Acoustic Rick James Style to The Jello Fund (Best of 2023)

Second of three end-of-year/new year wrap-ups with a bit of housekeeping to get the A-Z posts bang up to date, mixed in with the traditional best of… post.

It is rare that this blog and its subject matter have been in sync in recent times – one of the (many) reasons (excuses) for such sporadic activity.

Since returning from South America and then wading through the seemingly never-ending run of I tracks on the journey through my iPod – not to mention the almost as endless catch-up through A-I added in that time – have been playing catch up with blog posts.

It, admittedly, became a bit of a chore – especially when spending all day in front of a laptop at home post-lockdown and without the momentum built from either travelling or listening to the next tracks on this journey, bringing with them fresh ideas to drive things onward.

But as 2023 drew to a close, new home, new life and things began to line up again – the I tracks had been cleared, the catch up spanning several years had followed and J was a mere sprint.

Meaning all that was required to end the year up to date was a further catch up through the most recent arrivals.

That journey took us from one Lemonheads track to another courtesy of a 30th anniversary reissue of Come On Feel… which saw tracks dotted along the way.

They provided enough proof to remember why they could, and possibly should, have been the biggest band in the world. Mixed in with enough to remember exactly why they were not.

There were a few bits filling in gaps in my collection such as The Triffids, Ride, Husker Du – whose Zen Arcade did the job of checking downloads were working after a switch from the UK – and The National, despite being convinced the album containing Bloodbuzz Ohio (my favourite song of theirs) was already in my collection somewhere.

There was a taste of what is to come in 2024 from IDLES (along with LCD Soundsystem) but most of the catch-up consisted of those songs and tracks contending for a place in the Travel Marmot Best of 2023 list.

The fight for album of the year has been a three-way fight for a while – one which topped many end-of-year lists, one which popped up occasionally and a third which was barely mentioned. Until now at least.

A few final listens cut that down to a two-horse race, the winner taking the verdict by a short head.

So here, only a few days late, is this year’s selection…

Album of the Year: The National – First Two Pages of Frankenstein

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UrfMXtA9oGg

It was a tight-run thing and may well change my mind – it has happened before. But a band once dismissed as another generic indie guitar band with The… in the name took the honours. Got that first impression badly wrong.

They came close to top spot a few years ago, but this just has too many really good songs to deprive them again. And there is something about the drumming on their songs which manages to both drive them on and keep them in check simultaneously, to say nothing of Matt Berninger’s delivery.

It is not perfect, it is a bit one-paced. Swap in a couple of tracks for some from Laugh Track, their second album of the year, and the victory would have been even clearer.

And like everything else in 2023, it had a bit of Taylor Swift. To say nothing of Phoebe Bridgers. Speaking of which…

Obligatory Phoebe Bridgers Entry of the Year: Boygenius – The Record

It has become a running joke that Phoebe Bridgers has to feature in each of these lists (even if it required a bit of cheating last year to shoehorn her in), but this is here purely on merit.

Do not fall into the typical image of a Boygenius fan, if reviews concentrating on the audience’s gender and sexuality at live performances are to be believed as the bandwagon gathered speed, but the songs are too good for pigeonholing.

Their debut EP, good as it was, smacked of solo work with the others supplying support. This appears as a collaborative effort by three singer-songwriters lifting each other.

Not Strong Enough was a genuine contender for track of the year.

Completing the Podium Album of the Year: The Murder Capital – Gigi’s Recovery

The other Irish guitar band have played second fiddle somewhat to their contemporaries Fontaines DC, but the slow burn which runs through their career and much of this album is coming close to ignition.

A friend seeing them live a while back reported the feeling of being present for “something important”. He may be right – their Glastonbury set was the highlight of what made it over to Australia.

Return to Form of the Year: Jason Isbell & The 400 Unit – Weathervanes

His last couple of albums have been far from bad. But, clad in a more Nashville country sheen, they had to contend with following the remarkable double whammy of Southeastern and Something More Than Free.

Weathervanes finds something of a middle ground, confirming Isbell’s place as one of the great contemporary storytellers (to say nothing of his singing and guitar playing).

Promising Late Discovery of the Year – Wednesday: Rat Saw Good

Otherwise known as the pick of the albums tried out because they kept appearing in end-of-year lists (pretty thin pickings, which says something about the reviews, the year in music or my hunger for new music as the years roll on – possibly all three).

Wednesday lived up to most of the recommendations, like Soccer Mommy fronting Porridge Radio or Camp Cope. With bonus points for name checking the Drive-By Truckers

Honourable mention to Mitski’s The Land Is Inhospitable And So Are We.

Where The Hell Did That Come From… of the Year: Slowdive – Everything Is Alive

Back in the days when my fingers got inky at least once a week with the ritual study of the NME, Slowdive were one of a slew of shoegazing bands in the one-time flavour of the month movement.

Fuzzy guitars should really have been right up my street, but for some reason never fully connected – even with my teenage propensity to gaze at my shoes through what passed for a fringe. Back in the days when it had a hope of making it down as far as my eyes.

Slowdive were not among the bands that really gripped me back then, so their second (or even their third) coming has been a truly pleasant surprise.

Maybe staring at your shoes is better with age and Ride’s Nowhere made a welcome return after initially buying it on vinyl (sadly, left behind – albeit to a good home with my stereo – in the UK).

New music from the original line-up of Drop Nineteens – much more on my radar and contributors to a teenage Winona obsession – came from even further out of left field and is worthy of further investigation.

Need to Spend More Time With/Old Dependable of the Year: Sufjan Stevens – Javelin

Keep being told it is his best for some time. And his best his sensational – several tracks contending for any Desert Island Discs list, even if they are about serial killers or losing someone to cancer.

It is good, just hasn’t really grabbed me yet – although some of his best stuff suddenly leaped out after repeated listens. So will be doing that. And time spent with Sufjan is never wasted.

Honourable mention to The Coral’s Sea of Mirrors.

It’s Good But… of the Year: The Clientele – I Am Not There Anymore

Had several people rave about the latest from a band who apparently have been going for more than 30 years but passed me by completely.

It’s… OK. In places, really good. Benefits from definitely not sounding like it came from anytime recently. Don’t quite get the praise some people lauded on it.

But then said that about The National for a long time

Well Worth Anyone’s Time of the Year…

Girl Ray – Prestige
Wilco – Cousin
Margo Price – Strays
The Hold Steady – Price of Progress
The Wedding Present – 24 Songs
Drive-By Truckers – The Complete Dirty South
The Gaslight Anthem – History Books
Teenage Fanclub – Nothing Lasts Forever

Track of the Year – The National: New Order T-Shirt

It could have been Not Strong Enough and another title for Phoebe Bridgers, it could just as easily have been a couple of contenders from The Murder Capital. Or from Jason Isbell, King of Oklahoma was definitely in the running.

It might even have been Eucalyptus, another song by The National.

But from pretty much first hearing, Matt Berninger’s tale of keeping memories of an old flame alive (“I keep what I can of you”) through an item of clothing has been leading the race for this accolade.

Replace a T-shirt – and sort of want one of the charity ones they made to go with it – with songs and that was one of the inspirations for this entire musical journey.

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Under A Long-Haul Flight Path

THERE is a, potentially British, test of etiquette at the start of each year – how long after January 1 is it expected and then acceptable to wish people a happy new year?

Some begrudge it anywhere beyond the first dawn of the new year while others – looking at you marketing emails – will keep going until at least the middle of the month.

Personally, think the first morning back in the office – or first team video meeting – is about the limit.

Think we have all got the idea by then.

Which is why this blog is posting its traditional new year post (and reduced look at the best of 2021’s music) in the final days of February.

St Ives in the January sun

There is a good excuse – as there has been most years since the first of these posts was written in a dark Ghanaian beach bar seven years ago – and it is my normal  life was sort of put on hold for the first six weeks of the year.

Could not blame being busy at work as was off for the bulk of that time, but those six weeks were a step away from normal life after a wait of almost two years – 649 days apparently.

We will get to that, but let’s break a habit and get to the point of this post early by looking back at the last 12 months.

There were more longer than hoped for waits, at least between blog posts – not through any plan or intended reason.

It just sort of happened, most probably courtesy of spending so much time each day tapping away in front of a screen and wanting to do anything else in my spare time.

Consider this the first step in a drive to remedy that as form of belated resolution, along with losing the lockdown weight and regaining pre-pandemic fitness levels.

Not that there was much else to get in the way, especially with largely working from home, as life continued to remain largely wedged between the four walls of my flat.

Horizons were expanded by a change of job which has had me, at least occasionally, making the trip to Worcester although far more often rubbing the sleep out of my eyes, grabbing a shower and breakfast en route to logging on at home.

A year ago, work was writing about business, but when the offer came in to look after production for various newspapers – ask your parents kids – churning out pages and fighting a string of deadlines, it was not too difficult to accept.

Feel much more at home doing that. Especially at home.

Blending in with the locals

And then there was the other expanded horizon – the one over which the main distraction over the last couple of months emerged far too early one post-Christmas morning.

Anyone paying attention to the new year’s post two years ago – from the considerably warmer and sandier surroundings of a Rio hotel room – will remember a public declaration of no longer being single.

And it was Lisa – responsible for much of that sand, however much she denies it – who emerged into that grey Heathrow morning, a wrong turn through the departure gate delaying our reunion a few brief seconds.

But after 649 days (courtesy of PCR tests and security, she had a lot of time at Sydney airport to work it out), what does that matter?

Not that we haven’t see each other during that long time between bidding farewell in Bogota as the pandemic descended and her arrival from an Australian summer to an English winter.

Pretty much every evening in that time – or early morning, once her cat alarm system kicks in on the other side of the world – has been spent chatting via video until eventually restrictions lifted, borders opened and we could actually plan something definite.

So for those six weeks – much of my holiday time used up either side of being back at work – we were reunited, testing out the restaurants by my flat which normally just walk past, meeting up with friends and introducing her to the delights of Cornwall, a series of day trips from Gloucester and a final week chalking up the miles on foot around London.

She also developed a love for The Detectorists and The Repair Shop.

And on one of those day trips we got engaged.

Extra baggage to take home

No, did not kneel down (chances of getting up again not good with my knees), did not have a ring (that was the next day’s trip) or have any romantic words prepared.

But sat on a bench at Symonds Yat Rock – not the classic viewpoint, it is closed – came up with something which managed to take her by surprise and get the desired yes.

It opens up a lot of other questions for a long-distance relationship, but we will get there.

And need something to write about in all those upcoming posts.

• There is traditionally a second part of the new year post which has grown into its own accompanying article – the Travel Marmot nods to the best of the previous 12 months music.

A year ago, my music-listening habits provided enough candidates for long lists of album and track of the year.

But those habits appear to have changed in the past 12 months – less time in the gym with headphones, more time working, more podcasts – and we are back to a briefer affair on the end of this post.

That’s another thing that needs to change in the coming months…

Album of the Year
Dry Cleaning – New Long Leg

Not a clear-cut winner in a year with plenty of good albums, but few standouts. Dry Cleaning was an early contender nobody quite managed to overhaul, starting a trend for spoke-sung lyrics and in Scratchcard Lanyard they almost produced the track of the year.

Surprisingly Close to Album of the Year
Self Esteem – Prioritise Pleasure

Topped several end-of-year lists but on paper it is hardly my cup of tea. On vinyl (or whatever the download equivalent is), it most definitely is and soundtracked several train journeys to Worcester and back. To nobody’s surprise more than mine – some fucking wizardry.

Track of the Year
Wet Leg – Chaise Longue

“What?”

If you are going to release a debut single, make it this catchy, funny, Mean Girl referencing and did we mention catchy? All while remaining charmingly odd, making buttering muffins and chaises longue part of the zeigeist, Wet Leg produced an instant indie classic and their debut album is the most anticipated of the coming months (even with Fontaines DC on the horizon).

Obligatory Phoebe Bridgers Entry of the Year
Muna – Silk Chiffon

Having released last year’s album of the year, this is a fifth successive appearance in various guises for Bridgers – this time as guest vocalist for a band on a her own label. Slice of bubblegum indie guitar pop runs Chaise Longue a close second for catchiness.

Verging on Edge of Genius and Irritating Discovery of the Year
Yard Act – The Overload

The Leeds band were not too far behind Wet Leg for media excitement about new bands, enlivened by this witty slice of modern life.  Not sure if or for how long it falls on the right of the engrossing/irritating line, but for the moment it is very much in the to be embraced category.

Welcome Old Friend of the Year
Billy Bragg – The Million Things That Never Happened

Could have been The Wedding Present’s category as they found a lockdown niche of online shows and reimagined oldies, but Bragg’s latest musings on modern life at a certain age show you can grow older with charm, humour and valuable insight. Have to give it a try.

As ever, there is a long list of contenders well worth a listen or in need of greater exploration but chances are we will cover much of that as the A-Z iPod challenge kicks back into gear.

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I’m So Bored With The USA to If War Should Come

“Some people don’t know how to walk on the pavement these days
Well it’s not that difficult, there’s hardly a whole host of ways”
L’Enfer C’Est Les Autres – Half Man Half Biscuit

IT may not look like it much of the time, but a lot of these posts start with a vague attempt to find a link with the tracks which have popped up on my iPod.

After all, the journey through the songs from A-Z is the supposed theme of the blog in lieu of any actual travelling.

Links can be tenuous, utterly missing (resulting the music being shoehorned in somewhere), a memory triggered by a song or any themes which pop up in the song title.

Which is where we were headed with this entry from The Clash to Public Service Broadcasting.

After all, if you cannot find a subject from song titles involving the USA to the threat of conflict via the ICU, changing someone’s mind, falling from grace with God, Ideology, ideas and, possibly most fittingly, idiots amid recent events, well you are not really trying.

But after feeding a CNN obsession and replanning the post amid unfurling events (long ago retreated into old West Wing episodes as a form of balm), we will go on about a real issue which has been driving me to distraction.

People’s inability to walk properly on a pavement or path.

There is a link to the music – this is the annoyance that crops up while listening to my iPod on my Government-sanctioned daily walks.

Designed to build some semblance of a return to pre-South America fitness (and waistline) and avoid spending my entire waking hours in the front room of my flat, the walks are part of an attempt to cover 1,000 miles on foot during 2021.

Slowly closing an early fall behind schedule, the daily distance will increase in length in line with the days and the walks provide the perfect chance to escape the four walls, get some fresh air and crank up the music in my headphones.

All socially distanced, of course.

At least until other people sharing the path decide the rules or general courtesy do not apply to them.

“Here they come, love’s young dream, arm in arm, approaching me
Now, I’m not looking for your smile, I’m just asking for some single file”
L’Enfer C’Est Les Autres – Half Man Half Biscuit

This is not a new annoyance.

People’s inability to spot and adapt to what is around them while walking never ceases to amaze at the best of times.

Throw in the restrictions of social distancing and it takes on whole new levels of frustration.

And that is before we start on supermarkets.

So in a bid to tackle the big issues of the day, here is the Travel Marmot guide to walking on the pavements – after all, there’s hardly a whole host of ways.

  • You do not have to fill the whole width of the path

Quite happy to stick to the edge of the path – which on icy days around here, risks sliding along the banks of a canal or river – leaving plenty of room for people coming the other way to hug the far side.

If only.

Walked two miles back along a canal towpath on Sunday with a stream of couples and groups coming the other way – just two moved from side by side to single file and one of them did that down the middle of the path, which rather negates the point.

They are the pedestrian version of middle-lane hogs, seemingly worried they might fall off the edge if they move from the centre.

  • Pay attention to what is ahead

One thing about walking is most of us do not go that fast. You do have time to move out of the way rather than plough on regardless or block the path.

  • Stop looking at your phone

This is not just a social distancing measure, my old walk to work – about 200 yards – rarely failed to feature at least one collision or near miss.

Remarkably, it can be even worse at weekends – and was again between lockdowns – as Gloucester Docks appears a hot spot for groups of men (almost exclusively), dressed in black (even more exclusively), staring at screens (often more than one) in search of Pokemon.

Thankfully, Pokemon appear to be obeying lockdown rules.

  • Walking in the road/mud/canal is fine, thank you

After all, you would not want to get those best shoes or white trainers dirty by veering away from the path to give somebody some room.

Your dog can walk in the mud. It is probably happier there than me.

  • That two-metre gap is not for you to fill

Not a walk issue, this one’s from the list of supermarket gripes (seriously, don’t get me started – my frustration in the aisles generally rises with my need to travel. Which is high).

That two-metre gap in the checkout is for social distancing (you might have heard of it) and to let people pass through.

It is not for you to take your place at the front of the queue.

And no, not all of us are polite enough to let you go keep loading your shopping onto the belt.

  • Filming yourself breaking into a government building and posting it on social media is not a good idea

Oops, sorry, wrong list. Probably the same sort of people.

Soundtracking all this mumbling at passing walkers (and it is not always  as quiet as mumbling) has been a fair few highlights in the latest section.

We had one of last year’s best tracks with ICU from Phoebe Bridgers, rewound a few years for some ideas – three versions of Ideas as Opiates by Tears for Fears, courtesy of a bit of lockdown nostalgia downloading, and Idea Track by Idlewild – a regular visitor in Billy Bragg (Ideology) and Idioteque, one of Radiohead’s better outings once they went a bit… well, let’s just say post-OK Computer.

And then we hit the Ifs, which has been a pretty rich seam,

The magnificent If I Can’t Change Your Mind obeyed this blog’s rule of Copper Blue which says anything from Sugar’s debut album has to feature, while The Lemonheads (If I Could Talk I’d Tell You) and Jason Isbell (If It Takes A Lifetime) come close to similar outcomes.

We had some Pogues (If I Should Fall From Grace With God), Wilco (If I Ever Was A Child), Leonard Cohen (If It Be Your Will), Belle & Sebastian (If She Wants Me) and If I Had A Hammer from American Music Club, who also popped up with I’ve Been A Mess.

Which you could say about a lot of people in the last few weeks.

It has taken us round the world, the close on 40 US states, almost round Africa, even closer to a full circuit of South America (although that was supposed to be a complete circle), A to If on my iPod and any number of detours along the way.

Let’s see where it takes us next – once the world expands a bit further beyond my flat.

 

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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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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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