The Best of 2017

REGULAR readers may well have noticed one thing missing from the last post – assuming that is, they have read these two sister pieces in the right order.

For a blog that rattles on about music, it was sorely lacking from the last entry. But hey, this started out as a travel-writing site and there’s been precious little of that recently.

Time to address both issues – if losing weight and getting is the main aim for the 2018, more regular articles and travel posts is the second.

As for music, there’s a good reason there was no mention of the A-Z iPod challenge, mainly because it hadn’t got anywhere (before this weekend’s travel-laced trip to London) since we left it at Girl From Mars.

That’s mainly because my listening has been concentrating on another annual tradition, wading through albums which made the 2017’s finest lists but which never caught my eye.

Still investigating some of them, but time for the end result of my much belated list of 2017’s best albums

  • Album of the Year – Every Valley, Public Service Broadcasting

No surprise to anyone who has heard me banging on about it. There’s even a post all about it. Not an opinion shared by all – many plump for their previous album The Race for Space – but the often emotional journey through the history and suffering of mining communities is by far their most complete work, imbued with a heart lacking in previous efforts.

  • Surprisingly Close to Top Spot – Sleep Well Beast, The National

Giving Public Service Broadcasting top spot would have come out of the blue not that long ago, The National hot on their heels would have been an even bigger surprise. They have totally passed me by for years, despite the devotion of some very good musical judges.

This album changed that. Every listen has closed the gap to top spot. Who knows where we’ll be as time goes by – Drive-By Truckers emerged from the pack to be undoubted number one a year ago.

  • Discovery of the Year – Stranger In The Alps, Phoebe Bridgers

Not one that popped up on too many best of… lists, but did crop up enough to pique my interest. And boy, was it worth investing some time in, gatecrashing the top three of the year.

It’s far from perfect. Like many debut albums, it does slightly peter out but her voice, sheer honesty and some serious songwriting chops are enough to leave you wanting more – especially given the 1-2-3 punch of the opening salvo of  Smoke Signals (possibly song of the year which manages to reference The Smiths, Lemmy and Bowie in the course of five extraordinary minutes), the catchy Motion Sickness and the emotionally fraught Funeral.

Ever so slightly in love with her. One to watch.

  • Really Can’t Decide Album of the Year – The Nashville Sound, Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit

Could easily have dismissed as disappointment of the year, but probably doesn’t deserve that – having heard much of it live, reassessed it. It’s just not a patch on Isbell’s previous two offerings.

Think the problem is summed up in the title. His Americana storytelling has taken on too much of a Nashville sheen, sounding too country, too corporate Nashville, too Radio 2.

  • Rethink of the Year – Prisoner,  Ryan Adams

Nobody crops up more often on the A-Z journey through my iPod than Adams – with the possible exception of Dave Gedge – but on first couple of hearings, wasn’t expecting this to appear on an end-of-year lists.

But when it kept cropping up in the upper reaches, went back to a second look and, you know what, it’s better than first thought. Not perfect, certainly not a Heartbreaker (what is?), but his most complete offering for some time.

  • It’s Good But… of the Year – American Dream, LCD Soundsystem

Another which kept cropping up near the top of magazine lists – right at the top of more than one. Another band  that have only really skimmed past my consciousness. At their best, very good, but the fall off is quite quick.

Don’t think this hits the heights of North American Scum, New York I Love You or a few others, but consistently pretty good. Just not that good.

  • Tenuous Claim to Fame Award – Earl Grey, Girl Ray

It almost hurts me to criticise this (however much that is mixed with praise), having first met the singer, guitarist and main songwriter when she was just a few days old. And been the best man at her parents’ wedding (her mum’s in the video just up there and her dad is, in many ways, the godfather of the Travel Marmot).

And do really like a lot of it. Just can’t help thinking they’d have been better off waiting before putting out their debut album and flesh out their sound bit more.

Definitely ones to watch.

  • Collaboration of the Year Award – Lotta Sea Lice, Kurt Vile & Courtney Barnett

Had a brief obsession with Barnett when she first appeared on the scene. This one came out of leftfield but after a couple of listens makes perfect sense.

  • Worth A Listen, But It’s Not…. Award – Shared between a string of old favourites who returned with perfectly decent albums. Just not ones which ever emerged from the shadows of earlier classics.

Between them, At The Drive-In (who returned 17 years after the truly wonderful noise that is Relationship of Command with in ter a li a), The Shins (Heartworms), Grandaddy (Last Place) and Billy Bragg (Bridges Not Walls) have released some of my all-time favourite albums. Bit further down the list this year guys.

Nearest to recapturing former glories were Ride whose Weather Diaries was one of the year’s present surprises. That Arcade Fire’s Everything Now failed to spark was not that big a surprise.

  • Well Worth Seeking Out – Not the top echelon, but worth anyone’s time. A few new discoveries, eponymous efforts by Cigarettes After Sex and The Weather Station , ever-reliable efforts from Mogwai (Every Country’s Sun) and  John Murray (A Short History of Decay) and the return of Michael Head, now monikered with The Red Elastic Band on Adios Señor Pussycat.

  • And The Rest… – Worth a listen and, in my case, further investigation:
    Antisocialites – Alvvays
    Love In The Fourth Dimension – The Big Moon
    Joan Shelley – Joan Shelley
    English Tapas – Sleaford Mods
    Relatives In Descent – Protomartyr
    A Deeper Understanding – The War On Drugs
    Out In The Storm – Waxahatchee
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Under A Well-Lit Sky

NO matter how stable the genius, best-laid plans have a tendency to get swept away by real life.

Some get upset by that and lash out in 280 characters or less. Repeatedly. Others put off attempting to string together rather longer, less knee-jerk combinations of words, no matter how many times it makes it to the top of the to-do list.

Genius? Almost certainly not. Stable? Depends which doctor you talk to.

And so 17 days into 2018, one of the great traditions of the Travel Marmot swings around again – the new year, state of the nation address planned for New Year’s Day finally gets written.

Well, started anyway. Let’s see if we can get it finished despite the distractions of televised football (it’s Chelsea, so pretty safe), Twitter and the need to cook at some point in the not too distant future.*

This tradition started three years ago in a dark, peaceful beach bar in Ghana. It continues for a fourth year in a considerably better lit flat in Gloucester, considerably colder  despite the fact my boiler has been fixed after a couple of days without heat or hot water.

At least the need for a shower finally got me back to the gym.

That initial new year address was written, unplanned, on January 1 (although not posted for quite a few days). The next three have been scheduled to follow suit – the point where those best-laid plans have gone astray.

Things just kept getting in the way. Work, largely, a mini African reunion in Nice, losing weight (more later, not much of an excuse but have spent more time shopping and cooking), binge watching Stranger Things (no spoilers, not finished yet) and largely finding excuses to avoid spending even more time tapping away at a keyboard.

Still got here almost a week earlier than two years ago (starting it at least), albeit more than a week later than last year’s missive when the tradition was expanded to include my pick of the previous 12 months’ album. Again, more of that to come and why this really does need to be done on schedule.

Best albums of 2017: The final cut

So what has changed in those 365 days? Well, 373 to be accurate (and climbing).

On the face of it, not that much.

The blog had been on a hiatus, planned as opposed to just not getting round to it often enough, was living in the same place, doing the same job and was working through a tax issue that was muddying the finances for any travel planning.

Was about to head off to London to the Adventure Travel Show to get a few ideas and at least try to salve those itchy feet.

That much certainly hasn’t changed. There’s a few loose ideas and it was off to Olympia again at the weekend, part reunion, part travel fix.

My flat’s over there somewhere in the distance

Yes, still living in the same place – thankfully, warming nicely after a couple of nights layered up as the mercury dropped at the worst moment – but a fair few things have changed.

On paper, the job is the same but in terms of the working week it is unrecognisable from a year ago. No daily deadline to scurry towards, more a gradual cranking up of the pressure as we head towards Wednesday and the weekly appointment with the press.

There’s also no commute. Well, not so you’d notice. The hour or more on the bus every morning replaced with a gentle stroll a couple of hundred yards to the relocated office.

Not sure all my colleagues – a much more select bunch nowadays – appreciate the move so much having suffered a reversal of travelling fortunes, but now there’s a chance to do something meaningful with the evening. Like writing a blog post. Or going to the gym.

Oh yeah.

The other major change, bar the fact Gloucester have started winning regularly, has been my waistline.

It’s not a massive change, not yet. You might not even notice it, bar my trousers falling down (nothing that new there) unless my belt is pulled so tight it is almost garotting me. It you can be garotted there.

But after seven weeks, the difference is starting to show.

There’s closing in on two stone gone, wearing an old pair of jeans a size smaller (although with no buttons in the fly, not in public) and a lot of walking in Nice was, well, quite nice.

Certainly could not have covered so much ground on foot a few months ago. Then 10 minutes or so would have reduced my left hip to a throbbing knot, shooting pains down to my knee (which has given the odd minor grumble since the much-delayed return to the gym). Partly down to a hip issue, partly my total lack of conditioning.

Some more expensive flats near water

But only when things got steep – and they did, what with neighbouring Monaco being built largely on what felt like a cliff – was there any doubts that this was not a good idea.

Even my back held up to carrying a bag back to the airport when we decided walking was the best option with the Promenade des Anglais closed to buses and taxis for a race.

And it was probably a good idea after breaking a fair few rules of the diet every time we were ready for another round (although never thought it would lead to ordering a Coke Zero in a McDonald’s. Overlooking the Grand Prix circuit in Monaco –  country number 58 on my list).

Add all that up and the whole weight loss thing has gone pretty well. It’s not all been easy and, don’t worry, there won’t be any preaching here but this is something worth sticking with.

There’s a long way to go. Not to any target, don’t really want to set those beyond the next landmark but throw in increased gym and the aim is simply to keep going and see where we get.

Not so much a new year’s resolution, just a fresh way of life – rather like it is not a diet, more a more sensible way of eating.

Haven’t always been good. There’s been a couple of sessions on the beer, rattling up all my syns in one go. And they’ve generally been accompanied by not exactly paying too much attention to the allowed food list.

But they’ve also included plenty of walking – in rain and snow through the streets of London – to counteract the added calories.

That’s sort of the idea (beyond the obvious health benefits). When the Travel Marmot eventually does get back on the road somewhere, fitness and weight is not going to be an issue in choosing whether or not to do something.

You never know, might even doing something about my snoring.

But let’s not get carried away.

  • Think the date at the top rather gives that away, but failing to get it done before heading to bed and four straight days away from the laptop rather scuppered that.

And the need to finish the second part of this post, once it became clear it would be way too long all rolled in to one.

Click just down there to the right for details…

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