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Jan 2, 2021

Books I read in 2020

More than usual, especially between March and September. So there!

Isabel Allende, The House of the Spirits

Nicholson Baker, The Mezzanine

Peter Blake, Mies van der Rohe: Architecture and Structure

Roberto Bolaño, Los perros romanticos *

Roberto Bolaño, The Insufferable Gaucho

Roberto Bolaño, Nazi Literature in the Americas

RobertoBolaño, Tres *

Jorge Luis Borges, Ficciones

Italo Calvino, Numbers in the Dark and Other Stories

Julio Cortazar, Hopscotch

John Miller Chernoff, African Rhythm and African Sensibility: Aesthetics and Social Action in African Musical Idioms

Gail Damerow & Rick Luttman, Chickens in Your Backyard: A Beginner’s Guide

Maureen R. Elenga, Seattle Architecture: A Walking Guide to Downtown

Hannah Ewens,Fangirls: Scenes from Modern Music Culture

Sasha Geffen, Glitter Up the Dark: How Pop Music Broke the Binary

Nelson George, Thriller: The Musical Life of Michael Jackson

Zora Neale Hurston, Jonah’s Gourd Vine

Zora Neale Hurston, Mules and Men

Zora Neale Hurston, Their Eyes Were Watching God

Stanislaw Lem, Memoirs Found in a Bathtub

Stanislaw Lem, Solaris

Murray Morgan, Skid Road: An Informal Portrait of Seattle

Toni Morrison, Beloved

Toni Morrison, The Source of Self-Regard: Selected Essays, Speeches and Meditations

Janet Ore, The Seattle Bungalow: People and Houses 1900-1940

Simon Reynolds, Rip It Up and Start Again: Postpunk 1978-1984

Victor Segalen, Rene Leys

William Shakespeare, Sonnets

Patti Smith, Just Kids

Patti Smith, M Train

Martin Stokes, The Republic of Love: Cultural Intimacy in Turkish Popular Music

Greg Tate, Flyboy 2: The Greg Tate Reader

Karen Tongson, Why Karen Carpenter Matters

Magdalena Tulli, Moving Parts

Kurt Vonnegut, The Sirens of Titan

Oscar Wilde, The Portrait of Dorian Gray

* = in Spanish



May 29, 2020

Ranking Jandek albums

Yesterday I posted a Jandek playlist; here are my favorite albums. Only strict favorites allowed--only those I would recommend to a skeptic--or else it would never stop. I’ve heard nothing after 1994′s Glad to Get Away, which Seth Tisue says is the last good one. Someone should report back to me on The Song of Morgan and its nine nocturnes.

The relative accessibility of Blue Corpse and You Walk Alone makes them no less weird and no less Jandek--it just makes them crisper realizations of Jandek’s peculiar sensibility. If other people are indeed responsible for much of the music on those albums, this too is appropriate, since one reason Jandek fascinates is for leaving intention and provenance a mystery: for the unsettling realization that the authorial hand is absent, and the delight when a new, dynamic interpretive space emerges.

1. Blue Corpse (1987)

Chilly and tremulous, a return to acoustic misery after a number of electric revels, Blue Corpse is a cleansing gesture as shattered and total as David Bowie’s Low. For years Jandek could cough into a microphone and sound like the weirdest musician alive; here he’s writing fractured love songs, which is even weirder. A departed object of desire haunts him. On side two, he performs a spectacular emotional exorcism, with“Harmonica” (compare Bowie’s“Warszawa”) and the expiatory“Only Lover” in which he furiously licks himself clean, trying to scrub the blush from his cheek and the lipstick stains from his guitar.

2. Telegraph Melts (1986)

I’m not comfortable living on the same planet as the man who recorded “Mother’s Day Card”.

3. Modern Dances (1987)

The sequel to Telegraph Melts, in which an electric noize band romps through a rotting basem*nt, attacking furniture. You can smell the mold, hear the dripping pipes, see the unconscious bassist in the back corner, face down in a pool of blood, slowly dying. Jandek barks sad*stic commands through a megaphone (“Twelve Seconds Since February 32nd”), while sparring partner Nancy responds in a flat, talky drawl that combines rock wail and church intonation (“Hand for Harry Idle”). The screeching dissonances and random tempo changes move with gangly discombobulation; as my friendKevin Bozelkaput it, this is music for and perhaps by people who are uncomfortable with their bodies. But the resulting clonk is so clumsy it’s funny, capturing an absurd and delightful spirit of play.

4. You Walk Alone (1988)

Quite randomly, he developed a gift for melody. Jandek and a second guitarist who may or may not also be Jandek embark on long guitar benders in a weirdly tuned major-key mode, so that the emotion repressed on Blue Corpse just pours from this one, like a good cry after bottling everything up for a while. The electric crackle hisses and bleeds melancholy. Nearly every song reprises lyrics from earlier songs with so much more sadness and frustration and terrible beauty, although the effect is disorienting too, since the fragmented, sample-like nature of the repetition undercuts the illusion of expressionism. Did he always feel this way? Does he even really now?

5. Later On (1981)

With his third album, he realized legible absurdity is even scarier than incoherence. His guitar is not out of tune; it’s just tuned to an atonal chord. Is“Your Condition” addressed to someone dead of a heart attack, or someone in love?

6. Chair Beside a Window (1982)

A collection of acoustic blues sketches with zero blues chords--just the thing! Jandek’s atonality reminds me of Sonic Youth’s guitar tunings insofar as both refract tired genres through skewed harmony and make them feel new again, whether rock or acoustic blues. Stark and ugly, quiet and static, early Jandek can sound almost shockingly empty. But the lyrics compute, the chords click despite dissonance, the aesthetic seems too distinct and too austere to have been settled on by accident, and the more I listen the more I wonder why this music, which is in fact extremely mannered, so succeeds at simulating primitivism. It’s not like all music would sound like Chair Beside a Window if stripped down--this album sounds like no music ever save Jandek’s own--but somehow, it creates that impression. Generic singer-songwriter misery sounds like Elliott Smith or Sufjan Stevens; it doesn’t sound like this.

7. Follow Your Footsteps (1986)

Between his two loudest efforts he released this quiet, lovely pastoral daydream, in which he blisses out and stares at the wind rippling through wheat fields.“Jaws of Murmur” would fit nicely on the Feelies’ The Good Earth, released the same year.

8. On the Way (1988)

Side one is almost too rock-conventional--Jandek plays straight blues chords, puffs on the harmonica as if covering“Midnight Rambler”, and sings vaguely Dylanesque narrative verses. The gorgeous acoustic makeout music on side two aches and sweats and bursts into flame.



May 28, 2020

The best of Jandek

My favorite conceptual artist, sometimes my favorite singer-songwriter. He records a lot. He doesn’t put much effort into his music, preferring to just toss off songs at a breakneck level of productivity. His good songs are more powerful for their apparent inadvertence; it’s impossible to tell how much of any given performance is calculated or improvised, sentient or aleatory, whether he jotted down lyrics on a napkin five minutes before recording or just made them up on the fly. He confounds the illusion of intentionality. He has an unbecoming fondness for blues and Americana. His album covers seem to hide dead bodies just out of frame. He likes hats. Am I describing Jandek or Bob Dylan?

But Dylan is a famous person; his mirror moves are interesting partially for how they tease and gratify an audience, while Jandek signifies as a musician with no audience. Sending music out into the void from his isolation chamber, trying compulsively to express something but knowing neither how nor to whom, he communicates the minimum--no less, sometimes more. In this, he is quintessentially an‘80s figure, testing how far from the spotlight one can retreat while remaining visible and how far one can advance without revealing oneself. Like Michael Stipe or Bernard Sumner, he is both there and not; he communicates but doesn’t. During a decade when megacelebrity ballooned, so did these weird publicity games.

Is a good Jandek song good, or just good relative to Jandek? That depends--I love everything listed below. His acoustic ballads terrify, while his electric ensemble jams are often hysterically funny. Vice versa too! An artist capable of both“You Painted Your Teeth” and“I’ll Sit Alone And Think A Lot About You” deserves a loving playlist, so here’s mine. I can’t imagine any two fans picking the same material.

1. Your Condition

2. Only Lover

3. Governor Rhodes

4. Mother’s Day Card

5. I’m Ready

6. Jaws of Murmur

7. I’ll Sit Alone And Think a Lot About You

8. The Cat That Walked From Shelbyville

9. I Passed By the Building

10. You Painted Your Teeth

11. I Want to Know Why

12. Twelve Seconds Since February 32nd

13. This Is a Death Dream

14. The Janitor

15. When the Telephone Melts

16. Your Other Man

17. European Jewel

18. Janky

19. Love, Love

20. Rifle in the Closet

21. All in an Apple Orchard

22. Babe I Love You

23. Ballad of Robert

24. Ha Ha

25. Star Up in the Sky

26. Mostly All From You

27. Voices in the Dark

28. Rain in Madison

29. Point Judith

30. Nancy Sings



May 14, 2020

Best singles of 2019

1. Kasher Quon & Teejayx6,“Dynamic Duo”

Two Detroit boys trade bars with such wobbly energy they forever prove how much calculation goes into nominally offbeat rapping. The beat twists and turns, spiraling ever upwards through a series of ominous key changes. Topics include flexing on Instagram, defrauding your family, and the pleasures of finding the perfect creative partner.

2. Tohji,“Snowboarding”

This is just two minutes of blown-out amplifier noise, while a drunk asshole yells about snowboarding. Tohji’s rhymes are so garbled I can’t even tell if he intends a cocaine metaphor. Brilliant!

3. Ciara,“Thinkin Bout You”

Songs about unrealized desire often fizzle, as anticlimactic as their subject matter; this insomniac’s lament crawls with excruciating tension. Tossing and turning, she wonders who’s keeping you up at night. She breaks a cold sweat at precisely 2:49.

4. Lizzo,“Juice”

No clue why Lizzo needed songs from several years ago to blow up and go pop when this excellent candy-funk confection was right there; maybe“Juice” got lost among the joyless #girlboss anthems that cluttered Cuz I Love You. Rhythm guitar confetti, icy staccato keyboards, and zigzagging horn bursts careen with supremely propulsive energy behind Lizzo’s joyful proclamation of her own magnificence. Of all her songs,“Juice” best realizes her aspirations toward empowermentmusik; it’s easier to accept her confidence as inspirational model when she’s also coaxing you onto the dancefloor.

5. Lil Nas X & Billy Ray Cyrus,“Old Town Road Remix”

Before this was a massive hit and a catalyst for deep thoughts about American history, it was an excellent novelty song, and it remains ridiculous, steeped in Lil Nas X’s delight in fusing contemporary pop’s two most hedonistic genres. Just as country has borrowed from hip-hop throughout the past decade, here Billy Ray Cyrus returns the favor. This belongs on Luke Bryan’s country rock hip-hop mixtape along with T-Pain, Conway Twitty, and Florida Georgia Line’s“Cruise Remix” ft. Nelly.

6. Jenny Lewis,“Red Bull and Hennessy”

This polished, demented come-on smolders with a daft assurance missing from rock radio. It’s all in the prim way she overenunciates“Hennessy”; she sounds like an uptight person who has accidentally, through some miracle of repression, gotten supercharged on the eponymous foul brew, or maybe a drunk person trying to sound proper as a defensive compensation. Also, I hear melodic echoes of Fleetwood Mac’s“Isn’t It Midnight” in this--but where?

7. Beabadoobee,“She Plays Bass”

Beabadoobee goes on a quest to find her rock & roll dream girl, searching every corner of outer space, combing the surface of every planet and asteroid, before noticing her impassive presence in this very song. The squirrelly bassline--that’s her!

8. DaBaby,“Bop”

When flute songs became a thing in 2017, their high, piercing cadence suggested a certain jaded quality; Future’s“Mask Off” and Kodak Black’s“Tunnel Vision” are exhausted statements of misery. Now that upbeat minimalist speed-rapping is cool again, DaBaby clears away all that murk and allows the flutes to sparkle cleanly, as tokens of brash confidence. He’s so delighted with his own amused, masculine presence--or as he puts it,“I’m unorthodox than a motherf*cker.”

9. Doja Cat,“Say So”

One of those communication dilemma songs that abound in contemporary R&B; she’s trying to flirt, but first she must escape this hall of mirrors. Doja Cat has established herself as the most protean of artists: last year she was a cow, now she’s a singer of softcore pop erotica. Who will she be next?

10. Regard,“Ride It”

Behold the glories of revisionist history: Kosovan DJ Regard speeds up Jay Sean’s aching ballad, adds punchy drums and a totally new and glistening keyboard hook, and thus brings out the swoonworthy potential of a previously lugubrious song. Along with the Jonas Brothers revival, the best 2008 song of 2019.

#2019 songs#lists#teejayx6


Apr 29, 2020

Best albums of 2019

I am a strong believer in belated music lists. Hindsight! The past year was stressful for me even before COVID-19 broke, and my favorite music was on average noisier and more irritating than usual. I find comfort and excitement in a mischievous sensibility; if music as chaotic and unpleasant as Jpegmafia’s can hold together, maybe there’s hope yet.

1. 100 Gecs, 1000 Gecs

I’m addicted to everything that I see, yeah! Including screamo death growls, Auto-Tuned cackles, comically heavyhanded drops, pop-punk bangers in disguise, secretly tender love confessions, insanely catchy hooks, and flimsy guitar trash. This marvelous album throws every absurd pop trope of the past decade into a kaleidoscopic blender, spitting out a misshapen musical wind-up toy that never stops exploding and recoagulating, falling down a flight of stairs and revealing a new ghastly face with each bounce. Taken as some musical equivalent of sh*tposting by writers who think irony and sarcasm are the same, it’s a pop mindf*ck that computes emotionally, as awkward kids and/or evil spirits of chaos Laura Les and Dylan Brady make their voices big and ugly and demented because that’s how they feel. Anyway, sh*tposting is its own species of rock & roll.

2. Taylor Swift, Lover

To be straight is for experience to confirm expectations. Taylor Swift has written about the delight of watching fantasies fulfilled (“Today Was a Fairytale”), renewed (“Begin Again”), or constructed (“Wildest Dreams”). Even when putatively rejecting conventional heteromance, she also sneakily reconstructs it by using its same vocabulary (“Speak Now”). Her best songs address not just desire but the stories we tell about desire, the moments when dreams and reality converge. But Lover is the first time she’s written about the delight of watching experience surpass expactations, the moment when fantasies are gleefully, unexpectedly discarded for something better (“I once believed love would be burning red, but it’s golden” is a lyric whose emotional force requires no familiarity with her catalogue). It radiates calm, a long exhaled breath after years of drama. She made a monogamous maturity move her queerest album, and the colorful electronic beats sound so pretty in the afterglow.

3. Lana Del Rey, Norman f*cking Rockwell

A quietly hysterical collection of observed Hollywood singer-songwriter fictions, played on the piano by a glamorous lady of the canyon who has just shooed guests out of her shag-carpeted parlor and drawn her nicotine-stained curtains after watching California tumble into the sea. In the same year hating boomers became mainstream, the year’s most critically acclaimed album was also a tribute to the most boomerific of rock critics. Greil Marcus, of course, whose taste has never before been so exquisitely pandered to, and I think that’s beautiful.

4. Blueface, Dirt Bag

Blueface doesn’t rap off beat, it’s the beat that can’t keep up. Or as Blueface himself puts it:“I’m literally talking in this bitch and it’s still knockin!” Or as Greg Tate puts it in“The Persistence of Vision: Storyboard P”:“At moments of revolution in artistic form, innovation frequently involves discarding flashy displays of technique. The reduction of ostentatious moves in favour of subtler ones is often read as laziness or limited ability (Flyboy 2: 86).”

5. Jpegmafia, All My Heroes Are Cornballs

Jammed up by jerky segues and pauses, constantly shifting to the next random thing in an endless procession of abrasive diversions, this experimental rap clusterbomb fashions a music of dynamic impatience, wrenching ugly harmonic convergence from the splattering of keyboard doodles, industrial crunches, electronic glitches, roaring guitars, death-factory sirens, repressed shrieks, goopy fusion keyboards, smears of electronic color. Jpegmafia’s rhymes compute mainly as yet more barrage, more proper nouns competing for your attention, but there’s a mischievous energy in his voice that adds a crucial smidgen of humanity. If this music seems the product of online information overload, it’s also the sound of working in the gig economy and/or the service industry, where“directed attention fatigue” has become a cautionary buzzword. My headaches feel like“Rap Grow Old & Die x No Child Left Behind”.

6. Otoboke Beaver, Itekoma Hits

Hardcore punk as hardcore comedy. Rage channeled into hyperactivity. Gnarled riffs and howled tantrums played at violent speed. Keening voices letting loose because they can’t hold the noise inside. Tension and release games crammed with sonic jokes. Tempo changes and dynamic jerks that seem tokens of the band’s impatience but in fact work as tension-building devices, with explosive kickback later--or now! Dissonance as byproduct of acceleration. In the playful intricacy of their group shout-singing I hear the Raincoats too.Angry giggles. Boom!

7. Kim Gordon, No Home Record

Lacking the guitars of her former bandmates, she threw a wall of synthesized barbed wire around some of her meanest basslines ever and made something unprecedented, for her and Sonic Youth--electroindustrial, basically, riding a bass rumble so deep it overpowers the music. The spoken pieces here (“Don’t Play It”,“Cookie Butter”) initially recall her willful avant-filler on A Thousand Leaves and NYC Ghosts & Flowers; then you notice how much more brutally these tracks bring the noise.

8. Kankyo Ongaku: Japanese Ambient, Environmental & New Age Music 1980-1990

Billed as ambient but sprightlier than the aesthetic that term suggests to an American audience, this two-hour set captures a moment in Japanese music history when the influence of Erik Satie and John Cage intersected with new ideas about architectural acoustics, inspiring a craze for minimalist electronica designed to peacefully fill a space (as in-store music for Muji, say). Lent contemporary relevance by the influx of chill lo-fi hip-hop beats to study to as well as the vaporwave-derived fascinations with banality and nostalgia, it’s considerably more beautiful than those lineages would imply, as tranquil and friendly as a book of nature poems. These pieces abound with cute tunelets, yet derive their spacious charm from nonmelodic elements--bells, pitched percussion, and the recorded outdoors: running water, chattering birds. Unlike most ambient music, they are not self-contained; when played outside, the synthesizers merge with the sounds of the city.

9. Teejayx6, The Swipe Lessons

By styling himself as an expert scammer, Teejayx6 invents a new internet-era edition of gangsta macho: he’s a master criminal, king of the deep web, fluent in cryptocurrency, relying on his wits to stay ahead of the online piracy brigade. Don’t cross him, lest he steal your grandmother’s social security number. Over darkly stylized beats, his chattering, perpetually surprised flow enters a realm of formal delight accessible to only the most playful. When he hits you with the requisite“All my fans, I really wouldn’t even scam you, I was just playing,” he acknowledges the figurative nature of the game.

10. Clairo, Immunity

A queer adolescent musical diary, tracing the highs and lows of a conflicted relationship that ends ambiguously. Rostam’s production lapses into self-parody exactly once, with the harpsichord flourishes on“Impossible”; otherwise the smoky bedroom-pop shimmer is flawless.“Sofia” exists for inclusion on romantic playlists.

#favorite albums#best of 2019#100 gecs#taylor swift#lana del rey


Apr 28, 2020

Worst albums of 2019

Gross! Here’s the usual disclaimer about punching up. Worse albums are out there, lurking in obscure corners of the internet, but I don’t want to know about it.

Hobo Johnson, The Fall of Hobo Johnson

His flow is original: a hyperactive slam-poetry cadence designed to evoke a guy who can’t help but ramble nervously and go on random tangents because he’s hanging out with the girl he likes and he’s just so excited and really wants to impress her even though he knows she’ll never like him back because he’s such a loser and wait, what were we talking about again? You can tell, without tuning in the lyrics, that this is what he’s doing. The ickiest moments on this slacker-rap manifesto are when a backup chorus of bros materializes to slam home a line’s final word (“It’s called RELIGION!/and this religion causes a bunch of CONFLICT!” etc), but Hobo Johnson’s naked giggle is pungent enough.

Lewis Capaldi, Divinely Uninspired to a Hellish Extent

Every song on this apparent pop album is a ballad, hits included. Every single one! Capaldi sings as if chewing oatmeal. I’m sick of charmless everymen.

Mxmtoon, The Masquerade

Ukulele + jazz keyboard + scratchy drum machine + Norah Jones + the Bandcamp homemade bedroom pop aesthetic = a harbinger of pop’s ostensibly genreless future, also known as retromania.

NF, The Search

White rappers aren’t by definition irrelevant now: Post Malone and G-Eazy sound plenty comfortable on the pop charts. Technique-flaunting multisyllabic speed rap isn’t dead either: Kendrick Lamar, Noname, and DaBaby tear that sh*t up. But it’s awkward when white rappers do it--technical fluency as a defensive mechanism--and so hearing NF’s brand of solemn confession on the radio was an unpleasant surprise. Sweaty, heaving conservative men“dropping science” about their anger management issues were last the stuff of pop in 2010, when Eminem’s Recovery made therapy rap a commercial proposition.

Thom Yorke, Anima

This is what you’d expect from a Thom Yorke solo album, i.e. Radiohead’s middlebrow paranoia stripped of musical complexity and instead reduced to ghostly ambience over metronomic percussion, plus the usual lyrics about living in a society (“Show me the money/party with a rich zombie/suck it through a straw,” etc). For a while I’ve wondered whether recent global dystopian events would lend gravitas to Yorke’s Orwellian gestures. Instead, perhaps because he’s never written from a place of empathy,they sound triter than ever.

#lists#worst albums#ugh#eek#lmao


Apr 7, 2020

Impossible speech acts: Beatles edition

An important category: pop songs that articulate things no human would or in some cases could say to another. Since a number of friends and acquaintances have turned to the Beatles in our respective isolations, I made a short playlist; I don’t know another boy band with such twisted relationship songs.

1. If I Fell

2. Another Girl

3. You’re Gonna Lose that Girl

4. It Won’t Be Long

5. I’ll Get You

6. If I Needed Someone

7. I Want to Tell You

8. I Will

9. I’ll Follow the Sun

10. I Don’t Want to Spoil the Party

11. She Loves You



Mar 23, 2020

Miss Americana

Hello from quarantine! In the depths of housebound boredom, I watched Miss Americana. Since I take #Swiftie lore seriously, here are some stray observations:

- Cats! Appearing unheralded in the background,scampering around corners, poking their heads into the frame. Walking across the piano while she plays. Occupying translucent backpacks worn by their owner. Meredith, Olivia, and Benjamin exist in the public eye to humanize her, as substitute children(in one scene, she remarks that she couldn’t have kids given a life where her every day is planned two years in advance). If like me you are easily manipulated by this sort of thing, Miss Americana is worth watching for the cats alone.

- As expected, Kanye West takes up too much space. We should be grateful he wasn’t allotted even more. A charitable watcher might argue that these scenes indict not West but the celebrity gossip industry, which has delighted in pushing the usual buttons and hauling up all the cultural baggage implicit in pitting a black male provocateur against a white girl next door.

- Her self-titled 2006 debut broke more records than I knew: 7x platinum, longest-charting album on the Billboard 200 during the ‘00s (277 weeks), Swift the youngest sole writer and performer of a #1 Hot Country Song with “Our Song”. I sometimes forget about this album: Fearless has the blank, unruffled confidence of a debut. But I played Taylor Swift this morning and was wrecked by “Teardrops On My Guitar,” which only a sixteen-year-old could have written; adults don’t yearn like that, thankfully.

- Another reminder that she started in country: her protracted dilemma over whether or not to express a political opinion, which is no dilemma for artists in any other genre. Leading up to her endorsem*nt of two Democrats in Tennessee’s 2018 midterms, we get scenes where she argues with her family and publicist and reels off Republican Marsha Blackburn’s voting record as if having memorized it five minutes before. The shadow of the Dixie Chicks hangs over her. Since no other megastar of Swift’s stature is shy about such things, this development seems weirdly delayed and tortuous. Doesn’t she know that millionaire pop singers are obliged to become liberal philanthropists? Now that she’s reconciled with Katy Perry, they can attend charity functions together.

- The film’s most moving moment is when she sings an acoustic version of “Call It What You Want” to a Joe Alwyn presumed just off camera. A gorgeous ballad, the key to Reputation, “Call It What You Want” beautifully captures how relationships can work as armor, providing private vindication against a hostile outside world. It doesn’t presume knowledge of her celebrity.

- In the opening scene she remarks: “You know, my entire moral code, as a kid and now, is a need to be thought of as good. It was all I wrote about. It was all I wanted. It was the complete and total belief system that I subscribed to as a kid. Do the right thing. Do the good thing. And obviously, I’m not a perfect person by any stretch, but overall, the main thing that I always tried to be was, like, just, like a 'good girl’.”

#taylor swift#miss americana


Jan 5, 2020

Things I loved in 2019

1. Citadelle gin

2. Ski jumping

3. Seeing the 1975 without a ticket

4. Jenga

5. The cows in Davis, CA

6. Robyn’s Pitchfork set

7. Listening to The Low End Theory and Thank You 4 Your Service while reading Hanif Abdurraqib’s Go Ahead in the Rain

8. Playing Lego with kids as a volunteer at MoPop’s Minecraft exhibit

9. Swimming in Lake Washington

10. The stairs in Queen Anne



Jan 1, 2020

Books I read in 2019

Friends are posting their reading lists at year’s end, so here’s mine. I’m a slow reader, okay?

Hanif Abdurraqib, Go Ahead in the Rain: Notes to a Tribe Called Quest

Hanif Abdurraqib, They Can’t Kill Us Until They Kill Us

Roberto Bolaño, By Night in Chile

Franklin Bruno, Armed Forces (33&1/3)

Julio Cortazar, Blow-Up and Other Stories

Paul Goldberger, Building Art: The Life and Work of Frank Gehry

Joe Hagan, Sticky Fingers: The Life and Times of Jann Wenner and Rolling Stone Magazine

Ottessa Moshfegh, My Year of Rest and Relaxation

Vladimir Nabokov, Nabokov’s Dozen

V.S. Naipaul, A Bend in the River

V.S. Naipaul, Guerrillas

V.S. Naipaul, A House for Mr. Biswas

David Ritz, Respect: The Life of Aretha Franklin

Philip Roth, The Anatomy Lesson

Philip Roth, The Ghost Writer

Philip Roth, My Life as a Man

Philip Roth, The Prague Orgy

Philip Roth, Zuckerman Unbound

Zadie Smith, Changing My Mind: Occasional Essays

Zadie Smith, White Teeth

Greg Tate, Flyboy in the Buttermilk: Essays on Contemporary America



May 28, 2019

Amazing grace

Aretha fans and anyone who wants to hear two hours of good singing should go see Amazing Grace, the video footage of her famous two-night concert/service at the New Temple Missionary Baptist Church in Los Angeles, scrapped until recently. If you’ve heard Amazing Grace the album, you’ve heard her sing“Amazing Grace”, endlessly drawing out the notes to double the satisfaction of melodic resolution in true gospel fashion, as the audience goes crazy. You haven’t seen churchgoers jump out of the pews with excitement, feeling the spirit, as she finishes the song. Or, her expression while singing“Wholly Holy” at the piano, closing her eyes, imparting joy. Choir director Alexander Hamilton, attentively and energetically conducting the large group of singers who respond to Aretha’s call. Shot after shot of the audience, clad in sequin dresses and polished shoes, a sea of moved, astounded, psyched faces.

For me, the most revelatory part was the constant call-and-response between Aretha and the choir, an instrument as integral to her music as the piano. The backup singers in“Do Right Woman”,“Day Dreaming”, and“Get It Right” play the same role; these songs are conversations between her and the choir. They challenge each other, soothe each other, try to sing over each other. On Young, Gifted and Black, musical spareness reminiscent of an airy church space allows her voice and the choir’s to ring. Her most gospel-infused secular album, it’s the unnatural, studio-recorded version of Amazing Grace;“The Long and Winding Road” and“Young, Gifted and Black” are gospel songs and would have fit onto Amazing Grace. The delicate, mannered arrangements, which reimagine prerock white pop, strings and flutes and such, as the essence of soul, are key. Amazing Grace isn’t so strained--she’s more comfortable with the material, more in control of the choir. On“How I Got Over” and“What a Friend We Have In Jesus” she and Hamilton keep the choir sufficiently on their toes to produce marvelous hooks. To watch Aretha and the musical proxy for the audience she’s singing to interact, in front of the audience, is to observe the formation of community in real time.

Finally, I want to emphasize that you don’t have to be a Christian to enjoy gospel, especially when Aretha Franklin sings it. If you can handle Janelle Monae singing about time travel, you can handle Aretha singing about God. Engaging with art requires imagination, which is the same as the ability to move with the spirit.

#aretha franklin#amazing grace


Mar 20, 2019

Things I loved in 2018

1. The drinks menuat 56 North in Edinburgh

2. Radix sort

3. Jenn Pelly’s The Raincoats 33&1/3

4. Dorothy Napangardi at the Seattle Art Museum

5. Seeing the same friends in different cities

6. Learning that classical Chinese has morphological case

7. Rimini St. Inc vs. Oracle USA Inc.

8. Losing my voice while karaokeing “Blank Space”

9. Cheap plastic sunglasses

10. The beach in Newport, OR



Mar 19, 2019

Best albums and singles of 2018

The full list, which exists because friends listened to, argued about, and shared music with me in 2018. Thank you!

Albums 2018

Bali Baby, Baylor Swift

Noname, Room 25

Haru Nemuri, Harutosyura

Cardi B, Invasion of Privacy

Rosalia, El Mal Querer

Playboi Carti, Die Lit

US Girls, In a Poem Unlimited

Jonghyun, Poet Artist

Physically Sick 2

Ravyn Lenae, Crush

Ashley Monroe, Sparrow

Ariana Grande, Sweetener

Amnesia Scanner, Another Life

Gazelle Twin, Pastoral

Ski Mask the Slump God, Stokeley

Snail’s House, Snö

Sunmi, Warning

Hailu Mergia, Lala Belu

Haruru Inu Love Dog Tenshi, Lost Lost Dust Dream

Camp Cope, How to Socialise and Make Friends

Bhad Bhabie, 15

Erin Lee, Love Song

Disney Peaceful Piano: Happy

First Aid Kit, Ruins

Soccer Mommy, Clean

Flasher, Constant Image

BTS, Love Yourself: Tear

Beartooth, Disease

Cupcakke, Ephorize

The 1975, A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships

Tal National, Tantabara

Moxie Presents, Vol. 4

Pistol Annies, Interstate Gospel

Kylie Minogue, Golden

Twenty One Pilots, Trench

The Verboden Boys (Belfast Chapter), Band From Reality: the Complete Demos

EXO, Don’t Mess Up My Tempo

Guttersnipe, My Mother the Vent

Sophie, Oil of Every Pearl’s Un-Insides

Juliana Hatfield Sings Olivia Newton-John

Frankie Cosmos, Vessel

Charlie Puth, Voicenotes

Sons of Kemet, Your Queen Is a Reptile

Ammar 808, Maghreb United

Hinds, I Don’t Run

Mitski, Be the Cowboy

Janelle Monae, Dirty Computer

Tracey Thorn, Record

Ohmme, Parts

Toni Braxton, Sex & Cigarettes

Bixiga 70, Quebra Cabeca

Black Panther: The Album

Christine and the Queens, Chris

Blocboy JB, Simi

Tierra Whack, Whack World

Carpenter Brut, Leather Teeth

Mikel & Gamechops, Zelda & Chill

Turnstile, Time & Space

Blueface, Famous Cryp

Superchunk, What a Time to Be Alive

Parquet Courts, Wide Awaaaaake!

Pusha T, Daytona

RM, Mono

Comethazine, Bawskee

Ski Mask the Slump God, Beware the Book of Eli

Singles 2018

Doja Cat,“Mooo!”

Rae Sremmurd & Juicy J,“Powerglide”

iLoveFriday,“Mia Khalifa”

Troye Sivan, “Bloom”

Fromis_9,“Love Bomb”

Khalid, Ty Dolla $ign & 6lack,“OTW”

DJ Snake, Cardi B, Ozuna & Selena Gomez,“Taki Taki”

Karol G,“Mi Cama”

Kylie Minogue,“Stop Me From Falling”

Da Pump,“USA”

#albums#2018#best of 2018#lists


Mar 11, 2019

Best albums of 2018

A marvelous year! Just because Drake albums are long and boring doesn’t mean the album is dead, you know.

1. Bali Baby, Baylor Swift

This 8-song EP, a fusion of SoundCloud rap, emo confessional, and glitzy synthpop, rocks harder and weirder than anything I heard all year. The spiky synthesizers, bent guitars, drum crunches, scratchy screeches, Bali’s garbled wails, and plastic bubblegum surface combine several modes of abrasion, as the Atlanta rapper hides a harrowing breakup saga beneath bucketloads of noise and the crackling electricity sets her bleeding heart ablaze.“Candy” and“Electrical” are neon new wave ballads distorted into fragility through harshness. Whenever she gets a handle on something, the beat goes squelch and sends her reeling. Oh, to be loud, obnoxious, and heartbroken. She’s been putting out fire with gasoline.

2. Ariana Grande, Sweetener

“Snuggle jams,” tweeted Austin Brown. We all needed snuggles this year! Although“Thank U, Next” and Thank U, Next have somewhat eclipsed the confectionary sugarbomb Instagram’s newly crowned Most Followed Woman released six months earlier, said sugarbomb continues to sparkle. Tired of flaunting her multioctave voice, Ariana leans into her breathy lower register and discovers her capacity for play. Tired of secondhand funk pastiche, Pharrell invents a sunny electrobouncy sound that abounds with pattering percussion, thwocks, squiggles, splashes of electronic color. Contextualized by the devastating, mournful grace of“Breathin” and“No Tears Left to Cry”, her joy feels urgent, beautiful, earned. Behold an album of exquisitely honeyed lightness. I love Sweetener because it’s the musical equivalent of booping someone on the nose.

3. BTS, Love Yourself: Tear

Because they both flatter and subvert even the most boring aspects of contemporary American pop, they broke through in America where countless Korean stars couldn’t, although that didn’t stop BoA and Girls Generation from trying. (I hope we haven’t forgotten BoA’s excellent self-titled English-language album, which includes the funniest Britney impersonations ever recorded.) Slow, moody, blank--these adjectives don’t quite describe BTS, thankfully, but they have reclaimed a rather empty pop style as a site for cognitively dissonant structural innovations, and thus offer hope that said pop style needn’t be so empty. Dense and streamlined simultaneously, stuffing all sorts of wacky noises into what Anglophone hitmakers have defined as a spare, echoey sonic template, these tracks are hard to wrap your ear around at first, but what noises! I could listen to the plinky little drumclicks in“Anpanman” forever.

4. Jonghyun, Poet Artist

“Take the Dive” and“Only One You Need” should play like standard romantic invitations and instead break a cold sweat in sheer terror. On“Hashtag” he’s content to whisper as long as the electric piano matches the beat in his head.“I’m So Curious” coaxes him into a sublimely cozy erotic space. The lightest and most delicate of pop-R&B exercises, shivering beneath an immaculately chilly surface, Jonghyun’s second and final album is beautiful and makes me sad. Rest in peace.

5. J Balvin, Vibras

The year’s solidest and bounciest Latin trap album is more sweetly melodic than the genre’s norm, but also harsher, which is disorienting. These beats, assembling lumbering, mechanical tanks out of looped vocal samples, clinky xylophones, keyboard scramble, and Balvin’s dreamy drone, are impossible to play in the background; I’ve tried. Maybe those blessed souls who can multitask with music on would feel differently, but every time I play this album I get sucked in, paralyzed by the chopped-up airhorns in“Ambiente”, the guitar strummed through a wind tunnel in“Brillo” (a duet with Rosalia!), the drums beeping in“Ahora”, the angel of death moaning inarticulately throughout“Cuando Tu Quieras”. If I also don’t understand how the hell clubgoers can dance to this music, please understand my bewilderment as admiration.

6. Playboi Carti, Die Lit

The debut was sufficiently spare to retain a semblance of pop functionality; this one’s a shoegaze record, the sound of rap abstracted into a gorgeous blur. The average Carti song is a single giant, repeated, woozy keyboard hook, glitching and jittering around the edges, a transmission from the hazy corner of the subconscious where bliss keels over into numbness and the senses conflate. The rapping is minimal; he chooses his sounds phonetically, not semantically, and gladly disappears beneath the relentless aqueous whoosh. Lyrics, guest features, tempo changes, coherent thoughts--if these things exist, they get swept up too. After years of hearing people moan on the radio about washing pain away with stimulants and such, here’s what it means to be insensate. Although the album wanders a little toward the end, who cares when it’s all one hypnotic song?

7. US Girls, In a Poem Unlimited

The music on this remarkable art-pop document assembles a creepy rubberoid disco groove from shards of glass, sleek rhythm guitar, controlled blasts of distortion, sordid saxophone; Meghan Remy treats white funk as industrial noise. The lyrics compile situation after situation in which women are abused, including a song where St. Peter rapes the narrator before letting her into heaven. Is this what“dialectic” means?

8. Haru Nemuri, Harutosyura

So raucous in the way it arranges sugary keyboard splashes, so catchy in the way it explodes with carefully timed bursts of electric noise, Haru Nemuri’s debut confounds categories. The Japanese noise-pop eccentric crams all the sounds she loves--raw guitars, bubbly synthesizers, anguished screams, conspicuous digital edits--into a glitchy hall of mirrors. For fans of certain video game soundtracks and experimental classical compositions, this is the music you’ve been imagining your whole life; for ordinary pop fans it’s merely the wackiest of syntheses. Either way, Harutosyura is gloriously loud, burning with a fierce rock grandiosity that’s unexpected, hence awesome. When“Harutosyura” gets artificially sped up into a chipmunked vacuum, pauses a moment, and comes back rocking harder than ever, she spirals ever closer to infinite refraction.

9. Erin Lee, Love Song

This strange album comprises ten instrumental pieces for unaccompanied acoustic guitar, plucking out pastoral melodies with a vaguely Mediterranean flavor, like music that might appear in a historical romantic drama featuring sailors, grapes, wine, and such. One could reasonably dismiss this music, but I can’t stop playing it--as with film scores and Snail’s House albums, there are certain qualities that make an instrumental melody intrinsically sentimental, and I’d love to know what they are. In the calmly strummed“My Hometown Harbor”, the sun sets over the water, the boats dock, shouts ring out from the pub several blocks down, and there’s danger in the air.

10. Ashley Monroe, Sparrow

“I’m good at leaving,” Ashley Monroe once sang, and these restless songs about departure and existential longing translate the impulse behind Joni Mitchell’s Hejira into country music, where it belongs. Country is the ideal genre for confessions of solitude and rootlessness because it’s supposed to imply rootedness, tradition, community; the juxtaposition conveys a sense of profound rupture. Monroe’s velvet moan and Dave Cobb’s theatrical string arrangements are exemplary bedmates. Hidden beneath a soft, warm glow lies the year’s loneliest album.

11. Gazelle Twin, Pastoral

When I first heard this crunchy slab of avant-dance music, the shrieks and chalkboard scratches and keyboards used as percussive elements jarred; it took several listens to notice that some of the scratches are digitally altered harpsichords, that flutes and sleigh bells adorn the otherwise turbulent tracks, and that Elizabeth Bernholz’s artificially growled lyrics repurpose quotes from Blake and English folk songs into angry social commentary. The segue between“Dance of the Peddlers” and“Hobby Horse” still terrifies me. If the idea of an ironic, politically-minded fusion of electronic dissonance, English folk, and classical music sounds mannered and absurd, you’re not wrong, but that idea’s musical realization is a whirlwind of rage and menace.

12. Amnesia Scanner, Another Life

This Finnish, Berlin-based pair of electronica producers have scored gallery openings and reportedly have many thoughts about technology and modern life, so I don’t doubt they have their avant-credentials in order. What I’m certain of is that these are the funniest EDM squelches I’ve heard in ages--distorted drops, vocoded shrieks, percussive jackhammers, digitally mediated farts and belches, not to mention outrageously catchy hooks. If the hyperactive musical splatter is intended to convey the sensory overload of our modern dystopian age, it also satisfies my own longing for music that bristles with noises, kitsch, stimulus.

13. Ski Mask the Slump God, Stokeley

In 2009, the Albuquerque emo-rap group Brokencyde combined maximalist crunk with bloodcurdling screamo choruses, and were widely panned as a record low point in pop music history.“Even if I caught Prince Harry and Gary Glitter adorned in Nazi regalia defecating through my grandmother’s letterbox I would still consider making them listen to this album too severe a punishment,” claimed one NME review. A decade later, the same exact music is now considered the surreal, groundbreaking, SoundCloud-warped future. Be careful who you mock, lest their ghost come back to haunt you.

14. Rosalia, El Mal Querer

Rosalia’s flamenco-R&B uses cool, exact technological control, sparse electrobeats and syncopated handclaps, to modulate a ferocious natural force, i.e. her singing. A modern adaptation of the anonymous 13th-century novel Flamenca, El Mal Querer is a wild exercise in vocal melodrama, especially because she’s always messing with her voice electronically. Layering her sighs over each other in the endless echo chamber that is“Pienso En Tu Mira”, looping a single note into an isolated stutter in“De Aqui No Sales”, showing off her melisma in“Reniego”, she understands how expression must be filtered through media and is inevitably distorted.

15. Noname, Room 25

The Chicago rapper’s fluttery jazz beats, wispy strings, woodwinds, and hushed rhymes are so calm and thoughtful the music sounds more like slam poetry with accompaniment than any conventional style of rap. By describing love, sadness, police violence, and the banality of daily life in the same cautiously awestruck tone, she depicts an internal resilience that comes into being through the act of aspiration. I love how slight this album is--her modest quietude is a splash of cold water in the face.

16. Sunmi, Warning

The former Wonder Girl refashions herself as a defiant siren-heroine, insisting“Get away out of my face” over electrobeats that crest and surge with military efficiency. Although the singles from this 7-song EP got the attention, her most exquisitely sheathed stiletto is“Curve”, whose bent jazz piano complements a chorus of staccato whispers that should sound inviting and instead exude menace.

17. Hailu Mergia, Lala Belu

After several reissues of his ‘80s music by Awesome Tapes From Africa, here’s the Ethiopian jazz keyboardist’s first album in forever, looking back on a genre of retro-futurist co*cktail music whose benevolent visions of a utopian clubland didn’t come to pass, for how could they, but are ready to be reclaimed. Over relaxed drum shuffles, friendly plinky piano, billowing organ, Mergia coaxes weird noises from skewed, accordionesque synthesizers and dreams about parties where such music could play.

18. Haruru Inu Love Dog Tenshi, Lost Lost Dust Dream

The next time you hear someone complain about SoundCloud rap, please direct them to this eerie, plaintive, whispered exercise in polished incongruence. “I’m Dreaming” captures the moment when you’re still asleep but trying to wake up, straining to clear the clouds from your brain.

19. Camp Cope, How to Socialise and Make Friends

With hundreds of lo-fi Bandcamp mixtapes bouncing around out there, I can’t explain why one guitar band moves me rather than another, but there’s an emotional rawness to this album that rivets. Partially it’s the rhythm guitar sound, which skips along with syncopated flatness and resilience. Partially it’s the sharpness of Georgia Maq’s voice, and the way she uses drawn-out vowels to focus and redirect her sustained roars. Partially it’s the songwriting, which finds an antidote to the world’s grossness in friendship, community, quiet moments of kindness. If you’re exhausted and fed up after a lifetime of taking sh*t, venting your feelings to the simple clunk of loud guitar music is a pleasure precisely because it’s simple and clunky.“Get it all out/put it in a song,” she insists, endorsing and providing a cathartic fury.

20. Bhad Bhabie, 15

Danielle Bregoli’s ebullient chirps are joyfully defiant only insofar as defiance is a front for insecurity. Aggressive trap beats turned covertly melancholy long ago, but in this context the sadness is unmistakable. Everyone is a public figure in the age of social media, so her anxiety over existing in the public sphere is at once quotidian and heightened. This album is scarier than anyone expected.

#favorite albums#best of 2018#bali baby#ariana grande#bts


Feb 26, 2019

Best singles of 2018

As long as I can find inane novelty songs to play on loop a billion times, there is hope in the world.

1. Cardi B, Bad Bunny & J Balvin,“I Like It”

The problem with Invasion of Privacy, Cardi B’s whirlwind tour of every current hip-hop radio style, is that she’s simply better at some styles than others--fewer Chance duets, more Latin trap, please! She peaks with“I Like It”, a trap-salsa monster that earned its coronation as song of the summer; it was a pleasure to hear, overhear, and over-hear everywhere. By sampling Pete Rodriguez’s old-school boogaloo hit, she and her Spanglophone buddies imagine a diaspora-wide block party that stretches across dimensions of space and time. When the snare drum imitates the dizzy spin of the salsa horn (initially, at 0:07),“I Like It” demonstrates that certain rhythms can cross instrumental, stylistic, and cultural boundaries. Globalization is scary but genre-f*cking is fantastic.

2. Rae Sremmurd & Juicy J,“Powerglide”

While the blankly pretty Swae Lee murmurs through his boyish Auto-Tune filter, Mike Will fashions a smooth, acrobatic beat, replete with key changes. The synthesized strings evoke a slow-motion car chase in the rain, parkour at night, an ideal of perfect stylized motion. It takes years of practice to achieve such athletic precision.

3. Doja Cat,“Mooo!”

To claim“Bitch I’m a cow/bitch I’m a cow/I’m not a cat, I don’t say meow” is to express a desire for one figurative sexual boast to replace another in hip-hop’s complex metaphor system, and the laid-back neosoul beat suits Doja Cat’s insouciance.

4. iLoveFriday,“Mia Khalifa”

Here’s the backstory behind this: a fake Twitter account impersonating Mia Khalifa, the retired p*rn star, dissed Smoke Hijabi, one half of the emo-rap duo iLoveFriday, previously best known for their successful vlog series. Unaware that the account did not represent the real Mia Khalifa, she and Auto-Tuned moaner Xeno Carr recorded a diss track in which they accuse her of various obscenities, although none as egregious as the needling whine of their voices. The amateurish flatness of Smoke Hijabi’s delivery in the second verse was the most obnoxious and glorious noise I heard all year. When people talk about the radical potential of the internet to change life and art, this is what they mean.

5. Fromis_9,“Love Bomb”

The plinky arpeggios, the sampled vocal sputter, the candied synth confetti, the constantly accelerating drum machine, and the giant chorus zooming irrepressibly into the sky render the kind of rush that is immediate and visceral. I aspire to have feelings as intense as those evidently experienced by Korean girl-group singers. Infatuation--who are you?

6. Khalid, Ty Dolla $ign & 6lack,“OTW”

Internet acronyms in pop songs imply distance, from Kelela’s“LMK” to Khalid’s“OTW”. The abstraction of language suggests an underlying anxiety about communication, especially when mediated by virtual/digital reality; the feints and dodges that proliferate when two people are trying to figure out what the other is thinking, already an essential pop subject, are thus heightened by yet another layer of technological distance.“OTW” is a musical rendition of Zeno’s paradox, a car song that doubles as a communication song: Khalid promises, in his sweet murmured baritone, that he’s on the way, but he never arrives, as the song keeps him frozen in perpetual transition. The bouncy shimmery beat mirrors the melancholy in his voice and the smoothness of his ride, as he roams the city looking for his beloved in the streetlights. If they don’t connect, it’s okay--he likes to drive.

7. DJ Snake, Cardi B, Ozuna & Selena Gomez,“Taki Taki”

In the eight or so years that he’s been a pop presence, I’ve seen no evidence that DJ Snake is a real person, rather than the anthropomorphized EDM zeitgeist--he’s gone from stupid headbanger drops to diluted reggaeton to moist trophouse gush as if engaged in the Billboard Hot 100 equivalent of insider trading. Now he’s apparently a Latin trap producer. Cool!“Taki Taki” kicks into gear with a whistled synth hook so pleasurably and painfully squeaky you long for it to repeat throughout the entire song, and indeed it does, as the cadre of stars, brought together by a shared fondness for harsh synthesizers, compete to outswagger each other. Each hears the hook and imagines a different song--Ozuna’s is lithe and chirpy, Cardi’s jumpy and aggressive, Selena’s whispered and sensual. The sum of such parts is a multivalent contraption that unites and celebrates a plethora of sensibilities. Ozuna is the glue, but Cardi is the firebomb.

8. Karol G,“Mi Cama”

Bed spring sound effects were apparently a thing this year--Karol G’s“Mi Cama” and EXO’s“Tempo” were two excellent pop hits in which creaky beds give the singers away, recorded on opposite sides of the globe. While the pingponging keyboards that accompany the creaking in“Mi Cama” are supposed to be erotic, they also sound creepy, like music that might play when a bunch of cackling munchkins in clown makeup scare you in a haunted house. I’ve hummed this song in nightmares.

9. Kylie Minogue,“Stop Me From Falling”

Kylie Minogue does country-disco right because she understands that all the best country-disco hits elongate the English high back rounded vowel. It’s quite simply the best vowel to belt, to exclaim, to sing along with (imagine if Taylor Swift had instead been twenty-threeeeeeee-eeee-eeee).“Stop me from falling,” she begs, but it’s too late, the soaring chorus has already taken off: the sweetly inevitable“for youuuuuuuuu,” over rosy keyboards and synthetic banjo. In a year when much of the best country cultivated a sense of displacement, of being a sparrow uprooted from the nest, I treasured Kylie’s playful crossover moves for the tension between traditionalism and novelty.

10. Da Pump,“USA”

Here’s the backstory behind this: an aging Japanese boy band, not having recorded for four years, decided to score a modest comeback single by covering an obscure Italian Eurobeat song from 1992, and were promptly shocked when the song became a massive hit and the song of the summer in Japan. They should have known better: you can’t just release a song with the hook“Come on baby, America”, punctuated by skittering retro synthesizers and braggadocious chants of“USA! USA!”, and expect people not to notice, now can you?

#favorite songs#best of 2018#cardi b#rae sremmurd#doja cat


Feb 11, 2019

Worst albums of 2018

To be fair, the actual worst albums of 2018 are probably obscurities nobody reading this will ever hear, but why punch down?

Eminem, Kamikaze

He’s never rapped so densely. He fumes, packing lines with prickly internal rhymes, triple meanings, enjambments, verbal thorns, as if constructing an impenetrable wall of circumlocution; he hardly ever takes a breath. He’s never sounded so defensive, either, so exhausted by paranoia. Once even his grossest songs projected a certain impish amusem*nt, but he takes no pleasure in clinging to technique. In 1999, the year Eminem became a star, Stephen Stills wrote a song called“Seen Enough” that lambasted the younger generation’s failure to respect hippies. Eminem’s own“The Ringer” belongs in this category.

Poo Bear, Poo Bear Presents Bearthday Music

The album opens with Bieber bemoaning the cruel nature of celebrity before handing the mic to Jay Electronica, who gives a motivational speech about nature and miracles. On the next song, Jennifer Lopez tries to flex her rapping skills and steps on the rake that is poorly applied Auto-Tune. Ty Dolla $ign contributes generic male sex drool. Poo Bear, the songwriter/curator with top billing, hires established hip-hop and EDM producers to provide the quietest and most fatigued of chillout trophouse beats. In pop’s future, a million celebrity collaborators sit in the same room, working on the same song, not listening to each other.

Poppy, Am I a Girl?

On an album that otherwise consists of middlebrow-modernist satire, it’s impossible to tell whether her admissions of gender fluidity mean to celebrate gender fluidity or denounce it as a frivolous symptom of cultural decline. Other frivolities mocked include slacktivism, commodity fetishism, beauty products, branded empowerment rhetoric, and Versailles. That nostalgia for PC Music would one day devolve into a reactionary contempt for modern life was a sad inevitability.

XXXTentacion, ?

Hearing the striking sonic details on this album--the plaintive horns on“Infinity (888)”, the garbled keyboards zooming up and down throughout“Moonlight”--also means having to tolerate rather a lot of weepy acoustic strumming and the choked, vocally manipulative catch in X’s throat. There’s no separating art from artist: a death cult leader given to proclamations like“Suicide if you ever try to let go” and“You’re changing, I can’t stand it/my heart can’t take this damage” is exploiting mental health awareness to sell a myth of the tortured artist who lashes out because he’s in pain. You’re supposed to forgive him because he grapples with the darkness in his soul. And now future generations will romanticize him.

5 Seconds of Summer, Youngblood

Is this an artsy‘80s revival move, or a Chill Beach Vibes Spotify playlist? Is there a difference?

#eminem#poo bear#poppy#xxxtentacion#5 seconds of summer#ugh


Feb 8, 2019

It’s alright to be alone sometimes

Kacey Musgraves’ Golden Hour, which recently won the 45th or 46th Pazz & Jop Critics Poll, is a delightfully delicate, rosy country (yes!) album about romantic elation, and possibly the happiest poll winner this decade. As Jessica Hopper suggested in the Village Voice, the album’s acclaim stems partially from escapism, as hearing this already-beloved artist singing calm, breezy, almost mystically relaxed songs about being grateful for the chance to live and love was a comfort to many critics in a generally lousy year. Golden Hour is smooth, direct, simple, as influenced by soft-rock and LSD as it is by classic country, lacking the concrete narratives and verbal twists that mark the latter genre, not to mention the fingerwagging homilies that characterized her earlier work, which must be why younger critics don’t find it corny. The album’s lush keyboards conjure expansive spaces to project a deep spiritual fulfillment, a comfort with her own place in the world and nature, a content blankness. This is not an achievement in itself, though. The usefulness of this mood, the degree to which feeling it is a triumph, varies with the contexts in which it is deployed. The straightforward love songs in particular (”Butterflies”,“Love Is a Wild Thing”) flutter by vacantly, as if nervously eyeing the law of diminishing marginal utility. Locating romance as the source of elation is too easy--the situation too circ*mstantial, the causality too obvious.

“Lonely Weekend” is another story, because the mood puzzles. She’s alone, missing her beloved who’s away, but she also can’t stop singing the stuttered hook (”It’s a lo/it’s a lo/it’s a lonely weekend”), and her voice soars. Happy songs with sad lyrics are often interpreted as“actually” sad, whatever that means, but here the plucked jangle, deadpan strumming, and breathy background sighs glide past the potential melancholy into a blissful calm, an impassivity so total it scans as joy. The bridge cracks the song open--“Even if you got somebody on your mind/it’s alright to be alone sometimes” is the insight at the song’s core, followed by a soft, glowing solo keyboardist Daniel Tashian could have nabbed from an‘80s Tanya Tucker album.“Lonely Weekend” captures a moment when her mood and the situation aren’t at odds, they’re entirely disconnected. It’s neither a lament over nor a celebration of aloneness; it’s the realization that being with or without somebody makes you no more or less alone than you were. Neither precludes the cultivation of interiority; there’s a sense in which being in a relationship heightens the need for interiority and the contrast with the exterior. In“Lonely Weekend” she plucks elation from thin air, with no source, a mood that is its own reason for being. She’s at peace.

#kacey musgraves#golden hour#pazz
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