A Musical Interlude

One advantage of travelling has been that I’ve had far more time to listen to music, whether on planes and trains, walking in the Himalayas, or on a ferry across Sydney harbour. Probably my top highlight was listening to all three Portishead albums back-to-back while climbing up the Thorong La pass with the stars all around us.

A particular assistance to my musical consumption has been Google Music’s All Access. For £8/month I can download anything I want from my collection to my phone – and any other album from their library as well. Given I’ve got no streaming access when I’m out and about (data charges being eye-watering) this means that I can just pick and choose albums when I’m on wifi and listen to them stored on my phone. This has genuinely been great for catching up with new music, it means that on a whim I can try new bands and I can explore back catalogues too. All for the cost of 1 album a month. Awesome.

Ahem, anyway, that advertising aside (and because everyone else is doing it) , I present my 14 favourite albums of the year:

14. Marnie Stern – The Chronicles of Marnia


Would have been a top 13 list, but I couldn’t resist the pun title. This is a great punky, folky album. The first bars of the first tracks are a challenge into the album, but it’s a very rewarding listen. The first (of many) female singer/songwriters on this list.

13. Haim – Days Are Gone


Ah, the 80s. Haim are an LA all-girl alt-pop group and this is their debut, a great pop record with some lovely reminiscent tracks. Forever is a particularly bouncy shoulder pad of a song.

12. Icona Pop – This Is…


This was a cracking year for pop music (some great stuff by Katy Perry and Lady Gaga isn’t on this list). Icona Pop are a couple of Swedes and their song ‘I Love It’ was a top summer tune. I naturally assumed that they would be complete one-hit wonders, but this album is full of excellent synth-pop that will make you smile.

11. Charli XCX – True Romance


Charli XCX is featured on Icona Pop’s ‘I Love It’ and her own debut is even better, slightly darker and more electronic.

10. Tegan and Sara – Heartthrob


And another great female pop group and a mix of the 80s themes that Haim explore with the lighter stuff from Icona Pop. T&S were an interesting stumble from a NOFX track ‘Creepin’ Out on Sara’ from the album ‘Coaster’. That led me to try ‘Sainthood’ and then ‘Heartthrob’, both excellent albums.

9. Yeah Yeah Yeahs – Mosquito


This album never quite seemed to take off, but it’s full of great rocks songs and is a worthy follow up to ‘It’s Blitz’. The opening track ‘Sacrilege’ sets you straightaway and the rest of the album maintains a furious pace.

8. Foals – Holy Fire


Breaking a run of female vocalists, this is an excellent indie rock album. I never quite got into any of Foals’ early work, but this is a step-up in terms of sophistication, with a rockier edge.

7. James Blake – Overgrown


Just the song ‘Retrograde’ alone (probably my favourite track of the year) is enough to get this on the list, but it’s a great soulful, elecronic album

6. Arctic Monkeys – AM


Their best album since the first. And not by a small distance.

5. Lorde – Pure Heroine


…and back to the amazing female pop. ‘Royals’ is the track that most people have heard, but this entire album is full of stripped-down, soulful pop. From a 17-year old. Grrr.

4. Savages – Silence Yourself


Another debut on the list. Another all-female band. Intense and utterly impressive.

3. Torres – Torres


Many albums start strong and then peter out around track 7 or so. This (another debut) starts good, gets excellent (with ‘Honey’) and then builds to amazing with ‘Chains’, the penultimate track on the album.  Beautiful.

2. Vampire Weekend – Modern Vampires of the City


I honestly had no idea that Vampire Weekend had this album in them. Their debut a few years ago was generally very good, but the follow-up Contra was fairly disappointing. This, however, is superb. Far more diverse musically than their previous two albums, and absolutely chock full of great songs. ‘Step’, ‘Hannah Hunt’, ‘Diane Young’ are superb, even the slightly odd ‘Ya Hey’ towards the end is just cracking to listen to. Keep this up.

1. Laura Marling – Once I Was An Eagle


Inconsistency is certainly not an accusation that can be thrown at Laura Marling. This is her fourth album and, at age 24, she has just the most incredible back catalogue. Not only is each of her albums a phenomenal addition to her body of work, her old albums only seem to get better and better. This album is a masterpiece, with songs flowing into each other early on, this is an album that takes you on an intimate journey through vast open fields and shores. Laura Marling has to be one of the best singer-songwriters in the UK. I heard someone discussing this album pondering how good she could be in ten years. I can’t wait to find out.

Anyway, more travel stuff soon. We’re in Australia now! It’s rather lovely.

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