ET’s 30 favourite songs of 2018

Low Double Negative

I know it’s three weeks into January. Shit’s been going down. I know 2018 was not the greatest of years for me. I wanted to document it nonetheless.

These are in no particular order, and I know I have missed loads but I was not writing for large periods of last year. Here it is anyway, and I kinda like it.

Oh, not all of these came out in 2018 either.

1. Suburban Death Twitch – A Layer of Fat and Mold
One dear friend saw Brighton’s Suburban Death Twitch perform recently and found himself dismayed and more than a little angry that such casual, soulful brilliance should go unrecognised. He has little recourse to publicity like many of us, so he used what he could. He bought a copy of their new EP for me, knowing that I could not fail to love this beautiful, soulful music (like a general scouring in the area that involves ABBA’s break-up albums, the mould at the back of your fridge, half the towns of Hastings and St Leonard’s, the three-point acerbic harmonies of The Roches, the wayward belligerent swagger of Band Of Holy Joy, #metoo, friends that still cannot grasp why half their world seems to give up soon as they have a steady revenue and a person, any person, to fill the void, and so forth).

There’s comforting cello and trumpet, or something. There are harmonies to kiss for. There is intelligence and awareness, so much of it painful. (How can this be nostalgia when it hurts so bad?)

2. Nadia Rose – Skwod
My friend comments, “like who would give a shit what i have to say about that”. I write back, and say that’s the point. That’s the whole point. I ain’t qualified and she ain’t qualified but… wait a fucking second WHO THE FUCK IS QUALIFIED? someone who gets paid fuck that shit… Anyways, if you know you’re not qualified it liberates you to write what the fuck you want again. See also, the fact I know NO ONE gives a shit what I have to say about anything any more.

That’s to the good. That’s liberation.

Like I don’t understand freestyle? Like I can’t dig and groove to rhythms and shake my head Like I can’t appreciate attitude. Like I can’t do this.

3. Corporationpop – Ted Hughes
Observational, despairing, witty. Suburban beat poetry for the disenchanted, disinherited, atonally dispirited generation. Authentic in a world where the word has lost all meaning. Altruistic – she gives of herself and sprinkles magic. Of course she reminds me of my new suburban Southern sweethearts.

LINK TO MUSIC IS HERE

4. Tracyanne & Danny – Alabama
I love Jonathan Richman. I love Go Violets. I love Nadia Rose. You think you understand, but you really don’t. There is nothing else. Nothing. Not when I slip into this somnambulist dream world and for a few precious moments can tear myself away from the grey mundane and chase stars in my head. During times like this – and with no reflection on my kids who I would right now step in front of a lorry for – music is more important  than eating, breathing… my reason for existing and loving and failing. This is why I am still able to fall and laugh and fall again, even through the grey, unbearably lonely, single existence. This is the stuff that haunts my dreams and whirls round my head on meaningless train journeys and endless car rides. Nina Simone, Dexys, Beyoncé… FILL IN YOUR OWN NAME

5. Cardi B – Be Careful
This is the shit I like.

My reading of her is different to yours. I’ve never been into champagne unless to wash ladies’ feet. I like her music in small bites, like my older lovers. I ain’t cool or stuck in a dead-end job or pretty ass or transgender or female or American or blessed with financial clout or holiday somewhere. Wish I was. Wish I did. I ain’t macho or don’t aspire to be macho either. I don’t get off on aspiring to be part of her brand, I don’t want to exchange sweet nothings with her bodyguards, I don’t get my kicks from her bragging or use of profanity or delicious sense of timing. I like all of them sure, but they ain’t the main reasons I keep returning to Invasion Of Privacy. There is a feeling of fragility at the heart of the toughness and poetry, a gaiety and playful way round the beats, a sense of fragility that fuels the name calling and spooked sounds. Here a glimpse of a heart best treated carefully, there a glimpse of a heart shattered, everywhere a fragility. A rub-a-dub-dub.

6. Janelle Monáe – Make Me Feel
Adult, but not dull given-up Haywards Heath half-cut hair salon adult. Sexy MF adult, alert and alive and appreciative of all of life’s possibilities and twists and graveyard turns. ‘Pynk’ is a salacious drool, a knowing tease that straddles the line between fantasy and reality with a wicked knowing wink. ‘Make Me Feel’ takes it all to a next level that even Radio One DJs can understand and that is some fucking trick I can tell you, take it to a level that even Nick Grimshaw does not feel uncomfortable discussing. Sex. This video haunts my dreams in a way only Amanda Palmer has managed. At least, I wish this video would haunt my dreams in a way only Amanda Palmer has managed.

7. Crayola Lectern – Rescue Mission
This is beautiful, beautiful music. Sinister, compelling and so welcoming. The four names I have typed out are Roy Wood, Neil Innes, Robert Wyatt and The Addams Family but if you want the truth of it – and why the hell wouldn’t you want the truth of it? – none of the four names means as much to me, have ever meant as much to me, as the music from Mr Crayola Lectern, even with its woozy space-age proggy leanings. Especially with its woozy space-age proggy leanings. I finished up Neil Gaiman’s spellbinding spell-encrusted The Graveyard Book two days ago, and this music feels like my head playing catch-up. My dreams are no longer filled with wonder and mostly the realm of bleakness does not allow me the luxury, the necessity of music but if it did… this would be my succor, this would be my balm, this could be my beautiful Gothic dreaming.

8. Suggested Friends – I Don’t Want To Be A Horcrux For Your Soul
It’s all mid-American mid-1990s twin guitar interplay swagger (yes, Blake Babies I am looking your way) except it is what London and Leeds and it is 2018 and I really should stop eating these packs of Asda Mint Imperials like they’re rice cos I think my teeth are gonna fall out before the hallucinations and sugar rush kick in.

9. Totally Mild – Today Tonight
Please accept this. Beauty is found in the most mundane of places. Your smile, your eyes. This is like Nick Cave fully realised, his songs performed the way he always intended them to be. This (incidentally) is absolutely nothing like Nick Cave. However futile these words may be. The important thing here is document and eyewitness.

10. Jorja Smith – Blue Lights
This cut through the inane banter on Nick Grimshaw’s Breakfast Show this morning like a ice-blue blade through rancid butter. Desolate, chilling. Bleakness filtered through forgotten council estates and crumbling tower blocks. Sirens wailing. Neosoul. Nostalgia for an age when it was perceived there was not so much of a need to be nostalgic. Painting a portrait of paranoia and alternate realities.

11. The 1975 – Give Yourself A Try
Every time, Daniel goes “You like this song don’t you dad?” as I’m negotiating another two cars parked on a blind corner, cyclists holding up a line of 30 cars treating the country roads like their own personal gymnasium, horns blaring in fading frustration, another couple of hundred quid added to the bodywork bill. And I’m like, “NOT NOW DANIEL” and then realise how I am too late and stutter an apology for my grumpiness, my lack of good humour. He’s right, I do like this fucking song. A lot. Killer guitars, Killer riff. And now I’ve listened to it eight straight times on YouTube I like it even more – smart lyrics. Smart, smart lyrics. And in the context of Nick Grimshaw’s Breakfast Show it’s a near-miracle. Moonlight in the palm of your hand.

12. Goat Girl – Cracker Drool
The NME has it about Goat Girl that, “The four piece’s debut album is a grubby, clattering thing that takes its lead from 1980s LA punk trailblazers like X and The Gun Club” [delete rest of sentence for a) not being entertaining and b) not adding anything to the dialogue around the music that cannot be summed up in the one word ‘scrappy’ even though that one word is misleading]. I do not mean to devalue my colleague’s writing by spiking the sentence even though I wanna throw in the screamer “she drawls like Courtney Love when Courtney stops pretending to be Stevie Nicks for one moment”, cos mostly what she has to say is relevant. I do however want to bang the heads of the rest of my colleagues together for spouting cliché after cliché about “girl gangs” and “Brixton” and for overlooking the Courtney Barnett influence on ‘Country Sleaze’. Thing is though, by bringing in the NME quote, as staple as it is (not an insult: you need staples in your music reviewing, otherwise how can you music review?), you have a sense of where the music of Goat Girl is coming from, even a little cultural and attitudinal context – context that would be greatly increased if a) I could be bothered to put links in to their forebears and b) you could be bothered to click on them but a) I can’t and b) I know you won’t, so we will leave it there for a moment, shall we?

* Uh, you do need to be aware that X and The Gun Club were not punk in the way most people understand the word.

13. Jimmy and The Worn Out Shoes – Bramble Path
I love Jimmy and the worn out shoes.

I love near everything about them*, the way Jimmy dances, the way Jimmy’s moustache hangs there droopy and gentle, the soft shoe shuffle, the unassuming but so smart lyrics and deadpan way round a harmony, the presence of other musicians, the lack of presence of other musicians, the chugging rhythms and self-deprecating putdowns, the idea he communicates simply by being there that we should not give up however stupid and unfriendly the odds against us are, the slender soft shoe shuffle, his height, the laconic melodies, the box drums and skiffle beat, the fact he shoves dodgy recordings of songs about Viv Albertine out on YouTube and you can’t understand a single word even though you know that if you could understand even a single word your life would be enriched in so many different small ways, the way he’s from Brighton but a Brighton you were always attracted to not a Brighton you wish you could turn your back upon, the way he used to be in a band that released possibly the greatest Christmas single ever, the empty beer glass, the way half his songs could be doubling for Clive Pig or O-Levels B-sides from 1985 or 1981 perhaps, the stupid soft shoes shuffle, his fondness for chips, the way he understands nostalgia should mean more than marketing, the whistling, the wrong shoes the wrong shoes the wrong shoes the wrong shoes…

14. Eminem – The Ringer
Shortly as I was coming up the final approach to Haywards Heath, a new track started up. Didn’t pay too much attention, then I started getting into the nasty-ass lyrics and obstructionist worldview, the steady flow of invective, the aggressive double-speed rap and… damn, I was just loving the flow. I sat there in the car outside my house, engine running, lights on, neighbours beginning to peer out their windows, while the track built inexorably to its cussed climax. I wanted to know who it was (although it was clearly Eminem). I wanted to know what it was. The volume kept building. The invective kept flowing. Damn, it shook my late Thursday evening up.

15. Wolf Alice – Don’t Delete The Kisses
Wolf Alice remind me of two favourites from the early 2000s – Meanwhile, Back In Communist Russia and Life Without Buildings. With some Northern Gothic leanings and bog-standard indie guitars thrown in, obv.

16. Amyl and the Sniffers – Westgate
Wow. OK.

Clash magazine has it that Melbourne band Amyl and the Sniffers are “a bunch of deviant children enjoying illicit behaviour and the odd pineapple juice”. Beat My Bones says, “Their songs are as fast as the Ramones with the obnoxious smuttiness that the Sex Pistols had”. It is not in my nature to quote other writers when it comes to hyperbole but OK. Wow.

Watching Amyl and the Sniffers at The Windmill in Brixton yesterday evening is what I imagine it must have been like going to CBGBs in ’75. Not that there’s anything four decades old about Amyl and the Sniffers. Not even vaguely.

17. The Legend! – Live at the Haunt
I owned that stage, for what it’s worth. I had a backing tape of desolate beautiful disturbing violin music supplied to me by Maria because she could not make the show, and that fed into the isolation and sense of bereavement too. As did my divorce, and the fact I could not find a single friend to accompany me to the show.

18. Yoko Ono – Teddy Bear
Now, you tell me. Was I wrong to put my faith in Yoko all these years?

19. Let’s Eat Grandma – It’s Not Just Me
Within seconds of listening to the luscious ‘Hot Pink’, I’m reminded of Gothic Americana popsters, the sisters CocoRosie, with a much more immersive understanding of EDM. I am not trying to pull Let’s Eat Grandma down by making this observation (also, this is superficial, based around a certain Helium trill in the intertwined voices and love for esoteric slightly jarring sound) – just pointing out the danger of calling something like “nothing else in pop right now” (thank you Pitchfork) when a statement like that is more revealing of the writer’s own lack of immersion than the music itself. Indeed, the description Pitchfork applied to Let’s Eat Grandma’s debut album could so easily be applied to Cocorosie’s early work, “If anything, I, Gemini’s everything-at-once psychedelia spoke directly to the feeling of being a young teenager—a kaleidoscope of unknowns, as terrifying as it is cool.”

That’s not to say it’s not a great line. It is. It’s a great line, especially the phrase “a kaleidoscope of unknowns”

20. Flight Of The Conchords – Father & Son
So, Isaac. Hello.

“Hello.”

What is it that you like about this song?

“It’s quite funny.”

How so?

“I don’t know.”

Is it something about the self-deprecating way the two singers tackle the subject material and their downbeat wry manner, or is it the delicious delight of the (vaguely taboo) subject material itself, the way the duo sometimes throw in an unexpected sting at the end of a line, the understated pathos that is none the less sweet or moving despite the fact the song is satirical (like all the greatest comedy it holds truth), the underplayed but heartwarming musicality, the way the song builds up into mini-crescendos and dies away again, passion momentarily spent, the smart interplay between the two disjointed narratives, the smart way “Trevor” rhymes with “live together”, the wry nastiness of some of the more ostensibly throwaway lines, the way the song becomes funnier and funnier with familiarity and repeated listens, the unmusicality of the voices as the song draws closer and closer to its climax, the gentle chugalong of the rhythm and melody, bodies swaying gently in the spotlight, the…

“I don’t know. Er. Sorry. Something like that.”

21. Robyn – Honey
Robyn, Robyn, Robyn! Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn! Robyn, Robyn. Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn. Robyn, Robyn, Robyn! Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn! Robyn, Robyn. Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn. Robyn, Robyn, Robyn! Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn! Robyn, Robyn. Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn. Robyn, Robyn, Robyn! Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn! Robyn, Robyn. Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn. Robyn, Robyn, Robyn! Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn! Robyn, Robyn. Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn. Robyn, Robyn, Robyn! Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn!

22. Kristin Hersh – Lax
This new album – her 10th studio album, it says here – is so full. So fucking full I cannot begin to muster the energy required to equal it with words (thereby failing RULE NUMBER ONE OF MUSIC JOURNALISM: always be more entertaining than the music you write about). Everything claimed for her former 4AD soulmates The Breeders, obv – but without the cosy familiarity that helps so often when confronted with casual genius, the intimate stranger. Brooding. Broody. Squalling. Squalled. Mysterious like Lyra Belacqua. I am just pleased that I am not the only one unable to measure up here.

23. Noah Cyrus, MØ – We Are…
Brexit is fucked.
The government’s fucked.
We’re all fucked.

24. Ariana Grande – God Is A Woman
I come at pop not from a teenage girl perspective (that would be absurd) or even a middle-aged white dude perspective (although undeniably this must influence me). In 2018, Ariana is first and foremost a diva, and one that has been greatly affected by tragedy and heartache. (Think Judy Garland, for the archetype.) I come at her music from a gay perspective.  I wrote an article for The Stranger about this once – I can’t find the original, but I reference it here.

25. Big Joanie – Fall Asleep
Nice nice nice, but decide I fractionally prefer the production on the old songs more. Prefer them (a little) more when the guitar sound reminds me of The Petticoats. I do like the way the YouTube algorithms take me immediately on to Hole (first time), Solange (second time), Beyoncé (third time) and Skinny Girl Diet (fourth time) following this song.

26. Little Mix – Strip
What if you have long thought that Nicki Minaj is way more entertaining and imaginative and creates (I dunno) way more adventurous noise pollution than anything the more feted rock and avant-rock and doom metal and whatever genres have thrown up in decades?

What if you started believing in stars like Lauren Bacall or Katherine Hepburn again?

27. Rosalia – Di mi nombre
She’s from Catalonia in Spain, she’s 25, she has a grace and style that I find bewitching, she spends a lot of time in hotel rooms doubtless, dreaming. The music sounds steeped in tradition. Interesting it should feel like that (to me). Signals and noise. I first encountered flamenco singing on a visit to Athens, Greece in the 1980s – the heat was oppressive and the noise and fumes even more so. I was tasked with uncovering the English-speaking Greek rock music scene when all I wanted to do was listen to flamenco at open-air concerts and watch the flames flicker, the dancers shift. I know little of the tradition it encapsulates and am content to be watching on the sidelines still, the dancers shifting shape and form around me, ribbons fluttering. The music here is not overstated.

28. Clean Bandit – Baby (feat. Marina & Luis Fonsi)
I feel like I’ve slipped over the edge of the vortex. It’s dark here, and full of unfamiliar smells. (Is this what cultural appropriation smells like? The smell of pine disinfectant?) Clean Bandit belong in the same category as Dua Lipa as Calvin Harris and Jess Glynne, the anonymous pop stars who have risen without trace. Found yourself stuck in a loop listening to the same 90-minute segment of Radio One over again, unable to differentiate between any of the music being played (or banter, or jokes, or “human interest” pieces, or competitions)? Blame these artists: pop Polycell designed to clog up any living, breathing arteries: there to muffle the not-silence and blare of headlights streaking towards you down darkened West Sussex country roads; the smile is not on the face of the tiger. The rise of sad pop. Not melancholy, just sad.

29. Christine and the Queens – 5 dollars
I do not know why I am starting off by talking about passion, about desire here. This is not how I hear this song. To me, this song is a beacon, a full-beam headlight steering me away from the ever-looming rocks – or maybe it’s towards, I cannot tell – a ray of hope, of understanding, that even as the grey and tumble of detritus threaten to overwhelm me, remind there are still Voices out there that can aid, inspire. Her music has feline elasticity, supine grace. Oh no… wait. I mean the opposite of that.

30. Mitski – Nobody
Nobody nobody nobody nobody nobody nobody nobody nobody nobody nodoby nobody nobody nobody nobody nobody nobody nobody nobody nobody nobody nobody nobody nodoby nobody nobody nobody moves me like Mitski does right now. 100,000 of those 2.8m listens are from me.

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How NOT to write about music – 15: Ed Sheeran

Ed Sheeran is shit

Two people walked out the venue on Thursday night during my reading of ‘Ed Sheeran Is Shit’ (in support of Tracyanne & Danny). My performance at The Haunt, Brighton (read more about it here) went almost precisely but nothing like the following:

There was music behind it, chilling and spooky. I used pauses, timing. The emptiness of the room fed into the futility of my performance in a way that if you had been there to see it , it would not have worked as well. I prefaced the reading by explaining that the piece was not so much about my own personal interpretation of Ed Sheeran’s music – although I do indeed find him anodyne and irritating, offensive in his lacklustre boy-neat-door persona – as it is about the fact that, in 2018, the idea of raising criticism about popular recording stars is to be frowned upon, something to be discouraged. In other words, the piece is not so much about Ed Sheeran’s alarming mediocre faux-blues/folk/pop that takes the place of romance and charm in the lives of many folk who have no idea what alternatives lie out there (perhaps they do, in which case, fine) as it is about the Right To Be Heard.

In this, I suppose, I am mirroring a similar dialogue taking place among the more disaffected sections of society – the #McJobs protests, disgust at the corporate greed and bullying embedded in so many Western cultures.

I guess.

Two people walked out anyway. They too were exercising their Right To Protest, although I would have preferred it if they’d stuck around to argue with me afterwards, or heckle the set. Somehow, their actions felt vaguely misguided – as if they were proving my very point through their refusal to listen.

It isn’t so much that Ed Sheeran is shit, when it comes down to it – but the culture that enables him, and through constant use of repetition and reinforcement encourages the general population to believe that his music has some worth or value …

You can still buy the book if you want. I have plenty of copies left.

Paypal £!3 (UK)/£16 (EU)/£20 (rotw) to ramonesfan79@yahoo.co.uk and you’ll discover the argument runs a lot deeper and is way more important than the attention-grabbing title.

Something that I guess those two people will never find out.

How NOT to write about music – 14. The Legend!

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The difficult part is getting the gig.

If I have ever possessed any magic it is in my ability to sidestep the usual barriers thrown up in the way of aspiring performers and writers, and get straight on to the stage. For little or no money usually (not tonight), but whatever. The difficult part is getting there, being offered the opportunity. Once offered the opportunity, you take advantage of it – you try and make that moment in the spotlight as special as possible, for yourself and those watching. Why wouldn’t you try and make that moment as special as possible? I really do not understand bands sometimes.

Totally empty and deserted but I pulled the emptiness into my set and made it another instrument

Last night at the Haunt, the room was empty, desolate. Totally empty and deserted but I pulled the emptiness into my set and made it another instrument. I embraced the awkward spaces and silences, and built upon them: used them for atmosphere, tone. It absolutely informed my performance. I chose songs about death and isolation and muted desire (are there any others?). A spoken word piece about the day Kurt Cobain’s body was discovered was followed by an old gospel lament, segued into my tale about the day I woke up to discover my girlfriend had changed into Courtney Love, segued into a near-silent (off-mic) reading of Television Personalities’ ‘Happy All The Time’. I knew what the fuck I was doing and finally – 20 years late – do not feel bad about who I am. Two punters walked out the venue during my reading of Ed Sheeran Is Shit. I finished up with a monotone, deeply sarcastic version of Patrik Fitzgerald’s monotone, deeply sarcastic ‘When I Get Famous’. I even threw in my old monologue about Daniel Johnston (and found I had forgotten most of the content). Commonly, I feel like a fraud if I perform the same song twice, but I did not feel like that last night.

I owned that stage, for what it’s worth. I had a backing tape of desolate beautiful disturbing violin music supplied to me by Maria because she could not make the show, and that fed into the isolation and sense of bereavement too. As did my divorce, and the fact I could not find a single friend to accompany me to the show.

I had been offered an opportunity by Tracyanne & Danny (the main band) and damn I wanted to take it. Don’t ever take these opportunities for granted. Tracyanne & Danny later dedicated their version of Daniel Johnston’s ‘True Love Will Find You In The End’ played in the style of the East Street Band to me, and it was very appreciated.

This song was one of the stand-outs of their warm, encompassing, magical set for me.

Amazon Prime had fucked up on the delivery of the cable I needed to hook the music straight into the PA system. so me and Andy the sound person rigged up a system whereby my portable Bluetooth speaker was mic-ed up and fed into the room, chilling. The soundcheck as ever took 5 minutes. I stopped the music when I wanted to, which was never.

How NOT to write about music – 11. Tracyanne & Danny

tracyanne & danny

I am supporting Tracyanne & Danny in Brighton next week.

Yes, I’m excited. Man, Tracyanne & Danny are coming to town!

Yes, I’m nervous. I might not have any musicians to play with, I may need to use a backing tape of violin loops and distortion behind my spoken word travelogues and music hall slippage. I may need to lay myself bare, throw myself upon the mercy of the crowd. I may need to tell the story of Daniel Johnston, of nights spent wandering between ashtrays in Chicago and Detroit, of too many days avoiding the sun and the weekend. I may need to recite poetry. I may need to sing.

I will almost certainly need to try hard, harder than I have tried in a lifetime of never trying hard enough. Now you tell me. Why shouldn’t I be nervous?

Yes, I’m concerned. Tracyanne’s old band Camera Obscura were special for me and Charlotte alone, a band that we could – and did – listen to together a lot, as we both loved their pathos and romantic sweep and sun-kissed string section and love for classic 1960s B-sides and Mrs Beeton’s everyday cooking. Charlotte and I have been divorced for six months now. I am concerned that hearing Tracyanne’s voice (in particular) live might prickle tears where right now I try to pretend tears do not exist. Obviously Tracyanne & Danny are way different to Camera Obscura, but this possibility remains, very real.

Yes, I’m a little awed. The Tracyanne & Danny album is one of my most played this year and it has soundtracked many a solitary train journey and rushed car ride, many an empty afternoon spent wasting away in the depths of loneliness in Haywards Heath, the overwhelming emotion being one of shock. Not awe. Just shock, delayed reaction. Other people have their Ed Sheerans and Red House Painters and that is fine. Bless them. This is not what I look for in music, not when I seek solace and reassurance and some form of comfort. I am looking for voices that can transport me out of this mess, this delayed shock – pure and open and laden with understanding. Voices that understand the secret history of The Pastels. I am looking for Tracyanne & Danny. Both singers, all their songs.

Why the hell wouldn’t I be awed, at the prospect of being the support act for all this? You tell me.

Gotta love a bit of slide guitar, of melancholy blues, an easy way around a vocal.

Note for aspiring blog writers: write, not because you have to, but because you want to. Just write. Not feeling up to writing? Write anyway. Write every second of the day, if you can. Just write.