The first thing I learned from this project – the biggest thing – is that the Dunning-Kruger effect is real: the more you learn about a thing, the more you realise Previously Confident You didn’t know about it. I expected to come out of the end of this with a wider understanding of music, having discovered some new things, and hopefully feeling a bit more comfortable alongside things I’d previously thought weren’t for me. What I’ve mostly got a sense of is all the corners of music I haven’t even got near. I didn’t realise how Anglo-America-centric (Canada can come too) popular music is. I mean, I knew it was a thing, but it turns out it’s easy to miss the scale unless you’re keeping a spreadsheet of these things. Luckily for me I’ve taken advice everywhere I can get, I have a list as long as my arm, and I fully intend to work my way through it. It’s been fun finding out about the music other people listen to as well.

What I have got this year is a very strong sense of my own taste. There are a few albums that I’ve played over and over – Peatbog Fairies, Tegan and Sara, Shakira, Springsteen. There are a few that I hope never to darken my doorway again – Nirvana and Korn, mainly, which is probably indicative of something. I liked K-pop more than I was expecting to, and Marvin Gaye less so. Dolly Parton and The Smiths were both terribly anticlimactic, and you may keep them both. I can get tired of soul very easily, but storytelling is always great, and if you’ve got good strings then you’re alright by me. Speaking of good storytelling, not to be That Sort Of Person, but I don’t think I’ve listened to music on shuffle since May. Not deliberately. So there you go.

The other thing I learned this year is that Emily is far better at deadlines than I am. I see that you are less surprised at this than me.

And finally, five albums I’ve listened to this year that, for one reason or another, didn’t make it onto the 52A/52W project:

  1. Public Service Broadcasting, The Race for Space (saw live at the Edinburgh Science Festival, immediately bought album and sent it to my dad, great time had by all)
  2. Gloria Estefan, Cuts Both Ways (enjoyed, had nothing to say, switched to Shakira and danced around my kitchen)
  3. The Full English, The Full English (in no sense at all ever does this count as leaving my comfort zone)
  4. Steve Reich, Daniel Variations (I studied Reich during my A levels and couldn’t get my head round him. Got halfway through this and decided I still can’t)
  5. Aphex Twin, Selected Ambient Works, 85-92 (happened to listen to this the week after Sigur Ros. Nothing like a bit of variety; decided to review Girls Generation instead)



I really am not that great at deadlines. Don't get me wrong, this project has helped hugely in getting me to prioritise writing but all too often I felt like I posted something simply to get it ticked off my list rather than really give it the attention it deserved. There's a great article by Kim Liao, where the reasoning behind encouraging writers to aim for 100 rejections a year is neatly explained. Quantity can lead to quality in a way that preciously pouring all resources into quality alone does not often reach. You make mistakes. You practice. You bungle about the cave, following the sound of your own voice as it echoes back to you, sounding ever stranger but leading the way nonetheless.

My respect for music journalists who seem to be able to knock off beautiful curls of prose at the drop of a, well, drop, is sky-high at this point. As is my determination to swap out my barbed perfectionism for a considered focus instead. And, most importantly, to keep going. Not reviewing music, necessarily, but keeping myself honed, exploring things I previously thought as Definitely Not My Area to hopefully surprise and humble myself.

Fiona has put better than I can the disappointment at the true realisation of quite how Anglo-American-Antipodean-Canadian the majority of popular music is but it's an important realisation nonetheless and one that's prompted me to get myself in gear looking further.

Last but by no means least, I'd like to extend a huge thank you and congratulations from Fiona and myself to Patrick. I've not met him IRL but he's Fiona's pal and has joined us every step of the way. You can read his 52A/52W journey here. There's things to be said about doing a mad thing yourself but if you set any challenge for yourself in the year to come, absolutely do it with your pals, pals.

#52: "Faith" - George Michael (1987)

Well, folks. Here we are. When Fiona and I set up this idea, getting to the 52nd album felt very long away. But, as with every passage of time, sure enough, it comes along, whether you're ready for it or not. This year has been relentless for so many of us all, for so many reasons. Where 2016 felt like constant EastEnders episode finale hooks, complete with stabbing outro, 2017 has felt like one worthy Netflix Original series after another, all dark Instagram filters and blank thousand-yard stares. But, cast your mind back to 364 days ago and there was I, having a very Merry Christmas, drinking something fizzy and finally starting to relax, when the news came in that George Michael had suddenly passed away.

Now, I wasn't aware of how much I would miss the man born Georgios Kyriacos Panayiotou until he was gone. What I do remember is staying up late, secretly, to watch the Channel 4 midnight preview screening of his video for Freeeek! hearing about how erotically charged it was going to be, which ignited my preteen curiosity, of course. I watched it - and I thought it was hilarious. But he was in on it. That was the point. A joyful-to-the-point-of-hysterical overflowing of saucy winks. What else would you expect from the gleeful gospel singer of, "Sex is natural/ Sex is good"?

Gospel is not a term I'm using lightly here. Going back to the beginning, Faith is, like my forays with the Purple One, a rewarding and, yes, spiritual listen for a heathen like myself. There's so much love here. Love in a sexual sense, love in a community sense, love for yourself, love that's confusing and substituting, but love nonetheless. It's a record rich in personal revelation without stumbling into self-obsession. George Michael wants you to be happy and free and, my word, you feel that that goodness is a tangible, achievable thing when you're listening to him.

That Michael wasn't around for the year his seminal album turned 30, well... That's sad. I knew about the scandals, his being in the press consistently for car crashes, trysts and weed. Given what's been going on for the past couple of years in the public eye, this seems so tame as to be endearing. Besides, it was Michael who stood in his own artistic stead and made the channel broader and more accepting for those to follow. After achieving phenomenal success with this, he follows it up with a video full of supermodels, burning his own iconography. Now that is someone who embodies the paradox of being human, remaining your own whilst embracing change. Who knows what the next year will hold? But we'll get there, soon enough. And in the meantime, you've just got to...

#51: Joan Baez – “Joan Baez” (1960)

This project started nearly a year ago with Bruce Springsteen’s Born in the USA, so there’s a pleasing symmetry to finishing off with another giant of politically pointed American music. Joan Baez’s first, self-titled album is a collection of arrangements of traditional songs of various stripes. It’s just her and a guitar, telling stories, simple as you can get. After a year of pushing my musical boundaries – from Korn to K-pop – Joan Baez feels like coming home.

Once again I’m reminded that the folk music I love the most, in which genre I’m going to count this, is interesting to me because it has a mixture of nostalgia and social radicalism that seems counterintuitive. It’s not a paradox, in the end – if I’ve learned one thing this year, it’s that for many centuries, social change was backwards-looking, as if there was some wonderful past and we’d all be okay if only we could get back to how it used to be, before all these new people came and ruined it for everyone.

Joan Baez is a collection of old folk songs – American, English, Scottish, but also there’s a Yiddish one and one in Spanish. Some of them are quite obviously old as balls; some of them are familiar favourites; a few of them are new to me; and all of them are executed extremely simply. It’s just Baez with her soft soprano and a guitar, like there’s nothing very technical going on at all and someone just happened to press record. It’s deceptively simple, of course, but very skilled. And that goes for the politics, too.

Not to go all literary technique on you, but I know this song, and I like it a lot. I like the sound of it, and it’s a good old fashioned story about a girl with overprotective parents who threaten to stab anyone who presumes to be interested in her romantically. In most versions, someone gets stabbed, and it’s quite often their own fault for trying to climb through a window when they’ve explicitly been told not to. Baez’s version might be my new favourite, for all that it’s far less dramatic – it’s a great example of some judicious cutting out of the weird bits of old songs, to leave something that looks far more like a woman making a decision and her parents having her back. You can find nuggets of good in the very old, and there’s no shame in that judicious edit. You can take the old and turn it into something empowering. I like it in the same way I like Carter’s “Company of Wolves”. Only, more quietly.

“Mary Hamilton” is an old epic tragedy about a woman in sixteenth century Scotland who kills her baby. There is politics in nostalgia and there are new things to say in the old, and the starkly simple, and the oft-repeated. If I were ever a musician, I should like to have made something like this.

So that’s what I particularly like about this album. Sometimes it doesn’t quite work – I can’t tell if I have a problem with “House of the Rising Sun” in general, or I just don’t like this version. Keeping it simple isn’t always the best way to go: it’s perfectly possible to keep things too simple for their own good.

But all in all, this is great. This is my music. This is a place to come back to. Simplicity is great, sometimes, and it’s nice to finish the year off with a reminder that even though it’s good to leave it – and often – still, your own comfort zone is nothing to be afraid of.

#50: “In The Court Of The Crimson King” - King Crimson (1968)

A few university parties with patchouli-heavy air and far too much cider listen throughs to Dark Side Of The Moon aside, I have very little experience with prog rock. This is one that has been suggested - though, as it’s music, it feels more like a request at the oddest disco of 2017 - by several of our nearest and dearest. Turns out, I don’t have much time for prog, but this has probably been the most revealing review in terms of understanding my own methodology yet.

First things first, a confession. This week has been pretty intense and I realise I have not felt all that great. Surprise, surprise, to no-one but me. This is the closest to the line I have been for our 10am publishing time but look at the cover of that album. Really look at it. I mean, it’s amazing, as a piece of visceral portraiture but please prepare the pity party for mio here as it looked like the least inviting thing for me to possibly listen to this week. But I have, this morning, and I need to be a Better Music Journalist Than I Am because I am flicking through the thesaurus to find synonyms for ‘shrug’. 

Much like my experience with Frank Zappa And The Mothers Of Invention, I found myself wincing with the on-the-noseness of the lyrics. My SO pointed out that that is down to the roots of English folk music showing through but you all know how much I liked Fairport Convention and, pals, let me tell you, this ain’t no Richard Thompson.  Instrumentally, it’s undeniable that there’s a lot of skill and effort going on there but something didn’t click for me to turn that into anything beyond simple comprehension. I felt like I was cornered at a university party by a man in his twenties trying to ply me with cider and get me to listen to Dark Side Of The Moon with him in his room. Not my favourite thing to do, as I’m sure you’ve gathered.

So, with time not on my side and a faltering arsenal of writing skills, what do I say beyond this? That I’m disappointed I don’t have more time to grow that nubbin of appreciation that must be there? That I kind of want to see them live as I’m sure that’s an immense experience as gig-goings go? Those are true but really, what I really want to get across beyond my own self-loathing is my huge respect for music journalists. That has definitely grown over this year, if nothing else. To be handed someone else’s output, however you may be feeling, and to really get to grips with what they’re trying to do and have an objective-yet-subjective response to it... I’ve struggled with that this year in a way that I have rarely done with film. Music is so downright emotional. I am similarly downright emotional so sometimes it can all get a bit too much - but then, in that case, the track is probably on the right track.

What I do understand now that I really appreciate dramatic irony in songwriting. The lyrics say one thing written down but the tone of voice in which they’re sung, the accompanying melody, the tension or sadness or joy that can come between those things, that’s amazing. The confidence to let someone fill in the gaps, to give someone a space to put their own feelings, to let others have an interpretation of some thing you pour your heart and soul into, I mean... That’s brave. Despite the scary cover, I didn’t sense courage here. But then, the loudest voices naturally get heard over confidences that are quiet enough to listen. And that’s a shame.


#49: Fleetwood Mac – “Rumours” (1977)

This is just going to be a short one, for two reasons: firstly, I have just finished NaNoWriMo, and therefore my ability to write in coherent sentences is a little more compromised than usual. And secondly, because I have done a foolish thing. The foolish thing is this: two weeks ago, I thought to myself, “You know who I haven’t listened to much of? Fleetwood Mac.”

I should have known this was a foolish thing to think, because I am an adult woman who has been in a car with another person for more than twenty minutes at a time, and therefore – it turns out – of course I’ve listened to Fleetwood Mac. There is not a single track on this entire album that I’ve not heard before, about 8000 times, and I think about two in total that I’ve never heard covered by someone else (because nobody in the Year of Our Lord 2017 is playing covers of "Oh Daddy").

There’s got to be a word for the phenomenon of all those songs you know, and know 90% of the lyrics to, but couldn’t name, or ever find of your own accord, or remember who the singer is. I can’t remember who I thought wrote “Don’t Stop”, but this isn’t who I’d have guessed, and now I’m faintly embarrassed.

So here you go: in a way, this isn’t really in keeping with the spirit of 52A/52W, which is to say, it’s not exactly new music to me. It is filling in gaps though, of a kind, so there you go. In honour of my failing, here are some covers of tracks from Rumours by unlikely people. Gratifyingly, in pretty much every case, I think the original was better. It’s like Fleetwood Mac are the anti-Coldplay.

Presumably the moral of this story is, I should have gone for Tusk.


As riders go, sushi, oysters and three bottles of red wine is pretty luxe. But then, what else could be expected of Grace Jones? In preparation for this review, I did my research by having a sushi platter and a bottle of red. Pleased to confirm that you do feel like a hula hoop champion, even if you’re not mystically imbued with the skill thanks to cucumber maki. I’ve got everything crossed that this combination is the key to longevity because Jones shows no sign of slowing down. In her film Bloodlight And Bami, Sophie Fiennes follows Jones on her Hurricane tour, swinging her hula hoop round her hips whilst wearing a golden cat mask and belting out hit after hit. Her energy as a performer is undeniable, not only in its abundance but also in its sheer quality - she’s often described as a force of nature and for good reason.

Red wine and seafood aside, reading about Jones means wading through a lot of white male profiles that are simultaneously in awe of Jones but succumb somewhat to a lazy othering of her power. That she’s alien-like, murky territory indeed considering the racial and sexual undertones of these dynamics. But this is missing Jones’s significant contribution and artistry. Well before Bjork and Lady Gaga, there was Grace Jones. Her androgyny and dynamism appealed to the burgeoning queer scene in America, who have long adored her, but her defiance in the - sometimes literal - face of the media meant that she was too often branded an unruly, angry black woman. That’s certainly what I was aware of when I was younger, her May Day in A View To A Kill a slick, sexy femme fatale. 

The cover of Nightclubbing plays on these elements of Jones. Sharp lines of her buzz cut, Armani suit and determined gaze, the cigarette dangling from her lips. One of many controversial images created by her long-time lover, Jean-Paul Goude, who is known as having discussed his questionable attraction to and manipulation of images of black women, it is hard to reckon with Jones-as-model, due to this entangled use of her looks in someone else’s vision.

Listening to Nightclubbing though, there’s Jones speaking for herself. It is amazing to realise that so much of this album is made up of straightforward covers as everything feels like her own voice, in her own words. And what a voice. Sometimes sultry, sing-song pillow talk, other times Valkyrie declarations. What struck me about the album is how, well, slow it is. She wants to take her time. Grace by name and by nature. Grace Jones is an icon purely because she never saw a door she didn’t believe she could walk through, a room she didn’t belong in. That level of self-leadership without arrogance, solely justice, is something near divine.

Near the beginning of Bloodlight and Bami, Jones travels home to Jamaica, handing her mother a large silver hat box. Inside is an extravagant pink woven Philip Treacy creation. Jones watches her mother sing in church, the gift upon her head, juxtaposed with Jones on her own stage, her own hat a mix of crown and cape that only Treacy could design. As much as any one moment could crystallise Jones’s influences, watching her adoringly support her mother singing gospel comes close.

Jones breathes in from her many homes - Jamaica, New York, Paris - and breathes out her work. Distinctive and instinctive, Nightclubbing doesn’t feel out of place or even out of this world, instead simply flowing from the coolest grandma on the block. I’ll raise a glass and some sashimi to that.

#47: ANOHNI – “Hopelessness” (2016)

Hopelessness is something I haven’t heard before, which could be a result of my lack of musical knowledge, or (I’m inclined to think in this case) could be because it’s genuinely something that doesn’t exist anywhere else: jazz-like vocals, electronic dance music backing, and the most on-the-nose 2016 political sentiment I’ve yet heard set to music. There’s a song about climate change, several about US military interventions around the world. One of my favourites is “Watch Me”, about state surveillance. Of course, this political album that is so heavily grounded in last year is called Hopelessness. Is it actually hopeless? I don’t know. These are not easy times to be an optimist. What I will say for Hopelessness is that it’s relentless. It’s fascinating. It’s not at all what I was expecting. It’s brilliant, is what it is.

Anohni is the former main vocalist of Antony and the Johnsons, whose music a) I remember liking very much at the time, and b) sounded extremely different from this. Given the choice, I’d ordinarily head towards the more acoustic end of things – and Anohni’s voice is, let’s face it, extremely well suited to that. But if this is what she does with a bit more creative control on her hands, then I’m here for it.

Here is a five-minute song that feels much shorter, and which plays very well to Anohni’s vocal strengths. I would never in a million years have thought of doing it.

And that’s the thing – an unexpected, thoughtful album for an unexpected year. “4 Degrees” is, I see from my notes, what I think of as “heartbeat music”, which is to say music that goes slightly faster than my heartbeat and therefore gives me all the feelings. “Violent Men” is abstract and weird and chillingly ironic, repeating “Never again” over and over. “Obama” has tones of some kind of religious dirge, alongside and interspersed with electronic dance music. I don’t understand how a person manages to fit this much cold fury into EDM.

“Crisis” is pure poetry and weaponised empathy – there’s a lot of that in here, empathy for, and vocalising of, the victims that don’t make it into the usual narrative. Put all that into dance music and… and it says something. It works. It works really well.

I wouldn’t have picked Hopelessness up without this project. I’m glad I did. November is an extremely busy month but I’ll be turning this one over in my head for a while.

#46: Jackie Shane - "Any Other Way" (2017)

This week it was announced that Danica Roem made history as she was the first openly transgender person elected to public office in Virginia, unseating the long-standing, self-proclaiming homophobe and architect of the “bathroom bill”, Bob Marshall. But Twitter, in its inimitable style, swiftly both congratulated Roem and corrected the narrative that the near-universally cis news media had propagated. Althea Garrison was elected to public office in 1992 as a Republican in Massachusetts.

A similar sort of tale has come to the surface recently. Jackie Shane had a hit in Toronto in the mid sixties, then seemed to disappear entirely. Any Other Way, a repackaging of her excellent work, containing studio recordings as well as tracks from live sets, is bringing 2017 to a close in style. Forty-something years on from her spotlight in the public arena, Shane has confirmed that she is transgender. This shouldn’t be the apex of her story, as it's remarkable for so many reasons, but, now being such a crucial time in the transgender rights movement, it’s hard to say that her resurgence in popularity isn’t motivated by this one aspect of her identity.

The narrative of trans artists so often falls on their transitioning, their otherness to the rest of cis society. This isn’t to say that no trans artist shouldn’t use their platform to express themes of their gender identity - here’s looking at you, Laura Jane Grace, and the superb Gender Dysphoria Blues - but it’s refreshing to see one story at least that doesn’t hinge on a trans person being a trans person and nothing more. It is reductive to consider Shane as solely a trans recording artist, especially from me in my cis-ness, and I am sad and more than a little ashamed that this is the main reason behind how I discovered her.

However, I am nevertheless fascinated by the contrast in how marginalized groups throughout history have always existed and yet they are still framed today as something ‘new’, ‘radical’, essentially of-this-time-and-place. It’s such nonsense. For example, Munroe Bergdorf‘s controversial dismissal has echoes of Tracey Norman’s experience in the 70s. Is it the hyper-connectedness and thirst for content of our age that means these current stories get more coverage but very little context in the wider frame of history? Or is it a desperate scramble to protect a meta narrative that we live in a more progressive time today?

I’m getting ahead of myself. And off the point.  Shane has a glorious voice, full of smoke and dripping with jewels. The singe of Nina Simone, the softness of Sam Cooke. The covers of well-known numbers such as Knock On Wood and Papa’s Got A Brand New Bag help a novice listener like myself better compare and contrast, understanding how unique a talent Shane is - or rather, was. She’s still alive and kicking but I’m unsure of whether she’s planning to release anything new. 

But it’s another mighty shame to just consider her against other recording artists of the time, playing the house numbers. I would much rather leave you to listen to her and for her to speak for herself.  

So, without further ado...