Best of 2019

THIS blog revels in its traditions, even it they are only a few years old.

And possibly top of that list is the New Year’s Day reflective post and its accompanying look back on the best of the previous year’s musical offerings – both of which will almost certainly not be posted until well after January 1.

Bucked that trend a little this year by publishing the new year address on the intended date, but the music one has had to wait a bit – partly down to a hectic few weeks on the road in South America, partly due to no power in the laptop and, to be honest, it is hot and it all seemed like a lot of work.

Better late than never, here is an abridged version of the Travel Marmot Best of 2019 – split the difference between the two posts and they are round about the right time.

It has all been a bit different this year, partly due to circumstances – been on the road for the last few months, so not had complete access to new releases or the traditional end-of-year trawl through the lists elsewhere.

Working on that, so the list at the end may earn a spot in the higher echelons or vanish without trace. Or get ignored once the new Drive-By Truckers album comes out.

And my music buying (well, downloading) was a bit different with a change of iPod leading to an increased used of Apple Music and the chance to fill in some older gaps in the collection.

It has also been a bit different music wise.

Last year’s list had a fair amount jingly-jangly guitars and female singer-songwriters (one of whom features again), but this year the top spots are taken by what John Peel described as “white boys with guitars”.

Or, to be more accurate, Irish boys with guitars.

Album of the Year: Dogrel – Fontaines DC

Not been this enthused by a new act for a while. Not everybody’s cup of tea – one person exposed to Hurricane Laughter moaned about them shouting at her – but this is literate, passionate, powerful and catchy as any guitar music of the last few years.

And it’s just bloody good, Boys In The Better Land probably edging the song of the year title as well.

Don’t believe me? Six Music named it album of the year and have come to trust them over the last few years.

And still jealous at someone seeing them twice in a week without me.

The Other Irish Album of the Year: When I Have Fears – The Murder Capital

Not as polished, not as convincing as their Irish counterparts, but there’s plenty of promise.

One friend who saw them at Swn Festival in Cardiff described it as being in at the start of something which feels important. He may be right.

Phoebe Bridgers Album of the Year: Better Oblivion Community Center

Two years ago it was her haunting solo debut Stranger in the Alps, last year it was her all-female supergroup Boygenius, this time Phoebe Bridgers makes the top end of the list with her side project with Bright Eyes’ Conor Oberst.

Dylan Thomas was close to being song of the year and is the highlight of an album which has grown on me through some long days on the back of a truck.

Worth A Listen/Still Exploring

Shepherd In A Sheepskin Vest – Bill Callahan
Thrashing Through The Passion – The Hold Steady
Inferno – Robert Forster
i,i – Bon Iver
I Am Easy To Find – The National
Girl – Girl Ray
Ode To Joy – Wilco
The Talkies – Girl Band

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About the Light to Hey Heartbreaker

Day 24 of the blog post a day in May (and the 200th post on Travel Marmot) with a bit of tidying up in the A-Z iPod Challenge – with a little bit of politics thrown in.

A FORMER editor once stared at the list of sports stories presented at Monday morning conference for that day’s paper, glared at me and shook his head.

That was not that unusual, but this was for different reasons to normal.

No, he was not interested in what was being put forward for the back page or what we had spent much of Sunday coaxing into the pullout. He had his own idea for the big story from the weekend.

As all eyes turned to me – my colleagues revelling in the complete state of confusion taking over my face – as he outlined what he had in mind.

The entire golf club, he explained, had been gripped by TV coverage of one our golfers fighting for victory in a leading US event. Appalled that nobody else seemed to be covering our local boy’s achievements, he wanted that all over the back page.

It was all anyone could talk about the night before, one of ours beating the best in the world, it would be what our readers wanted to see on a Monday.

Totally confused, returned to my desk to find out what was going on. My colleagues were not much use, so scanned the news wires… still nothing. Eventually, went in hunt of the TV listings to find out what had been on and discovered what had happened.

Armed with the listings magazine and a cutting from a past paper, returned to the editor’s office to explain what was going on. And why, as he had demanded to know, we had missed it.

As diplomatically as possible, pointed out he and his golf club friends had been watching a re-run of the previous year’s event after the live coverage had been washed out by rain – our local guy having missed the cut two days earlier this time around.

His success the previous year was reported in the cutting.

Have used this tale a few times over the years to illustrate the dangers of listening to a small group, special interest or section of readership, however vocal, when deciding what we should concentrate on as journalists.

And it seemed somehow apt listening to the reaction and fallout as Theresa May finally succumbed to the inevitable and announced the schedule for her departure as leader of the Conservative Party and Prime Minister.

As those who have been messily plodding on with their prolonged political assassinations – a milk shake would appear to carry more cutting edge than any of their thrusts – came out of hiding to push themselves forward, the golf club could easily be substituted for the Conservative Party and various subsets within it.

Confined to listening to the people around them – largely there because they share the same views and ambitions – they are unable to contextualise anything and see the bigger picture. That what they are claiming is for the greater good is really for the greater good of their immediate peers.

Take one Steve Baker MP.

Sure confirmed politicos know exactly who Steve Baker is but for the uninitiated (had to check this), he is the Tory MP for Wycombe and deputy chairman of the European Research Group (basically the Brexit wing of the Conservatives).

That’s deputy to Jacob Rees-Mogg, having succeeded the odious Mark Francois.

And he filled the empty time on BBC News just before Mrs May emerged from Number 10 to announce her decision by explaining he could be in the running because “some colleagues” thought he should.

That’s some colleagues in a small – if powerful – part of a governing party which cannot command a majority in Parliament as a mandate for a run at the top job in the land.

And according to reports, around 15 other Conservatives think they have the same sort of backing to take the job.

Some of my colleagues have suggested my performances in the office quiz were enough to apply for Pointless. Other stupider ideas have been suggested by friends over a few pints.

They have as much weight as Steve Baker’s claim to the iron lady’s old throne (zeitgeist meets political gag there). But were soundly ignored (well, bar a few of them after a few pints)

Baker and his pals have summed up a lot of the problems gumming up any progress in British politics – not just Conservatives by the way, before someone accuses me of bias (they just happen to be the ones, supposedly, in power).

More than happy to lob a verbal milkshake in the path of other parties. Or anything whatsoever to do with Farage.

They are all so cloistered in their own clubs – golf or otherwise – watching their own interests, hearing what they want to hear on social media and disregarding (or discrediting) the rest, they cannot break out and see that for all the talk of compromise, it is destined to remain elusive if they see everything as binary and insist only the other side should be making any changes.

What do they know of Brexit, who only Brexit know?

(To quote Kipling – or more accurately steal a Billy Bragg line – for the second time in a week).

What they need to do, in a desperate attempt to get this away from politics to the matter at hand, is have a look around and see what else is going on.

Which is what the A-Z iPod Challenge has been doing (told you it was desperate) with a catch-up on the tracks from A-H which have dropped into the alphabetical list after that section was covered.

Been a while since we did this so there’s a lot which does not seem new – tracks from last year’s joined album of the year from Idles for starters

Same goes for the likes of Low, Mogwai, Jason Isbell’s live album and Five Eight among others.

Deafheaven soundtracked all 20 minutes on a gym bike – very loudly – with two tracks and there was promising new(ish) or largely unexplored stuff from Drema Wife, The Orielles and Better Oblivion Community Centre.

We also had some vintage Madder Rose, downloaded after a night sidetracked by the suggestions on You Tube.

And it was rounded off by two great white hopes from Ireland – Fontaines DC, who were raved about in the last post but make no apologies for banging on about, and The Murder Capital.

We certainly don’t want any sort of border keeping that sort of stuff out.

  • One last thing on the whole milkshake throwing debate. As much as the sight of Farage, Yaxley-Lennon and co being cut down to size is to be savoured, not a fan of them being thrown – however much they have brought it on themselves. Mind you, the prospect of large numbers of people merely holding them as they walk by…
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How Cruel to Hysterical Strength

Day 21 as the blog post a day in May gets back to plan with a return to its roots and reaching another landmark.

TRACK 5,160 on the journey through my iPod from A-Z is not one that jumps out as significant.

No disrespect to St Vincent who rounded out the latest section (which started with The Kingsbury Manx – bought, if memory serves, after they appeared on an Uncut magazine CD and failed to live up to the billing) with Hysterical Strength, it would not normally be a track worthy of note.

But as the 679th and final track beginning with H, it represents a notable point in the trip.

Have mentioned before that, like any long journey, the final stretch of each letter can become a bit of a slog. The musical equivalent of ‘are we nearly there yet?’.

Not that there’s necessarily anything more exciting on the horizon, but there is something fresh, a new impetus to the journey lurking just over that horizon.

Having taken a peek, there is a pretty big expanse laid out in front of us as the start of I offers up something to rewrite the records of this journey and will need one of my personal rules to be set aside for a while or it will get very confusing.

Also plan to do something a bit different with one of the upcoming posts which may well be more of a test – for writer and reader – than the blog post a day for a month idea. Which is saying something.

More of that nearer the time – it will be trailed in advance – but before then we need to do a quick catch-up on the songs from A-H which have been added. A while since done that so some of them are a bit of a shock as being supposedly new tracks. Others had forgotten about totally.

But before all that, we’ve got that final stretch of H songs to work our way through.

It might just be the nearing the end of the journey feeling, but the standard final stretch of tracks for each letter tends to throw up little in the way of excitement. A sense of wanting to eat up the miles rather than savouring the scenery.

This has not been the case with the final 80-odd H tracks throwing up enough gems to keep things bouncing along (actually listening to the last dozen or so while writing this to get totally caught up and REM’s Hyena was a welcome distraction – their second in this block after How The West Was Won And Where It Got Us).

Amid all that was a track that just sneaked in rather than being shunted into the catch-up playlist from a young Irish band that has me about as excited as any for a long time.

Knowing it was coming, been trying to come up with an accurate description of Fontaines DC – best advice is click on the video up top there of Hurricane Laughter and crank up the volume. And repeat.

Most common point of reference is Fugazi or Killing Joke, but personally hear a collision between the joint winners of last year’s Travel Marmot Album of the Year, Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever and Idles. Fronted by a cross between Ian Curtis and Shane Macgowan.

Maybe that’s just me.

Whatever their influences, they are bloody good. Suggest Dogrel may be in the running for album of the year this time round.

Not that everything in this section was so worth a listen, scratching my head as to how any Muse (Hyper Music, which is currently playing) has made it into my collection.

Always totally baffled by their popularity. Akin to fingers on a blackboard and, thankfully, over.

Still fighting with the listening to Ryan Adams issue and he cropped up a few times, most notably (courtesy of some weird downloading issue) four times with a live version of How Much Light.

But there were plenty of great moments to savour, starting in Manchester with How I Wrote ‘Elastic Man’ by The Fall and two outings for How Soon Is Now (one with, one without the question mark) which is from the top echelon of Smiths tracks.

Jason Isbell’s two offerings (How To Forget and Hudson Commodore) were not from his top echelon, but still worth a listen, while there were familiar faces in The Wedding Present (Hude Dnipro Hude, twice) and Mercury Rev (Hudson Lines) while The Be Good Tanyas popped up with the free track which first brought them to my attention, Human Thing.

And from two ends of the the career scale, we had some Johnny Cash (it comes towards the end of H, work it out) and Camp Cope.

Something is happening in Melbourne. After Courtney Barnett and Rolling Blackouts CF, this lot complete a pretty good hat-trick. Album has a way to go, but ones to watch.

And so on to I…

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