The Hitchhikers Guide to Anecdata
A R T I C L E
The Hitchhikers Guide to Anecdata
By Ian Duggan
In July, Dan Satherley of Anecdata set out to publish 52 songs in 52 weeks, in a project he has called 'A Year in the Life'. First off the block was 'Misunderstanding Ovation', inspired by a cult American singer stranded in New Zealand following the US elections. It isn’t too hard to figure out who that is, with lyrics like “back home, for once, they did the right thing; so let's hear it for me 'til then; and we clap, and we clap”. And that sets the scene for Anecdata, as there is seemingly an interesting story behind every song. There are songs about Covid, the housing crisis, the TV series Lost… and UVB-76 – a radio station that apparently started operating in Russia around 1997, broadcasting (according to Wikipedia); “a short, monotonous buzz tone, repeating at a rate of approximately 25 tones per minute, 24 hours per day”. There are always new and interesting facts to learn while listening to Anecdata. The releases are currently stalled at 16 songs in 16 weeks; he has taken a break, due to lockdown causing some issues with his productivity. So, what better time to look back over my five favourite songs by Anecdata, to provide a gateway for potential listeners to what is quite an extensive back-catalogue!
First up, and highly topical right now, from 2017s ‘You Do Not Do’ is the song ‘Anti-Faxxers’. With its poppy accessibility, and focus on the delusions of the anti-vaccination movement, it is probably more prescient now than when it was released. Among the lyrics that resonate with me the most are “put trust in statisticians, and ditch your superstition”, while the song finishes with a more direct message: “you're killing the children, you're fucking the future, you belong in jail, you're Cain to the Abel”. It is difficult not to compare this song with Phoenix Foundation’s ‘Supernatural’, about people who buy into conspiracies like chemtrails, and more directly to locals Ghost of Electricity’s ‘When I Was Young’; “When I was young we didn’t need to be immunised, we cured polio the natural way, which was to die; become disabled”.
The next song comes from the 2016 album ‘By Choice or Design’, which was the first release as Anecdata after Satherley's previous recording project ‘Radio Over Moscow’ (which he initiated in 2009). ‘The Time Traveller's Dilemma’ seems very reminiscent of something from Kraftwerk’s ‘The Man Machine’ mashed up with the opening theme from Arthur C. Clarkes Mysterious World. It is different from the rest of the album, being slower than most, and with the vocals more robotic. My favourite (indistinct) lyric from the song is, “if the space-time continuum collapses, will you cry?”
My favourite track from 2021’s ‘Undelete’ represents a recycled song from Satherley’s ‘Radio Over Moscow’ days, re-recorded and made more listenable than its previous 2010 version. ‘Hide the Decline (We’re no Better than You)’ is a look inside the mind of a conspiracy theorist, who believes themselves to be more expert than the experts – again, highly relevant in 2021; “I’ve never worn a white coat; or learned the difference between mean, mode and median; still I feel I’m qualified”. Specifically, this song takes its name from a conspiracy theory about a supposed collusion by climatologists to ‘fix’ the data regarding climate change to suit their own agenda. It features the brilliant and insightful line; “it makes one cry for the days before the internet ruined our collective intellect”.
From the same album, ‘Landlords’ provides some social commentary on the ‘rental trap’, and the role landlords play; “we call ourselves the providers, but all we bring are the spiders; they can trap you in our web; as you watch our prices rise even higher”, and “If you don't pay more than half you earn; how will I afford avocado?”. And it is one particularly cheesy, poppy line in this song that is also perhaps one of my favourites on the album: “greedy guts, full of pus, waiting for the bubble bust”.
The 2017 album, ‘But Her Emails...’, differs from other Anecdata albums, in that it had a heavy political focus throughout. A concept album, it was largely recorded between the election and inauguration of President Trump, and the events surrounding this have formed the central focus on this album. Many of the songs begin with quotes sampled from Trump speeches, with the themes of the songs set from there. For example, the album starts with the infamous, “Grab ‘em by the…” quote, while the song ‘Never Clever Ever’ opens with his defence of his tiny hands. Some songs were even scarier though, such as ‘Waiting for Armageddon (Kamikaze Privateer)’, and listening to it now can only make you happy for the demise of Trump’s presidency.
As a bonus track, I leave you with a 2015 ‘Radio Over Moscow’ track, Anecdata’s predecessor. One of my favourite Satherley tracks over his career is ‘The Wow! Signal’, named after the signal picked up by the SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) project in 1977, which had the characteristics that might be expected to come from an extra-terrestrial source. It is a song that is seemingly about the paranoia of aliens coming to Earth, mentions panspermia, the theory that life on the Earth originated from materials originating from outer space, and has a recurring line of “the truth is out there”, the tagline from the X-Files.