Posts Tagged ‘2012’

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enter: 2013

January 2, 2013

I have found that writing a list at the start of each year has been a fairly successful way of realising at least some of my ambitions, as well as being able to look back at the previous year and seeing how far I have come. Since I started this blog back in 2009, each year has resulted in a lot of changes and accomplishments, which makes me incredibly happy!  So before I look at what I hope to have in store for 2013, I want to review my goals for 2012 and see how I did.

1. Learn to cook a new dish every month.

Tick… well, I got just over halfway before finally getting bored of this. I am just not one for cooking, and I really did not enjoy it. But after nine months’ worth of trying to make new dishes, I have learned some useful things and when I find myself in the situation of having to cook a meal, I can usually concoct something from whatever ingredients are in stock without resorting to a ready meal or pulling my hair out. So I think that that is progress!

2. Cut down on takeaways – to once a fortnight.

More or less! I think some weeks we do better than others, but we definitely have less takeaways than we used to. Hopefully we will renew our strictness with this rule over the coming year.

3. Move in with Toby.

Tick! This was one of the big achievements this year – we now are living together in our beautiful flat in Chiswick, and we are very happy.

4. Pay off my student overdraft.

Nope. Last time my car ate my money, this time the new flat and two wonderful holidays (to Paris and Prague) did it instead. But hopefully 2013 will be the year! Especially as I am being charged for using this overdraft now – so I’m fairly confident I will defeat it.

5. Learn Italian

Tick! In a couple of weeks, I will be starting my third term of learning Italian at the Italian Cultural Institute on Belgrave Square. My teacher Giuseppe is fantastic, and I really enjoy it.

6. Learn to sew

Tick! I think I learned this skill fairly early on into the year, and it’s been useful throughout. Now, I can repair holes and tears in tops, underwear, socks and trousers, and keep my wardrobe going a bit longer.

7. Finish my new album

Tick! Well, I finished 2526 – I had hoped it would be longer and wider in scope, but in the end the concept of the album dictated that I had to finish it in October. But nevertheless I am proud of it and I feel that the mood and quality of the songs represent another step forward for me musically.

8. Go completely digital with my music and film collections, and only keep physical copies of what I really love

Nope, not yet. I’ve managed to get all of my DVDs from Bristol to London, and the next thing is to get my CDs up here. I already sold a lot of the ones that I knew I didn’t want, but it’ll be easier to work out what I want to keep and sell once I have everything here in my flat, and can just put a pile aside for MusicMagpie or Cex or whatever. My iPod finally died in November after 4 years of faithful service, and though in previous years I would have had to run to the Apple store to buy a new one, this time I’m surviving with the (tiny) music library on my iPhone. Which I feel represents patience, maturity and restraint! As well as a concentration on what’s really important, and where my money needs to go. Eventually I’d really like another iPod but I can’t see myself getting one for another few months yet. So I feel that this aim is on hold for now – I’ll hopefully achieve it gradually, but in the meantime I prefer the tangibility of music and film purchases in any case. I am still learning to step into the future, I suppose!

5 / 5.5 out of 8 is perfectly reasonable, I think! And now, my list of goals and resolutions for 2013:

1. Quit smoking.

Toby’s never known me as a non-smoker, and I think it’s about time he did. It’s going to be difficult, and I don’t want cigarettes to have complete power over me to the point where I’m as much a slave to them having given up as I am being a smoker. I’ve already cut down quite a bit so now I just have to take the final leap. Going back to work will be difficult because I need the breaks and I will feel silly just walking around Notting Hill doing nothing, but I’ll work something out. I do enjoy a cigarette, and so perhaps every now and then I may have a cigarette socially – who knows. I’m trying to be loose about it at the moment, so that I don’t feel overly pressurised and that there isn’t a wagon to jump on / fall off of. But generally, this is the year I stop, and I know that I have the willpower (read: stubbornness) to do so. To muffle any temptation, I need to think of: the money I’m saving, my teeth not turning yellow, my blood pressure and life expectancy being improved, not smelling of cigarettes, and (most importantly) being healthy for Toby and showing that I value our love, life and longevity.

2. Pay off my student overdraft.

Third time lucky!

3 & 4. Get fit and toned, and write and record over half of my new album.

I was watching Skyfall with the delicious Daniel Craig, and I decided that I want his body. Except without quite so much effort, and my face shouldn’t be as aged as his. But he’s pretty amazing, physically. At the same time, I also decided that my new music has to be made with heart and soul, and in this way it will show my evolution. Hence my new life motto for this year is “Body and Soul” – I will look after my body and keep fit and hopefully lose some weight and tone up, and I will make music that is vibrant and true.

5. To sing live at least once, in front of an audience.

Because I haven’t done it in a long time, and I miss it!

6. Write a novel.

I already wrote a chapter of a novel a few months ago, but it trailed off and I haven’t done anything with it since. I have been inspired by Toby’s brother, who actually wrote a novel and got it published on Amazon and everything. I used to love creative writing ever since I was little, and so it’s a natural progression in a way for me to write a book. Watch this space…

7. Learn to moonwalk.

I love dancing, and I was watching the documentary for Michael Jackson’s Bad album and it suddenly occurred to me that learning to moonwalk would be something really fun. The only setback to this plan is that the floors throughout our flat are carpeted. But I wanted a goal that was quite light-hearted and fun, amidst all of the seriousness!

8. Pass Italian exam in the summer.

At the Italian Cultural Institute, at the end of each term you can take an exam to get a qualification demonstrating your proficiency in the language. By the end of this academic year (i.e. in July), I will have finished the upper intermediate class if all goes to plan – and so I think it would be good to have a recognised qualification stating my ability in the Italian language. So this is something that I want to achieve too. At the same time, I am hoping that I will continue reading literature in both Spanish and Italian to maintain my fluency in both of those languages (if I have to sacrifice one of my languages, I guess it would be French.)

9. Teach Toby how to play chess.

We have a nice wooden chess set on our coffee table, and I can’t believe that Toby is so intelligent and yet does not know how to play chess. So I will teach him – it’s an important life skill and keeps the brain active and from being rotted by episodes of 30 Rock and The Big Bang Theory.

10. Start saving up a deposit for a house.

I know, we only just moved into the Chiswick flat! Toby and I really like this area of London, and so it’s gonna be a long time before we can actually afford something here. But why not start now? This is something that will happen once I have finished paying off my overdraft (see number 2) but I hope that by the end of the year, I will have put some new money in my festering ISA that can be ultimately used for the deposit on a lovely flat or house.

Wish me luck, and good luck with your resolutions and goals for the year ahead!

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Top 10 albums of 2012.

December 17, 2012

It’s that time of year again! Here are my top 10 albums of the year. Enjoy and please share your 2012 music picks! 🙂

10. Usher – Looking 4 Myself

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It doesn’t recapture the heady heights of My Way or 8701, but it’s an effort that tries to combine R&B, dance and pop with a newfound maturity. Highlights: Climax, I Care For U, Lemme See, Looking 4 Myself, Euphoria

 

9. B.Slade – Deep Purple

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He does it again! After the excellent Diesel and Stealth albums, B.Slade hits us with Deep Purple. His beats and vocals are sicker than what mainstream is ready for – it feels like real R&B. Highlights: PHONy PONy, TwerK, Deep Purple, Lo Siento

8. Alicia Keys – Girl On Fire

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Alicia Keys has yet to make a bad album. This album has a quiet beauty, maturity and warmth to it, which is appropriate considering her newfound motherhood. Highlights: Brand New Me, When It’s All Over, New Day, Girl On Fire, Not Even The King

7. Brandy – Two Eleven

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A well-deserved hit single heralded this unabashedly R&B album. Brandy’s voice is once again harmonious and emotive; the beats are once again forward-thinking. It feels like coming home. Highlights: Wildest Dreams, Let Me Go, Without You, Put It Down, What You Need

6. Tamia – Beautiful Surprise

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One of the best vocalists around, this is more classic R&B that just hits all the right spots. It’s wonderfully romantic and a sweet delight to listen to. Highlights: Give Me You, It’s Not Fair, Still Love You, Still

5. Lana Del Rey – Born To Die

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A new voice and a new style that started of the year with a sophisticated bang. Lana Del Rey also demonstrated she knows how to make an artful music video (see: National Anthem, Ride). The Paradise re-release was a nice addition to this record, but the original album was solid all the way through and married Nancy Sinatra with deep beats. Highlights: Born To Die, Blue Jeans, Video Games, National Anthem, This Is What Makes Us Girls.

4. Nicki Minaj – Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded (read the full-length review here)

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A schizophrenic album that calculatedly veers between popular music styles, but is stuffed with so many hits that it’s undeniable. Nicki Minaj’s re-release The Re-Up only added 7 more top tracks to the era. Highlights: Roman Holiday, Come On A Cone, I Am Your Leader, Beez In The Trap, Starships, Pound The Alarm, Automatic, Beautiful Sinner, Fire Burns, Gun Shot, Freedom, I’m Legit, The Boys (yes, that many!)

3. Frank Ocean – channel ORANGE (read the full-length review here)

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An architect of brave new R&B and soul that breaks boundaries and touches hearts, Frank Ocean has arrived with an album that transcends the sum of its parts. Highlights: Thinkin Bout You, Sweet Life, Pyramids, Lost, Bad Religion, Forrest Gump

2. Jessie Ware – Devotion 

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Her music is like a young, modern Sade. Irresistible, fresh, smooth and beautiful from beginning to end. An exciting new talent that sounds classic and up to date all at once. Highlights: the whole thing.

1. Rihanna – Unapologetic (read the full-length review here)

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Rihanna proved that she can equal Rated R. An album full of emotionally resonant, musically forward-thinking songs that epitomise what pop is and should be in 2012. Highlights: Diamonds, Numb, Loveeeeeee Song, Jump, What Now, Love Without Tragedy / Mother Mary, Get It Over With, Lost In Paradise, Half Of Me

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Cooking in 2012 – February: Lasagne.

February 2, 2012

So this month I made a dish that I have in fact made a couple of times in the past: lasagne. I love it, it’s perfect for the extremely cold weather we’re currently experiencing, and it’s Italian and therefore I should be able to make this in my sleep. I felt confident that I could impress Toby with this one, and be able to do it without any help.

Hah!

I used this recipe as a basis, but it was kinda confusing. My first big stumbling block was “crush the garlic to a paste with the edge of a knife”. Now, I don’t know if you have ever tried this, but it’s fucking difficult. I got irritated (because chopping the vegetables and preparing everything had taken a surprisingly long time), ranted on twitter, had a cigarette, and then just decided to chop the garlic cloves into really small pieces, smoosh them up, and call it sufficient.

My next issue was the completely unclear nature of the recipe. You put the carrot in after everything has been cooking for quite a long time? Huh? And you stir in the oregano practically at the end? Why? Most importantly, it never tells you to take the fried mince off the warm plate and back in a saucepan to mix it with the rest of the ingredients for the meat sauce. It leaves this completely to your imagination. Now, common sense dictates you would eventually reach the conclusion that this is what you have to do (and with Toby’s reassurance, I got there) – but I am far from a confident cook. Even though I have made this recipe before, I don’t ever remember it being so complicated or confusing, and recipes not spelling everything out for me explicitly is A BIG PROBLEM.

But we got there. I cheated and bought some white sauce rather than making it from scratch – this was probably a good move because as it was, we didn’t end up eating the finished lasagne until 9:45pm. Which is late. But it was very very nice – and better than a shop-bought one! I was proud!

With a night’s perspective on the whole matter, I can now ask myself the big question: Was it worth all the money I spent on ingredients, and all the time I spent stressing and preparing and cooking and washing up? I am very hesitant to say “yes”, to be honest. I did learn a lot from the experience, such as:

  • as much as I want to be independent, sometimes it’s vital to ask for help.
  • as time-consuming as cooking and preparing ingredients can be, you can always do chores / errands in the interim while the food is cooking / baking. Which is satisfying.
  • I take after my mother, as the Italian side of me is clearly a fashionista rather than a foodie (though my waistline lately might disagree). Oh well.

I am trying really hard with this cooking thing, and it is a resolution that I made so I will see it through for the whole year. And I sincerely hope that as I gain more experience with cooking, it will be less traumatic. But at this point, I genuinely hate it. I can’t lie – as good as my lasagne tasted, and as convenient as it was that I got two meals’ worth out of it (I finished the leftovers off tonight), I would have much preferred to have bought a ready-made lasagne from a supermarket and warmed it up. Less stress, more time to enjoy my evening with Toby, and less money wasted on ingredients – the remnants of which are now sitting in my fridge until I throw them away in a few days’ time. Perhaps if my circumstances change in the future, I will have more motivation to cook a meal for two more often – and perhaps a better kitchen to cook them in! But for now, at least Toby seemed to enjoy the meal (which is a big plus), and my family sounded impressed when I told them on the phone.

Next, I want to attempt to make Toby a moussaka the way my nan makes it – which is amazing. I don’t expect to live up to her lofty standards, but I will give it a go! Eep.

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Cooking in 2012 – January: BBQ chicken sandwich with roast potatoes.

January 7, 2012

In my previous post, I mentioned that Toby had baked some bread today. This became the foundation for tonight’s dinner, which evolved as we shopped in M&S and picked up chicken breasts, barbecue marinade and salad. Under Toby’s patient tutelage, this became BBQ chicken sandwiches (with salad, caesar dressing and sliced red peppers), and a side of roasted potatoes:

I have never marinaded chicken, roasted potatoes (although in my last cookery post, I did learn how to boil them, so I am becoming quite potato-adept!) or even sliced a red pepper, so I couldn’t have made this dish without Toby’s help. I discovered that the previous tenants in my flat had left behind loads of really useful kitchen utensils, including big knives and various-sized baking trays and oven tins. One of my new aims for this weekend is to make an inventory of the kitchen cupboards and find out exactly what exciting cooking tools I possess! So first of all:

  • The oven was pre-heated to 200° C.
  • I took out the four chicken breasts we had bought, and cut 3 diagonal slices halfway down each one. These slits were to ensure that the BBQ sauce would get right inside the meat and imbue it with flavour.
  • Then I took the red pepper, sliced the top off, grabbed the white middle structure and pulled that out. I then turned my hollowed-out pepper upside down, put my hand underneath, and banged the top to get most of the seeds out. I then cut my pepper shell into quarters, and sliced it. I found out that this really is quite straightforward!
  • In a square baking tray with sides, I laid the sliced peppers to make a bed for the four chicken breasts. I then added about two-thirds of the bottle of BBQ sauce marinade, and worked the sauce into the chicken, ensuring that it got into the slits I had cut earlier. This was frankly quite horrible, as I hate my hands getting sticky and messy. But I did it!
  • Then I cut about 8 smallish potatoes into thirds / quarters (depending on size), and put them on a flat baking tray. I seasoned these with salt and black pepper, and drizzled some sunflower oil over them. I then turned all of the potatoes over in the oil to ensure that the surface of each potato fraction was oiled and seasoned.
  • I put both baking trays into the oven. After 20 minutes or so, when the potatoes started to brown on top, I took both baking trays out of the oven and using a fork (I tried it with a spatula the first time but things got a bit messy!) I turned all four chicken breasts over in the red pepper and BBQ sauce marinade, followed by turning all the potatoes over. I put everything back in the oven for another 20 minutes.
  • After this, the potatoes started to sizzle. I gave them a vigorous shake on the baking tray, and turned some of them over again. I then turned the four chicken breasts over once again. Everything went back in the oven!
  • 10 minutes or so after this, the potatoes started to look brown on top and the chicken looked cooked, so everything came out of the oven.
  • We then sliced four reasonably thick slices of Toby’s bread and laid them flat on two plates. I put salad leaves on the bread, and drenched these with a good amount of caesar dressing. I then sliced the chicken breasts into thin slices, and arranged these on top of the salad leaves. I covered the chicken with the sliced peppers, added a couple of dollops of the leftover BBQ sauce, and put the final slices of bread on top to make the sandwiches.
  • I served the roast potatoes in a bowl as a side dish. (In other words, there wasn’t enough room for the potatoes on the plate, next to the giant sandwiches.)

Et voilà!

Quite honestly, this meal was delicious, and so delicious that I felt almost overwhelmed that I had made it myself. I could not have done it without Toby telling me what to do, but I made it with my own two hands and cooking utensils, and I am really proud. On top of this, it really wasn’t that difficult, and I have learned how to do new things. It’s confirmed to me that this cooking idea that I had at the top of the year really was a good one that I should continue to pursue. I’m not used to taking so long to prepare and cook a meal, but neither am I used to feeling such a sense of pride at the end of it. 🙂

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Tube update: Parsons Green, Putney Bridge and East Putney

January 7, 2012

The first London tube photo post of 2012! Today I had an epic lie-in and was watching the Channel 4 Sarah Palin documentary until 12:30pm, when I decided I really should get up and do something with my day. As I have been feeling a bit podgy post-Christmas, and Toby was planning on baking bread, I decided to go for a walk to give myself some exercise and rid myself of cabin fever. I walked to Parsons Green (and the green itself is lovely and small):

Emboldened by my success (and the fact that Parsons Green really isn’t that far away from Toby’s flat), I walked on to Putney. When I got to Putney Bridge station, I found out that Fulham were playing Chelsea in the football today (I am generally oblivious to footballing events and mainly find out about them from the amount of Chelsea or Fulham fans amassed in my vicinity) and was surrounded by lairy individuals wearing football kits and drinking cans of beer. Police were on horseback and guarding the tube stations, but that didn’t stop me from getting my picture!

Again, since I’d come this far, I decided to walk to Putney and have a look at the shops on the High Street. Eventually I got to East Putney station…

…realised I hadn’t brought my house keys with me (so I couldn’t go back to my flat and have lunch, which was my bright idea at the time), so walked back to Putney High Street, picked up some sandwiches for me and Toby to eat for lunch, and then got the bus back to Fulham! A good day with healthy walking and a new-found appreciation for Putney.

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Learning to cook – the journey begins…

January 4, 2012

In my New Year resolutions for 2012, my first resolution was to learn to cook a new dish every month. Now, I haven’t decided what the month of January will hold yet, but just to give you an idea of what starting point I’m at… it’s basic. Things that I can cook include lasagne, mushroom risotto, pasta, a range of ready meals, sandwiches and toast, and combinations of microwaveable foods. I’ve never been very inspired to cook anything more complicated than this because a) I find the process of creating a meal frequently tries my patience, and b) why should I cook a meal for one which takes longer to make than it does to eat?

I am in the very lucky position of being in a relationship with a fantastic cook. He is in the equally lucky position of being in a relationship with someone who enjoys cleaning and household chores. So why should I even bother learning to cook? Well, I’m an adult now – no longer a student, or living at home; Toby comes round my place nearly as often as I stay at his, and I want to be able to make meals that are tasty, interesting and also occasionally healthy. Eating out is expensive, and eating takeaways can get unhealthy and uninspiring. Perhaps I’ll lose some weight and get healthier along the way? I also want to add to my skill set, and I kind of feel that cooking is something I really ought to learn, as a worthwhile (and sociable) human being.

I’m not a natural chef (see: lack of patience; lack of understanding what foods go together; issues around eating and weight), but I did have some cookery lessons at school. I made things like pasta carbonara, quiche, bread, triple chocolate upside-down cake, and they always turned out well – however, I might attribute some of this to my desire to succeed in a classroom setting, rather than any potential I had as a cook. The only thing I ever did mess up was crème caramel, because I burned the caramel in the oven. (I later found out that I didn’t really like crème caramel anyway.) But for the most part, I had a recipe which I always followed to the letter, and things always turned out fine. However, Toby has discovered that there are some basic things that I didn’t know. For example, don’t lick your fingers when you have been handling raw chicken or raw egg – this is bad for you. He asked me, “didn’t you have food technology lessons at school?!?” To which my reply was “No, we studied Latin instead.” I think I was due to have 6 weeks of cookery lessons in 6th form, but instead I was chosen to be a peer mentor and had 30 hours of training in mentoring and listening skills from a psychologist.

Moving on… Last month, I made a lovely meal of honey and mustard roast chicken breast (courtesy of Waitrose), with chips, salad and croutons with caesar dressing. I was pleased with this meal because I picked the ingredients in the supermarket myself and created the dish in my head as I walked through the aisles. It was delicious. Tonight (and this is not counting towards my dish per month resolution), I had a go at making steak pie (courtesy of Sainsburys) with steamed baby corn, beans and boiled potatoes. This presented some challenges to me as I have never steamed vegetables, and I have never boiled potatoes.

The easy part – I shoved the steak pie in the oven for 35 minutes. This gave me 35 minutes to:

  • discover that one of the hob rings on my mini oven doesn’t work when the oven is on;
  • boil the potatoes on the other hob;
  • realise that supermarket estimates for cooking are not always to be trusted;
  • learn how to steam vegetables in the microwave (thank you Google);
  • find out that it’s not worth using tablespoons to measure out water.

After accumulating all of this knowledge, dinner was served:

steak pie, potatoes and steamed vegetables

It was yummy! The pie and potatoes (after the initial panic that they weren’t cooking on the hob) turned out very well. If I could do it again, I would have steamed the vegetables for longer in the microwave, as the beans were quite crisp and fresh-tasting; but the vegetables were still perfectly edible. The whole point of this, and my cookery journey, is that I am going to learn skills I didn’t know (however basic they might be) and improve my culinary capabilities. I am not ashamed of being such a novice cook, because I am doing something about it. And if you are reading this and thinking that you can’t cook either, then let’s take this journey together. I will be completely honest about my failures and lack of knowledge, and hopefully the fact that I will be able to make successful dishes in spite of these will be proof that even though we aren’t all born chefs, we can all learn to cook something simple, yet tasty and interesting.

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Top 10 albums of 2011.

January 2, 2012

So here is my other annual end-of-year post. I have been able to whittle down my list of favourite albums that were released in 2011 into a nice list of 10, and I have written a twitter-sized (ish!) review under each one. Enjoy and share your thoughts and favourite releases of the year too! 🙂

10. Drake – Take Care

Drake releases another heartfelt hip-hop album, smoother & more cohesive than his debut. Highlights: Take Care, Marvins Room, Shot For Me

9. Rihanna – Talk That Talk (read the full-length review here)

The midpoint between Loud & Rated R. Stellar first half, average 2nd half. Highlights: You Da One, We Found Love, Cockiness (Love It) / Birthday Cake

8. Nicole Scherzinger – Killer Love

Nicole’s solo debut blends killer pop with strong ballads showcasing powerful vocals. Highlights: Poison, Killer Love, Right There, AmenJena

7. Mýa – K.I.S.S.

Mýa continues to deliver solid R&B with her latest album deservedly re-released in the USA. Highlights: K.I.S.S., Take Him Out, Mess Up My Hair, Mr. Incredible

6. Nadia Oh – Colours (read the full-length review here)

The sound of the summer! Deliriously catchy, irresistible dance-pop with tongue firmly in cheek. Highlights: Jump Out The Window, Taking Over The Dancefloor, No Bueno

5. Jay-Z & Kanye West – Watch The Throne (read the full-length review here)

The rap event of the year with production and braggadocio so confidently executed, it couldn’t fail. Highlights: Niggas In Paris, Who Gon Stop Me, Murder To Excellence

4. Natalia Kills – Perfectionist

Masterful, dark pop with powerful imagery to match its consistently hooky and interesting songs. Highlights: Wonderland, Free, Zombie, Mirrors, Broke, If I Was God

3. B.Slade – Diesel

My discovery of the year – the best male vocalist I’ve heard in a very long time, with an impressive lyrical depth and stylistic range. Highlights: B.A.S.S., I’m Done, Do U Get Down?, Dorothy Humperdink, Never Again…, Sequel

(P.S. his new album Stealth. is also excellent, but that only came out on 25th December and I don’t feel I have listened to it enough to be able to judge it – however, it likely would have earned its own place on this list!)

2. Lady Gaga – Born This Way

Lady Gaga just keeps getting better, giving everything she has – heart and soul. Highlights: Marry The Night, Born This Way, Judas, Americano, Yoü and I, The Edge Of Glory

1. Beyoncé – 4 (read the full-length review here)

Genuine soul, classic ballads and earth-shattering uptempos make for Beyoncé’s best album yet. Highlights: the whole album! (you can skip Start Over and the bonus tracks if you’re pushed for time)