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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Ferris Wheel to Find Me, Ruben Olivares

Everyone claims that the times are a changing as theirs pass them by
And everyones’s right
Filthy and Fried – Drive-By Truckers

IT has been a bit nostalgic wandering through the latest batch of tracks on the A-Z trawl through my i Pod.

Wish that nostalgia had been for something historically or at least culturally significant, like the hip-hop wars which raged throughout the 1980s (at least they did if you spent the decade washing the ink off your fingers from reading the NME).

The warring factions in the weekly music paper’s office drew battle lines between their traditional white  boys with guitars and the upstarts from the streets of some American conurbation with their new-fangled rapping et al.

No, can’t spend too much time reminiscing about all of that as was far too ensconced in my indie guitar ghetto to consider listening to any of that stuff. Was definitely on the jingly jangly guitar side of the argument.

It took a while for the message to get through and make it in to the collection. Public Enemy popped up twice in this section. Although pretty sure Fight The Power was not written to soundtrack a walk to Sainsbury’s.

Some hip-hop did get through back then, mainly because it had some guitars in it (and it didn’t hurt they were going on about porn, parties and parental disapproval of haircuts).

But Fight For Your Right by The Beastie Boys mainly brings back memories of it being on the video jukebox while we were playing pool in the pub at lunchtimes when we should really have been in school, helped by knowing how to get at the button to keep playing for free.

Gilbert

Nope, the main memory from those teenage years of the 1980s was a green, rubber alien puppet with a penchant for slightly subversive comments in celebrity interviews and snot dribbling from his nose (once, infamously, in to a pop star of the day’s cleavage).

Actually had to check with Wikipedia and friends of a similar vintage that it was not a product of too many drinks during those pool session and, no, it was not my imagination.

Gilbert the Alien did exist and is fondly remembered by all those who have any recollection of him.

Gilbert first appeared on our screens on a Saturday morning TV show (Get Fresh, Wikipedia reliably informs me – bar Gilbert, have no other memory of it other than it was co-presented by perma-irritant Gaz Top).

At an age when Saturday mornings were first bearing the effects of the night before, the irreverent green thing on our screens was just what sixth formers lapped up amid the rest of the customary primetime fare for children.

Voiced with pretty much free rein by comedian Phil Cornwell, we didn’t always understand what he was going on about (particularly in the background like when he, allegedly, asked the drummer from Aswad to skin up) but he became must-see TV .

And then he was given his own series.

Gilbert’s Fridge had no right to be on children’s TV (there was, evidently, a later, adult version which nobody seems to remember) and lasted just one series, but we lapped it.

If we’d had water coolers in our school, we’d have gathered around it to discuss the previous evening’s programme.

If featured special guests (for some reason, Gilbert became Kim Wilde’s agent and worked in a typing pool with Wendy James from Transvision Vamp – another reason for teenage boys to watch) and regular sections such as the black and white World War II PoW camp series How Far To Hitchin? and Sunny Jolly Hols.

It is this bit – in which Gilbert heads off to Benidorm on his holidays with Get Fresh co-presenter Charlotte Hindle and a suitcase full of dead fish, who spent the entire time in the bath – which came rushing back as it used Fiesta by The Pogues as its theme tune.

Joyous music for joyous memories.

There has been more nostalgia in the last couple of weeks with a trip to London to meet up with a couple of old friends. Two people from different chunks of my life with little, maybe nothing, in common bar spending many years living in the capital. And knowing me.

Right up until they met in a Walthamstow pub and discovered one of them had spent the week working on an upgrade for the computer system at the company where the other worked (or something  like that, went straight over my head).

Mind you, he knows a few things about techie stuff – he was the man who set up this site on the back of a late-night conversation and it all sits on his work server.

Back when we were at school, however, he was not known for his musical taste. Yes we shared a penchant for Billy Bragg – who we once ambushed round the back of some benefit gig on Hackney Town Hall steps and made another of his regular appearances on the latest section from Kevin Morby to Mark Kozelek with The Few – but he needed some music therapy. Paul Young anyone?

So when he moved to London and got married (providing my first shot at a best man’s speech, totally improvised), the cost of me popping up to stay on a regular basis was a C90 compilation each trip designed to entertain and educate.

What became known as The Bollocks Tapes (the first  one, ever so wittily, was title Never Mind The Sex Pistol’s, Here’s Rob’s Bollocks…) built in to a catalogue of early-90s indie, although visiting too regularly meant they became filled with less than glorious album tracks.

And stirring somewhere in the house were some musical genes.

His eldest son played bass in indie wannabes Let’s Wrestle – still going, although with a new man in the rhythm section – and his youngest is the guitarist/singer/songwriter of the rapidly-emerging Girl Ray.

They are getting a fair amount of deserved attention, regular airplay on 6Music and have released a video which features my mate’s ex-wife. Which was a slightly odd watch.

We’ll get to both Let’s Wrestle and, hopefully, a lot more Girl Ray as the A-Z heads on, but there was more nostalgia from the latest batch – Fields of Athenry by The Dropkick Murphys who have the ability to remind me of any number of Irish, American, even African moments, and Final Day by Young Marble Giants.

Fighting In A Sack by The Shins bridges a fair few years and serves as reminder that their new album sits newly installed on the iPod and in need of a listen.

And, almost, right up to date there’s  Fill In The Blank by Car Seat Headrest (one of the discoveries this whole project was designed to find) and the wonderful Filthy And Fried by The Drive-By Truckers (‘Feeling lucky that 27’s the hardest thing she’ll have to survive’), my most recent obsession – particularly after an awesome two-hour set in Bristol.

And with that we’ll say adios until we see Almeria once again.

 

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