Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Macromix 15

// songs of 2015 //

Track/ Rank

1/ 20 Janet Jackson, “Night”
2/ 19 Miguel, “Waves”
3/ 18 The Radio Dept., “This Repeated Sodomy”
4/ 17 Fetty Wap, “Again”
5/ 16 Evans The Death, “Expect Delays”
6/ 15 Beach House, “10:37”
7/ 14 Tinashe, “Dreams Are Real”
8/ 13 Dawn Richard, “Swim Free”
9/ 12 Colleen Green, “Wild One”
10/ 11 Hop Along, “Powerful Man”
11/ 10 Waxahatchee, “La Loose”
12/ 9 Jenny Hval, “Sabbath”
13/ 8 Chromatics, “Just Like You”
14/ 7 Kendrick Lamar, “King Kunta”
15/ 6 Donnie Trumpet & The Social Experiment, “Sunday Candy”
16/ 5 Jazmine Sullivan, “Let It Burn”
17/ 4 Young Guv, “Kelly, I’m Not A Creep”
18/ 3 Girlpool, “Chinatown”
19/ 2 Susanne Sundfør, “Fade Away”
20/ 1 Björk, “History of Touches”

At just over 72 minutes, it’s the shortest Macromix in recent memory, and an unusually fun one to listen to, I think. Let me know your preferred format, and in the meantime, listen at Mixcloud and read more at Big Takeover.

If you’ve ever felt these mixes are a chore to get through, be assured that this one’s a breeze by comparison. Even the two songs that pass the five-minute mark do so only because they can’t bear to sacrifice a mood. Epic-tilting tracks have been banished to the album list. Look there for the likes of “Waltz of the 101st Lightborne,” “For A Day Like Tomorrow,” “Thought I Was A Spaceman,” “Underwater Wasteland” and “Last.”

I could say a lot about why it has to end with “Fade Away” and “History of Touches,” in that order, and not just because they’re my two favorite songs of the year. It’s not really a personal significance either, but in the silence that separates them, in the silence that disappoints “Fade Away” as triumphant finale and locates a drifting tendency that seems so impossible as the song thumps along, there’s a narrative I recognize instantly.


Younger me might be displeased to learn that Gaz Coombes’ “The Girl Who Fell To Earth” and Idlewild’s “Radium Girl” (their boy-band moment) just missed the cut.

Like everyone else, my favorite Earl Sweatshirt song was “Grief” and my favorite Vince Staples song was “Lift Me Up.”

Once again, my favorite song on a Deerhunter album ends up being the shortest one: “Duplex Planet.” Finding that out was quite a journey. I’ll tell you about it someday.

If I’d had room for a cover song on the list, it would’ve been Yo La Tengo’s “Friday I’m In Love,” of course.

Anyone who saw Courtney Barnett live this year knows that “Small Poppies” is her best song.

Of the hundred other songs I could mention, let me mention… Speedy Ortiz’s “Raising The Skate”!

Here’s where I’d normally tell you that “I Really Like You” and “Run Away With Me” were among my favorite pop junk of the year, but since Carly Rae Jepsen is a critics’ darling whose album flopped, no need for an asterisk.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Six Months at the Theater


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.]


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Songs 2010-2014

My list won’t have much in common with Soto’s, and figuring out what’s a single is the kind of research I only have time to undertake during Pazz & Jop season, but his list inspired me to throw together my own. These songs are all on my iPod and I’ve reflexively dialed them up many times while out walking, so play count (imagined, not verified) was a major factor in hasty ranking. I choose 20 songs every year for my Macromix but I always seem to mess it up, underestimating what I actually enjoy most, so here’s a sort of corrective.

1. Himanshu – “You Have To Ride The Wave” – Still not sure what this is about except three rappers interpreting an Arundhati Roy quote as “make every syllable count.”
2. PJ Harvey – “The Last Living Rose”
3. Danny Brown – “25 Bucks”
4. Patrick Wolf – “Together”
5. Beach House – “Myth” – For that one very high note, never sure exactly which one, the guitar reaches at the end.
6. Deerhunter – “Memory Boy”
7. Frankie Rose – “Daylight Sky”
8. Perfume Genius – “Take Me Home”
9. Ken Stringfellow – “Pray”
10. Kendrick Lamar – “Money Trees” – Looking back, this sounds best. Aaron called it.
11. Dum Dum Girls – “Wasted Away” – To be honest “Caught In One” was always more my jam, but this one has the line “I’d rather waste away than see you only in dreams.” Love you, Mom.
12. D’Angelo & The Vanguard – “Another Life”
13. Lykke Li – “Sadness Is A Blessing”
14. Veronica Falls – “Stephen”
15. Janelle Monáe – “Oh, Maker”
16. Joanna Newsom – “On A Good Day”
17. Laura Veirs – “That Alice” – As great as “Alex Chilton.”
18. Marnie Stern – “Year Of The Glad”
19. Twin Shadow – “Beg For The Night” – Eternally misunderstood.
20. John Grant – “GMF”

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.)


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 12-14 years, while most of the rest have made their mark on me since last summer.


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).

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Albums of the Year 1997-2005

My year-end music lists are public record, going back to 2006, but that was hardly the first time I reflected on the year in music as I knew it. What follows is an attempt to reconstruct, without revision, my albums of the year for the preceding nine years of music. Of course it’s easy, with the benefit of hindsight and decades-long bombardment from a hundred canons, to go back to any year of my choosing and come up with a flawless personal list, and that’s an entertaining exercise but not a very meaningful one. Well, duh, there’s also not much that’s meaningful in the entertaining exercise below, but, for the time capsule, here’s what I thought was good in my pre-teens and teens.

1997: Radiohead - OK Computer

The first year it occurred to me that I, too, could make a list of my favorite stuff. It has to start sometime. I dimly recall drafting a list on notebook paper, with this obvious #1, The Chemical Brothers just below, and the rest a blur. I’m optimistic that it’s still sitting in a drawer or box somewhere.

1998: Spacehog - The Chinese Album; Possum Dixon - New Sheets

On the ballot I mailed to Rolling Stone naming my favorite stuff of the year, I’m sure I listed one of these, but I don’t remember which one. Later, when I saw Spin’s year end list, I immediately decried the absence of both. I was so superior! These are good albums so I’m not gonna say I was duped, but putting them above the still unheard likes of Elliott Smith and OutKast (my sisters were spinning the Ls, Williams and Hill, which I enjoyed but didn’t totally claim) is the kind of thing that only an 11-year old could come up with.

1999: Pavement - Terror Twilight; The Flaming Lips - The Soft Bulletin (???)

The more I think about it, the more I’m sure that I didn’t hear The Soft Bulletin until the following year (with headphones on the family stereo behind the couch, where my sisters sat watching one of a handful of movies, any of which couldn’t have been on video until early 2000), which leaves Pavement as the only real contenders.

2000: Radiohead - Kid A

“This is my favorite album from this year.” I might’ve said it exactly like that, to my mom, while she drove us out to my friend’s Christmas party and we listened to my taped copy. A few months later, and for many years to come, my default favorite became Idlewild’s 100 Broken Windows.

2001: Daft Punk - Discovery

Could not have been anything else, though I don’t remember making any declarations this year.

2002: Sonic Youth - Murray Street

The point at which my teenage interests reveal themselves as hopelessly old. Only decades-running bands, for me!

2003: Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks - Pig Lib

Malkmus was still totally my guy at this point. Here’s the album that established his even-numbered solo works as jam-prone, so you wouldn’t think this would still be going strong as my favorite. But there’s also a lot of pop sense in the mix, and I latched onto all of it pretty quickly, and with intensity.

2004: Ken Stringfellow - Soft Commands

I’d gotten into The Posies, and Stringfellow’s Touched, the year before, but I wasn’t fanatical or anything so it’s hard to remember why I had to hear this album immediately. But I’m glad I did. A pop universe traversing set for the almost-adult.

2005: Sleater-Kinney - The Woods

A curious situation: They’d been my sisters’ band, or my sister’s band (will have to check on that), but had been abandoned, leaving me to pick them up again, as if brand new, a few albums later. I didn’t get that E’s discontinued interest was the kind of momentary lull or shift that any listener is bound to experience later in life for many and complicated reasons (need, passion, attention, and also time, money), but I was perhaps a bit self-conscious about suddenly being the one responding to what the somewhat changed S-K had to give. Shouting my love for this album would’ve been tacky, even disrespectful, but I was glad to be of age at last.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Pazz & Jop 2014

I voted in Pazz & Jop this year! As a former student of the old polls I took it pretty seriously, and in particular did my best to vote for actual singles, whatever that means anymore. (Sort of like Raymond Carver, I kept asking, “Are These Actual Singles?”) I was certain that “25 Bucks,” released as a single in April, would make a big splash in the singles poll, but was quite wrong.

Village Voice also published one of the comments I sent them, about Perfume Genius, and I immediately wanted to retract it, as I played it back in my head and worried that I’d misrepresented a personal definition of the word “powerful,” or that I might seem to be telling Mike Hadreas what kind of artist he should be or mocking the people who responded in a major way to Too Bright, etc., but looking back it’s not so bad.

Here’s another one I sent, unprinted, referencing an album I was happy to see ended up with a few votes (it might’ve been my #11), including from Das Racist superfan Xgau.

As usual rappers were the only musicians routinely criticized for not offering solutions to the problems they addressed and the ones they didn’t, in a year when even Kool A.D., known for associative wordplay and prone to confessing that he “ain’t got shit to say,” had a moment on his excellent Word O.K., when he sees people starving on the street, asks, “What can one man do?” and answers, “I don’t know, probably a lot,” that was already 50% closer to a solution, to food in someone’s stomach, than anything I heard outside of rap music.

Right? But Craig Jenkins’s protest playlist probably got the point across better.

The heading for the poll’s main site refers to it as “The Last Word on the Year in Music.” It’s also the first word, obviously, as no other group waited long enough to include Black Messiah (by D'Angelo & THE VANGUARD), which was released 11 days before voting closed and got the top spot (Oscar voters really have no excuse when it comes to late releases).

I like to see such evidence of responsive (opposite of responsible: the album is undeniable) consensus, but even more than that it’s the breadth of the poll that reinforces why music writing, above all other arts writing, continues to appeal to me. Once again, a list of nearly 2,000 albums only begins to suggest the meaningful interactions a person could’ve had with music last year. That’s appropriate, and amazing. Often I feel like any movie’s context has settled long before I’ve had a chance to see it, but it’s very easy to be the only person writing about an album.

Thus, in what I hope to make an annual tradition, a list of albums I enjoyed last year that received no votes in the poll. I’m not suggesting we, or anyone, failed, quite the opposite actually.

  • Sleeping Bag, Deep Sleep
  • The Fresh & Onlys, House of Spirits
  • La Sera, Hour of the Dawn
  • Maximo Park, Too Much Information
  • Death Vessel, Island Intervals
  • Busdriver, Perfect Hair
  • Mykki Blanco, Gay Dog Food
  • Martin Carr, The Breaks
  • She Sir, Go Guitars
  • Should, The Great Pretend
  • Busman’s Holiday, A Long Goodbye
  • Slowness, How to Keep from Falling Off a Mountain
  • Tink, Winter’s Diary 2
  • The Hidden Cameras, Age
  • Jeremy Jay, Abandoned Apartments
  • PS I Love You, For Those Who Stay
  • School of Language, Old Fears
  • De La Soul, Smell the DA.I.S.Y.
  • The Primitives, Spin-O-Rama
  • Ex Cops, Daggers
  • Terry Malts, Insides EP
  • The Mary Onettes, Portico: EP
  • Swet Shop Boys, Swet Shop EP

Wednesday, January 7, 2015


Be proud: I’ve been peppered with little reminders lately that I live in a straight world. The most recent example: I told some of our co-op students today that I grappled with learning French last year and found it really difficult. This was met with a pretty predictable response: “You just need to find a French girlfriend!” And I laughed it off, I said something like, “Haha, well, hey!” I need to do more. I’m a proud gay man and I don’t want to be afraid to share the fact that I’m in a relationship with a wonderful guy, especially somewhere like the office where I feel comfortable and safe. Taking this small step for myself is going to make a tiny impact on the world around me and will help to make other gay men safer and more comfortable too, I hope. Small steps.

I appreciate it. Reading Jamieson’s goals for the new year, I’m reminded that as a gay white cis male (often cast as N. America’s lone politically ascendant minority of the 2010s), I too still live a double life and feel this most strongly as a linguistic burden. I work at a public school, and while on one level I’ve never felt so comfortable and safe at a workplace, I guess I really don’t feel comfortable and safe, because almost daily I find myself readjusting my language to avoid using the words “my boyfriend” (of six years! and a close friend for a decade! and intertwined with my life in such basic ways–money, transportation, meals, free time–that to not mention him must make me appear as some kind of phantom, with no physical existence in the outside world). And I feel I’m betraying him much more than I’m betraying myself. Even outside of work I’ve never found a way to use the words casually, so every time someone asks me if I have a girlfriend and I simply say “no” and change the subject, I burrow a little deeper inside myself. If gay men become talented writers, I sometimes feel it’s partly thanks to the constant syntactical work demanded by our deflections every time we leave home, and to the particular kind of interiority and introspective nature this creates. Aside: I’ve tended to prefer Perfume Genius when he’s challenging the kinds of sounds and sentiments that the listener typically equates with power, but maybe right now I need “Queen” more than I need “Take Me Home,” if you know what I mean.

My Brother

To say that he was gay or homosexual was something he said about himself; to say that he was an auntie-man was something people said about him. She understood him better when he was the person people said something about, not when he was the person who said something about himself.

— Jamaica Kincaid, My Brother (p. 147)

I read this book over a year ago and just remembered having copied down these lines. The book, a record of what Kincaid remembers, knows, thinks, believes and wonders about her subject, and always explicit about the thought process responsible for her words, makes me think that if everyone wrote and spoke like this, the unprecedented clarity of conversations would slowly erode all pathologies. So too when she writes of “the people who should have made me feel that the love of people other than them was suspect” (p. 162).

When approached with the momentum of the page her best lines create an empathy so sudden and sharp that it can’t help but fade a degree upon closer scrutiny. The writing, dissociated from time and consciousness, breaks down into clauses and punctuation. Where did she go? But all that’s needed is one more steady pass through the text, to return to the moment that startled me the first time.

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


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.


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.