Sorry this is so late, y’all. I had a headache. No, like really. I had a headache. It was a thing. Like 4+ months of please just bash my goddamn brains in with a hammer I don’t want to do this anymore fuck fuck fucking misery. Before the headache, when I thought about writing up this blog, I was excited. I was looking forward to being like, hey everyone, I’m doing okay! I no longer devote a lot of time to thinking how maybe not being alive anymore might be a good idea. Sometime early in the spring, that 18 months of crippling chronic depression finally started to calm the fuck down and instead of that dog in the burning house I posted in last year’s blog, I started feeling more like this fucking bunny.
Just look at that fucking bunny. Motherfucker is happy as shit. Amazing. I mean, let’s be perfectly clear; I’m still a depressed person. The severity comes and goes but the melancholy never really goes away. And yet when it escalates, I’m becoming increasingly confident that I’m not going to fall into the abyss. In this, our first year of the era of Trump and in light of the rapidly accumulating evidence that maybe all men, myself included, really are garbage, it would not be entirely unreasonable if any one of us just wanted to kill ourselves. And yet here I am feeling better than I have in the past two years. When I fall down, I don’t fall so far anymore and I pick myself back up pretty quickly. But this fucking headache.
But there’s good news. After months of treating it like a migraine (cuz it felt like a migraine) and getting nowhere, I started seeing an osteopath, doing a lot of body work, and taking some new magic pills. Now, I’m functional enough to attend to my relationships, listen to music (other than just Stars of the Lid’s And the Refinement of Their Decline) again, and by extension try to knock out this overdue little blog thing.
Jesus, it’s nearly March and this stupid missive has been almost ready to go for a while now. Just a few more paragraphs just to say I finished the thing. Who even cares about 2017? Who even cares about these words? I’m not sure I even do anymore. But I do feel good about my list so I’m finally posting this damn thing. Anyways, here goes:
Vince Staples – Big Fish Theory
I’m not sure what I was expecting after the hopeless, almost nihilistic beauty of Summertime ’06, but it wasn’t this. While Kendrick Lamar is undeniably the greatest rapper in the world –and we’ll deal with King Kendrick soon enough- Vincent Staples is no slouch. His music sounds like the future hip-hop doesn’t even know it’s heading towards. Vincent’s trademark existential dread shows up a bit differently this time around with a lot of bass and a dance beat that sounds like goddamn Detroit techno. On Big Fish Theory, the verses are tighter, the lyrics more directly to the point and tumbling along at near-breakneck speed in an effort to keep up with the beat that just won’t stop.
It’s not quite what I was expected or what I thought I wanted from the follow-up to Summertime ’06 but still, the album is an exciting new direction in what hip hop can be. And really, Bagbak is easily the hip hop song of the year. This song is unfuckingstoppable. With zero fucks or filter, Vincent drops the protest song of 2017.
Angel Olsen – Phases
Technically it’s not a proper album but instead a collection of b-sides and demos but I really loved this one. On the heels of her most polished rock record, MY WOMAN, Phases is more subdued Lo-Fi affair of sorts. While we’ve seen her channeling Leonard Cohen, some songs on this album reveal her inner-Roy Orbison. Anyways, same as her last album, nothing here is gonna pass the Bechdel Test but she can write as many songs about heartbreak and longing as she pleases and I’ll be here to listen.
The National – Sleep Well Beast
None of the songs on this album will go down as my most favorite songs by The National and yet this has maybe become my favorite The National album. The bulk of their greatest work can be found on The Boxer and High Violet but those albums also have numerous songs I give zero fucks about. Sleep Well Beast has held my attention for the entire duration of the album on many occasions this year. A more playful wordsmith than myself asked “Has Matt Berninger been getting drunk on whiskey [no ice] while listening to Nick Cave? It feels like a hiccupping Rube Goldberg machine built of threadbare patchwork quilts and watching the ocean for a ship that’s never coming back.” That sounds about right.
SZA – CTRL
Featuring guest critic: Megan White
Whatup, y’all. Wife here. SZA was number 2 on my top ten list this year. I listened to this album on repeat for several months. I think this album is what they call a slow burn. On first listen, it sounds very much like a lot of female fronted R&B acts that have been exploding in the last few years like Jhene Aiko and The Internet. Both of which have also gotten a lot of play in my year. (It’s been a very R&B heavy year for me.) But this album distinguishes itself with its vulnerable confessional lyrics and its unique melodies. With each listen, you hear more of the subtleties. SZA doesn’t rely on the usual recipe for a Chart Topping Pop Song. Her voice creates intricate dreamy soundscapes. Ok, this is going to sound weird to anyone who isn’t a singer, but the albums that tend to inspire obsessive long-term devotion in me are the ones that light my brain up the most when I sing along. I swear, if I had actually studied music composition, I would be able to put words to this shit, but I didn’t so you just have to be ok with my layman’s explanation. When you sing, your brain releases dopamine. Dopamine is the chemical that creates your brain’s reward system and is a major component of all drug addiction. It feels real good. (See, I didn’t study music composition but I did study psychology so..) Anywho. When you sing, your brain gets you high. And the songs that get me highest include unexpected key changes, minor chords, and really great runs that use my whole range. SZA has an incredible range and, instead of staying in one key, her songs travel all over the place, soaring highs and sultry depths. Plus, she sings a lot about how much she likes sex and I fully support that topic. As Kendrick says in his guest verse on Doves in the Wind, “How many times she gotta tell you that dick is disposable… and good pussy is rather dangerous?”
JT here again. She’s really fucking good at this. Maybe next year, I’ll just pay her to do it for me. I did offer her $10 to finish the last few paragraphs for me so that I could finally post it before fucking March. She declined. Because she was busy writing her own awesome shit.
LCD Soundsystem – American Dream
In April of 2011, James Murphy announced he was breaking up his band and then scheduled a final blowout 4 hour concert at Madison Square Garden. We tried to get tickets but got shut out. But then they did a free live webcast and my friends and I tuned in, ingested a heroic amount of drugs, and it was fucking awesome. And that was the end of LCD Soundsystem for nearly 5 years. Over that time, I’ve grown older. So has Murphy. And now the band, having decided that they missed playing songs with each other, is back together. In typical Murphy form, he announced the comeback by penning what essentially is a longwinded heartfelt apology letter. LCD Soundsystem isn’t the force in my life that it once was but damn, it sure is lovely to hear this band again. LCD was laid to rest with great intention and now they have returned with equal intention. Idk, life is short and people change their minds and well, if you change yr mind, you can change yr mind.
King Krule – the OOZ
This is some weird fucking shit, man.
Priests – Nothing Feels Natural
This was my first album love of the year. Holy shit, Katie Alice Greer and company dropped their first proper LP like a fucking bomb. This record defies what punk music can sound like when it stops giving a fuck about being punk on a level that I just wasn’t expecting to hear so soon after Savages’ Silence Yourself (2013). This shit fucking slays. And you can dance to it.
Slowdive – Slowdive
This is a perfect shoegaze rock record. 20 years after the previous record, this album is everything the just-as-many-years-in-the-waiting My Bloody Valentine album was supposed to be but ultimately wasn’t. It’s all here: massive wall of sound; stupid-gorgeous lush vocals ; crashing waves of guitar; all the texture in the world; and all of it feels like a the hazy memory of a beautiful dream.
Fever Ray – Plunge
The Knife is dead and will never return but Karin Dreijer has bestowed us with a new album under her solo moniker of Fever Ray. And holy fuck this album is fierce and of course really weird. While the Fever Ray project was never intended to be as uncompromisingly progressive as The Knife, this album is still a lot of fun. And while this Fever Ray album is not as immersive as its self-titled predecessor, it’s far more urgent. This is haunting and ethereal manic dance music. It’s queer as fuck. It’s unsexy and yet made of sex and anarchy and love. Or something.
Kelly Lee Owens – Kelly Lee Owens
This one was by far my favorite electronica album of the year. It exists in a realm somewhere between dream pop and minimalist techno. I don’t really have many words to share here.
Other recommended electronica records from 2017: Octo Octa – Where Are We Going? and Four Tet – New Energy
St. Vincent – Masseduction
Anne Clark continues to demonstrate the cool detachment of David Byrne and a penchant for the perpetually evolving personas of David Bowie while being entirely herself every step of the way. With Masseduction, Annie Clark breaks away from some of that detachment and delivers probably her most vulnerable record, as is evidenced by the cover art featuring what is (presumably) Annie bent over with the most private area of the body facing the viewer. Annie reveals more of herself in this record than ever before but with precision and restraint. That said, there isn’t much else in the way of restraint here. A bulk of this pop-leaning record exists in a frenzied state. High speed dance beats are pervasive. It’s a lot to deal with.
As for this perpetually evolving persona, this latest reinvention of St. Vincent presents Annie as the high femme queer rock and roll goddess the world needs, sporting thigh-high vinyl stripper boots, matching vinyl fetish-wear, and an arsenal of custom, designed by Annie herself, Ernie Ball guitars. She’s come a long way since the days of Marry Me and Actor.
And yet one of my favorite things about St. Vincent is that, buried underneath all this pretentious futuristic art-pop-rock wankery, is essentially a blues guitarist. A friend described the main lick from Los Ageless as more blues than The Black Keys’ entire output. After seeing her in concert and the things she can do to her guitar, I’m inclined to agree. All hail Queen Annie.
“I hold you like a weapon.”
Kendrick Lamar – DAMN.
If you know me at all and if you’ve been following K Dot, you already knew.
DAMN. arrived amidst quite a big week. Days before its release, I lost one of my mountain people, a best friend to one of my best friends, to an avalanche on Red Mountain. Fuck. As a backcountry adventurer, I think about avalanches a lot. Most of the time, it’s all very analytical data stuff that I can apply to mountain travel decisions in order to Not Be Dead. But sometimes I dream about them. I’ve had more than one dream about being buried in the cold dark isolation of the snow, wishing more than anything to be in my warm house on the couch with my loves as I slowly run out of air. And suddenly here I was, getting the phone call before his body had even been recovered by Search and Rescue, that my friend was dead and I’m hoping hoping hoping please just fucking tell me that he died quickly, that he wasn’t buried alive and all alone (He wasn’t. The slab avalanche sent him into the trees below where he likely died instantly from trauma).
Until this year, any local avalanche fatalities have always been someone I didn’t know, in some cases a friend of a friend of a friend but certainly none of *my* people. And Morgan was most certainly my people. He was right there with my friend Kirt when I first started exploring these Cascade Mountains. When I experienced my first earned powder turns. I remember the moment when we learned that we had a shared love for Jerry Garcia’s guitar playing and subsequently shared that joy together in the ski area parking lot with a beer and a bowl on numerous occasions. I always respected him but he was also on his own trip. He sought solitude in these hills but he always welcomed a friend. I wish I’d skied with him more. I was often too self-conscious about the disparity in our skill sets and always feared that I’d hold him back. That he’d reject me. So I rarely asked. In the immediate aftermath of his passing and even now, I have thought about this often and with great sadness. There’s a lesson in here that I’m still being stubborn about learning but I’ll get there.
So here I was in the midst of my own terrible moment in the shared human experience of the loss of a loved one. But suddenly, the new Kendrick Lamar album had arrived and, grief be damned, I was going to listen to it obsessively. I can’t say that I leaned into the album for comfort. This isn’t that kind of story. Relatability in any immediate sense isn’t to be found here. Listening to this music and the world it conjures is very different from most of what I experience in my life. Kendrick’s world is not my own and with each album, it feels like an honor to have access to his experience of life.
The album is of course perfection.
Kendrick is standing at the top of the mountain. With each release he has been uncompromising in creating his vision. With DAMN., his vision remains pure. Every note is exactly as he would have it. That fucking venomous bridge on DNA. The hazy stoney vibe of YAH. “Buuuuuuuuuuuuzzing. Just Buuuuuuuuuzing. Yah yah. Yah yah.” And PRIDE., with that slinky Mac Demarco-sounding guitar, and he sings “maybe I wasn’t there” with the chorus of bird calls swirling in the background, fuuuuuuuck. With LOVE., K dot wrote a fucking love song and it’s goddamn beautiful. And with GOD., Kendrick says fuck being HUMBLE. “This what GOD feel like.” And then he says “work it JT” and I like to think K dot is winking at me and I’m like “I’m working it, Kenny. Really I am.” I’m doing the best I can and when I think about what Kendrick is sharing, these stories of his inner-conflict, from weakness and wickedness to pride and humility, I think fuck, for all the differences between our worlds, there will always be this shared experience of trying to make sense of being a human being on the planet Earth.
Here’s a mixtape I made for you.
-Not Fade Away-