Category Archives: Music

Acclaimed Albums – Pretenders by Pretenders

List item: Listen to the 250 greatest albums
Progress: 163/250Title: Pretenders
Artist: Pretenders
Year: 1980
Position: #159

I have had a bit of a Blondie heavy week in terms of my actual listening. For the first time I actually ventured away from Parallel Lines and tried Eat to the Beat, which resulted in ‘Atomic’ being on repeat for the better part of an hour. This is my roundabout way of saying that I just felt the urge to continue with my rocky female leads of the 1980s and finally give the Pretenders’ debut album a go.

I have had this album for YEARS and I was always put off listening to it because of, for some unknown reason, The Bangles. Way back when I decided to listen to Different Light (the album with ‘Manic Monday’ and ‘Walk Like An Egyptian’ on it) and was so disappointed that the rest of the album couldn’t live up to the singles. So, due to ‘Brass In Pocket’ being such a strong single, it’s taken me a decade to finally get around to listening to Pretenders.

What the hell was I waiting for. Pretenders is excellent and I really have no idea how a bad Bangles experience prevented me from listening to this. Upon its release, Pretenders must have been such an unusual album to hear – hell it’s still pretty unique now. As a whole it really is a blend of rock, pop-rock and new wave, which is right in my wheelhouse.

For me Pretenders feels like an interesting half-way house between the new wave of Parallel Lines and the alternative rock of MurmurThere is something about James Honeyman-Scott’s guitar and the sheer energy coming from Chrissie Hynde’s vocals that makes this an extremely pleasurable listen. No tracks feel the same and yet everything feels cohesive. This really is a great album.

At this point I am really running on empty when it comes to female fronted albums. If the list doesn’t change significantly in the next few years, I only have 4 of these albums left (5 if you count Sonic Youth). All the more reason to blast my way through this list as quickly as I can so I can extend it… once I listen to pretty much the entire Pink Floyd back catalogue that is.

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🎻♫♪ – Cantus Arcticus by Einojuhani Rautavaara

List Item: Listen to half of the 1001 Classical Works You Must Hear Before You Die
Progress:
 40/501Title: Cantus Arcticus
Composer: Einojuhani Rautavaara
Nationality: Finnish
Year:
1972

Thanks to the buzzing of a very persistent bumblebee – it was a bit of an early start today. Having finished the final episodes of Great Teacher Onizuka, I felt the need to lay down for a bit and try to relax to something a bit more classical and a little less high energy. So I pretty much pulled a classical piece at random and felt vindicated once the bird sounds started.

Honestly, I am not sure if I have ever heard anything quite like Cantus Arcticus. In summary, it is a short classical piece with three movements where prerecorded birdsong does a sweeping dance with the orchestra. Whilst the entire orchestra is used, this is predominantly a piece for the woodwind and strings sections; likely because of those instruments’ ability to create a flowing sound that provides a perfect environment for the birds.

The central figure of this classical piece is undeniably the birdsong, which was recorded at a bog in Northern Finland. The first movement (“The Bog”) is a free and chilled out piece where we take wing with the birds before being led into something more dark and mysterious (the second movement, called “Melancholy”). Then things get a bit more frantic in the final movement (“Swans Migrating”) as are lead to a subtly climactic finish that reminds me of some sections of The Rite of Spring.

This is not the first time I have heard a classical piece that uses sampling (Different Trains being one of them), but it still feels like an incredibly fresh idea to me. Where this is a first for me is that, when I close my eyes, I can imagine my own staged narrative. This is just such a vivid and beautifully done piece, which helps to demonstrate (at least to myself) that doing this list was a great idea.

 

 

Einojuhani Rautavaara

🎻♫♪ – The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra by Benjamin Britten

List Item: Listen to half of the 1001 Classical Works You Must Hear Before You Die
Progress:
 39/501Title: The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra
Composer: Benjamin Britten
Nationality: British
Year:
1945

I have previously spoken about my love of Wes Anderson and how Moonrise Kingdom features highly on my list of favourite movies. I mention this as The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra both inspired elements of the Moonrise Kingdom soundtrack as well as appearing on it (or at least parts of it did).

Whilst I don’t know too much about the 1001 Classical Recordings list, I cannot imagine there being another piece like this for me to listen to. For starters, the basis of The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra is another classical piece (an incidental piece from a 17th century play) that is repeated a number of times – each time by a different section of the orchestra.

The idea of this piece it to educate people (or specifically children) about the different instruments that appear within the orchestra. Depending on the version you listen to, each section is narrated at the beginning with the name of the instruments – with the opening and ending featuring the entire orchestra.

What makes The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra all the more interesting is how well it illustrates how a full orchestral piece not only splits into multiple parts, but also how these parts have their own nuances. I know it should be obvious, but the idea that each group plays something different in order to create a cohesive whole… well it makes the whole composition all the more impressive.

Having done the final set of motets so recently before listening to this, the contrast is incredible. I look forward to the point where I am done with the older church music.

🎻♫♪ – Motets by Orlande de Lassus

List Item: Listen to half of the 1001 Classical Works You Must Hear Before You Die
Progress:
 38/501Title: Motets
Composer: Orlande de Lassus
Nationality: Franco-Flemish
Year:
1555-1604

So, it would seem that this set of works from Orlande de Lassus (whose nationality is rather complex thanks to how often borders have shifted in the last 500 years) will be the last set of motets that I will be listening to for the sake of this list.

Thing is… these just felt like the other motets that I have listened to for this list so far. If you you read around about Orlande de Lassus liked to do different things with his compositions. However, I couldn’t really get any of these in the collection of motets that were highlighted by the book.

In the end, I guess that I don’t know enough about motets to get some of the weirder stuff that de Lassus was doing here. Considering just how long motets had been around at the time of these being written it makes perfect sense that someone has tried to play with the format. Retrospectively, I guess I can see some of it… or I’ll just take the word of the internet at this point.

In other exciting news for this list – due to how much I enjoyed The Sleeping BeautyI booked tickets to see Salome live in a few months time. This will be my third opera I’ve ever seen, so I cannot help but wonder if I’ll enjoy it (like Manon) or not (like La Traviata).

Acclaimed Albums – Automatic For The People by R.E.M.

List item: Listen to the 250 greatest albums
Progress: 162/250Title: Automatic for the People
Artist: R.E.M.
Year: 1992
Position: #42

Like thousands of other people, I listen to the Earwolf podcast R U Talkin’ R.E.M. RE: ME? where hosts Scott Auckerman and Adam Scott go through and discuss each of the R.E.M. albums in order (when they aren’t inventing other weird sub-podcasts). I’ve gotten to the point where the next album they’re going to cover is Automatic for the People – so I thought this would be as good a time as any to give this a spin.

As I have been realising whilst listening to previous episodes of the R.E.M. podcast, I actually know a lot of this album from my mum. I remember, when I was much younger, her playing R.E.M. every now and then (mostly Automatic for the People and Out of Time) so it has been an interesting bit of nostalgia to properly listen to these songs.

For the most part, Automatic for the People is actually quite a bit darker than I first realised. This isn’t just because of ‘Everybody Hurts’, which I remember crying to when I was a teenager when I was in my more fragile moments. No, there are tracks like ‘Sweetness Follows’ which deals with death and ‘Monty Got A Raw Deal’ which is about the unfairness of Montgomery Clift’s live post-car crash.

However, whilst these songs can be a little bit maudlin, the album never succumbs to the weight of it’s own darker topics. For one thing, Automatic For The People also contains three far more positive and rocky songs that help to break up the sadness. ‘Man on the Moon’ is one of my favourite R.E.M. songs ever and knowing more about the weird references to Andy Kaufman and the conspiracy of his faking his own death just makes it better. ‘Ignoreland’ is an angry look at the Republican party and there is ‘The Sidewinder Sleeps Tonite’ which is just a whole lot of fun.

What makes me enjoy this album more than Murmur is how far their melodies have come. By this time R.E.M. were in the spotlight more than ever, but they still never allowed themselves to become fully mainstream. Unlike a lot of other bands, I don’t think you can accuse them of selling out or not trying to stay true to who they were. Automatic For The People is the best that they ever sounded and whilst future releases still contained flashes of their genius, this is where they peaked. At least for me that is.

In Review: Music Of 2018 (10-1)

Well hello there. Thanks for clicking on to see the second part of my year in music review. Yesterday I got to my #11 of 2018, so let’s finish that countdown and see who ended up at #1.

#10 – The Lookout by Laura Veirs

I think it’s the first time since starting this blog where Laura Veirs has released a solo album of original material. I’ve loved her since reviewing her July Flame in 2010 and she’s since become one of my favourite purveyors of folk music. Yet, she still remains pretty much remains an unknown to most and that feels downright criminal.

The Lookout is an example of the sort of folk music that Laura Veirs does well. Her beautiful and instantly recognisable voice just seems to float above a guitar style that has become her signature. On many tracks she has perfected her formula from the last few albums (like ‘Seven Falls’, ‘The Meadow’ and ‘Margaret Sands’), but on others (like ‘Lightning Rod’) it’s good to see that she is still experimenting with possible augments to her sound and has gained a more political streak.

Is this the best Laura Veirs has ever sounded? Maybe not, but it’s another entry in a great discography. It’s also an interesting album to listen to after her collaboration with Neko Case and k.d. lang as it feels like she learned a lot from working with them.

Top Tracks: Seven Falls, Everybody Needs You, Watch Fire

#9 – Dirty Computer by Janelle Monae

I’ve been a huge fan of Janelle Monae for the last 8 years, starting with that very first play of her first studio album (and, to me, her magnum opus) The Archandroid. She’s a unique and much needed voice in the arts and has produced some of the most interesting music in the last decade (as well as demonstrating some considerable acting chops in films like Moonlight and Hidden Figures). It would be enough to make you sick, if the talent and ouvre didn’t live up and exceed the ever increasing hype.

As someone who has so been enjoying her concept album series Metropolis it saddened me somewhat that Dirty Computer would not be following up where Electric Lady left off. Thing is, that fictional series can always wait – Dirty Computer is the album she felt the need to make now and she delivered another excellent piece of work (even if I do end up skipping the ending raps from a number of tracks).

Compared to her previous work, Dirty Computer is more political and less experimental – which is why it is probably my third favourite of her three albums (and yet still in my top ten, which goes to show how stupid it is to rank Janelle Monae against herself). It took me longer than normal to get into this album, but I am there now and still finding an almost daily reason to listen to ‘Screwed’.

Top Tracks: Screwed, Pynk, Make Me Feel

#8 – Hell-On by Neko Case

Few artists are as consistently amazing as Neko Case. I think this is her fourth album in a row (including ‘Case/Lang/Viers’, her collaboration with Laura Viers and k.d. lang) that has ended up in my end of year list, and this includes some of the best songs I’ve ever heard her sing.

Her sound continues to mature in such a satisfying way. Songs like ‘Curse of the I-5 Corridor’ and ‘Hell-On’ feel like world away from what she first released way back when on The Virginian. In an age where more and more comes out about the mistreatment of women in the arts and workplaces, it’s encouraging that artists like Neko Case are still finding ways to amplify their voices.

I think that, once listening to this album, it’s really worth tracking down the episode of the Song Exploder podcast where Neko Case breaks down ‘Last Lion of Albion’. It was always one of my favourites on the record, but finding out the inspiration behind it and finding out about all the symbolism shed inserted into the lyrics just utterly floored me.

Top Tracks: Curse of the I-5 Corridor, Sleep All Summer, Last Lion of Albion

#7 – Bloom by Troye Sivan

A real latecomer to this list, to the point that I have seen Bloom climb and climb in the final weeks of the year. Despite being released in August, I was a bit prejudiced against this album as I had made the incredibly inaccurate assumption that Troye Sivan was being marketed as a new Justin Bieber.

I cannot believe how wrong I was. If it wasn’t for his collaboration with Charli XCX then I might have let this album pass me by. A wonderful and intelligent pop album that sings about things from the gay perspective. I can only imagine what an album like this would have meant to me when I was a teenager – because mainstream albums like ‘Bloom’ just didn’t exist 10-15 years ago.

It feels one part Carly Rae Jepsen, one part Lorde and other parts of various artists including Sufjan Stevens. Songs like ‘Seventeen’ just strike such a chord about the uncertainties of that first gay experience whilst others like ‘Bloom’ and ‘Lucky Strike’ are great songs about same sex love. So glad that albums like this are being made now.

Top Tracks: Seventeen, Dance to This, My My My!

#6 – Isolation by Kali Uchis

Of all the albums in my year end list, Isolation easily wins the prize of having the most collaborators. This beings in a multitude of influences from US and South American music, with Kali Uchis’s sultry vocals being delivered in tracks taking on elements of rap, tropicalia, bossa nova, R&B etc, but the album maintains a consistent character and throughline – to Uchis’s credit as well as the record’s producers.

It might also be the best sequenced album on this list as playing it out of order feels so incredibly wrong. For the purposes of writing this year end, I always play the album on random to help isolate my favourite songs. Playing Isolation this way just felt like some sort of sacrilege.

 It’s not like the songs can’t stand on their own, but together the whole thing just sounds more than the sum of its parts. That being said, there never seems to be a bad time to roll out ‘Tomorrow’. That is really one hell of a song.

Top Tracks: Tomorrow, Miami, Your Teeth In My Neck

#5 – Am I A Girl? by Poppy

It started out as a Spotify recommendation of her amazing cover of Gary Numan’s ‘Metal‘, only to have her music dominate the last few months of my year. Poppy isn’t just a cool take on what a pop star could be; she is also a fully-realised character that plays with the uncanny valley and fembots.

Poppy’s debut album, Poppy.Computer, themes itself around robots and technology, but with Am I A Girl? her character has left the inter web and is walking about us. On ‘Time Is Up’ she tells about how she will be what is left behind after humans destroy the environment, whilst in the titular track she provides a rare example of a gender-queer anthem as she questions her own concepts of gender.

Am I A Girl? is a confident, and sometimes sassy, take on electropop (and, at times, nu-metal) that has largely gone unnoticed despite collaborations with the likes of Diplo and Grimes. It may not be to everybody’s taste, but it feels like it might just be a matter of time before Poppy makes something that crosses over. Someone really worth keeping an eye on.

Top Tracks: Time Is Up, Play Destroy, X

#4 – El Mal Querer by Rosalía

When I first started writing this little piece for El Mal Querer it was placed at twelfth place. By the time I got to the second go it was ninth and now it has settled in at number four. So is the bewitching power of Rosalía’s second album, and the fact that both this and Bloom ended up dominating my internal soundtrack when on holiday in Riga (more on that when the blog posts go up… in early June 2019).

The thing that makes it so easy to come back to El Mal Querer is down to how foreign it is. The music itself is such a fusion of genres, such as new flamenco, pop, contemporary R&B, and a bit of electronica (including some interesting samples of sword fights and traffic) . So many experiments like this can make an album feel a bit disjointed and without a tangible identity – which is where Rosalía’s presence comes in.

You won’t understand her words if you don’t speak Spanish, but you always understand the emotions behind them. As I’ve found in some of the flamenco songs from the 1001 song list, the singing style is incredibly emotive and filled with an Arabian otherworldliness – which is amazing when paired with this modern musical fusion.

Top Tracks: Pienso en Tu Mira, Malamente, Di Mi Nombre

#3 – POST- by Jeff Rosenstock

At the beginning of the year I started out with the aim of listening to 100 new albums. This clearly didn’t happen, but because of this self-imposed challenge I picked up POST- on January 1st as that was the only new album. Going into this as just the first of 100, I had no idea that this would end up being near the top by the end of the year.

In all honesty, this album would have probably ranked in the lower part of the list based just on ‘USA’ – one of the few songs that gives me goosebumps nearly every time and makes me chant along towards the end. There has always been a part of me that enjoys a rockier/power pop album and POST- is so good at scratching that particular itch.

Seriously though, I can only imagine how amazing it would be to see this album being performed live. I would be in a tearful frenzy by the time ‘USA’ only to start jumping around as soon as he starts playing ‘Melba’ or ‘Powerlessness’. There is so much generational anger in this album that is incredibly relatable (probably more so in his native US) and makes this such a high energy blast.

Top Tracks: USA, Melba, 9/10

#2 – Golden Hour by Kacey Musgraves

After a very slight sophomore slump, it feels like Kacey Musgraves came back with one of the best country albums that I have ever heard. Like a lot of other artists before her, Musgraves has begun to weave in some pop influences to create this release – epitomised by the Daft Punk-esque voices that bookend the truly beautiful ‘Oh, What A World’ and the disco-influenced ‘High Horse’.

Not only are so many of these songs gorgeous to listen to (or profoundly honest, like ‘Mother’ which is about a bad drug trip), but she remains a brilliant country lyricist. ‘Space Cowboy’ is a take on a breakup, with a title that makes you think of ‘The Joker’ and there’s ‘Velvet Elvis’, a love song about a black velvet painting of Elvis Presley.

With this, her major label debut and her brilliantly festive A Very Kacey Christmas – Kacey Musgraves is one of those artists that I feel I’ve been a little late to the party to (like with Bon Iver), but I am very much a fan. With Golden Hour being looked at as the example of what modern country could become, this is going to be a tough album to follow-up.

Top Tracks: Oh, What A World, High Horse, Velvet Elvis

#1 – In A Poem Unlimited by U.S. Girls

I love it when am artist that I have never heard of can swoop in and take the top spot (it hasn’t happened since Father John Misty did so in 2015 with I Love You Honeybear). The moment I got three tracks in on my first listen – I could tell that this would end the year as one of my favourites. Now, it’s hard to describe offhand just what makes this my favourite album, other than it was near impossible for me to put down for about a month and I would fall head over heels for a new song each week.

Few tracks this have had the same repeat value as ‘M.A.H.’ – her song which, much like Anohni in 2016, fires shots at the expectations of former U.S. president Obama that ended in disappointment. She does this in a modern take of the old-style girl groups, with many a neo-psychedelic twist.

The rest of the album is profoundly eclectic from the screeching brass of ‘Rage of Plastics’ to the layered sampling work on ‘Pearly Gates’. In the age of Trump there are an increasing number of albums being released with a real feminist perspective and In A Poem Unlimited managed to succeed in promoting this whilst also making some brilliantly different takes on pop. There was no question about this number one – a truly sublime album.

Top Tracks: M.A.H., Rosebud, Incidental Boogie

In Review: Music Of 2018 (20-11) + An Honourable Mention

Another year comes to an end and, man, it’s been a real year of change on my end. New job in a completely new line of work that I seem to have a real aptitude for. Hopefully they’ll keep me on so I don’t have to go back to where I was (which would be very bad mental healthwise) and I can talk, next year, about my first full year as a data analyst.

Now, at the beginning of the year I had a goal to try and listen to 100 albums released in 2018 before the year was out. This… didn’t quite happen and I have ended up with 57 albums to make my Top 20 from. I wish I’d had more time to add to this list, but I had a real podcast renaissance that took away from my music time. Still, this is more albums than last year, which is an improvement.

As with last year I have an honourable mention before embarking on my Top 20 so let’s get started…

Honourable Mention: Mamamoo’s Four Seasons Project

Between Mamamoo and f(x), 2018 has started to introduce me to the world of K-Pop. I’m not exactly a superfan as my enjoyment is made more from exceptions than rules, but something about these two girl groups really struck a chord.

This year Mamamoo have started on a ‘Four Seasons’ project, with three of these EPs already having been released by the time I’ve written this post. On their own, only one of the EPs (Yellow Flower) got close to making a solo appearance on this list – mainly because of ‘Starry Night’, which ended up being one of my most played songs of the year. I can only imagine how good an album made of the highlights of the already released 3 EPs and the yet to be released final EP could have been.

Right, let’s get on with the actual countdown!

#20= – Digital Rain by Johnny Jewel 

I usually don’t go for ties on lists, but for this year I really needed to make an exception. Since music appreciation can depend heavily on mood, it makes sense that the two albums I have drawn at 20 have suited very different purposes in 2018.

First up is Digital Rain, an electronic album inspired by the artist’s nostalgia for precipitation, something that’s not too common in his current home of LA. Over the course of 19 songs this album creates various moods based on different forms of wet weather, whether it be a light shower, a downpour or snow.

At various points in 2018 this is an album that has come to my rescue during times of stress or at times where I need some ambient music to drown out the office for the sake of proof-reading. It’s not common for me to listen to albums like this, but the concept drew me in and then the moodscapes kept me coming back for more.

Top Tracks: Digital Rain, Double Exposure, Houston

#20= – Chris by Christine and the Queens

I have so much respect for someone who can sing in multiple languages, then you get Christine and the Queens who can concurrently create the same album in her native tongue and in English. Whilst I know that that are subtle differences between both albums, during the course of the year I only listened to the French version (with the exception of ‘Girlfriend’). Don’t know why, other than preferring how she sounds in French.

Where Digital Rain was a good album to sooth tension, Chris served a purpose as being a really satisfying walking and reading album. Songs like ‘Doesn’t Matter’ ended up on repeat a lot as I was writing blog posts and I randomly find likes from ‘Comme si on s’aimait’ and ‘L’étranger (voleur d’eau)’ popping into my head.

It’s a bit of a shame that all the stellar songs are so front-loaded into the album, much like with Bat For Lashes’ The Bridebut those songs are so good that you can just listen to those songs on loop again and again.

Top Tracks: Doesn’t matter (voleur de soleil), La marcheuse, Damn, dis-moi

#19 I’m All Ears by Let’s Eat Grandma

Ugh their minds. When I was 18/19 there is no way that I could come up with a lyric like “I pave the backstreet with the mist of my brain”, but that’s what they do on album highlight ‘Falling Into Me’ as their voices echo in the swirling synth-nirvana. Sonically this is one of the most beautifully produced songs I came across all year, and the rest of the album is pretty damned great too.

‘Falling into Me’ . I’m not entirely sure of the point of ‘Missing Call (1)’ other than something that I wish I could set as a ringtone on my new phone. It does, however, set an interesting barrier between the first half with the singles and the latter half that contains two very long pieces – album closer ‘Donnie Darko’ building and building the tension to an excellent conclusion.

It’s hard to believe that I’m All Ears is going to be the limit of the pop powers of Let’s Eat Grandma. If they continue on this path of development, when comparing this to their debut album I, Gemini, these two stand to be real forces to be reckoned with when it comes to pushing the boundaries of pop music.

Top Tracks: Falling Into Me, I Will Be Waiting, Donnie Darko

#18 – God’s Favourite Customer by Father John Misty

I think I was in the minority in not quite seeing what all the fuss was about with Father John Misty’s previous album Pure Comedy. It’s one of the pitfalls of singing songs with an almost-persona, sometimes that persona can take over – so I’m heartened to see him moving back to the sound that led me to use one of his songs for the first dance at my wedding.

God’s Favourite Customer arose from some event in Tillman’s life that turned everything upside down. It’s lead to songs that are far more introspective and intimate, especially when compared to the proselytising on Pure Comedy. From the starting track ‘Hangout at the Gallows’ you know this is back to where I liked him best – there’s the emotional rip of ‘Please Don’t Die’ and the conversation between him and a fictional hotel employee in ‘Mr Tillman’.

Now, if there is one thing that’s missing from God’s Favourite Customer compared to I Love You, Honeybear it’s the sense of humour. I mean there’s no moment in here that comes close to ‘Chateau Lobby #4’, but that’s fine because we have the honest, heart-on-his-sleeve Josh Tillman back. I hope he’s recovered from what sparked this album’s creation.

Top Tracks: Mr. Tillman, Please Don’t Die,  Disappointing Diamonds Are the Rarest of Them All

#17 – 7 by Beach House

I hope I’m not the only person who ended up confusing Beach House with Best Coast way back when. Needless to say, once I heard the amazing Beach House song ‘Elegy To The Void’ a few years ago, I got the picture: Best Coast is light and breezy, Beach House is dream pop and the natural development of My Bloody Valentine.

is probably the most accessible album that Beach House has made, especially after the darkness of Thank Your Lucky Stars. Whilst their aesthetic is still undeniably the dark swirls of dream pop, they have really started to find a way to match this with hooks and some earworm worthy melodies. Take, for example, ‘Lemon Glow’ – I don’t know any of the lyrics but I can sure as hell envisage those pulses.

Whilst does lack some cohesion, it is still a privilege to get lost in their world. The ethereal vocals and the darkness of their soundscapes made for some interesting moods when I listened to this through a lot of May. If this album had come out when I was in my teens, this would have blown my mind and given me a proper introduction into a genre I would only discover thanks to album lists. Still, at least I have it now.

Top Tracks: Lose Your Smile, Lemon Glow, L’inconnue

#16 – Ephorize by Cupcakke

2018 has seen me listen to so many different things, but one of the big miracles was coming across a rare rap album that I could fall for. Never have I heard such a sex-positive, all-inclusive, raunchy collection of songs on a rap album. The fact that ‘Crayons’ has yet to appear as a lip-sync on RuPaul’s Drag Race is a travesty that I hope is down to them not being able to book her rather than it not being on their radar.

Compared to a lot of the safer music that I tend to listen to tracks like ‘Spoiled Milk Titties’ and ‘Cinnamon Toast Crunch’ serve as the perfect antidote. Cupcakke’s lyrics walk that line between filthy and hilarious, all served with a shameless style that make me just sit back in grinning admiration. If I had half the confidence I hear on these tracks, I swear I could take over the world – or at least a small village.

It’s not all raunch and sass, tracks like ‘Self Interview’ and ‘Total’ show more of a softness and some self-reflection. I don’t know necessarily if this is a good gateway album into rap or just an excellent rap album, but I know that I need to listen to her other 2018 album (Eden) at some point in the near future.

Top Tracks: Crayons, Cinnamon Toast Crunch, Total

#15 – I Can Feel You Creep Into My Private Life by Tune-Yards

Merrill Garbus of Tune-Yards has an incredibly impressive voice and her work with Nate Brenner has always led to albums that take a variety of world music elements and turn them into interesting indie pop. Their second album Whokill remains the highlight of their discography, but this year’s release (I Can Feel You Creep Into My Private Life) showed an interesting development in their sound.

Whilst they are still very music a band with global influence, these have now been paired with electronic elements – which has created their first album where you could dance to some of their tracks… even if their tracks are primarily concerned with the encroachment on privacy and identity politics. I mean, take my favourite track ‘ABC 123’ – in this they name check the NSA whilst also talking about voting, white centrality and fires in California.

So many albums I’ve listened to this year have been political in nature (because the times we live in, I guess), but I Can Feel You Creep Into My Private Life has been able to make listening and talking about these topics fun and danceable.

Top Tracks: ABC 123, Who Are You, Look At Your Hands

#14 – Honey by Robyn

For me, a new release from Robyn is a major event. The Body Talk albums were pop landmarks and her work with Royksopp in the interim years made for excellent stop gaps whilst waiting for her next full release. So here we are with Honey after an 8 year wait and, with the exception of single ‘Missing U’, Robyn has shape-shifted into something very different.

Not gonna lie, but during my first listen of Honey I was profoundly disappointed that this was not the same pop confection spinner that I loved on her self-titled album and on Body Talk. However, the beats she’d created stayed with me – specifically those of ‘Human Being’ and ‘Beach2k20’. Whilst I still miss the old pop, I cannot help but respect Robyn for her choice to innovate – something she really managed to succeed at here.

Honey is an album of heartbreak and survival disguised in pop, post-disco and beats. With those things considered, it’s no wonder that Robyn (the creator of ‘With Every Heartbeat’, ‘Dancing On My Own’ and ‘Call Your Girlfriend’) was able to craft something beautiful here.

Top Tracks: Human Being, Honey, Missing U

#13 – Dancing With The Beast by Gretchen Peters

Back in my 2015 list, in those days before I spent days working on writing blurbs for every album in my top 20, Gretchen Peters’ album Blackbirds sat at number 15 in what was an incredibly competitive year. This year finds her follow-up album Dancing With The Beast in a similarly competitive year, having been kicked out of the top 10 in the final few weeks of the year.

This is the first of three ‘women in folk’ albums that will appear in my year-end list (okay, this is more on the Americana) and, sadly, is yet another one of her albums that doesn’t have it’s own Wikipedia page or a mention on Metacritic. It’s just another album that proves the point that you don’t know what amazing music is being made unless you go out and search for it.

Dancing With The Beast is a beautifully crafted piece of dark folk/Americana. This collection of the songs tell various stories of women at different stages in their life. She goes darkest in songs like ‘Wichita’ and ‘Lowlands’, but it isn’t all like this. Towards the end, the album softens with tracks like ‘Love That Makes A Cup of Tea’ which is a bit twee, but is a lovely sentiment to end an album that deals with the hazards of being a woman.

Top Tracks: Lowlands, Dancing With The Beast, Wichita

#12 – Be The Cowboy by Mitski

There are times where I find it hard to believe that Mitski isn’t a side-project of St Vincent. I mean, have you ever seen them in the same place at the same time? Conspiracy theories aside, whilst Be The Cowboy may not be my album of the year it does contain ‘Washing Machine Heart‘ – my song of the year.

In the middle of album opener ‘Geyser’ where we see Mitski transform from the Puberty 2 version of herself into something stronger, more elegant and destined for stardom. Be The Cowboy sees Mitski doing something we haven’t seen her do before – sing as someone other than herself. With this different sort of freedom, she is able to soar and deliver her world view through so many more lenses than she has before.

Every year there is an album whose placement is likely to rise as the years go by – I think that Be The Cowboy could very well be that album for 2018. In the lead up to writing up this Top 20 I have been so focused on everything I’ve listened to this year that it has kinda gotten lost in the pack. Maybe we’ll see how things are when I do a decade end list.

Top Tracks: Washing Machine Heart, Geyser, Nobody

#11 – Oil of Every Pearl’s Un-Insides by SOPHIE

It may have one the weirdest and nonsensical titles of any album this year, but the name of this album is not where the strangeness ends. No, Oil of Every Pearl’s Un-Insides is an experimental avant-garde pop album and the first full studio album from producer Sophie Xeon. Her’s is a pretty unique voice and one you may have heard in their previous credits for Charli XCX, Let’s Eat Grandma and Madonna.

I’m not entirely sure if there are many albums out there with the same musical palette as Oil of Every Pearl’s Un-Insides. However, considering the critical success and her growing list of collaborators, it’s likely one that is likely to be inspiring a slew of albums in the near future. So if you hear an album going forward with a weird music of grunge electronica mixed with sweeping pop vistas, you know the source.

Starting with ‘It’s Okay To Cry’ is incredibly disarming considering the songs that are to follow. Then again, as a trans-artist, Oil of Every Pearl’s Un-Insides is one of a growing body of new stories that are just coming to the pop masses. Songs like ‘Faceshopping’, ‘Whole New World’ and ‘Immaterial’ all deal with the concept of gender whilst also delivering throbbing beats and an interesting take on pop sensibilities. Not necessarily an album you’ll get on the first go, but definitely one that rewards multiple listens.

Top Tracks: Faceshopping, Ponyboy, Immaterial

Acclaimed Albums – Rain Dogs by Tom Waits

List item: Listen to the 250 greatest albums
Progress: 161/250Title: Rain Dogs
Artist: Tom Waits
Year: 1985
Position: #92

Reading back on my thoughts of swordfishtrombonesit looks like I wasn’t exactly quite sure what to make of it. In places I am a bit dismissive of it (mainly because it wasn’t the cabaret style I expected) and in others I’m thinking about whether this warrants further listens down the line. Well, I didn’t play it again in the 18 months since – but I weirdly feel like I am in better place to appreciate it.

Not only am I coming off an obsession with the Over The Garden Wall soundtrack (which contains a few Tom Waits-style songs like ‘The Highwayman’), but I also fell deeply in love with 50 Song Memoir by The Magnetic Fields and rediscovered Ute Lempur’s Punishing Kiss. All of these have seemingly paved the way to this listen of Rain Dogs, which I have enjoyed immensely.

I know that there is a lot of commonality between Rain Dogs and swordfishtrombones, but I feel like I have finally gotten the aesthetic he is going for. It really is the raspy singer in the corner of a surreal dive bar who is narrating the lives of the unfortunates who drink there and plays whatever instruments have been left behind over the years (which apparently includes a marimba).

On the whole this album is weird and is what you might expect to hear if there was ever a mash-up of Black Books and Twin Peaks. Sure ‘Hang Down Your Head’ provides a melodic break about a third of the way through, but soon we’re back to off-kilter narratives and really idiosyncratic guitar playing.

This, by no means, is an album that everyone will enjoy. I mean, the look my husband had on his face when he came through the door to this playing was… well it was something. I guess if you enter part way through Rain Dogs then you are going to wonder what the hell is going on. By then you’ve already missed ‘Clap Hands’ and ‘Jockey Full of Bourbon’, which is a damned shame.

It’s also interesting to finally hear the original version of ‘Anywhere I Lay My Head’, which I only previously knew from Scarlett Johansson’s Tom Waits cover album of the same name. An interesting way to end the album, but not one of the songs I would personally call a highlight. Still, this is definitely one of the better albums I have listened to for the list in the last few months – even if it is one of the weirder ones.

1001 Songs – 1972: Part Two

Silver Machine – Hawkwind

Starting off today’s batch of songs with a bit of space rock that helped to introduce the world to Lemmy (who, obviously, later goes on to found and front Motörhead). It’s the meshing of harder rock guitars and sci-fi bleeps and bloops that make this space rock and, therefore, an interesting addition to the list. I guess this is what happens when a prog rock and psychedelic rock are given access to electronic instruments – which means we are one step closer to the world of shoegaze… which I am looking forward to see being born.

I like a long intro in a song, but it was a bit long for something that never opened up an album. By the time Lemmy properly got into it, the song was over and it was a few bleeps and bloops left before the end. Still, it’s another one of those signposts for what was beginning to happen in 1972.

Tumbling Dice – The Rolling Stones

Listening to this reminds me just how much I need to listen to and cross off Exile from Main St. from my albums list. This is an album that is ranked within the top 10 of all albums ever released and ‘Tumbling Dice’ is the track chosen to represent this album on the songs list.

With ‘Tumbling Dice’ the Rolling Stones are still doing their blues rock thing, as they had been doing for nearly a decade by this point, but it’s such an interesting labyrinth of a song whose runtime is under 4 minutes. On the surface it feels it would be a bit piecemeal – there are so many changes along the way that it keeps your ear out for what is coming next. I can’t even begin to imagine how you would put a song like this together. Maybe I should listen to this album soon…

Thirteen – Big Star

I thought this song sounded familiar – Elliot Smith did a cover of this which was later released on his posthumous New Moon collection.

‘Thirteen’ is a sweet folk song about adolescence, but the earlier part of adolescence where things are still a bit more innocent. It’s interesting to hear him name check ‘Paint it Black’ by the Rolling Stones because that feels so honest to what a teenager at that time would have started to get into. On the whole it’s simple, effective and emotionally honest.

Big Eyed Beans from Venus – Captain Beefheart & The Magic Band

God, how long has it been since I listened to Trout Mask Replica. A long time, and I had forgotten how surreal Captain Beefheart could be. However, unlike anything I’ve heard of his before, ‘Big Eyed Beans from Venus’ was part of a body of work created as an attempt to create a more commercial album. This, in effect, was a leftover track from another album which then got included in their second of two albums of 1972.

It’s sticking very much with his idea of a surreal avant garde blues rock with lyrics that I can’t exactly make heads nor tails of. However, this does feel more in line with other songs I’ve heard so far in the 1972 section of the 1001 songs list. It still has the chaotic threads of a Captain Beefheart song, but it’s tempered down to the point where this feels like a mainstream compromise on his own terms.

Rocket Man – Elton John

Hands up – I cannot hear this song without thinking of the William Shatner spoken word version. Try as I might, I just close my eyes and I see Shatner delivering this as a weird trio performance.

Expelling the image of Shatner from my brain – ‘Rocket Man’ feels like a song that could have been produced if The Beatles hadn’t split up and were then finding influence from David Bowie. It’s a cool idea to write a song about the future of space travel to the point where being an astronaut is an everyday job, kind of en par with being a space trucker.

Speaking of space, this is another song from this year where space age sounds are being used to supplement rock compositions – and this is 10 years after ‘Telstar’ did a lot of the intial leg work.

Mama Weer All Crazee Now – Slade

Looking at the album cover of Slayed? I swear that Noddy Holder has always looked like he was at least in his 40s. Also, like people, the main thing I know Slade from is ‘Merry Christmas Everybody’, so any other songs of theirs can feel a bit jarring.

With ‘Mama Weer All Crazee Now’ it’s clear that metal and glam rock is about to explode from it’s confines within the wider genre of hard rock, but the time isn’t uite yet. It’ll only be a year before this songs list sees that spillover and temporarily take over the air waves before punk and disco become firmly established. It’s a full body adrenaline rush of a song that must have killed when played live. I guess we’ll see how this develops further when ‘Cum On Feel The Noize’ arrives in 1973.

Rocky Mountain High – John Denver

Well at least I won’t be having to sit through ‘Annie’s Song’ as part of the songs list. I know it’s famous and well loved, but it’s really been overdone (as the choir episode of The Vicar of Dibley would tell you).

Like how ‘City of New Orleans’ was a love letter to the railways of America that were under threat, ‘Rocky Mountain High’ is John Denver singing about his love of the Colorado mountains. It’s full of beautiful images of the mountains and watching the sunset whilst enjoying the countryside. Towards the end of the song, he turns on the tourists who are ruining his beloved Rockies which does wack you in the face… in a good way.

The Night – Frankie Valli & The Four Seasons

This shows my ignorance, but I didn’t realise that Frankie Valli & The Four Seasons lasted past the end of the 1960s. Let alone move towards the Motown family of record labels and craft something quite like ‘The Night’.

Not mincing words, but I thought that ‘The Night’ was extraordinary. This is a piece of blue-eyed soul with Phil Spector style of production. I mean, this hits so many things that would make me love a song. A dark song with beautiful harmonies and a massive production that just gives off hints of menace. This is such an about turn from ‘Working My Way Back To You’ that to call it a maturation in their sound is underselling it. Just such a pity that it never really took off in the US.

Reelin’ in the Years – Steely Dan

I guess it was the name that gave me this idea, but I always figured Steely Dan would be a metal act. So here I am girding my loins for something more in the realm of Slade, but instead I’m getting what would have happened if The Beach Boys had decided to make their music move towards the hard rock sub genre.

This is described as jazz rock in the book (which means yet another sub-genre of rock that I need to keep track of) and I am keen to see how this genre develops as I really liked the softer rock, the harmonies and the more upbeat blues structure. They have a few albums in the Acclaimed Albums Top 1000… which further illustrates the need with me to speed the hell up.

Always on My Mind – Elvis Presley

The timing of this song feels like something from a Hollywood biopic. Elvis separates from his wife Priscilla and within weeks is recording a song about how he should have been a better husband. The problem that I have is that despite the situation, Elvis’s version feels somewhat detached. Other artists would have been able to use this as an opportunity to unburden their feelings – but Elvis is a singer, not an artist, and there is a fundamental difference there.

I can see why, for the narrative, this version of the song is on the list – but better versions have since been done by Willie Nelson, the Pet Shop Boys and Loretta Lynn.

Progress: 363/1021

Acclaimed Albums – Sticky Fingers by The Rolling Stones

List item: Listen to the 250 greatest albums
Progress: 160/250Title: Sticky Fingers
Artist: The Rolling Stones
Year: 1971
Position: #48

I tried again with the whole ‘listen to a list album whilst playing Horizion: Zero Dawn‘ shtick and, unlike my experience with Fun House this did not lead to me becoming stupidly stressed and needing some time to calm down. I think this speaks to both the calmer blues rock and the fact that I didn’t try and battle any major bosses (other than a pod of some nasty looking robot crocs).

Anyway, I should stop talking about Horizion: Zero Dawn. 

There are times when I listen to an album where all I can hear are ghosts of songs yet to come. With ‘Brown Sugar’ I could hear elements of what would become Foreigner’s ‘Hot Blooded’ and then the blues guitar twangs on ‘Sister Morphine’ let me towards Sheryl Crow’s ‘There Goes The Neighbourhood’. It’s one of the negatives of listening to these albums in a semi-random order –  unlike with the 1001 Songs I am not getting a good through line of how music is changing.

Still, by doing it this way I am able to appreciate it (or not) on a more personal level and, with Sticky Fingers, there are a number of songs on this album that stand out. The two I have mentioned already would probably be my main highlights, but there’s also the album closer ‘Moonlight Mile’. It’s not a song that I had heard of before and yet it’s the one I have been weirdly drawn to. It’s a bit of a mysterious one to end on and, unlike the epic ‘Can’t You Hear Me Knocking’, it feels like the first time I’ve properly heard a vulnerable side from the band.

In the past I haven’t exactly been exploding with compliments for albums by The Rolling Stones – Sticky Fingers is a real way forward. It got hold of me straight away and makes me feel all the more interested to listen to Exile on Main St. which is their highest ranked album by some way.

With (at the time of writing) 90 albums left before I see out the top 250, I cannot help but wonder how long it is going to take me before crossing this off.