james debate
james debate

Tuesday 27 November 2012

Genre Indie Rock
Label Frenchkiss
Producers Alex Newport

bloc party four

It seems a long time ago that Bloc Party were the toast of the British indie rock scene. Storming out of the gates with two critical and commercial successes on their first two albums, they seemed a band with wide appeal; capable of both roof raising rock and melodic masterpieces.

Then it all went pear-shaped. Frontman Kele Okereke increasingly dragged the band towards tastelessly heavy electronica, much to the chagrin of fans and critics alike. The result was a band seemingly dead in the water until Kele departed to try his hand at a solo album, an ultimately fruitless endeavour that nevertheless appears to have allowed him to get it all out of his system.

Whatever the story, Bloc Party have returned, and the good news is that they're heading in the right direction. Four manages to rekindle some of the magic and style that made the band so special to begin with, offering songs that capture the depth of tone that has been missing in recent years.

Probably the best example is the not-quite-titular Day Four, exhibiting a melodic tenderness and soul not seen since the band's classic tracks I Still Remember and So Here We Are.

Elsewhere more upbeat songs like the excellent Truth indicate that Bloc Party have remembered how to rock out without sounding like a backed up sink. It's a change that I welcome.

So is this Bloc Party back to their best? Certainly not, but they are definitely moving in the right direction toward getting their groove back. While there are some very good songs on here indeed, they are few and far between, and much of the album ends lacking the consistency of their former glories. That said, the album is solid overall and a promising return to the recording studio for the boys from London.

Must Listen:
Day Four

Tuesday 6 November 2012

Election day is finally upon us, a closely fought race between two people 90% of Americans hope never to hear from again. We may be a little late to this party, but here are The Ephemeric's last minute predictions before the polls close.

election 2012 ephemeric

Presidential Election: Obama Re-elected
Democratic Party electoral votes: 332
Republican Party electoral votes: 206
Key States to watch: CO, OH, VA, FL

The media has been making much of this "too close to call" election, in what is almost certainly nothing to do with a desire for high ratings come election night. The fact is that, love him or hate him, at no point during this election has Barack Obama held a losing position in the polls. Even when Mitt Romney has led in the national polls, the State level polling has never shown Romney with a winning position in the electoral college.

Some have tried to blame biased polling, or other unseemly methods of fraud, but the fact is that particularly in recent cycles the polling consensus is usually pretty good. In 2008 RealClearPolitics.com's poll aggregate was accurate to within 0.3% of the final popular vote. Meanwhile FiveThirtyEight.com blogger Nate Silver used his polling-based forecast model to correctly predict 49 out of 50 states and all 35 Senate races. The undeniable truth is that the polling has been quite clear in showing an Obama advantage, and if Romney is going to win, it will require a break from historical precedent.

The four closest States in terms of polling include Colorado, Ohio, Virginia and Florida. These are all States that Obama carried in 2008, and he has led in the polls there for much of this election cycle. Following Romney's strong victory in the first Presidential debate, his subsequent polling surge saw him lead or tie in each of these States aside from Ohio. The problem Mitt Romney faces is that realistically he must win each of these States to win the election. If Obama wins even one, then Romney would have to over-perform in a more reliably blue state like Pennsylvania or Wisconsin, and right now there's little in the polling or anywhere else to suggest this is likely. If one of those states is called for Obama, it's a good sign that the election is pretty much wrapped up.

Senate Elections: Democrats retain majority
Democratic Party Senate seats: 53
Republican Party Senate seats: 47
Key States to watch: IN, MT, VA, MA

Earlier in the cycle the Republican Party was considered near certain to take a majority in the Senate. The Democratic majority was slim, and the 2012 cycle presented a far more favourable lineup of pickup opportunities for the Republicans even compared to 2010. However in recent months there has been a major turnaround, and the RCP average now expects Democrats to maintain their current majority. Nate Silver predicts the same, and suggests that the Democrats are equally likely to gain a seat as lose one.

So how has this happened? For most of the past year, Obama's poll numbers have been on the rise. This seems to have had a knock-on effect with the closest Senate races. Races like Massachusetts  and Virginia that were previously considered complete toss-ups are now quite consistently leaning blue in the polls. The other big factor is the Republican Party itself. It's hard to ignore the fact that the party keeps shooting itself in the foot as it were. It cost them the Senate majority in 2010 when off-the-wall candidates like Christine O'Donnell and Sharon Angle threw away what should have been easy victories, and this year history seems to be repeating. The obvious examples are Todd Akin in Missouri and Richard Mourdock in Indiana, two states that should have been a formality for the Republicans, but now lean Democrat thanks to the two candidates' unorthodox comments on "rape" of all things.

A Republican majority in the Senate looks out of reach now, but they still have a very good shot of making gains. Whatever the result, few analysts expect a change by more than a seat or two in either direction.

House Elections: Republicans retain majority
Democratic Party House seats: 207
Republican Party House seats: 228

The United States House of Representatives has swung back and forth like a pendulum over the last few election cycles: a sweeping Democratic victory in 2008, a sweeping Republican victory in 2010. Never before has the House changed hands to such a degree three times in a row. For this reason few people if any expect the Democrats to be able to take back the chamber this year.

There were moments during the high points of Obama's polling over the summer in which it looked as though the majority could be within reach, but those numbers have subsided now. The RCP average shows an exact tie on the eve of election. Without getting into the nitty gritty of how the generic ballot works, this would see a moderate swing back towards the Democratic Party, as most people expect. The question is how big will this swing be.

The Democrats need a net gain of 26 seats to take back the House. This seems highly unlikely for three reasons:

  1. The generic ballot is unanimously considered a tie, in the previous three wave elections 2006, 2008 and 2010 the vote margin for the winning party was 16.8%, 9.5% and 6% respectively. 
  2. Individual House race polls have been relatively stable this cycle, and consensus seems to suggest a Democratic gain of about 10 seats.
  3. The Republican majority is large, but not so large that they've overextended themselves into deep blue States as was the case with Democrats in 2010.
So while there is likely to be little of consequence arising from this year's House elections, the expected result is a modest gain for the Democrats.

Media Circus: Unbearable

Of course my favourite part of the evening: the media circus that surrounds coverage of the elections. My safest prediction of the night is that each one will be as mind-numbing as it is predictable. So briefly then, what are your options for election coverage tonight?

Pros: Relatively neutral, Wolf Blitzer
Cons: 90% Twitter, obsessed with toys (eg holograms)

Fox News
Pros: Thorough coverage, usually first to project a winner
Cons: Only so many times I can watch footage of "scary minorities" at the polls before I start to feel uncomfortable.

Pros: The pure unbridled joy on Chris Matthews face might warm even my bitter heart
Cons: It's like Fox News aimed at people who hate Fox News, no wonder no one watches.

Pros: British, less bullshit
Cons: Euro-centric coverage

Pros: Neutral, pure facts
Cons: No way I'm staying awake at 4AM with C-Span on.

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