Best of 2020

Christmas has been a bit different for many people this year, even before the late changes to tiers and coronavirus restrictions.

Certainly the first one partially spent dressed in a sloth onesie for starters (and it was really warm) while there are even decorations up in my flat – the two things may be linked.

And this is the first for many years spent in this country – discounting those in Africa and South America – when have not been working right up to Christmas Eve and heading back into the office within a day or two.

What that means is there has been time to draw breath over the holiday period, to look ahead and back over a difficult year – and time to write the traditional Travel Marmot post on the year’s best music.

The first of two traditional posts – the second, state of the nation article may even be posted on (or near) New Year’s Day – that time has allowed it to take on a different look with top 30 lists of albums and, for the first time, tracks.

They have changed considerably, the relistening which has soundtracked the last few weeks in the home office bumping a few albums up the list and seeing several more tumble.

That reshuffling is likely to continue, particularly in the lower reaches, as albums fail to last the course of time or others receive more attention.

There is one big change this year – boys with guitars which dominated the last couple of years being replaced by a fair few female singer-songwriters at the upper end – although many familiar faces remain.

So here they are, the albums and tracks which soundtracked a year of working from home, an issue which definitely helped shape the upper reaches of these lists.

Albums of the Year

1 Phoebe Bridgers – Punisher

“Some serious songwriting chops are enough to leave you wanting more… one to watch”

That was what this list said of Phoebe Bridgers when her debut album Stranger In The Alps was Discovery of the Year in 2017 and she has featured highly every year since – there was even the Phoebe Bridgers Album of the Year category last year.

Those serious songwriting chops reached new levels with Punisher, a pretty clear winner of this list.

Despite being completed before the onset of the pandemic, it has a sense of claustrophobia and bleakness which fits the feelings of the last nine months without losing a sense of insight, warmth and even humour which ensures a listen remains an uplifting, fulfilling experience.

There are plenty of layers here which are still being unwrapped after multiple listens and different versions floating around – almost inevitable given her prolific nature – as best witnessed by the tracks on the Copycat Killer EP and slower versions of Kyoto, the upbeat single which she was convinced to speed up to prevent the album being too similarly paced.

One to watch, to listen to repeatedly and to savour.

2 Waxahatchee – Saint Cloud

If Punisher has been holding on to top spot from release, Saint Cloud spent much of the year further down this chart before repeated revisiting has seen it rise and rise.

Katie Crutchfield’s previous solo work has always registered as worth a listen without making a huge impact.

But with her fifth album and her first since giving up drinking, she moves away from the indie toward Americana and really finds her voice.

Would work as the perfect soundtrack to an American road trip through wide open spaces, which just bumps that a further few places up the travel wishlist.

3 Drive-By Truckers – The Unravelling/The New OK

If there have been positives of the last four years under Trump’s Presidency, it has been the transformation of Drive-By Truckers from American band to American necessity, their anger and frustration at what was happening to their country spelled out in classic songwriting.

American Band was the Travel Marmot album of the year in 2016 and they returned this year with another delight – they just did it across two records at either end of the year which, combined, earn them another high placing.

Not everything works – Babies In Cages is just too obvious, lacking the depth of their best efforts – but when they get it right (Thoughts and Prayers, The New OK) it becomes clear why they have emerged as one of the most important American groups around.

Possibly bumped up a few places by The Unravelling being listened to (repeatedly) for the first time during 24 hours in a hammock crossing the Amazon.

4 Grandaddy – The Sophtware Slump… on a wooden piano

It is not new – a 20-year-old album played on what seems to be an even older piano – but my blog, my rules and this new version of a true classic is the perfect reissue we never knew we needed.

On the back of one of the best Twitter listening parties hosted by The Charlatans’ Tim Burgess (surprise candidate for musical hero of the year), it spelled out what a great album it is.

And it is amazing just how well these songs have held up to both time and the stripped-back versions here – epic opener He’s Simple, He’s Dumb, He’s The Pilot is perhaps the one which works the least well.

Lovely stuff.

5 Fontaines DC – A Hero’s Death

Last year’s album of the year winners did not rest on their laurels, returning with the follow-up mid-pandemic.

For a while, A Hero’s Death was heading to the slightly disappointing pile but prolonged exposure revealed a step forward which was not only worth repeated listenings but also laying the foundations for a longer future beyond being the current darlings of guitar music.

These songs maybe lacked the initial clout of Dogrel, but more reflected the impact the success had on the band – songs which moved on relentlessly without ever taking the next step you expected (and which maybe would have come on their debut) and it is that sense of anticipation which adds life and promise. For now and the future.

It stands alone but also as a sideways, possibly slightly backwards step, to clear a path for what comes next.

6 Taylor Swift – folklore

The undoubted surprise entry in the upper reaches of this list and it is there for a simple reason – it is really, really good.

Dubbed her indie album, it undoubtedly benefits from its collaborations with The National’s Aaron Dessner, Jack Antonoff and Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon, but this is Swift’s work, her songs supplying a pop edge to her co-creators’ backgrounds.

Any unwarranted doubts about her songwriting ability are dispelled by penning exile, the great Bon Iver song we have been waiting for over the last few years.

It is maybe three of four songs too long and the insistence on everything being lower case is frustrating (or is that just me?) but it stands up to repeated listening. Trust me.

7 Soccer Mommy – color theory

More lower case and another female singer-songwriter in the upper reaches, Sophie Allison’s second album takes a significant step forward from the promise of her debut.

The first new album which was played repeatedly on my return from travelling, soundtracking several long walks as lockdown took over our lives and somehow seemed to make total sense.

There’s a long, detailed explanation of the album being based in sections on colour but really, just listen to it and enjoy.

8 Jason Isbell & The 400 Unit – Reunions

If the upper reaches of this countdown belongs to female singer-songwriters, there remains a place for Jason Isbell.

Reunions leans like its predecessor The Nashville Sound slightly towards Radio 2 territory and polished mainstream more than the great double whammy of Southeastern and Something More Than Free which chronicled his new-found sobriety and move from a rock and roll lifestyle to domestic contentment.

But Isbell remains as good a songwriter as there is around and Reunions is never less than sharply observed and richly created.

9 Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever – Sideways to New Italy

My move from jingly jangly indie to Americana is reflected in this list, but there remains a place for shimmering guitars.

The Australian band jointly topped this list two years ago (with IDLES) and their sophomore effort takes a step forward from Hope Downs without lessening the number of interwined guitar lines, harmonies and damn good songs.

The sound of the summer we never really enjoyed.

10 IDLES – Ultra Mono

One of the most anticipated albums of the year and, to be honest, among the most underwhelming.

If IDLES can ever underwhelm.

There is enough in Ultra Mono to deserve this high placing – it has bounced around the fringes of the top 10 when putting the list together – but it is in danger of becoming too draining an experience for repeated listening.

When it hits its target (see below), it is as good as anything they have done, but relies too heavily on going for huge knockout blows when the odd body punch would get the message across just as well over the length of an album.

You do not need to shout to make yourself heard all the time.

11 Sufjan Stevens – The Ascension
12 Porridge Radio – Every Bad
13 Working Men’s Club – Working Men’s Club
14 Bill Callahan – Gold Record
15 Margo Price – That’s How Rumors Get Started
16 Laura Marling – Song For Our Daughter
17 This Is The Kit – Off Off On
18 Bob Mould – Blue Hearts
19 Matt Berninger – Serpentine Prison
20 Disq – Collector
21 Fiona Apple – Fetch The Bolt Cutters
22 Stephen Malkmus – Traditional Techniques 
23 The Orielles – Disco Volador 
24 Taylor Swift – evermore
25 Bright Eyes – Down In The Weeds, Where The World Once Was
26 Sports Team – Deep Down Happy
27 Boston Manor – GLUE
28 Dream Wife – So When You Gonna…
29 Fleet Foxes – Shore
30 The Flaming Lips – America Head

Bubbling Under (or in need of more exploration)
…And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead – X: The Godless Void and Other Stories
beabadoobee – Fake It Flowers
The Big Moon – Walking Like We Do
Gorillaz – Song Machine, Season One: Strange Times
Jordana – Classical Notions of Happiness
Becca Mancari – The Greatest Part
Sufjan Stevens & Lowell Brams – Aporia 
US Girls – Heavy Light

Tracks of the Year

Have stuck to albums on these annual lists before with maybe a passing mention of what was the track of the year, but if we can’t do these things differently this year, when can we?

1 IDLES – Grounds

“Do you hear that thunder?”

In a year when there has been plenty to get angry about, these lists are perhaps surprisingly lacking in fury, Bob Mould turns up the anger with Drive-By Truckers and Sufjan Stevens voicing frustrations in different ways.

IDLES had no hesitation in expressing their anger and on Grounds they packaged indignation as we entered lockdown and somehow foresaw some of the wider issues which would fill the following months.

And by slightly dialling down the scale of the backing – if not the intensity – they turned up the impact.

“Not a single thing has ever been mended, By you standing there and saying you’re offended”

2 Phoebe Bridgers – Kyoto
3 Drive-By Truckers – Thoughts and Prayers
4 Taylor Swift (feat Bon Iver) – exile
5 Phoebe Bridgers – ICU

6 Sufjan Stevens – America
7 Fontaines DC – A Hero’s Death
8 Phoebe Bridgers – I Know The End
9 Taylor Swift – the last great american dynasty
10 Waxahatchee – Lilacs

11 Porridge Radio – Sweet
12 Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever – Cars In Space
13 Phoebe Bridgers – Halloween
14 Soccer Mommy – circle the drain
15 This Is The Kit – This Is What You Did

16 Bob Mould – American Crisis
17 Phoebe Bridgers – Chinese Satellite
18 Taylor Swift – betty
19 Waxahatchee – Fire
20 Drive-By Truckers – 21st Century USA

21 Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever – Falling Thunder
22 Phoebe Bridgers – Garden Song
23 Soccer Mommy – bloodstream
24 Waxahatchee – The Eye
25 IDLES – Model Village
26 Sufjan Stevens – Video Game
27 Jason Isbell – Only Children
28 Waxahatchee – Can’t Do Much
29 Waxahatchee – Hell 
30 Fontaines DC – Televised Mind

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Seven Day Challenge

WAS nominated recently to take part in the Facebook Seven-Day Musical Challenge – picking a song each day for a week that means something to me.

Opting to steer well away from any sort of ‘best of…’ list, my choices were a sort of musical journey through my life, both personal and my musical life (although the two are pretty much entwined.

The A-Z blog is on a bit of a pre-Christmas hiatus (of which more in a couple of catch-up posts before a few changes – on and offline – in the year), so to fill a bit of a gap, here’s a version of those seven days…

Day 1

Once had to do a top 10 for my old newspaper to fill a hole just before a Christmas deadline. One of our celebrity columnists failed to deliver, so it fell to a distinctly non-celebrity columnist – albeit the column in the weekly sports result paper or the stand-in when someone was on holiday – and my entire music collection went out of my head.

Doubt if too many of that 10 would make any such list now, but this one would.

Echo & The Bunnymen were my band, my first gig (well, sort of) and my fashion gurus (hence me stealing my grandad’s old, long overcoat, which had very deep pockets to hide pint glasses in for the walk home from the pub). Accelerated my NME-inspired descent into an 80s indie ghetto.

Will gladly argue (and have, many times) that the second half of Ocean Rain is the most perfect run of songs on any album. This is oft-overlooked amid the other classics, but it’s my favourite…

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3zbdy8eidI0

Day 2

Second one sort of surprised even me, but part of a key role in my musical development when the teenage me was listening to a solid diet of British indie.

My sister started going out with some bloke (who she later married) who made me a C90 that threw in plenty of domestic indie, but also opened the door to American guitar bands, which I ran through gladly – The Replacements, Big Black, Sonic Youth, Red Guitars, Husker Du and some lot from Athens, Georgia, among others.

Could have picked almost any of the tracks (still have that tape somewhere), but stayed nearer to home.

A few years later, used to make my own C90s for a mate and his wife for each of my regular trips to London. On one of them was this and lead singer Pete Astor, who years later ended up as a friend of my mate with their sons in a band together (Let’s Wrestle). Also fulfils my jingly jangly quotient.

Day 3

This one sort of links on from the previous day when my indie ghetto started to be stormed by American guitars (red or otherwise).

Last track on that C90 was Superman by REM, a band I’d heard of but knew nothing about – hearing Superman, thought you could decipher all their lyrics.

They went on to be the biggest band of my late teens and beyond (pretty much till Bill Berry left when it all went a bit awry) and they produced, from Murmur to Green, possibly the greatest run of albums of any band.

Also pointed me in the direction of many other bands and an American road trip just had to stop off in Athens.

Could have chosen any number of tracks, but Life’s Rich Pageant was first up for me and, hey, I believe in coyotes and time as an abstract…

Day 4

As the ’80s turned into the ’90s, school was finally behind me, university drifted out of reach (something to do with spending a bit too much of the previous couple of years in the pub or listening to loud music, rather than doing any work) and, eventually, my career in journalism got off to a start just before my teens ended.

Music was still centred around jingly jangly indie and American guitars and the regular Banana Club live nights at the Gloucester Guildhall (at one of which they shot the video for EMF’s Unbelievable), before the real onset of grunge (take it or leave it) and the largely forgettable onslaught of Britpop.

And there was this lot. Still one of the finest albums, still one of my loudest gigs (quiet, loud, quiet, loud, very loud – second only to Sugar, who so nearly made the list) and soundtrack to an awful lot of memories.

Day 5

The bit when it gets a bit emotional. We’ve done musical education and the 80s, time for the only entry from the 90s. But this one is timeless.

There had to be a bit of Billy Bragg in there, a constant since the mid-80s – trying to work out if seen him live in three or four different decades.

My favourite song of his changes, The Saturday Boy, Levi Stubbs’ Tears, The Short Answer… the list goes on. Even some of the stuff he did with Wilco. But none matches the emotional punch and resonance of this one.

Have written a few times about the background to jacking in a good job (twice) to go travelling because you never know what might happen if you put off living. Get paid to organise words into a meaningful order, but never managed to put some of those personal feelings as well and as powerfully as this.

Day 6

Having hung around in the ’80s for a while, it’s straight from the early ’90s into the new millennium and the discovery of a new obsession.

First stumbled across Ryan Adams on an Uncut magazine free CD and tracked down a copy of Heartbreaker – spent an entire afternoon reorganising and cleaning a kitchen in a shared house, just so I could listen to it over and over again. I

t was not only discovering Adams, it took me on a road that saw indie replaced by (to quote a friend after he’d been listening to my iPod) ‘melancholic Americana’ as a mainstay of my collection.

Day 7

Final part brings us not quite up to date, but a song which formed a huge part of the soundtrack of the last year or so.

The last song always had to be one that soundtracked my travelling years as we head into time to settle down and concentrate on the career (and bank balance) for a while.

There’ll still be travelling, but shorter trips more often rather than long adventures around much of the globe or Africa.

Those trips have largely been soundtracked by playlists set up before and could have provided any number of nominations.

But Sufjan Stevens wins out (just edging Carissa by Sun Kil Moon) as he soundtracked two trips, this one the most played of 10 months on the road in Africa. Who said travelling had to be happy?

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Depression Era to Dig For Fire

EVENTUALLY, think my father forgave me for crossing the bridge and decamping to live and work in Wales.

He never quite got the hang of deadlines and would call for a chat after major rugby matches, no matter how many times it was explained to him that the final whistle was when producing sports reports and pages really got busy and was not the time for a post mortem.

If he was still with us (and my career hadn’t, via a circuitous route, switched from sport to news), not sure that would be a problem following my latest move – doubt he would be talking to me.

Wales is one thing, Bath is another. Behind enemy lines. It’s a Gloucester thing.

Bath Abbey. Not viewed from a car
Bath Abbey. Not viewed from a car

But, for a while at least, Bath is my destination for the (far too early) morning commute after a year of travelling and, for the last couple of months, freelancing was ended with a permanent return to the workforce.

Back on the payroll, back to a guaranteed salary, back to paid holidays (yippee), back to only five weeks off a year (booooo), back to the career. And back to being able to give an accurate answer about what my job is.

Well, almost.

It’s all been a bit confusing for the last few weeks, that limbo that became my life on returning from Africa transferring to the office (when it wasn’t still asleep on my sister’s sofa), neither out of work or employed, sat at a regular desk, but without any recognised role, a regular at leaving dos, without having actually started.

“What do you do?” was the short version of what one of our trainees asked at one of those leaving dos.

Best answer at that time was “whatever anyone is willing to pay me to do”. Well, within reason.

It was far too difficult to go any deeper as, at that point, two job offers were on the table, one further afield (and back in sport), one on familiar territory. Sort of.

Having spent a lot of time thinking on the back of a truck over the past year, one clear decision (along with vague plans to do a degree and finally write that book) was that putting down roots somewhere familiar was infinitely preferable to relocating and starting anew, even if life by the seaside had its attractions.

So back home to Gloucester (or Cheltenham, to be precise) it was… or was it?

Stiperstones, Shropshire Hills
Some Stiperstones, pre-descent, evidently

Pretty much a year to the day after leaving, my return to my old company was confirmed, complete with a twist. Not employed by my old paper or even in the old office, my new role was as an employee of the region, dispatched to where needed. Have log-in, will travel.

And where needed is, for the next couple of months, Bath where there is a need for a senior body on their news production desk. As Sam Burgess leaves town, another person not that hot at more than one position on the rugby field arrives – and comments like that are probably why my services won’t be called for on the sports pages.

Three days in and all is going well (at least nobody has told me any different yet), but in a World Heritage City, the main view so far has been the back of the car in front while sat in a traffic jam and questioning the decision to opt for a hire car rather than taking the train (long and circuitous) for the first couple of weeks.

It took almost as long to get out of Bath on my first day as it did to get the rest of the way back to Gloucester. That has improved – partly due to actually finding the right route – but it still means a lengthy commute at either end of the day.

Which means, in the evenings at least (radio in the morning), plenty of progress through the A-Z commute through my iPod (see, almost seamless link).

This latest chunk, plugged into the stereo of the hired Ford Focus with handy display identifying any surprise appearances, has taken us from Depression Era (Patterson Hood) through Desire, Desolation and Diamonds (with the odd bit of Devil thrown in) to Dig A Fire by Pixies.

Manics. Very handy for headlines
Manics. Very handy for headlines

There was also one of my common fallbacks which can be manipulated for headlines involving design (surprisingly common), the Manic Street Preachers’ A Design for Life.

Ryan Adams, almost inevitably, appeared just after with three versions of Desire, which fed straight into Desire As from Prefab Sprout, who also popped up with Devil Came A Calling.

The Devil… section was rounded off by Devils Haircut by Beck while on the opposite extreme, the Sugarcubes gave us Deus (although they are adamant he does not exist).

Paul Simon was the pick of the Diamond tracks (Diamonds On The Sole Of Her Shoes) while another musical veteran ate up the miles – even in a traffic jam – with more than 11 minutes of Desolation Row by Bob Dylan.

A couple of familiar faces popped up twice, Half Man Half Biscuit with Descent of the Stiperstones and Dickie Davies Eyes and Sufjan Stevens with the noticeably wordy Detroit, Lift Up Your Weary Head (Rebuild! Restore! Reconsider!) and, quite apt considering the number of festive stories which landed on my screen this week, Did I Make You Cry On Christmas (Well, You Deserved It!).

But pick of this section was the wonderful Different Day from the equally wonderful Jason Isbell.

Different Day, different traffic jam.

photos by:


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Carissa/Casimir Pulaski Day

SONGS about the death of a little-known cousin in a fire and losing a loved one to cancer, while wrestling with the strain it puts on your faith, are hardly customary soundtracks to life on an overland journey.

A fairly constant diet of rap, chart fodder, power ballads, cheesy singalongs  and the bloody Lion King has dominated the music cranked up in the back of the truck.

But my contribution of indie guitars and, to quote Matt, “melancholic Americana” has managed to find a certain amount of airtime with at least one cook group regularly borrowing my iPod (usually to play Bright Eyes – the band, not the song about rabbits) for its turn to control the music as they prepare dinner.

And there have been requests for Jason Isbell and John Grant after they appeared to a wider audience, as well as for any number of indie favourites which people assume lurk somewhere in my collection – leading to less than favourable reactions to queries about Coldplay and Stereophonics.

There’s even been a request to borrow my iPod to listen to Relationship of Command by At The Drive-In, which may well get an outing (possibly brief) when our cook group next controls the music, while Matt’s shared fondness for Stornoway and First Aid Kit soundtracked a couple of evenings sitting on the dock of Lome, watching the ships rolling in.

Most of the music on this trip, however, is served up as we plug ourselves into whatever music player most of us have brought with us and while away the hours as the truck clocks up the miles.

My choice for the first few months has been dominated by an eclectic 40-strong playlist compiled before the off which has seen the two current journeys on this blog – the challenge to listen to all 12,000-ish songs on my iPod in alphabetical order and the Trans-Africa adventure – converge, dominated as it is by songs which have crept into (or back into) my consciousness after featuring through the first 2,000 songs (which has almost taken us to the end of C).

Familiarity has not exactly bred contempt, but a certain weariness with several tracks. They were dropped onto the playlist due to a desire to hear them more often or to really get to know them, but now there is a fair amount of skipping.

But two songs have escaped the skip button pretty much every time and have sent me off to discover or rediscover the artists who have served up such memorably “melancholic Americana”.

Both emerged from my journey through C on my iPod and while neither is likely to supplant Aerosmith’s I Don’t Want To Miss A Thing as truck song (although could well get a few votes from those of us strongly opposed to that choice), each will remind me of this trip for years to come.

Casimir Pulaski Day by Sufjan Stevens has been on my radar for some time, popping up as it does on his Come On Feel The Illinoise! album after Chicago, which provided a key part of the soundtrack (along with the title track) to my London to New York overland adventure five years ago.

But somehow, it sort of passed me by until resurfacing on the A-Z and was given a fresh impetus into my consciousness when a trip around Savannah, Georgia, took in a statue of Casimir Pulaski – a Polish-born soldier who fought with the Americans against the British.

He is honoured by a holiday during March in parts of the US – also the subject of a song by Big Black – and it is on this day the subject of Stevens’ achingly beautiful, heart-rending tale finally succumbs to the cancer of the bone which forms the narrative of the song.

“In the morning, in the window shade, on the first of March, on the holiday, I thought I saw you breathing. Oh the glory that the Lord has made and the complications when I see his face, in the morning in the window.”

As somebody of no great faith, despite being brought up in a, largely, Christian household in a church-dominated village, that feeling of “complications” with any higher being is one which is all too familiar, having spent far too much time burying loved ones and asking any number of unanswerable questions about religion.

Stevens has made no secret of his faith – “The glory that the Lord has made…” is a repeated refrain throughout the track – and his attempts to balance that with watching somebody he clearly loves slip away (“and he takes and he takes and he takes…”) from a disease so lacking in glory or explicable reason provides a real emotional punch to a simple, yet highly-effective, song.

It ranks with Billy Bragg’s Tank Park Salute in the pantheon of great songs about loss (and anybody who knows me well will know what high praise that is).

If it has been a case of rediscovering Stevens’ work, the second unskippable star of the playlist has provoked long overdue exploration of his back catalogue, a lot of it gathered in raids on my ex-housemate’s CD collection after returning from my previous travels and never really investigated in any great depth.

Much of Mark Kozelek’s work on my iPod comes from his time in the Red House Painters, as well as under his own name, but it is under the Sun Kil Moon moniker that he has caught my attention.

Never more so than with Carissa, the tale of his second cousin – a one-time teenage mother he has not seen for 20 years – her death in a fire, the affect it has on him and his need to find out more about her and the circumstances.

“I’m flying out there tomorrow cos I need to give and get some hugs… to give her life poetry and make sure her name is known across every sea.”

Carissa has sparked repeated listens to Benji, the album which now tops my list as the best of last year.

It comes with a body count as Kozelek recalls people and events long gone throughout his life, as well as musing on the future and his relationships with his parents.

“Melancholic” it certainly is. Some would call it depressing, an accusation levelled at the contents of my iPod more than once in the past few weeks. But it is, again, so beautifully done and so full of warmth and affection, it is as likely to raise a smile as a tear.

Roughly the same age as me, Kozelek hits on topics which occupy the minds of our generation, particularly with regard to parents. While the string of relatives and friends dying in unusual ways is not quite so recognisable, the reactions are.

Don’t think either track has featured when my iPod has been plugged into the speakers in the back of the truck. That job has mainly fallen to the truck playlist compiled somewhere in Morocco and featuring some of the more accessible parts of my collection – a sort of Now That’s What I Call Indie if you like – with a few wildcard tracks thrown in (including the definitive answer as to which version of Hallelujah is the correct one to play).

And some time soon, a new personal playlist needs to be drawn up (although this one returned with a certain freshness yesterday after playing second fiddle to a few old albums in the last week or so).

Fairly good chance Casimir Pulaski and Carissa will be appearing on that one too.

The Playlist

City With No Children – Arcade Fire
Dry The Rain – The Beta Band
Javelin Unlanding – Bill Callahan
California Stars – Billy Bragg & Wilco
Another Travellin’ Song – Bright Eyes
Anthems For A Seventeen Year Old Girl – Broken Social Scene
After The Watershed – Carter USM
Avant Gardener – Courtney Barnett
History Eraser – Courtney Barnett
Calamity Song – The Decemberists
Heaven Up Here – Echo & The Bunnymen
Winona – Drop Nineteens
Lippy Kids – Elbow
Positive Jam – The Hold Steady
Hot Soft Light – The Hold Steady
Kemosabe – Everything Everything
Endless Art – A House
The Body Electric – Hooray For The Riff Raff
Blue Ridge Mountain – Hooray For The Riff Raff
Songs That She Sang In The Shower – Jason Isbell
Glacier – John Grant
Queen of Denmark – John Grant
The Ballad of the Pyjama Kid – John Murry
California – John Murry
Cloudbusting – Kate Bush
Army Dreamers – Kate Bush
Clementine – Neil Young & Crazy Horse
By The Time I Get To Phoenix – Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds
Bodies – Pale Seas
Brothers – Mark Kozelek & Desertlshore
Best of Friends – Palma Violets
Coming Home – Richard Hawley
Love Is To Die – Warpaint
Carissa – Sun Kil Moon
Casimir Pulaski Day – Sufjan Stevens
Almost Prayed – The Weather Prophets
Behind The Wall of Sleep – The Smithereens
At Night In Dreams – White Denim
Hash Pipe – Weezer
Mannequin – Wire

NB: It has proved just too complicated to keep the A-Z iPod blog going while on the Trans Africa trip. It will return after the journey is over.

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Clones to Come To

STRANGE what memories a song can summon from obscure corners of your mind.

Taking the relatively small sample of the latest section of the A-Z journey through my iPod – which covered plenty of miles from Mull Historical Society to Bombay Bicycle Club – several songs popped up with strong associations.

Arcade Fire’s Cold Wind rekindles thoughts of walking across the frozen Lake Baikal in the middle of Siberia, while Coma Girl by Joe Strummer & The Mescaleros brings back great memories of gigs with The Mighty Badger (one of their later offerings, it was also one of my favourites).

And Ryan Adams’ classic break-up track Come Pick Me Up – indeed, the entire Heartbreaker album – reminds me not of personal heartache, but an afternoon spent washing up and cleaning the kitchen.

Memoirs of music fans often tell grand tales of first hearing the track that changed their life – Stuart Maconie’s Cider With Roadies recalls him first hearing This Charming Man while travelling in the boot of a friend’s car – but they tend to creep up on me, working their way into my brain until they have taken firm root.

But that first (second and third) airing of Heartbreaker one Bank Holiday Monday afternoon in Cardiff has somehow stuck. Even in such unexciting circumstances.

Cleaning the kitchen was not on my to-do list when the day started with the early shift at work, back in the days when evening newspapers printed on the day they went on sale.

Having gone into the office way too early – bank holidays always had an earlier deadline – finished off pages with the overnight sport and put together some early pages for the next day, it was back home by lunchtime.

Not to a relaxing afternoon in front of the TV or out and about doing something productive (work out which one was more likely, given this was a bank holiday in Cardiff, so it was probably raining), but to an almighty mess in the kitchen.

It had been growing for days as part of a stand-off between flatmates – three of us who had been in the house for a while versus the new lad.

Three against one hardly seems fair, but the latest tenant to move into my old room (after my rapid move into the much bigger front bedroom the instant the original fourth member of our happy band had moved in with her now husband) didn’t let being outnumbered sway him.

Not only was he impossible to understand – a thick North Walian accent was mixed with a tendency to mumble and swallow his words – he also had a rather different view to keeping the house tidy to the rest of us (for my former work colleagues, getting him to do his share was akin to trying to get me to make a tea round).

The work was not evenly distributed, one of us looked after all the bills and handed us regular notes on how much we had to pay, and kept the whole thing ticking over. The rest of us cleaned up after ourselves, kept life as simple as possible and got on remarkably well.

But not the new guy. (This blog has a bit of a rule to avoid names where possible, but seriously can’t remember his. Sure he told us, just not sure we understood it.)

Not the actual washing up - it was much worse than this.
Not the actual washing up – it was much worse than this.

It all came to a head after he spent an evening cooking for himself and managed to use pretty much all our pans and cooking equipment, leaving them coated in some unidentifiable gunk.

Leaving them being the key phrase. Piled up in the sink.

Having sat there for a couple of days, despite a few increasingly impolite suggestions that he washed them up, we moved the whole collection to outside his bedroom door.

He responded by simply bringing them back downstairs, where they sat in an unwashed pile which grew as he left more unwashed plates and pans in its wake – some of which we had to remove and wash ourselves just to have something to cook and eat with.

It all reached a head the Sunday night before that bank holiday when another of his cooking attempts (thankfully not that frequent) left a trail of devastation which greeted me en route to work the next morning.

The note pinned to fridge the letting him know my true feelings was gone on my return, but the mess wasn’t and my patience ran out – sadly not, as planned, by dragging him downstairs and forcing him to clean up as he was nowhere to be seen.

So Heartbreaker – bought, as a lot of my albums were in those days,  on the back of  an Uncut magazine sampler CD – was popped into the stereo and the job of clearing up began.

And having listened to it once, it went on again and again as the clean-up went beyond merely working through the washing up, but moved on to a total overhaul and reorganisation of the kitchen – totally out of character for me, but such was the need to keep listening to this wondrous album, of which Come Pick Me Up was a one of the highlights.

The reaction of the man who sparked this kitchen frenzy  – the latest in a list of flatmates who could, and probably will, fill more posts on this blog – was negligible.

He said not a word about the note or transformed kitchen and soon started work on building a new pile of washing up for him to ignore and us to get frustrated about, prompting another, less polite note pinned to the fridge which contained one or two words he may have had problems swallowing.

That had the desired effect. Mainly because he found it as he walked into the kitchen with his visiting mum, who evidently gave him a dressing down to the extent that he not only cleaned up the mess, but appeared at the lounge door with a cup of tea for the rest of us before she departed.

The lasting impact was far greater on my musical tastes, sparking a love affair with Adams’ work that saw him pop up several more times in this section and a burgeoning interest in Americana.

But there’s still plenty from the indie ghetto which had been my musical home up to then, three versions of Come Play With Me by The Wedding Present surfacing in the latest batch of tracks, along with two of Coffee & TV (possibly my favourite Blur track) two of Come As You Are by Nirvana (unplugged and electric) and the wonderful coupling of Cloudbusting, almost certainly Kate Bush’s finest hour, and Sufjan Steven’s Come On! Feel The Illinoise!

As for that ex-flatmate. He moved out not long after (the rest of us would soon go our separate ways as well) but our paths did cross some time later in a pub in Cardiff and we sort of spoke.

Just had no idea what he was saying.

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