Skip to main content

What I Heard in 2015

Every year, I like to take a few moments to list works of music, literature, and film that seemed important to me. This is the first post in that series for 2015, the music I enjoyed.
The top two places on this list were obvious to me in June, but the others required many re-listens. Left off is the amazing return album from Sleater-Kinney, Kendrick Lamar’s exceptional “To Pimp a Butterly,” and works by Courtney Barnett, Godspeed You! Black Emperor, and Grimes. As always, this list is simply a record of the sounds that signified for me the experiences of a year.

  1. James McMurty: Complicated Game. Right off the bat I knew this would be one of my favorite albums from 2015. Giving it listen half a year later, I’m struck by how powerful this album is, how bleak and perfect for this year. There was an easy confidence to these songs, a hard-bitten world view of people’s lives ground up and buried. I imagine some of these songs would sound samey to someone but to me each one is a poetic encapsulation of what a single moment in time is like. 
  2. Sufjan Stevens: Carrie and Lowell. Dire stuff - and  yes I recognize my two top albums are really similar in theme and tone - but I loved each for different reasons. I guess McMurty won out for me because despite how heart-breaking this album is, its lyrics are morosely opaque where McMurty’s are painfully, painfully insightful and lucid. Nevertheless, songs like "Fourth of July,” “The Only Thing," and the title song find some heart-breaking universal nostalgia within experiences clearly very personal. 
  3. Jason Isbell: Something More Than Free. This is a treasure trove of tuneful folky ballads by a member of Drive-By Truckers. I can’t help but succumb to a song book like this - each song an exquistely wrought work of Americana pathos. “24 Frames” was the stand-out but stay for “How to Forget,” “Children of Children,” and “If It Takes a Lifetime."
  4. Bop English: Constant Bop. I honestly starting loving this album more when I learned it’s the product of a Texan singer-songwriter, James Petralli, still a member of the indie band White Denim. Until that discovery I assumed this was a British band, one more perfect pop rock album from a place that seems to sprout them like mushrooms. That this comes from the Lonestar State struck me as being more remarkable, a lush desert rose found in the middle of a crumbling strip mall. Constant Bop is tremendous amount of fun - reminding me in places of The New Pornographers, other places of my favorite parts of garage rock revival of last decade. Every song works very, very hard to get you smiling and if that involves borrowing tunes and textures from 70s ramble rock classics, so be it.
  5. Suzanne Sulfor: 10 love songs. Ultimately the heart wants what it wants. This is Scandenavian pop music. Some of these songs even sound like updated ABBA. Which means I guess I love updated ABBA because I listened to this album relentlessly for months at a time. It still holds up, for me at least. I think the thing that saves it from being simply disposable is the economy of the sound and the permission Suzanne gives herself to be weird, stretching out one of the later ballads for ten glorious, harpiscord drenched minutes.

In keeping with this being my year of the post-apocalypse, I also tracked down a great number of albums and artists that to me addressed themes of collapse, societal decay, and the world after some disaster. Locrian’s Infinite Dissolution, a heavy metal meditation on the decay of the ecosystem, was a group I would probably not have explored in any another year but I'm glad I did. Godspeed You! Black Emperor, referenced above, also turned in a thunderous apocalyptic scenario in Asunder, Sweet, and Distress. I could make arguments for a few other recent albums but mostly my explorations took me through the greats of the post-rock movement of the past two decades. For the first time I sat down and listened to albums by Tortoise, Talk Talk, and Swans. In particular the big recent double albums released by Michael Gira really captured the spirit of this year - dark and portentous, cloaked in half-remembered rituals and bombast, searching for meaning in collapses both personal and global.
Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

Review of I Wish I Was Like You by S.P. Miskowski

Even 23 years later, I remember 1994 and Kurt Cobain's death. I experienced that moment as a kind of inside out personal crisis. I felt ashamed by his death. As though his exit in someway indicted my own teenage miseries. "I wish I was like you," goes the verse in 'All Apologies,' "Easily amused." I felt as though a check I hadn't remembered writing had just been cashed. 


SP Miskowski's book, named after the first half of that line, is in the words of another reviewer, a novel that shouldn't work. The narrator is unlikeable, unreliable, and dead. The plot is almost entirely told as a flashback and long sections of the novel concern the inner processes of the writer. The daily grind to summon up enough self-esteem to carry a sentence to its logical conclusion is a real struggle, people, but it ain't exactly riveting.

But the thing is, this novel works. It is one of the best things I've read all year and a real achievement in weird ficti…

What I Read in 2017

The third in my series of year-end lists is literature. As in past years, I've divided this post into two categories: Novels and short stories. Each of these stories made 2017 just a bit brighter for me and I hope this list includes at least a writer or two new to you.


Novels:
I Wish I was You by SP Miskowski: This was the subject of a review earlier this year. The way I feel about this novel, the tragedy of a talented person crippled by anger and regret, transformed into a monstrous avatar of wrath, has not really left me. Beyond the perfection of its prose and its preternatural subject matter, I feel like this is one of the best evocations of the mid-nineties I've seen published. There's something about this book that lingers with me long past the concerns of its plot and characters. I guess what I'm trying to say is this work moved me. 2017 would have been a lot dimmer if I hadn't read this work.New York 2140 by Kim Stanley Robinson: Robinson writes next-level sp…

Review of "Pretty Marys All in a Row" by Gwendolyn Kiste

Part of the reason American Gods works is that it offers a kind of reward to folk lore mavens and religious study majors. Do you have a working familiarity with obscure Northern European mythologies? Are you able to describe what Neil Gaiman got right and what he fudged a bit in terms of the Egyptian religion? Then the guessing games of that novel - just which Middle Eastern Goddess is this? - magnify its other charms. 
"Pretty Marys All in a Row" by Gwendolyn Kiste (released by Broken Eye Books), is a novella for people, like me, who are waiting impatiently for the next season of Bryan Fuller's show. It's not set in that universe, certainly, but approaches the question of folklore from a similar perspective. Namely, that myths have a definite, physical explanation and your knowledge of such things will expand your enjoyment of the work. In the case of Pretty Marys, the stories are urban legends and nursery rhymes about young women. The main character, Rhee, is named…