Happy new decade. I’m on kinda an emo tear right now, and I was going to post something more mopey and grim about how I’m not gonna post a best-of list because the earth is a cold dead place or something, but I tend to regret doing that. It’s been a hell of a decade. Here’s some highlights in media that are somehow roughly connected to when they came out or when I first experienced them. These are the moments that stick with me.
Life in Cartoon Motion by Mika
For the best parts of Burning man. I tried this! I tried a bunch of things in Seattle. None of them stuck. I always felt like I was intruding on someone else’s party. (Especially at Burning man.) But when you’re at someone else’s party and they’re having a great time, sometimes you can get a little infected by their joy. It’s not enough to live on, but it’s fun in the meantime.
My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy by Kanye West
Gosh I mean, this is a masterpiece and can be all things to all people. To me it’s originally two memories: “Lost in the World” walking over the bridge on Pine St feeling a sense of well-being, and singing along to “Monster” riding my bike as I “visiting scholar"ed (read: sat in a lab and did my own thing) at UW. Monster in particular is still a favorite.
Eye Contact by Gang Gang Dance
I started my gap-year-travel by flying to Delhi, busing to Manali and then on to Leh, just jumping as far into the deep end as possible, and spending 3 days in bed with altitude sickness. This album is about as out-there as you feel at 15,000 feet, trying to stay warm in a parachute dhaba in the More Plains.
Sir Lucious Left Foot the Son of Chico Dusty by Big Boi
This one, on the other hand, is a welcome taste of home when you’re just leaving the dark Nepalese border town of Mahendranagar where you spent a mildly worrying night, strapping into a 12 hour bus ride, and wishing that something could be easier.
Odd Blood by Yeasayer
I’m in Pecs, Hungary, just killing time looking at whatever local medieval castle. It’s sunny and pleasant. Somewhere around “ONE” or “Love Me Girl” I wonder about the travelers I’ve met who are basically wandering indefinitely, and I get a sense that I’m wasting time. I’m glad I’m headed back to the US and getting back to nerdy computery things, and building a life. But dang this is nice in the meantime.
Juicy Lucy by Jupiter
Turn back on the adrenaline; I’m back in Pittsburgh, starting grad school, meeting new friends and an exciting new relationship, and everything’s working. Wow. This music is what I would make if life was always working so well. Bouncy, infectious, smooth, perfectly produced. Makes even me want to dance.
Shrines by Purity Ring
6 months later: OH WAIT grad school is awful and I am bad. And we call my house the Pretzel House because it feels like it’s made of pretzels. This album, though, opens with a creepy synthy bit about “they’ll sew their own hands into their sleeves, to keep the crawlers out” and just gets better from there. I played it in the Pretzel House kitchen in Pittsburgh fall/winter and immediately put it on repeat. In contrast to the previous album, Shrines is dark and weird and beautiful. I don’t care if I can only use that word once in this whole post. This is probably my favorite album of the decade.
DUKE 2 by Mrs. Paintbrush
Part of what helped me deal with grad school was the Pittsburgh connection. I have friends, and I know some local culture and stuff, and Mrs. Paintbrush (half of Grand Buffet) is all the things I love about Pittsburgh. A rapper who’s funny as hell, but doesn’t act like he thinks he’s funny as hell.
Inspector Norse by Todd Terje
This summer was electric as it seemed like a way out of the grad school doldrums. Tati interned at Facebook, I interned at HP Labs, I lived in a shared house in San Francisco, I did a lot of Caltrain and burritos, but it was ok because this seemed like an exciting new world that’s worth going for more. Inspector Norse is a song that seems right at home exploring this goofy new city, or a song that you can listen to on headphones while you work.
Edit: Space Is Only Noise by Nicolas Jaar
This is the dark shadow side to the excitement. The title track especially, but really the whole album, is the moodiest dark-sidewalk-at-night kind of music that’s a great accompaniment to being a bit of a stranger in a bit of a strange land.
Art Angels by Grimes
Man, this year’s kind of a blur. I was traveling back and forth between SF and Pittsburgh, trying to finish up grad school, and geez I don’t know what was happening but this album is start-to-finish brilliant multifaceted pop. “Over the first 6 tracks you go from epic symphonic overture to top-40 to aggressive Taiwanese hip-hop back to top-40 to… whatever Kill v. Maim is.” - me, at the time.
Edit: Strange Desire by Bleachers
If all emo music sounded like this, I’d listen to more of it. Tracks 1-4 remind me of Silent Alarm in that they’d all be great on their own, but make a solid album kickoff all together. I can’t really access this year’s emotions very much, but neither can I very well tell what this album feels like, but hey that is fine.
Edit: Without My Enemy What Would I Do by MADE IN HEIGHTS
This and Strange Desire make me want to be a producer. (Or a singer, but I don’t think I could ever sing as well as Bulkin. Not that I could produce as well as Sabzi, but eh, one can dream.) I don’t know what any of these songs mean, but there are really great sounds on it. It’s so crisp and polished and just like… a peppermint? It’s not just straight sugar; it makes me feel good afterward.
Stop Making Sense by Talking Heads
Ok this isn’t new, but: the key event of this year was Tati and me getting married. Our first dance was This Must Be The Place. I still cry when I watch David Byrne sing this song to a lamp. There’s something about that: weird smart nerd who sings about buildings and food realizes he can sing love songs too.
Life Will See You Now by Jens Lekman
The lyric “it’s been a long, hard year” in “Evening Prayer” is my version of “I’m gonna make it through this year if it kills me”: a kernel of real, hard truth wrapped in a juicy pop song. This year was kind of a long, hard year: finish a thesis, graduate, move, find a job, get frightening imposter syndrome. Jens writes the kind of songs that make me feel like someone gets me: “To know your mission” and “Wedding at Finistere” especially. Plus, I challenge you to find a better riff than “How we met, the long version.”
Solitary Flight by Theo Parrish
I started spending a lot of time in an open-office workplace. I got into deep house for a while - it’s pretty great work music and I wish I knew more of it. This is among the best tracks I can remember. At one point I put this on while at a ski trip with some new friends, one of them made fun of me about it, and still I felt like, nah, it’s ok, I still belong.
Over the Garden Wall
This animated series is so perfectly in the Venn diagram overlap between me and Tati. It’s charming, cute, weird, spooky, very funny, perfectly acted and brilliantly animated. I know it’s not everyone’s definition of cozy, but it makes me think of a time in our SF apartment that’s more cozy than full of our neuroses.
Dirty Computer by Janelle Monae
Like Art Angels, this is a multifaceted pop masterpiece. It’s very California, in the good ways; it’s like the kinds of warm weather I like, and the kinds of people who still want, humbly, to change the world. (Unfortunately, these things seem rarer and rarer; California seems to me more NIMBYs, cars, and WeWork startup nonsense.)
Clemency for the Wizard King by Mountain Goats
I finally got into the Mountain Goats. Of course they have a ton of great stuff. This is probably my favorite. I don’t know if it’s because a recurring D&D campaign has been a really nice thing in my life the past couple years; I don’t think it’s just that. The tone almost feels religious; they’re pleading with the captor of their king, but it feels like pleading with God or the universe or something. Did I mention my recent emo streak? I cry more now than I used to. This song makes me also.
It’s a sci-fi thriller about journeying into the unknown. It’s a psychological thriller about self-destruction. It’s cosmic horror about the universe being weirder than we can even perceive. Obviously I love all these things. (yeah the books are better; they’re kind of dense though.) I love art that gives you a sense of the sublime and of life outside our little comfortable cocoon, and this does more than most. The sublime and real happens to be terrifying. This fits with how I see the world now. 2020s, prove me wrong.
<3 Loved this post! Happy 2020!
aw thanks! and to you too!
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