Monday, July 20, 2015

Six Months at the Theater



January

1. Selma — I noticed the absolute beauty of one composition, girls on a staircase, the exact moment before the frame blows up. I don’t know that I’ve ever felt more jolted by a movie. DuVernay’s just as visionary in her one-shot overhead view of the aftermath, with echoes of The Wizard of Oz—a terrifying but safe imaginary place for children to work out the nightmares of society, denied. Oprah Winfrey deserved a nomination too, as she did for The Butler. She does so much with her one big scene here.

2. Mr. Turner — My favorite Leigh by a significant margin. I prefer the way the characters register the horror of existence, not with uncontrollable sobs but with blank, uncomprehending stares.

3. Nightcrawler — Viewing this as a didactic commentary on the media would indeed make it seem a bit rote, i.e. everyone knows all about that already, but saying “it’s just a movie” helped me elevate this to greatness.

4. Picnic at Hanging Rock (1975) — It seems impossible to remember this movie as anything but a haunting dream, so it was funny to see it again and find that the filmmaking really is quite alert, grounded in physical detail and sensation.

5. Inherent Vice — From an e-mail I sent: “Yeah, Inherent Vice was great, I like how effectively it mirrored the confusion I feel when watching detective movies and wondering how the characters can so easily absorb plot developments and mazes of connections and immediately visualize their next move. That is to say, I couldn't make much sense of the story. But the way Doc uses his P.I. notepad in only the most pointless way (“something Spanish” comes to mind) allowed me to turn off from content a little bit and think of everything more in terms of language and sound. A Pavement-y effect, I guess. I wish more movies were musical in that way. Great soundtrack and score, too. Might have to see it again.” [I didn’t see it again, sadly. —ed.]

February

6. The Big Sleep (1946) — See Inherent Vice, above. This is the movie I meant.

7. Blow Out (1981) — The only money I ever made from writing was for a high school essay that took the physical media-cluttered mise en scene of Blow Out as its starting point. I still dig that aspect of the movie, but this time the ending turned me on most. John Travolta’s blunders on his way to saving Nancy Allen quickly become operatic in scope, and that might prove alienating to an audience accustomed to smart heroes undertaking swift rescue, but for me it’s the moment when dream edges into nightmare.

8. Still Alice — Sure to be remembered as the movie that won Julianne Moore an Oscar, but she’s actually very good in it. Key scene: In bed at night, she spills her fears but the husband just comforts her, not registering her terror, so she has to scream to make him listen.

9. Two Days, One Night — In Dardennes fashion, the title first reads as merely descriptive, but in the end doesn’t quite seem to match up. The movie spans three days, right? So instead I started to think of the title as referring to an aspect of storytelling that’s so crucial here, compression of time, and to think about how the film makes the highs appropriately high and the lows appropriately low, with such a limited window. For the highs, thank the soundtrack, which has a French version of “Needles and Pins” and Them’s (I think) version of “Gloria” during a few key driving scenes, the latter nearly manic in the way the mood shifts so abruptly. For the lows, thank Marion Cotillard, who was indispensable last year. The Immigrant had that miraculous moment when a magician appears to levitate, and where most movies would mock his unsophisticated turn-of-the-century audience, turn the camera on their wide eyes and gaping mouths, Cotillard won’t play along. She instead allows herself to be distracted by another figure in the room, and ignores the whole thing! And in Two Days, where most movies present depression and job anxiety as exotic, mysterious forces, she makes it all utterly ordinary.

10. Timbuktu — Everything I remember most about this movie—a soccer game without the ball; violent struggle at a mirror-like lake—plays like an exercise in pure cinema, in my memory. Consult a source better than me for broader significance.

11. Big Hero 6 — A nice diversion, with a small legacy: Zac and I say “furry baby” quite often.

March

12. To Have and Have Not (1944) — I remember when Humphrey Bogart was a constant feature of my life, and now I’m lucky to see him once or twice a year. He’s like family in that way.

13. What We Do in the Shadows — Funny!

14. All About My Mother (1999) — Prelude to…

15. Bad Education (2004) — I checked my records to find that I’d first seen this at a theater ten years and nine days previously, in Helena! In the interim it had become one of my favorite movies, and now I’ve seen it enough to declare it perfect, a labyrinth of plot and frame and revelation that’s beautiful and whole from every angle. The moment when a drop of blood trickles down Ignacio’s forehead and his face splits in half deserves applause or a standing ovation, anywhere and anytime this movie is playing.

April

16. Little Fugitive (1953) — For a place I’ve never been, New York City takes up a lot of territory in my mind, as an imaginary place, a collaborative work of art. Sometimes I barely believe it exists or ever existed, so movies like Little Fugitive, filmed at Coney Island in the 50s, are invaluable, make it nearly real.

17. Speed Racer (2008) — Plays even better now than it did seven years ago. I submit this as a classic due for rediscovery.

18. While We’re Young — Best use of montage since… the word referred to a technique and not just a narrative shortcut set to music? As a vehicle for a Dean Wareham cameo, this is a worthy follow-up to Frances Ha, trading a mid-to-late 20s worldview for a middle-aged one, and the romance of black and white for principled real color. I didn’t expect the movie to go down a rabbit hole of documentary and authenticity concerns, but it comes with the territory, and exposes the characters’ beliefs and worries in a way that less frantic plotting wouldn’t.

May

19. Citizen Kane (1941) — I remember when this movie was a puzzle to solve, and how I watched it enough times until I felt I understood what made it great. Now I can appreciate it as a terrific entertainment (eternally fresh and liberated, too; as evidence of a young artist messing around with the world he knows and making something great, it remains inspiring), but I get no joy from thinking about it.

20. Avengers: Age of Ultron — The speed with which Black Widow and Hulk jump from confessing their love to grieving the fact they can’t have kids was pretty alarming. Mourning that which will never exist? I don’t get it.

21. Ex Machina — I’m not sure what’s going on with the recent slate of movies about A.I. women in captivity, except that men will never stop finding new ways of being fucked up. I got the impression the filmmakers thought it progressive to deliver Ava to a sense of her own agency. I’d rather have seen what she does with it.

22. Pitch Perfect 2 — Reviewed here. Editorial changes didn’t quite help clarify my second paragraph’s minefield of clauses. Try this instead:

“It’s a comedy after all, necessarily hermetic. [NEW PARAGRAPH] But mostly the Bellas sing, and their musical preferences give the film a rosy, regressive approach to soundtrack that’s ultimately to its benefit. There’s no need for the world of collegiate a cappella to contain the same level of posturing and trendsetting found at the Beverly Hills high school of Clueless.”

Not sure I believe that, but as long as the copy’s legible.

23. Mad Max: Fury Road — Crazy!

24. The Stranger (1946) — Not very good. Given what Orson Welles was capable of in the ‘40s, I have to assume he filmed this in two days in a state of constant distraction.

25. Tomorrowland — This looked like it was going to be huge; a few months later I bet it will take you a minute to remember it ever existed. However much it undercuts wonder with futility, it’s still a movie about wonder, thus doomed to failure in 2015. But during its one brief shining moment, opening weekend (even better that I saw it right after a high school graduation), it played well.

June

26. Mad Max: Fury Road — For the second time. Not my favorite of the year by any means, but the one where I most felt the need to figure out what I’d seen.

27. Spy — Melissa McCarthy gives a somewhat milder performance than usual, so it’s great when the movie gives her one chance to riff on her persona, suddenly full of a sense of her power and throwing out crude insults until she realizes she’s gone too far. I’m always happy to watch her blitz her way through a movie but Spy shifts the angle, desk worker gone rogue serving as a sort of parable of the work it takes for a comic actor to crush self-doubt and get to that place of anarchic energy. It’s also very funny, Beaches wristwatch in particular.

28. When Marnie Was There — Much as I love Miyazaki, I’d argue that an increase in projects from different directors has reinvigorated Studio Ghibli and that their recent five-picture run, starting with Arrietty, rivals Pixar’s run from Ratatouille to Toy Story 3. (Too bad they’ve put a halt to new work.) After a handful of wonderful films about girls, When Marnie Was There is the capper, the story of a shy adolescent engaged in a supernatural lesbian romance. A late revelation makes such a reading a bit perverse, but as in From Up on Poppy Hill the film portrays young love so tenderly that its forbidden aspect hardly registers. (Clooney and robot girl’s relationship in Tomorrowland, odd as it is, passes the test too.)

29. Results — After his formally ambitious fourth film Computer Chess, Results plays like an alternate universe follow-up to Andrew Bujalski’s first three low-budget pictures. From the universe we’re used to, that is: Indie director upgrades cameras and cast for sleek approximation of his early work. But his characters retain their spirit. Every time Results threatens to take a conventional turn, the characters back down from confrontation and behave like normal people. A lawsuit threat turns into an invitation to get high, etc.

30. Jurassic World — Entertaining enough, but… if you have to ease your guilt over making a soulless studio product by constantly having your characters engaged in meta-commentary about corporate sponsorship, why bother making it in the first place? Oh well, there was still quite a bit I liked here. It’s hilarious when the two boys walk into the ruins of the Jurassic Park set, a perfect visual metaphor for the way people now perceive the 1990s to be as ancient as Maya society or something. Technology has rendered the whole 20th century as pre-history.

31. Nine to Five (1980) — I too thought Dolly Parton was terrific, and looked back at Ebert’s review to find it’s nothing but rapturous praise of her. But I don’t think she’s great at the expense of the rest of the movie, which has charms in every direction. The scene of Parton, Tomlin and Fonda smoking pot and laughing hysterically is a gift to the universe.

32. Inside Out — Reviewed here, first sentence typo not mine. It originally just said, “Bjork predicted their vision.” My premise is a bit silly, I know. Of course it’s a children’s movie and I only undermine my question of universal applicability by bringing adults into the equation. Basically I just kept wondering why the movie had to be about a kid whose family can afford to move to San Francisco. Maybe I should’ve just said that.

33. The Best Years of Our Lives (1946) — A three-hour movie without an extraneous shot or scene. I forgot how deeply cynical (realistic) it is, correctly identifying America’s business interests as a threat to the very people who would fight for it. “Where we stand today is… where we stand today, wherever that is.” It’s a sad world, where war is better than business as usual.

34. Blazing Saddles (1974) — Forty years later the jokes require no explanation. If anything it almost plays like a parody of the present day.

35. Love and Mercy — People treat biopic like a bad word, as if it has nothing to offer, as if its formulas and cliches formed in a vacuum and have nothing to do with the way people think about history and famous lives. Anyway, this one doesn’t dismantle biopic convention as much as I’d been led to expect, or at all, but the cast is splendid, the sound design is superb, and the case for giving genius free reign and all necessary resources is fully convincing, after seeing the opposite. Not to mention the film depicts the Pet Sounds sessions, the world historical event I would most like to have been present for.

36. Hard to Be a God — Hard to be human, again.

37. Purple Rain (1984) — The idea that an audience wouldn’t immediately recognize the genius of “Computer Blue” and “Darling Nikki” is a plot contrivance so outlandish it nearly undermines the whole movie. But the filmmaking really clicks into place for the ballads, and even when it doesn’t, I take very seriously this portrait of the rock star as a troubled teen.

38. Car Wash (1976) — A hit-and-miss series of jokes and gags that doesn’t nearly imply any of its few dozen characters is destined for an arc, until that devastatingly sad coda has two characters completing each other’s.

Bonus (home video)

White Bird in a Blizzard announces itself as a spiritual sequel to Mysterious Skin—an opening voiceover telling of a disappearance; falling stuff (snow, not cereal) set to Harold Budd and Robin Guthrie’s score; a story set in two distinct periods, ‘80s and ‘90s; honest depiction of teenage sexuality; etc.—but Araki’s return to literary adaptation is a disappointment, especially in comparison to his masterpiece. This is the kind of movie where the protagonist’s black and gay friends deserve their own movies but instead say things like “I’m so proud of you” and “you’re my hero now,” a propos of nothing.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Usable Mix

After listing the proposed contents of Useful Mix, I arranged 33 of the 35 songs (only YG and The Kinks didn’t make the cut, through no fault of theirs) onto two hour-long discs. Of those, disc one ended up with fairly coherent sequencing, while disc two ended up as a dump of leftover tracks meant to keep us (or perhaps just me) occupied during our drives around Albuquerque. So I present to you only disc the first, for download and streaming. It’s served me well, and I still dig it. In choosing a bright, crisp, subtly anxious song about flying to anchor disc one, I might have erred in choosing Jenny Lewis’, not Best Coast’s, but like I’ve said I never exactly intend these as soundtracks. Over-emphasizing a song called “My Life” might have given me funny ideas.


1. Springtime Carnivore, “Foxtrot Freak (Something in the Atmosphere)”
2. The Chambermaids, “China Blue”
3. Swervedriver, “For A Day Like Tomorrow”
4. DJ Rashad, “Show U How”
5. Jessica Lea Mayfield, “Standing in the Sun”
6. Scrawl, “Hymn”
7. Bedhead, “Half-Thought”
8. Azealia Banks, “Soda”
9. Gang Starr, “As I Read My S-A”
10. Jenny Lewis, “Aloha & The Three Johns”
11. Girlpool, “Chinatown”
12. Clarence Carter, “I Can’t Leave Your Love Alone”
13. ILoveMakonnen, “trUe thang”
14. Supergrass, “Low C”
15. Young Guv, “Kelly, I’m Not A Creep”
16. Dawn Richard, “Phoenix”
17. Alvvays, “Next of Kin”


As for our vacation: Albuquerque is still a beautiful place. We noted small changes (R.I.P. Blackbird), no major ones (they don’t build new sports stadiums every year and new luxury high-rises every minute, there). But I suppose it’s only a matter of time. If you compare this picture I took to the image I used for the mix’s cover, you’ll notice a new apartment building over on the right, on Montclaire, at the former site of an AIDS resource center. Its four stories dwarf everything else in the neighborhood.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Useful Mix



[UPDATE 7/17: Useful Mix is ready for use.]

A work in progress. I’m not still meditating on a theme, just trying to organize a two-hour playlist for one or two discs that I’ll be happy to hear while driving around Albuquerque later this week. (Above image: turning onto Lead from my old apartment.) Upon my return to Minneapolis, check back for the final cut and listening options. Until then, tell me what should stay and what can go. Alphabetically:


Alvvays, “Next of Kin” — Haven’t nearly worn it out, and can’t imagine vacationing without it.

Azealia Banks, “Soda” — Still haven’t figured out if she’s talking about drugs or guys or actually just soda, but whatever the case it’s the musical high point of an album that thrills front to back.

Bedhead, “Half-Thought”

Best Coast, “My Life” — There was a misunderstanding for a while that Best Coast’s lyrics were a weakness, and not a defining feature. So while the new album gets good press here’s my own favorite example from the previous one. If my vacation discs end up with a theme, it starts here.

Broadcast, “Goodbye Girls”

Built To Spill, “Some Other Song” — “Never Be The Same” might have the jaunty Real Estate / The Men (when they’re jaunty) vibe I’d rather hear but I love the way this one’s heavy intro gives way to a dreamy “I can’t wait to get back home to you.”

The Chambermaids, “China Blue” — Not sure how high the bar is but here’s the best song out of Minnesota this decade.

Clarence Carter, “I Can’t Leave Your Love Alone” — Foretold.

Cornershop, “6 A.M. Jullandar Shere” — Foretold.

David Kilgour & The Heavy Eights, “A Break in the Weather”

Dawn Richard feat. Aundrea Fimbres, “Phoenix” — Zac likes it.

DJ Quik, “Puffin the Dragon” — From rockcast to real life.

DJ Rashad feat. Spinn, “Show U How”

Dwight Yoakam, “Sad, Sad Music” — I’ve recently had the chance to explore his early albums and of course the song containing the line “there should be music” was an easy point of entry.

Gang Starr, “As I Read My S-A” — When I started snatching up used Gang Starr discs I hoped for such good songs sequenced past track 15.

Girlpool, “Chinatown” — Luna did it, Destroyer did it, and now Girlpool have done it, written a great song called “Chinatown.” If their live show is any indication, forthcoming Before the World Was Big is gonna be wonderful. Intertwining guitars recall the city at dawn that Television also carved lines into.

Idlewild, “Radium Girl” — Zac likes it.

ILoveMakonnen feat. Rome Fortune & Ceej, “trUe thang”

Jazmine Sullivan, “Silver Lining”

Jenny Lewis, “Aloha & The Three Johns” — Requisite vacation tune.

Jessica Lea Mayfield, “Standing in the Sun” — I blame everyone who didn’t tell me this song existed last year. Surely you knew I’d like it?

The Kinks, “Some Mother’s Son” — Life is sweet.

The Mekons, “Hello Cruel World”

Pete Rock & C.L. Smooth, “Lots of Lovin”

Prince & The New Power Generation, “Diamonds & Pearls” — Foretold.

Scrawl, “Enough” — Or “Hymn,” or “Begin.” From Smallmouth, not highly regarded but the kind of 27-minute album full of distinct guitar parts and measured vocals I end up playing more than most of my other buys.

Springtime Carnivore, “Foxtrot Freak (Something in the Atmosphere)” — Disc one, track one.

Supergrass, “Low C” — Knew the day I heard it that this song would one day be ten years old.

Swervedriver, “For A Day Like Tomorrow” — The beauty of their new album still seems impossible to me.

Tinashe, “Wrong” — The second song from Amethyst, not Walking Wounded, but it all comes out the same.

Tori Amos, “Jackie’s Strength” — Foretold.

Warren G, “Super Soul Sis” — Maybe it’s a more common practice than I realize but it seems remarkable to me that a major album by a male MC gives over an entire track to a female MC (though I had to look elsewhere but the liner notes for her name). Also remarkable, the beat. If it’s not the album’s best, it’s at least the quickest to recall a summer ’95 four or five pm vibe, the time of day when Oprah and Hard Copy aired.

We All Together, “Little Boy” — Lifts the opening of “Imagine” but the words go to a different place: “Think of your mother and all the things she did just for you.”

YG, “I Just Wanna Party” — It’s almost time to celebrate the one year anniversary of listening to this a lot on the bus to summer school.

Young Guv, “Kelly, I’m Not A Creep” — Best power pop I’ve heard in ages, not that I’ve tried very hard. So big.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

effects of ageing

(I lied. I’m back. Tumblr provokes, in me, too much anxiety about digital clutter and my online popularity and other things I don’t really need to be spending time caring about, and I don’t understand their music posting rules, so I’ll keep it here until external forces dictate otherwise, which they certainly won’t.)

So.



Hear it is, a collection of songs for early spring. Of course any mix containing an eight-minute Kitchens of Distinction song is intended primarily for myself, but if you’d like to hear it, click your choice of download or streaming. I was originally going to call it Hair and Hearing Loss or something like that, but once “New York Crown” became an obvious choice for lead-in track, I scoured the artwork of its parent album, Mel, for phrases, and found the synonymous EFFECTS OF AGEING among the words crowding the outline of the title guy’s head. So that made a neat substitute. And then because I love East River Pipe so much, I further promoted him to bookends. The rest:

1. East River Pipe – “New York Crown”
2. New Order – “All Day Long”
3. Aaliyah – “Rock The Boat”
4. Kraftwerk – “Computer Love”
5. Björk – “History of Touches”
6. Shabazz Palaces – “Motion Sickness”
7. Kitchens of Distinction – “Gone World Gone”
8. OMD – “VCL XI”
9. The Boo Radleys – “Thinking of Ways”
10. The Isley Brothers – “You Walk Your Way”
11. Cranes – “Jewel”
12. The Bats – “Mastery”
13. Don Covay – “Can’t Fight It Baby”
14. Disco Inferno – “Even The Sea Sides Against Us”
15. Basehead – “Play With Toys”
16. The Chameleons – “Home Is Where The Heart Is”
17. Little Anthony & The Imperials – “Over The Rainbow”
18. East River Pipe – “Three Ships”

75 minutes

Topics include undying love, breakups, loneliness, sexual positions, joy, defeat, dreams of other lives and worlds, the end of all things. The usual disclaimer applies, i.e. assume no autobiographical intention in any lyrical themes represented herein. Sequencing 18 unrelated songs is simply a process, much better than writing, of thinking about music and its great well of sounds. The seeds of this current process (#2, 4, 16) go back some 15 years, while most of the rest have made their mark on me since last summer.


Notes:

1. Being every age you’ve ever been, simultaneously.
2-6. An inventory that’s been accumulating since long before you or I ever knew. A history of transcendent electronic sounds, perhaps. If you listen on Mixcloud, a great tremor will enter you when “Rock The Boat,” new millennium in repose, crossfades with “Computer Love,” the ur-melody of the 1980s. Both can be abstracted out of all musical texts which have ever existed or which will ever exist, I think.
7. Fell asleep to this long before I read the lyrics.
8-10. A kind of brightening. Thanks to Rockaliser for all the Isleys love.
11-12. Strum block.
13. R.I.P.
14. Strum decay.
15. Lou Barlow? No, Michael Ivey. (My confusion would have been boring as long ago as Floundering.) Album’s denouement becomes prelude to another climactic symphony of washes and textures…
16-18. Exactly as intentional as you might suspect. Further listening: D’Angelo’s “Another Life.”


Expect another one before too long, because I ran out of space for Tori Amos’ “Jackie’s Strength” and Prince’s “Diamonds and Pearls” (crucial, to figure out ways to include super-popular and overplayed songs, a.k.a. ancient hits, on personal mixtapes); Clarence Carter’s “I Can’t Leave Your Love Alone” (a joyous ode to infidelity, and though it’s helped me through winter I’d rather anchor it to summer); and Cornershop’s “6 A.M. Jullandar Shere” (so enormous I’ll need to formulate a mix with it as the inciting thought, not an afterthought).

Monday, January 5, 2015

Mission Accomplished

It’s been lovely, blogging here under the glow of a bank drive-thru in Helena, Montana for the past 6.5 years, but I feel it’s time to move on. Follow me to my spot at Tumblr, which will likely pass through a bunch of different names until I hit upon the right one but which will be permanently located at geoffreyess.tumblr.com.

I’m not saying I absolutely won’t post here again, but until I do, consider this an archive of my early to mid to late 20s. All rights unreserved, all wrongs unreversed.

Friday, January 2, 2015

It’s VI: Rhythm Nation 2014



Favorite albums, 2014


[1] Neneh Cherry, Blank Project

Cherry handles such a wealth of lived experience on her new album and binds it to such ineluctable words (poetic: “slow like some reruns on a mother’s TV”; plain: “until one day she reached her hand inside her coat”) and spontaneous, super-cool sounds that I imagined Blank Project as the default album of the year for anyone who didn’t dig Yeezus or anyone who did and wanted to hear its abrasions transformed in the hands of a different human and artist. Album of the year for everyone, that is. It’s the only one that sounds like it’s being made as you’re listening to it (mentioned elsewhere), which I don’t mean as any kind of aesthetic imperative but as praise of the way Blank Project, aptly named, leaves evidence of the empty file that preceded it in full and constant view, so that what’s heard is an exact record of the creative work that went into its making. Slight mis-timings abound in the music, each one a major thrill.

[2] Owen Pallett, In Conflict

Someone called it landmark queer rock, a more fitting categorization than I could have come up with, and so, if you didn’t already know, queer introspection has a fucking massive sound. Working with a core band that doesn’t underplay Pallett’s ornate arrangements but still finds a way to make them come off as severe, the maestro ends up with a work so specific and communicative that every sound and word doubles as ink on paper.

[3] D’Angelo & The Vanguard, Black Messiah

I haven’t tended to the lyrics yet so the primary tone, even on “1000 Deaths,” is still joyous, a vibrating so mighty that the heart becomes an overworked filter awaiting the burst. When “Ain’t That Easy” wheels away in its opening moments only to return with a smack and a rough chorus of voices feeling out their harmony, it’s probably the earliest promise a masterpiece ever made. Last year Deerhunter’s “Monomania” elicited from me a response along the lines of “remember when rock songs were weird” and Black Messiah does something similar, so I pricked the word “weird” and figure it’s just a way to describe an artist beyond the veil who trusts that his fluency in old, illimitable musical gesture, spoken in noise-song, will translate in a popular way. This does.

p.s. Good job, we mostly avoided talking about Black Messiah in the selfish way we usually do when graced with so-called genius or with an album that arrives all of a sudden and/or after a long wait: words like “finally,” as if great artists are indebted to us and their works aren’t work; words like “embarrasses everyone else,” as if artists are interchangeable and anyone could’ve made it if they had the right priorities.

[4] Wye Oak, Shriek

Like last year’s Pet Shop Boys album there’s one big nod toward the electric guitar on Shriek. This time it’s in the squealing that introduces and hovers on the edges of “Paradise,” a reminder that the album is built on top of a history of distortion and feedback, not over to the side. No mere reinvention, Shriek finds a great band continuing to be great in a somewhat different way. “Glory” and “Sick Talk” in particular add up to the year’s most momentous ten-minute block of music, the former featuring a wild breakdown and Jenn Wasner channeling the vocal dexterity of Elizabeth Fraser, and the latter concealing the band’s biggest moment since “Please Concrete,” around 2:15 when the song’s itchiest motif resurfaces.

[5] Freddie Gibbs & Madlib, Piñata

Came for Madlib, stayed for Gibbs, although technically the opposite is true, since I used to walk around with Gibbs’ Cold Day in Hell but never knew Madlib from Adam, always arriving at the kind of inner vision and flight of which he’s king via Warp Records, not Stones Throw. But the experience of listening to Piñata is, without fail, that of being seduced by the beats and samples, then being thankful that the music isn’t left as an empty vessel for my memories and wandering and self-reflection, i.e. my mental illness, but is generously filled up by a great MC with lots of stories. The world’s a chaotic place; noted, that without its final few minutes of extraneous chatter, the album would end with Mac Miller saying “O’Doyle rules.”

[6] Foxes In Fiction, Ontario Gothic

32 minutes that proceed at a pace so slow and assured and with a hush so monumental that I can’t believe I’ve ever before heard music played at this tempo and volume, or at least not since Sigur Rós’s Ágætis byrjun, which only comes to mind because of the way I remember listening to it underneath a blue night light as a teenager. The way songs lock together, one with two and four with five, sounds like creative windfall but is more likely a map of toil and transcendence, awaiting travelers.

[7] Shabazz Palaces, Lese Majesty

Reviews made it sound difficult but there was no other album this year I enjoyed so immediately, certain proof of the music’s deep pleasures, not my acuity. The most blissful mystery megamix since A Sunny Day in Glasgow’s Ashes Grammar, with scrapings and echoes from 8,000 sources ruptured by an immense clarity, as prescient, in ways as currently unknowable, as the sound and message of Kraftwerk in their time (sorry, I retrieved Computer World from back home this year and love it more than ever before). I didn’t know how much I wanted a Shabazz Palaces album with as many tracks as Wowee Zowee; gosh I was dumb.

[8] A Sunny Day In Glasgow, Sea When Absent

Speaking of A Sunny Day In Glasgow, formerly a hazily masterminded masterpiece-creation machine, it reemerged as a six-piece rock group this year, elevated Breeders-style by the knowledge that they exist in a tradition as musically rich as any other.

[9] Run The Jewels, Run The Jewels 2

Starting with rhetorical marauding and humor (the “field of dicks” line has not yet failed to make me laugh) before getting to the heart of the matter e.g. crazy sex talk, the whole thing has a “how to listen” precision, toughened by idiosyncrasy, that would’ve helped me out a lot back when I wasn’t listening to rap music. I still slightly prefer R.A.P. Music, mainly because I get a bit anxious when music is so well-dressed for the present and isn’t at least 50% historical, but for once I’m happy to go with consensus and say RTJ2 is what 2014 sounded like.

[10] Devon Williams, Gilding The Lily

I don’t have much to add that I didn’t cover here. Williams is a great songwriter with a big imagination and I still think Prince should make that invitation.


*“this year” = 2014, “last year” = 2013



Meanwhile

Kool A.D. and Del tha Funkee Homosapien put out some free stuff, in the form of astoundingly fun and self-reflexive albums that I was certain would be in the top ten back in summer, Azealia Banks and Morrissey trumped public perception with musical muscle, YG and Schoolboy Q narrated two of the year’s best-sounding albums and/or My Krazy Life and Oxymoron narrated two of the year’s best rappers, Allo Darlin’, Tennis, Real Estate, The Fresh & Onlys, Nothing, Alvvays, and The Twilight Sad made beautiful records right in my comfort zone, Tori Amos and Beck returned to me from the 90s, undiminished, Perfume Genius and EMA seized the moment (again), Against Me! made a terrific rock album, and Sun Kil Moon made that seeming-masterpiece that at some point I stopped playing.

Regret

I got a new computer in December and went wild on Spotify, trying to catch up on everything I’d missed, but I didn’t really enjoy any of it and now I wish I’d just bought Big K.R.I.T.’s album and given it more attention than streaming allows, because he always crafts and sequences his albums with a care that seems incompatible with his productivity, and I’ve yet to praise that in more than drips and drabs. Also, his apparent M83 fixation continues unabated. I’m not sure why I’m completely unable to engage with music from the cloud, but the problem calls for a practical solution, not analysis.

“I like everything”

This year’s Slate music club, which I kept reading despite an occasional “isn’t culture fun?” tone that I resent, talked about “hybrid sensibilities” as some kind of new phenomenon and as a necessarily performative pose. So while I hardly like everything, and what I do like only represents a small, U.S.-centric view of culture, I just want to point out that my hybrid sensibility, if I choose to call it that, came from reading magazines like SPIN as a kid, and later from reading Roger Ebert, who challenged my teenage self to stop being so dumb and closed off. In my earliest memories I was naturally interested in everything simply because it existed and had placed itself at my feet. This strikes me as a frame of mind always worth getting back to, and a normal human response that technology might have the power to corrupt or enhance but definitely didn’t create.

Friday, December 26, 2014

Macromix 14



Track/ Rank

1/ 20 Perfume Genius, “I Decline”
2/ 19 Real Estate, “Crime”
3/ 18 Sun Kil Moon, “I Can’t Live Without My Mother’s Love”
4/ 17 The Fresh & Onlys, “Who Let The Devil”
5/ 16 EMA, “When She Comes”
6/ 15 Tori Amos, “Promise”
7/ 14 Death Vessel, “Ejecta”
8/ 13 Tennis, “Timothy”
9/ 12 Allo Darlin’, “Bright Eyes”
10/ 11 Flying Lotus feat. Kendrick Lamar, “Never Catch Me”
11/ 10 Merchandise, “True Monument”
12/ 9 Young Thug & Bloody Jay, “4 Eva Bloody”
13/ 8 Martin Carr, “The Santa Fe Skyway”
14/ 7 La Sera, “Losing to the Dark”
15/ 6 Kendrick Lamar, “i”
16/ 5 A Sunny Day In Glasgow, “In Love With Useless”
17/ 4 Alvvays, “The Agency Group”
18/ 3 Foxes In Fiction, “Shadow’s Song”
19/ 2 Withered Hand, “Horseshoe”
20/ 1 D’Angelo & The Vanguard, “Another Life”


That comes to a little over 80 minutes, so there won’t be a CD this year. But I’ve still listed songs in ascending order, because (1) there is a Mixcloud playlist, and (2) there could be a cassette. Any takers?

It was a very good year. Read more at Big Takeover. With a list like this one it must look like I’m asking every song to break my heart. Not so, but sometimes it happens that way.

To figure out my Pazz & Jop singles ballot just replace “Another Life” with a certain song from 2013 and condense the rest according to whether or not they were released as singles, preview tracks, videos, etc.

Some other great songs, whose parent albums I feel confident I’ll be able to recognize momentarily, were called “Spit Three Times,” “Sick Talk,” “Bomb,” “Early,” “In Conflict,” “Motion Sickness,” and “Flowers.” How’s that for associative poetry?

Angel Olsen’s “Lights Out” and St. Vincent’s “Digital Witness” a.k.a. “Once in a Timeline” were halfway to being my favorite songs this year, but the former was exactly one minute too long and both lost a little momentum every time they recycled the big moment.

Some other songs I loved were Busman’s Holiday’s “Child Actor,” ILoveMakonnen’s “Club Goin’ Up on a Tuesday,” Against Me!’s “Transgender Dysphoria Blues,” Marianne Faithfull’s “Sparrows Will Sing,” Morrissey’s “Staircase at the University,” Dum Dum Girls’ “Lost Boys and Girls Club,” La Roux’s “Sexotheque,” Nothing’s “Endlessly,” Sleeping Bag’s “Hush,” The History of Apple Pie’s “Keep Wondering,” Shamir’s “On the Regular,” Kishi Bashi’s “Philosophize In It! Chemicalize With It!” and every song from Terry Malts’ Insides EP and, as far as I can tell right now, Azealia Banks’ Broke With Expensive Taste.