportunity presents itself. Rather than searching for the venue of the local Fight Club, or getting into an argument with a piss head on the high street, I decided to treat myself to something in the International Food aisle at Tesco. I can’t actually remember the name of the aisle or section, but I would like to acknowledge that the chances are high that even our most British of British cuisine probably comes from distant shores too, but lets not get bogged down with semantics too soon.

As you will see from the picture, I bought myself a packet of Plantain Chips, hoping for some of the “rainforest magic” promised by the packaging. I envisioned myself maybe gaining the power to make it rain whenever I wanted, or to master the calls of myriad creatures, scaring the old and the young alike. At the least, I thought, these chips looked like they might be some kind of dried banana type thing, and I like bananas, so they should taste alright.

A Google search reveals that plantains are indeed a variety of banana, but starchier, less sweet, and inedible unless cooked. When I tasted a chip, I did get this bananary notion, but it was that of a subdued banana, the kind that might not have played the lottery last week and missed out on a hundred quid prize when a few of its usual numbers came out. The few times I’ve eaten dried banana, the taste has been more like an extrovert prancing around a party with its privates hanging out; it just gets your attention. The Plantain Chips were sweet, but in a less exhibitionist way. They’re also loudly crunchy, so I would avoid taking them anywhere that requires any modicum of quietness. Don’t take them to the cinema, as they would definitely violate the Wittertainment Code of Conduct

Would I buy them again? I’m not sure. I do feel my life gained something from having tried them, and the “what is plantain” Internet search certainly gave me something to put in my mental trivia bank for a possible pub quiz one day, even though I don’t do pub quizzes. Never have, never will. All I know is that I danced with the possibility of disappointment and came out on the other side relatively unscathed and mildly satisfied, and that’s a win in my book any time.

Tuesday, 11 April 2017

Dark Music Review – Devil is Fine

Dark Music Review – Devil is Fine

Review Written By Casey Douglass

Devil is Fine Cover Art

Imagine this: Django sacrifices a goat on stage while intimidating slave chants roar and screeching guitar riffs burn in the background. Then the rhythmic chain rattling evoking a satanic summoning makes way for the eerily familiar melodies of Norwegian black metal.

What do you get if you cross the spirituals of a slave chain gang and black metal? You get something like Zeal and Ardor’s Devil is Fine, a creation that adopts aspects of each style, makes some creative twists, and then puts them back together again to birth something that is quite brilliant. And I almost missed out on it.

I’d heard some of the info about Zeal and Ardor, checked out a little bit of title track Devil is Fine and decided it didn’t really click with me. In my ignorance however, I didn’t pay attention to the fact that the chain gang spirituals' words had been changed to worship the devil rather than god. It was a few weeks later and a revealing interview read in Metal Hammer that sent me scurrying back to YouTube for another look at the video. I bought the album on my next trip into town, and I have well and truly clicked with it now.

Devil is Fine makes great use of the associated elements of a chain gang, from the distinctive soulful vocals to the clinking of chains and the clapping of hands to add rhythm. From the metal side of the camp, frenetic strumming, tortured notes and the recognisable sound of the classic metal roar are all used to great effect. Come on Down is a track that is a prime example of this. Beginning with the lyric “I can’t see no devil in the field” a few repetitions later, it’s joined by the artfully played notes of an electric guitar and the aforementioned roar, before quietening again and shortly after giving way to a seriously ear-wormy “oooh ooh ooooh” backing vocal. This is something a few tracks on the album do very well, the slow build and release of an audio roller coaster.

Another reason that I found myself warming very quickly to Devil is Fine is that I have an immediate interest in anything that adopts the tone of devil worship, from books set in Hell to other bands (see Ghost). As far as Devil is Fine, the slaves are turning to Satan as an act of turning away from their Christian captors. Manuel Gagneux, the creator of Zeal and Ardor, spent a lot of time researching the occult to get things right in this regard. The artwork on the front features real slave Robert Smalls and the logo over this is the Sigil of Lucifer.

The words used in the lyrics on Devil is Fine just get to me in that sacrilegious way, but none more so than those found in Blood in the River:

(Backed by chains clanking and echoing beat):

“A good god is a dead one,
a good god is the one that brings the fire.”


“A good lord is a dark one.
a good lord is the one that brings the fire.
the riverbed will run red with the blood of the saints and the blood of the holy”.

I mean, holy shit, you’ll find no punches pulled here, and I love it, all added to by the heft of a metal core.

There are other surprises on Devil is Fine such as more electronic-based tracks to break things up, a xylophone/glockenspiel type music box quality to Children’s Summon, and a final track that seems to be the audio equivalent of candy floss, something seemingly light but still hinting at sadness (particularly in the case of real candy floss, when you could have eaten something far more tasty than flippin’ candyfloss).

Devil is Fine is a more than fine album (aha!). It’s not very long, which only left me wanting more, although it does lend itself to easy repeat listening due to it’s brevity. If you like the subject matter and music styles involved, you should can check it out here. You can also check out Come On Down below:

Album Title: Devil is Fine
Artist: Zeal and Ardor
Released: 1 March 2017
Label: Radicalis, MVKA Music

Sunday, 9 April 2017

Dark Music Review – Endtime Psalms

Dark Music Review – Endtime Psalms

Review Written By Casey Douglass

Endtime Psalms Album Art

Aegri somnia returns with his long awaited second album on Cryo Chamber. The hum of the Endtime Psalms echo through burnt out buildings. Awaiting impending death as the sky grows dark. Black smoke wheezing from charred windows. We were born from stardust, but are but puppets in a mindless game of DNA manipulation, life. Deep analogue drones rumble under the heavy boots of the human machine. Aegri Somnia plays the role of field recorder and audio manipulator with surgical precision.

The analogue drones of Endtime Psalms really put me in mind of some of the 80s synth-type soundtracks seen in sci-fi or horror movies of that era. While not the same, I must admit to half expecting a sun-glasses wearing leather jacket clad hero chewing a toothpick and squinting into the twilight of sunset to appear. Those images soon left me once I broke into the album proper though, the soundscapes created by Aegri Somnia far darker than any film.

Most of the tracks feature a selection of field-recordings that sit well with the drones, from water-based dripping or waves, to more industrial metal creakings, clankings and scrapings. Some of these effects are toyed with and twisted into something more sinister, distortions and strange echoes creating an immersive narrative, even if you don’t fully know what is happening and can only guess. A good example of this is the very first track C.A.H.R, a track that begins with the gentle sound of water, is met by a textured analogue drone and android scream-like distortions, but ends with what sounds like a pursuit through crunching snow.

The track Endtime Psalms also features some wet field-recording, but I must admit that the wet flapping at the start made my mind think more of a body being skinned for some reason. Maybe that is just me being twisted though. A sacral drone and a deeper counterpoint interplay with static as things thicken. The midpoint of the track features voices, insects and more wetness, before a lighter melody sees the track to its end.

DNA Cult is another track that I particularly enjoyed, its gentle start of static and quiet squeaks soon joined by pleasing tones, but around the midpoint changes into a grinding insect-leg scratching space, furtive scurryings accompanied by a quiet bell tolling and chimes. The track ends with delicate beeps of Morse code, changing slightly into a more buzzing-beep as it ends. I liked DNA Cult for creating the sensation of lightness and darkness, and with the title of the track in mind, the inference of a future-looking immortality project being thwarted by human frailty and evil intentions.

Something else that Endtime Psalms does very well is to toy with the listener’s expectations when it comes to how a track is behaving. A number of tracks feature the building of layers, maybe a drone, other tones and field-recordings, but sometimes, just as one element sounds like it is slowly fading out, it might end even more abruptly than you thought, leaving a void that the other sounds still playing make seem even more powerful. This isn’t glaring or disrupting in any way, just a very clever device for keeping things slightly unpredictable.

Anyone who has read enough of my dark ambient reviews will probably know that I appreciate albums that make quite heavy use field-recordings, so I found myself almost naturally liking Endtime Psalms. The analogue drones were something that I was struggling to find words to describe, they certainly feel like they have a warmth or texture that other drones might lack, and I appreciate their effect on the way the other sounds are received by the listener. The soundscapes created are dark and interesting, and the level of talent that has gone in to making this album certainly shines through. If you like drone-heavy field-recorded dark ambient, this is an album well worth checking out.

Visit the Endtime Psalms page on Bandcamp here for more information, and be sure to check out DNA Cult below.

I was given a free copy of this album to review.

Album Title: Endtime Psalms
Artist: Aegri Somnia
Label: Cryo Chamber
Released: March 7, 2017

Saturday, 8 April 2017



Tasty, but not the eggs I am looking for...

No, the title isn’t some kind of lame Mr Burns impression or pun. It wasn’t even intended to reflect that it’s Easter, or be a nod to Lent. It was prompted by thinking about some really rather lovely tuck shop sweets that I used to buy when I was in the Cub Scouts. I know that when you are hovering around double digits in age, it’s quite easy to be impressed by anything, even reaching double digits in age. After Cubs, I used to buy about 20 pence worth of tuck shop bounty. That’s probably confusing as I’m not sure they sold Bounty, let alone one for that price. 20 pence used to buy me ten jelly fried eggs, a 5p Highland Toffee bar, and probably the last 5p went on something frivolous like fizzy cola bottle jellies. I'll take each in turn, as I did back then actually:

Jelly fried eggs : I’m not sure if this is what they were really called. I know we called them fried eggs, but to someone ignorant of sweet-based lingo, they might think we had a genuine fried egg placed in our eager palms, ready to suck at the yoke before someone offered us an ill-timed high five. These jelly fried eggs were lovely. The whites were soft and pleasant to chew, the yolks chewier and tasted different enough to approximate the difference found between real egg yolks and whites. I miss those jelly fried eggs, because the ones you can by today are utter trash. They are either so hard that they feel like the thing the dentist puts in your mouth to take an impression, or they are so bland that you might as well suck at the breeze as a van drives past, you’d get more flavour (and probably a lung problem too before long).

Highland Toffee bar : For 5p, this was the investment, or long term purchase. This flat bar that was so very attached to its wrapper, once opened, would last you the walk home, and then some. It was a sheet of toffee basically, thin and bendy. Some serious web searching just now (in expression, if not time spent) didn't really throw up anything that looked like the bar I used to buy. The ones on the image search either look too long, too skinny or too new. Or old (just to cover all bases). I must make the effort to try a new one at some point, although I will brace myself for the disappointment that I can predict looming over the horizon.

Finally, we get to the fizzy cola jellies (or even the non-fizzy ones, depending on what was left): Modern day equivalents certainly seem acceptable when compared to the memory of the ones of my youth. Naturally you can get the really cheap and nasty ones that taste like bleach, or the amazing ones that actually taste of actual cola. Of course, you also get the fifty shades of cola in-between. It’s nice that some things don’t seem to change too much, although tell that to someone who grew up with cola cubes and I’m sure they’ll chase you on their penny farthing like the cheeky git you are.

So while you are scoffing your chocolate and sweets this Easter, pause and wonder what delights you might never have tried and that are probably now lost to us, unless someone had the forsight to place some in a time capsule somewhere. I truly believe that the first time traveller will be someone tired of their chocolate bars growing smaller and their jelly sweets tasting like pre-chewed gum. Okay, I don’t truly believe that, but it made me giggle.

Friday, 7 April 2017

Dark Music Review – Red Moon

Dark Music Review – Red Moon

Review Written By Casey Douglass

Red Moon Album Art

Red Moon is Phonothek’s second album on Cryo Chamber, continuing the theme of the inevitable death of our planet. A sad lonely trumpet echoes between ruined apartment complexes. The ground is dry and dusty, nothing grows here. Where once laughter of children lingered, now only the creak of broken swings remain. The earth is dying. The chosen got on the ships, but not you. Red Moon explores a world in flames through use of atonal instrumentation and layered atmospherics. Recorded in Georgia (Europe) it brings the sound of the old world to life as it shines light on the new and dying one.

The album description above certainly paints a tantalising picture for fans of the post-apocalyptic and dark ambient music genre. If you fall into either, or both, of these camps, I think you will enjoy any time spent in the company of Red Moon. I think it also might be an album that uses more brass instruments than any other I’ve listened to, in any genre. This certainly added to my interest in the compositions but on a personal level, I think that I found I’m not the biggest fan of brass instruments, no matter how skilfully deployed. There are other instruments too, some lovely violin notes and the tones of a piano, so I don’t mean to make the brass stuff more prominent than it is.

Phonothek makes excellent use of voices to add strange atmospheres to his soundscapes. Whether they are talking calmly and roaming from ear to ear, or more distant echoes, they add a human element to soundscapes that hint at the very scarcity of human involvement. I was particularly impressed with the effect achieved on third track: Come in the Whisper, the “te-te-te” aspect of what is being said setting up a hypnotic beat that sits perfectly with the other sounds around it, which in this case are echoing whispers, the see-sawing of strings and deep vibrations. Think of Gollum’s cave in LOTR, but a much more hostile and creepy space, and you are half way there.

Cry From The Abyss is another standout track for me, one that begins with bubbling water pressure and seems to get deeper and deeper as it progresses. The high tones and deep thrum made me think of some kind of leviathan creature swimming through the darkness, a halo of luminescent plankton or something similar illuminating its massive flanks. This track created a feeling of “stifling distance” for me, and it was quite enjoyable.

In the Smell of the Wolves is another track that I wanted to mention, and in this the brass instrument used does a tremendous job of sounding like a wolf’s howl at times. The track also features a strong beat and a chant-like vocal that gives every impression of a wolf hunting along abandoned streets as rain washes the asphalt.

I enjoyed Red Moon but I did find the brass instruments really not to my taste. There were a few instances of the blowing of air down one instrument without a note being played, almost like trying to clear a non-existent blockage. I just found it slightly irritating and it brought me out of any revelry I might have entered. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as other tracks do this in their own way at times too, the earlier mentioned Come in the Whisper gets a little overloaded for me after a sinister start, but in that instance I appreciated the effect. I could imagine that Red Moon will really chime with someone who has a more natural warmth towards brass tones, but as with all music, check it out yourself and make up your own mind. A very decent album.

Visit the Red Moon page on Bandcamp here for more information, and be sure to check out Come in the Whisper below:

I was given a free copy of this album to review.

Album Title: Red Moon
Artist: Phonothek
Label: Cryo Chamber
Released: April 4, 2017

Thursday, 6 April 2017

Dark Humour – Spider Warfare Is Just The Beginning...

Dark Humour – Spider Warfare Is Just The Beginning...

By Casey Douglass

Danger ahead.

Living in England has its benefits, one of which is the apparent lack of wildlife that wants to kill you, drag out outside and slowly digest your body in some dark corner of the garden. I say apparent, because there is an insidious threat lurking in every house, shed, woodland and allotment. The creepy-crawlies and bugs are out to get us.

Take the spider as my first example. How many times have you strolled between two objects and felt a strand of web wrap itself across your face? Some think these are just passive support structures for a web not yet finished but these people are so very wrong. Every silken strand across your face is a failed attempt by a spider to garrotte you. Don’t be fooled by the full web nearby, its occupant watching and trying to steer you into the trap. Turn and walk away. One day they will perfect the consistency of the strands, getting them upto a lethal specification for removing heads from necks. These strands seem at their most abundant during the morning, so I would make sure you don’t leave the house until at least midday.

No matter how sceptical you might be, carry on dear reader, the information here just might save your life.

My next warning concerns the humble snail, the proverbial slow coach that leaves a glistening trail like a slippery kiss wherever it goes. This trail is placed in the hope that it will make you slip and break your neck. Snails occasionally team up with slugs in this endeavour but there is a strange class system at work whenever they meet and commune, loosely based around housing permits and residency rights. Don’t be fooled though, if you see a snail and a slug together, they’ve put their differences aside to bring about your downfall.

Now we move onto bees, and their often allies, wasps. These insects are adjusting their own humming, fine-tuning it as we speak to interfere with our Wi-Fi signals. Everyone knows that Internet speed into the countryside is usually a joke. This isn’t just down to slow infrastructure and distance, the hives of these creatures are like our Wi-Fi Extenders but in reverse, crippling phone technology with the mighty humming they produce. Moving to the city might be advisable to avoid this threat, although the mobile networks are likely to become a target too at some point.

An even more baffling scheme now, and this concerns the humble woodlouse, the armadillo of the insect world. For some time now, woodlice have been rolling themselves into little balls and slowly replacing the cavity wall insulation of buildings. To what end I have no idea, I guess that we can only shrug our shoulders and stay vigilant for any sound of mobilisation.

This is only a brief look at the dangers that scurry, buzz and slither around us, but I can’t wrap it up without mentioning the fly. A fly is mainly thought of as being a pathogen spreader and general nuisance, but its real aim is psychological warfare. This takes the form of buzzing around a sleeper’s bedroom at night, tickling their face, and generally doing anything to keep them awake. This is such a common occurrence, nothing is thought of it, but sleep deprivation can cause all manner of issues, from low concentration to paranoia. Sleep with windows closed, even in summer!

I will end this post here as I feel I’ve given enough warning about the perils that litter the ground ahead. I apologise for any spelling mistakes or garbled words, I haven’t been sleeping lately. Take care and stay sharp.

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