Thursday 30 December 2021

My albums of the year (2021)

It’s been a long time coming but it’s that time again, folks… I’m sneaking my albums of the year post out *just* before the new year. My diary is already filling up with upcoming albums from the likes of Wet Leg, Gang of Youths, MICHELLE, Orlando Weeks and Buzzard Buzzard Buzzard but for now, I’ve been reflecting on the records that I’ve spent the past 12 months with. The albums that have filled me with joy, made me cry, brought me to tears and been a comfort in this crazy year. A completely self-indulgent list of my favourite records of the year, which I hope that you’ll love too - there’s a little bit of something for everyone here.

After highlighting 40 (!) albums last year across 6 (!) posts (entirely thanks to the free time furlough gave me…) things are a little bit more reserved this year - a ramble about my top 5 albums, followed by a list of 20 more albums (in release order) that have moved me in some way this year.

Without further ado, my albums of the year… and don’t they look lovely?!

1. The Staves - Good Woman (buy/stream)

Since it was released back in February, there has been very little doubt in my mind about my favourite album of the year. Sure, it had a bit of a head-start on most of the other records on the list, but Good Woman immediately burrowed itself firmly into my heart, and has been stuck there, and in my headphones, ever since. The record was (Spotify informs me, as well as my record player) my most-listened to of the year, and The Staves my most listened to artist. Their Nottingham gig in October was my first show back since before the first lockdown - they've really been the soundtrack to 2021 for me. 

As always, there is something utterly transformative about those sisterly harmonies - pure magic. I've loved their previous work but this record really spoke to me, just a trio of good good women being the best. They've also got a pretty ace team around them on this record. Good humans all round. 

Favourite tracks: Best Friend, Good Woman & Failure (but genuinely all of it) 

2. Johnny Flynn & Robert Macfarlane - Lost in the Cedar Wood (buy/stream)

In the past couple of years, my interest in and love for the natural world has increased dramatically, with furlough offering up more time to get into the garden and to go on walks locally. As my curiosity has grown, I've been seeking out writing on nature, and was unbelievably excited earlier this year to find that one of our best natural history writers, the great Robert Macfarlane, was releasing an album with one of my favourite folk artists, Johnny Flynn. A masterpiece waiting to happen, surely. 

As I expected, the pair did not disappoint - Lost in the Cedar Wood is something to treasure and an album I will love for years to come. It arrived at exactly the time I needed it and perhaps could most appreciate it. My favourite line, from Enkidu Walked, describing my experience of the past two years - "the birds have my heart and they won't give it back to me." When two brilliant writers come together to make art it was never really in doubt that it would be something truly special... 

Favourite tracks: The World To Come, Bonedigger, Home and Dry & Ten Degrees Of Strange.

3. The Vaccines - Back In Love City (buy/stream)

It truly is the year of The Vaccines, right? While every social media post that I've attempted to do about this album has tested my patience in trying to tag several health organisations before I can find the band, I've spent a lot of time loving their new record this year. In fact, when Back In Love City was released back in September I listened to little else for a few weeks. Soundtracking my bus journeys to and from work, I was finding something else to love with each listen. Back to back listens of the record confirmed what I already knew - they're one of my favourite bands and I have a lot of love for this record. This live performance of Paranormal Romance with an orchestra is one of my favourite live videos of the year.  

Favourite tracks: Wanderlust, Jump Off The Top, Back In Love City & Paranormal Romance

4. Tom Rosenthal - Denis Was A Bird (buy/stream)

Now for the album that has probably made me cry most this year. The latest from Tom Rosenthal isn't quite the upbeat and quirky music that you might expect from him, but this record is stunning. The album looks back on the passing of his father, taking on various guises - at once mournful, reflective, beautifully nostalgic and full of pure joy. It's clearly a really personal record for Tom, but arrived at precisely the right time for me - a week or two after I lost my nan a few months ago. Music helps me to navigate situations and this record will always make me think of her, and it brought me a lot of comfort this year. The video below will probably make you cry, but is a beautiful watch. 

Favourite tracks: I Went To Bed and I Loved You, Little Joys & Not A Catastrophe

5. Self Esteem - Prioritise Pleasure (buy / stream )

Would it be an album of the year list if this one wasn't on it?! You probably don't need me to tell you how brilliant Prioritise Pleasure by Self Esteem is, but I will anyway. The singles were all pointing towards it being a great album, but I don't think I was prepared to love it quite as much as I do. Fucking Wizardry is, as I said at the time of release, a fucking bop. The record is undoubtedly an instant modern classic, and fully deserving of all the end of year lists and praise that it is receiving. Rebecca is a true force of nature.

Favourite tracks: I Do This All The Time, Fucking Wizardry Prioritise Pleasure

Arlo Parks - Collapsed In Sunbeams
Django Django - Glowing in the Dark
Flyte - This Is Really Going To Hurt
Low Island - If You Could Have It All Again
Billie Marten - Flora Fauna
Fryars - God Melodies
Merpire - Simulation Ride
Maja Lena - The Keeper
LUMP - Animal
Villagers - Fever Dreams
Big Red Machine - How Long Do You Think It’s Gonna Last?
Liz Lawrence - The Avalanche
MarthaGunn - Something Good Will Happen
CHILDCARE - Busy Busy People
Public Service Broadcasting - Bright Magic
Bess Atwell Already, Always
Ada Lea - one hand on the steering wheel the other sewing a garden
Sam Fender - Seventeen Going Under
Voka Gentle - WRITHING!
Fleet Foxes - A Very Lonely Solstice

Well done (and thanks!) for making it this far... if you like what I do here on cool music and things, a friendly reminder that I have a Ko-fi page here where you can show the blog some support!

Thursday 23 December 2021

end of year ramble (bye 2021!)

So 2021 is coming to a close… simultaneously far too quickly and not soon enough, if I’m honest. It’s been a tough one, but we’re almost there, hey? Mostly with the help (for me, at least) of a lot of brilliant music - new and old. At the start of 2021 I did an ‘end-of-year reflections’ post and felt inclined to do the same now. Much like last year, this page and the community of friends I’ve forged around it on social media have offered solace to me this year.

In the post back in Jan I wrote this (and love & still feel it wholeheartedly, so I’m reproducing it here) - 

This blog has been a glorious escape for me this year. I really love this site. And I love the community of people that I've managed to grow around it. Things have escalated a bit this year. I've been forced into having more time for it, and while I couldn't get to shows and interact with fans and artists in person, I feel like I've connected with more people through the blog than ever before. Running the blog at some points this year has felt like a full time job in itself. I feel privileged to have an audience of sorts, though. As we pass into the new year, I feel inspired and determined to keep up with the blog, to keep it growing, and to find new and exciting opportunities within the industry.

When I’m not rambling about music for fun, I work in a bookstore, and I’m writing this in the midst of the last shopping week before Christmas. I started this post a couple of weeks ago, but time feels a little blurry at the moment, as it has for much of the past two years. As such, my AOTY list is a work in progress too… I’ve been listening back to albums I’ve enjoyed this year to try and figure out my favourites. No spoilers there, but it’s been a pretty joyous year for new music. 

A new record from The Vaccines, a gorgeous collaborative album from Johnny Flynn & Robert Macfarlane, that stunning Arlo Parks record from the very start of the year, the return of LUMP & the debut record from my pals Low Island. Growing obsessions with the likes of Melin Melyn, Banji, Francis of Delirium & Bess Atwell… I could go on, and I do… if you want to know what I’m listening to, the blog is of course as great a place to start as any. Or tweet me! I’m always desperate to share new discoveries.

I’ve been listening a lot (Spotify tells me *almost* as much as last year, which I spent most of at home on furlough) but have been posting a little less this year. Losing my nan a few months ago was the catalyst for a little break from writing, and while I expected to return to the site as “normal” after a few weeks, that hasn’t been the case. Five posts a week has turned into two or three most weeks…

A little of the magic was lost for a while this year. I didn’t want to force myself back into the rhythm of how things were (this is all meant to be for fun after all…) but I’m sad that I lost a lot of the momentum that I had last year when things really seemed to be growing. Despite that, and my tendency to be a blogger who doesn’t blog all that much, people have stuck by the site, and continued to interact with my posts, and with my rambles on social media. I genuinely believe that coping with my loss was made less difficult through talking to people who I’m friends with because of this blogging lark, and that meant more than I can articulate here. The internet proves itself yet again to be a wild and beautiful place - this corner of it, at least.

Another thing that has brought me a lot of solace this year is nature. I’ve always been curious about the nature around me, but that love has found new depths this year… particularly when it comes to birds. Time that might have usually been spent indoors replying to emails or procrastinating over a blog post has been spent birdwatching, wandering nature reserves, taking photos and gardening. While right now I feel quite exhausted from the onslaught of working in retail at Christmas, I also feel energised… excited to continue to work out the balance of enjoying time outdoors (and time spent staring through my kitchen window at the drama breaking out on the bird feeders) and working on the blog, getting back to more regular posting. This is after all a hobby, and there’s room in my life for more than one - and I feel so much happier for it. Birds are truly the best.

Despite my posting less and being less active online, while things have slowed down a little, the blog has still managed to grow this year. More submissions, more followers - the Instagram following has doubled to over a thousand, which is completely wild and impossible to wrap my head around. It’s lovely to know that there are people out there who are interested in what I’m doing here, on whatever level.

One of this year’s highlights, by far, is that I only went and improved on my total of two gigs in 2020 (Bear’s Den and The Hoosiers, squeezed in *just* before all of this) with a grand total of THREE this year. With nothing much happening locally to me, back in October I made my grand return to a gig, 19 months, give or take, since the previous one. In a completely spontaneous turn of events we ventured to Nottingham and saw my most listened to artist of the year, The Staves, in the midst of their UK tour.

In November, I saw the White Tail Falls album launch show (for an album which was released in the first half of 2020, and a gig which had been rescheduled 3 times) in London’s St Pancras Old Church. A beautiful evening seeing my favourite album of 2020 brought to life on the stage. With the gig bug threatening to return, I hopped on a train for another last minute (for me) gig a week later: Bess Atwell in Cambridge. With things getting progressively worse at the moment in terms of case numbers and restrictions, if that was to be my last gig for a while, again, I’m glad it was such a special one.

Another cause for less frequent posting might have been the very exciting months that I spent interning for Chalk Press Agency. They’re truly one of my favourite music companies with a dream roster, so despite all the chaos of the year, getting to work with them for a few months was a joy. I’m crossing my fingers to get started in another music role once Christmas is out of the way…

So, what am I looking forward to in 2022? Musically, more gigs, I hope. Crossing my fingers that the world holds itself together just enough to not cancel the Johnny Flynn & Robert Macfarlane shows at The Globe Theatre in February. Please! On the site, more posts? Maybe. But if not, that’s cool too. More interviews as those seem to have taken a break this year too, but they’re always fun to pull together. And a whole lot of brilliant upcoming music… a new album from my favourite band (you know who it is), new MICHELLE, new gang of youths, the debut from Wet Leg. It’s all happening, and I’m here for it.

Whatever happens I plan to continue to ramble, here and on Twitter, about my favourite artists and my favourite music. That’s what I’m here for. Happy reading, listening, and scrolling. It’s a joy to have your company.

Merry Christmas, pals. X

p.s. Albums of the year post incoming just as soon as I figure out what my albums of the year are, and write it. Worth the wait. Maybe. Probably not.

Tuesday 14 December 2021

WATCH: Bess Atwell - 'How Do You Leave' (Live)

Busy busy times... working in retail over Christmas doesn't leave much time (or energy) for writing posts, but I wanted to share something that I've been loving lately. I caught Bess Atwell live in Cambridge a couple of weeks ago and it was genuinely so stunning. She's just shared a live video of How Do You Leave (taken from the album Already, Always) with guitarist Chris Matthewson. I'm a little bit in love. Enjoy...

On the video, Bess shares: "I could lie and say that it was an intentional decision to showcase this song stripped back, but the reality is we were in lockdown and couldn't rehearse with a band. Turns out, I think I'm more proud of this duo version that I would have been if we'd performed with a band. It's empowering to be able to play band-produced songs in their original form, the form in which I wrote them. Lyrically, the song is really quite dark, and I think this is actually emphasised more in an intimate performance." 

Follow Bess Atwell - Facebook | Twitter | Instagram.

Thursday 9 December 2021

LISTEN: Tara Nome Doyle - 'Crow'

"Gave your heart up to the nightingale, and so begins another star-crossed lovers tale... " 

It's no secret that I've become a bit (a lot) of a bird nerd this year, so it was probably only a matter of time before it started seeping onto the blog. Consider me instantly sold on a track called Crow, the latest to be taken from Værmin, the upcoming second record from 24 year-old Tara Nome Doyle. She's an artist with Norwegian-Irish roots and a new name for me, but I'm delving into her back catalogue as I write this and very much liking what I'm hearing... 

Following recent single Snail I, the crow takes its place among a line-up of leeches, worms, spiders and moths - each track on the record shares its name with a so called 'pest', with the hope of in fact celebrating their beauty and questioning our relationship towards them (and, in doing so, exploring our relationship with one another...) Storytelling is clearly a large part of Tara's music, and here we see it through the Romeo and Juliet-esque narrative that the crow finds itself within. Each aspect of the track, sonically and lyrically, combines to celebrate the many sides of the undesirable creature. It's gorgeous and atmospheric, and I can't wait to listen to the new record (and to carry on that back-catalogue deep dive...) 

On the track, Tara shares: "Crow tells the tragic love story of an opposing couple. The 'shadow' (referring to the theories of C.G. Jung) feels harassed, while the 'persona', unsuspecting, rises into naive romantic fantasies. There are many references in the lyrics to Shakespeare's Rome and Juliet to describe this doomed dynamic." 

Follow Tara Nome Doyle - Facebook | Twitter | Instagram.

Wednesday 8 December 2021

LISTEN: heka - 'no one'

If, like me, you loved the debut heka EP (a) then you'll be pleased to hear that she is back with a new song! If you missed it, here are some of my ramblings after I'd listened to an early stream... it remains like nothing else I've heard this year, in the best way possible. Sonic heaven, speaking straight to the soul. heka is back with the equally as stunning no one, arriving on Fire Talk's 'Open Tab' (a digital singles imprint marking its place as a discovery tool for listeners, platforming their favourite new artists.) The release marks the end of a pretty exciting year for heka and opens the door to an even more exciting 2022... 

On the track, heka, AKA London-via-Italy artist Francesca Brierley, shares: "The pivoting lyric of this track,' nobody ever gets this close anymore', is something someone said to me once. It filled me with sadness even though I couldn't fully understand the sentiment behind it at the time, and made its way to my brain, clinging to it, waiting to be experienced. Years later - when I'd finally understood what it meant to feel like that- this song was born."

Follow heka - Facebook | Twitter | Instagram.

Tuesday 7 December 2021

LISTEN: Mosa Wild - 'Expect Me'

"The song was written with love in mind." 

Mosa Wild are back!!! Genuinely delighted by this news - they're one of my favourite bands of the past couple of years, I absolutely adore the Talking In Circles EP. They're back with Expect Me - exactly the heart-on-sleeve kind of anthem you'd expect from the Kent four-piece. It's taken from an upcoming EP, the poetically titled Zip Your Coat Up For English Weather, due in Spring 2022 via Glassnote Records

On the new track, frontman Jim Rubaduka shares "Expect Me was initially written and recorded at my mum and dad's kitchen table in Ashford. We tracked the final version with our friend Ben Baptie at Pool Studios. I think it's the most collaborative studio session we've had. 

It was a joy to have a bunch of our friends come down and bless this record. The song has a very simple and direct message. I wanted the verses to feel like a hymn you know well, and the outro to feel like a hug that you don't want to end."

Follow Mosa Wild - Facebook | Twitter | Instagram.

Thursday 2 December 2021

LISTEN: Sarah Goodson - 'I Don't Know What To Do With Myself'

Ah, I love Sarah Goodson. She's released a couple of brilliant tunes this year in the shape of Cold Room and The Limes but for me, new track I Don't Know What to Do with Myself has quickly become one of favourite releases of the year. Produced by Tim Bidwell (who is responsibly for far too many of my favourites to list...) the track also features Jools Owen (of Bear's Den fame) on drums and horns, and Ben Daniel on bass. The moment the horns first come in is sublime, and the vocals are (of course) stunning. Damn. 

Sharing the track online, Sarah wrote "I Don't Know What To Do With Myself is really special to me. It was written at an incredibly hard time, I'm so grateful to be able to reach for music when everything falls apart. Music is always there for us." 

Follow Sarah Goodson - Facebook | Twitter | Instagram.

Wednesday 1 December 2021

WATCH: Chartreuse - 'Deep Fat' (Live)

Ah, Chartreuse are pure magic, right? A little gutted I forgot about their show at The Lexington last night... looks like it was all sorts of wonderful and Orlando Weeks even jumped on stage for a song! The sadness is short lived however, as I was at my first solo gig adventure since last March, watching Bess Atwell in Cambridge with Eve Owen and Gabby Martin supporting. Hey, talk about magic... genuinely stunned by each of their performances and the entirety of Bess' latest record is circling my head non-stop today. No complaints. 

Anyway - Chartreuse! I've been loving their recent Is It Autumn Already? EP and the latest single Deep Fat. They've just shared a beautiful live performance of the track, filmed at Vada Recording Studios by Sam of Avocado Baby Film. Magic all round. If you like what you're hearing, there are a couple of shows left on this tour, at Birmingham's Hare & Hounds on Friday (3rd) and Manchester's Gullivers on Saturday (4th). Go on my behalf, please?! They're also heading out on tour with Palace in February and March so no excuses for any of us, really... 

Follow Chartreuse - Facebook | Twitter | Instagram.