I’m twenty-one and gay and watched Brokeback Mountain for the first time. (This alone is cause for writing.) There’s a scene where Ellis (Heath Ledger) takes a moment to stare at the night sky, reunited for a weekend four years after a passionate summer with Jack (Jake Gyllenhaal). Both men are married and further bound with kids, but the commitment here is an afterthought. When they meet for the first time, they kiss tighter than the first hundred times, pushing each other against the wall where one raised a home and wed a wife and lived an entirely separate life: in an instant, their life was theirs to reclaim. Ellis receives no answers from the moon. Shadows are falling from the trees. The world guts men and does not sing for them. “Is there anything interesting up in heaven?”
Scholars are so convinced that David and Jonathan were never gay. The Wikipedia page discerns “a number of groups made up of gay Roman Catholics trying to reconcile their faith with their sexuality…” for those who’ve taken the names of two myths, homosociality as if any different from homosexuality. The Hebrew Bible is an ancient text used to kill men and free them. Listen, “the soul of Jonathan was knit to the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul,” is love in its truest, and “then Jonathan made a covenant with David, because he had loved him as his own soul.” Jonathan also gave everything to David. He stripped himself from his robe, his armor, his sword, his bow, and his belt –– because noting that the belt was given is just as important as the embodiment of your being. Modern day Christians go out and scorn Scorsese’s Last Temptation because of Jesus and Magdalene, but existing right in the canon is a disciple whom Jesus loved. So desperate do we desecrate the holy texts, relegating it to the author and the author far from a valid lover, as if Jesus and John were comparable to the love I had felt so closely with anyone I’ve slept with.
I’m thinking about covenants and what it must take to break them. How queer love is constantly portrayed as fleeting, passionate things as if to frame them as temptations and urges. Everything but love is allowed to be fueled by passion: constantly reignited, stronger than ever, an immense devotion. The moment queerness exists in a form, it exists distinct from suburbia and consistency. Ellis and Jack kiss with bloody noses. Grating, skin-on-skin, rolling on the hill under the beating sun kind of love. Everything else is cathedral and familial. The wives are routine, even if whole histories lie beneath them. Another summer, internalized homophobia rendezvous where Alex Lawther pushes French male lead down on the hills, hate in each other’s veins, one calls the other faggot before kissing. And each instance of love is built on a history of fear and self-hatred. And the Bible scholars still insist that there was nothing more between, even if their souls were bonded and given to one another. Must every act of my love today be an act of reconciliation? When I take a lover, is it an act of forgiveness? Everything I do is mirrored unto this foundation of internalized homophobia and fear that I keep trying to pinpoint: for Ellis, a beaten, tortured body shown by his father of a man suspected of homosexuality; for the Catholic, a history of scorning and flinching when holding your friends’ hand and the bruising and the thought of eternal damnation for the act of love. Wherein: God will kill you and take all that is good if you kiss who you want to kiss. And then at that moment, I knew I had trouble believing.
In canon, people take concubines. Sexual relations are separate from “love”. That is, the heterosexual is allowed a body, a human body and spirit that he puts his own flesh in and abandons forever, an object of possession but not quite of love. In queer cinema, promiscuity is often mistakenly equated with liberation, as if sexual agency is the stripping of freedom and the body as a whole: if not for one other, it is the world.
Take the other gay cowboy movie. (Wikipedia acknowledges ‘gay cowboy movie’ means Brokeback Mountain, but I had to dig through Letterboxd to jog my memory of the first gay cowboy movie I watched––which is mostly farmers and not explicitly gay cowboy but it’s nearly the same anyway, the same as how homosexuality means men means questioning god means cheating means the soul is a tender, tethered thing that means nothing if not unto the opposite sex.) Everything is relational. Everything we consume points to this. Everything I love comes at the risk of breaking. This is all that can come from someone so ruined too, participating in an act that even the gods look away from…
God’s Own Country. Johnny loves migrant Georghe, the former a wreck who drinks and fucks men in port-a-potties, a fact less important than the fact that a calf in the movie died from a breech birth (or maybe it functions as an analogy for how homosexuality is an opposite, bottom-first, Freudian Phallic stage and all––actually, this is likely the case). The moment things turn, Johnny drinks more and more and more and engages in another sexual encounter until Georghe leaves the farm. Johnny must love Georghe slowly, making up to him with softness and tenderness, and the two turn from roughness and passion and instantaneousness and blind flee-and-pursue to stability and a home. Homosexuality is only valid if placed within the idyllic white picket fences. Johnny and Georghe want to be nuclear. Nuclear means the decay is irreversible.
Sappho writes to wish that someone will remember all this in the future. She does not know that an act of love will ever be named after her. Say, all these queer writers must only be able to draw from centuries of fear since it is all we had. When love is normal and domestic like the American dreams of Ellis and Jack, will it be worth writing about? If a soul bonded to a soul between man and man weren’t special, would we be debating here in the millennia after?
First, I beg to be spared from the hellfall and the thought of my parents and teachers and the misshapen cross condemning me to the abyss because of who I love. (This cannot be helped.) Next, my love is painted as an act of forgiveness. Each act I do explained by the unnamed authors and writers, taking my love and pursing the words as if their own, penance for my childhood and all the stones unturned. There must be rational explanation to the irrational act of selling my body for the other. For the deviation from my parents’ wills and the natural order itself, where my kiss must only be returned because this is a vicious act of contrition––where sinfulness is a delight, where all the bad things in the world are rooted in pleasure. Then, my love will is to become domiciliary and docile. One takes the traditional role, one gay takes the top and the other the bottom, one queer is the man and the other the woman in this relationship, or a mishmash depending on whether the gay people are in a polycule or not––because gay people fuck anything over, especially themselves.
Nothing is interesting in heaven. I have no intention in providing defaults to the modes of compassion I learn of, the ones to be condemned, the ones that I too––must figure out how to endure. I wonder why the love my kind of people live is immediately electric and fleeting. I want to prove that as an exception, I must endure––but I also owe this act to no one. I can’t live with the family and kids. My love is an infinite thing. I am busy trying to not be forgotten. (Cinema says we smell shirts and are haunted by ghost stories.) We sing bad and fish for praise and call each other slurs.
Whenever I want to kill myself, I remember that the love I have left to give on the dirtside is more gritty, borne of integrity, and humanly fleeting than the choir of heavens above. I must be on my way to bury the forgiveness I’m told I bear, but I can’t find it at all.
If I end up writing about the things I’ve read I’ll make it a habit to update this and link it to the related post. 🙂 Also, please please send me recommendations!
I used to never track the stuff I read. Trying to change that this year! I still mostly read articles or whatever digital longform I can get (not enough space for books at the moment, and are hard to get a hold of). I try to track these types of reads on Are.na:
A little recap of music I enjoyed in a year where there was nothing else for me to fall into, an annual tradition.
Trying to write about music, especially on its personal importance and meaning, always seems like a futile attempt. Here’s a try at that anyway. I’d love to hear about what you enjoyed, and the thousands of incredible albums out there that I missed.
Chia’s 2020 Favorites
Future Teenage Cave Artists – Deerhoof
One of my only good memories at Yale is how I ditched my first year Spring Fling (looks like it’s going to be my only one) to tweet at Greg Saunier to let me get into a 18+ Deerhoof Concert, run across the New Haven Green, and have one of the most beautiful moments of my life without the people I felt so sunk down by. This year, Deerhoof is as eclectic as ever, chaotic, demanding, but so fucking fun, jarring, yet surreally warm to listen to on an album about isolation and the end of worlds. Rightfully recorded remotely and out of intense spite at the system breaking of man (Greg Saunier and I are Twitter mutuals, and Deerhoof is decades in the game and decidedly unapologetic) and dropped at the perfect time.
Experiments on tracks like “Farewell” Symphony make the album, where an anticlimax occurs when the titular piece asks of orchestra members to get up and stop, Damaged Eyes Squinting into the Beautiful Overhot Sun is ironic, decadent, and even malicious––stopping. Fitting of the title. The end is surreal, like an end to all things beyond the album itself, as a Bach piece is played on piano…before we autoloop back into a chaotic beginning. I feel at one suddenly with all my high school classmates rediscovering chess and their old middle school talents for TikToks and quarantine afternoons, filming themselves on untuned pianos and dancing on balconies looming over the brightest skies. Everything I have known will come once more, and everything I do know will be destroyed.
The record is classical and daring, and more experimental than ever. I have little technical musical knowledge which is why I’m using the same descriptors over and over, but composition-wise, I wonder how the electricity of the album was fueled by distance. How does something that speak to the coming together of a post-broken world feel so tight when exchanged in files and emails? Maybe it’s in the level of care imbued in the album, where even the Bach playthroughs are done fresh, each tap of the pedal and breath captured as vividly as synths and Satomi’s voice in other tracks––where mortality is exemplified even as we try to adhere to even classical pieces once thought eternal. As a whole listen, there’s something narratively daring going on here. The titular and opening track is a nice independent song (with a gorgeous lyric video, as seen above), but altogether, something occultish and daring happens. There’s an invitation to dwell, contemplate, and partake in the destruction of all things we know. Even in the celebration of the apocalyptic, an impending end still comes and comes and comes. Perhaps the most juvenile of all acts is to live in full awareness of this. To embrace it or not? Who knows, truly.
Favorite track Future Teenage Cave Artists –– “Gonna be a couple of vandals and be set free, gonna carve both our initials into a tree, gonna leave a future treasure for all to see“
Semaphore in Fog – Public Gardens
From Ireland, a tiny and lovely discovery is this folky, electronic experimental album reminiscent of somewhere betwen Animal Collective’s Prospect Hummer and tomppabeats’ Harbor (which is kinda close, right + even the album cover reminds me of Panda Bear’s Person Pitch in scheme and theme). Seventeen songs long but only about seventeen minutes, each track lies just around a minute or two, focusing on acute moments and coincidences. At moments bubbly and lifelike, other times matter-of-frank and logical. Rationalisation is a tender mix where the hints of vocals crying out on effort, humanity, and relationships melt; Undergrowth (my favorite on the album) lets words shine more over a fragile, homely instrumental singing of parking lots and wishing before dissolving into plucking and hints of a western vocal sample (cliche, but works ridiculously perfectly with the vocal work); Deathbed closes off this collection with specificities in space. Each line so casually digs into ordinariness, redeeming even the most forgotten second. Semaphore in Fog is littered with fleeting thoughts, penned to sequences that dissipate just as fast as they’ve come, others lingering and melding into your own reflection.
I listen to this album on walks, fall in love with domesticity a bit, want to run away and trace a withering world. It’s a soft, repeatable, tragically underrated listen that carries so much influences to feel familiar but new.
Mike Hadreas opens with something more reminiscent of a prayer than song. His voice cuts off, piano keys tapping, chords ringing, as he proclaims “half of my whole life is done.“
I listened to Put Your Back N 2 It and No Shape (released 2012 and 2017 respectively) front to back so many times almost confident that Mike’s rich catalogue had already taken me through the spectrum of feelings: of the enormity of love that we feel we don’t deserve (Alan), childhood abuse & the ache of recovery (Put Your Back N 2 It), or worse––the piecing together and unbreaking after pain someone you love suffers, hoping to bear it for them (Dark Parts). Yet somehow, I found something so simultaneously sublime and humanly tangible; where music could feel my body, take it, and mend it all over in each track. I feel no Perfume Genius record before this has spoken to me this deeply, and this has to be my favorite album of the year.
Less a collection of memories in song like his past records and more of its own divine movement, SMHOFI is filled with a mix of moments that I feel are Mike’s, then uniquely my own. It’s more triumphant than before. On passive listen, Jason is likely one of the most memorable songs where a “me” is rung. Even in the simpler tracks, the lines of fiction, delusion, and grandeur are so beautifully intertwined. Other songs veer on ominous, tracing encounters as if they can leave scars, on Your Body Changes Everything: “You are anchoring until you fit beneath me and you’re breaking like a way,” he sings arduously and tenderly all the same. It feels like after years, we’ve learned that hardened embraces still grip all the same. On pieces like Nothing At All, fantasy touches freedom on themes of unyielding, passionate love. Each sequence feels vast and ethereal, no room left to forget the complexity of love and lived experience in a juxtaposition of precise lyricism driven from straight thought to the grandiose compositions the back each word.
I took a film class this semester, so I’m kind of obligated to say that there’s something deeply cinematic about the production and tracklisting here. Each piece is ordered perfectly, never amiss, while wildly distinct. Perfume Genius explores the core of what Perfume Genius should be, when it feels like every formula has been touched and done. It feels like rebirth by way of reconciliation, maybe even a conquerization. My desires feel unbound, alive, and at the very core beneath all the grandeur that fades on my worst days––valid. My worst moments and thoughts are cries to infinity. This is my favorite record of the year. This is a record I could wish for something to.
Favorite tracks Whole Life– “Shadows soften toward some tender light, in slow motion, I leave them behind“ Some Dream – “All this for a song?“ Your Body Changes Everything – “Can you feel my love? Do you feel the same? Can you feel the sun, like honey? The camera cut away…”
Visions of Bodies Being Burned – Clipping
I first discovered clipping. through their fantastic 2017 KEXP performance. Back then, they were working through experimental narratives of afrofuturism, mixing gospel song with breathless futures of hypersleep and suspension in songs that told of a story of enslavement in space. Frontman Daveed Diggs’ flow is hyperclear, backed by experimental narratives that In their October release, they veer into abration and horror: my favorite moment is when they pay ode to the post-slasher woman as guest rappers Cam & China take deep breaths after screeching electronica-to-knock, underlaid with the cling of sharpening knives in an intense single so keenly aware of itself. On close listen, I can feel my blood curdling and noticing new details––it’s fucking stressful to listen to at times, in the best way; on passive shuffle, it remains no less overpowering with a mesmerizing, hypnotizing beat unafraid of owning its feminist commentary in full.
Borrowing from slasher film Candyman who was son of a slave burned in pyre and stung to death by bees from falling in love with a white woman, alive and murderous with hook-for-hand and other classics like Scream is a horror-rap masterpiece. Aside from recordings and commentary on classic tropes, Clipping directly delves into moments of racial lynchings and murders of the past to commentary on contemporary, head-on realities (Chapter 319, released on Bandcamp only before the album release, as conscious and direct addresses to undeniable atrocities). It’s sonically gritty, lyrically profound, and reflective of grim realities far beyond American horror flicks as Daveed digs into the unfolding brutality in front of our every own eyes. Packaged subtexts in little short horror stories, I had to watch influence Candyman’s trailer to fully get it: Tony Todd speaks demonically grimy and harrowing, yet strangely enchanting; Candyman filled with missed messages on white saviorism, painted brutality, and privileged perceptions of justice the only wreak inequity on the masses. Here, we hear whispers of ghosts, calls to haunt and kill descendants upon descendants, humorous metaphors to murder, the sickness of death desensitized to the point of stoicism, to ending of Yoko Ono-produced recordings directed to be played eerily: we see the worst end as a bleak nothingness, more than any eldritch horror.
“Decide on one note that you want to play. Play it with the following accompaniment — the woods from 5AM – 8AM in the summer.”
Like many other college kids swept by loneliness and frustration, I devour Phil Elverum’s work. Somewhere in my teen years, I made it a point that if I would die, I would die to I. the Sun, aptly themed after being devoured by an omniscient beast, treading a wicked Mount Eerie until all who hike it meet their inevitable ends. Just like Phil’s 2001 trek, he leaves the summit of Mount Eerie (his most recent performing name, with past albums commemorating and grieving the life of Geneviève Castrée) to return as the Microphones. More introspective, more aware that heights are no longer just caricatures of our fears but are mortal barriers meant to be passed on generation-to-generation. Inward we go again, existential as ever, 19 years later.
After over seven and a half minutes of an instrumental intro as Phil places photograph after photograph of himself, landscapes, and life in a “lyric demonstration”, he begins––admitting himself to be as reckless as he was at twenty. A single-track album meant as memoir and walkthrough to Phil Elverum’s entire life, he crashes back. Faults, wishes, hopes, epiphanies, packaged into the same serene, stoically heavy voice that carries not only mountains, but perhaps worlds, within.
Musically, there are few major changes or movements in the piece. (His journey is literal: talking about checking his email––still on hotmail––as some soft drums [?] arrive, thirteen minutes into the song.) Two simple and standard chords loop over and over, this time free of the distortion and crackling that Phil’s other works play with beyond his familiar acoustics and voice (see the eleven-minute literal Distortion track on Now Only). It reads more like a poem. This time, closer and more hypnotic than ever.
This is not only autobiography; its a plea at self-preservation. The enormity of his pretentiousness, of the emptiness done over and over, exaltation to the elements, purity lost and received, the potentiality in everything, the nothingness in everything afterwards, his shirt still off after the Glow Pt 2-–vulnerability never fading––nineteen years after the fact, the unrelentless sun once more, and finally––the stupidity of his song’s name in itself before proclaiming that there is no end. I could paraphrase Phil’s experiences forever, take his words as scripture and pass them on, but they need to be taken full, orderly, with the mass of texture and meaning they have, his experiences in your hand, what his expression of creativity could mean to you and I as viewer. Throughout his career and life, there exist no shortage of questions that we’ve been posed by Phil. He offers few answers, a warning sign, and his hand broken and bound ad infinitum. The photographs continue to pile up over crumbled and aging paper––before pushing them aside at another attempt to assemble his life. Are these same reasons not why we try to know others at all?
Fetch the Bolt Cutters – Fiona Apple
Is it possible for any decent list this year to go without Fiona Apple’s masterpiece?
Fetch the Bolt Cutters came out a few weeks after the worst time of my life: at the verge of being kicked out of America, spending days sleeping at friends’ and professors” homes, wondering what circumstances have led to the difficult of the life I lead. Is this all self-imposed and poor decision, or are there systems working against me? Fiona Apple recklessly, unabashedly, head-on tackles this all: moodswing, pans banging, the weight of her previous albums and experiences all against her clinging into any moment with a hint of kindness. Shameika and the ensuing reunions discovered around this in the past months exemplify this best, where a resounding comment that may have just been a forgotten, passing time for her namesake middle school friend cling to her, phrase turned into a battlecry. I feel every moment I’ve had as a femme is worth grandness and a reckoning; my kindness weaponized when necessary and my triumphs elevated in a time when everything else threatens to dismantle my being. It is radical, timely and timeless, filled with rich percussion that sticks and stays for months. It is political, alive, casual, and most of all––raw.
Like anyone else, all I am is small and childish in the face of Fiona’s words. I listen to her as she uncomfortably dictates the harsh realities of womanhood, feeling with her as every inch of power is stretched, bent, made infinite, made momentary. On my first listen, I played this on my laptop, climbed up my bunked-up dorm room bed, tried to dance and hit my head on the ceiling (even American dorm room ceiling heights were not kind to my 4’11” self). Part of this energy was just with how casual Fiona Apple makes the act of reclamation. The lyrics are heavy yet delivered matter-of-frank, each song anthemic until you really boil it down and realize how lo-fi it is (especially with those that just descend into what sounds like living room/kitchen fuckery). It is grating and rough, blues-like and popping, and ultimately beautiful. Fiona Apple has never derailed into pleasantries, but this time, she’s not only tending the power, she’s shifting it forwards. Her voice layers on, each line an incantation and near-ritualistic, but it’s really just her––effortless and genuine in a time when trying seems impossible. Collapse is beautiful, she admits, vulnerability not only meant to be embraced but turned into an assault against a world against her. Homemade, deconstructing victimhood and the carceral, making these experiences and learning accessible. There are few times where I feel that we owe all the world an experience, and this album is one of those.
In this march towards liberation, Fiona offers little rest yet the experience is never exhaustive or grueling. Moments like Ladies after enormities like Newspaper also take on the album’s tendency towards abstracted specificities, direct addressal to the women listening in a smoother break from Fiona’s grittiness. Then, right after, she rockets you once more to compositions so entrancing in their simplicity and forwardness: “I spread like strawberries, I climb like peas and beans––I’ve been sucking it in so long that I’m busting at the seams.” These arrangements and orderings suck you in even deeper, making the near-hour listen a demanding yet easy embrace to this world of renewal.
Each little story, captured moment, piano key, bite, scramble, and pang that Fiona shares is worth its own army. In arms we become in one of the most intimate, genuine and intelligent albums in the age of distrust. It is ridiculous how undeserving we are of a record so full, wise, and true. If nothing else, give this your listen.
Quiet, Or You’ll Wake Them And They Will Disappear Forever – Holland Patent Public Library
Ryan Dann is a musician, composer, sound designer, and is Holland Patent Public Library from Brooklyn. Soft, delicate, and timeless, Ryan is mostly known for scoring comedian Joe Pera’s show on Adult Swim. Independently, his compositions are just as comforting and profound. Each song is largely instrumental, the longest track is A Pile of Leaves, just a second short of ten minutes where strings and winds resound softly against occasional crunches. In the background, childlike, joyous screaming is heard, the barking of dogs, life lived all-in-all––before dizzying itself around eight minutes in, returning to humming and familiar patterns. It becomes remarkable how transcendent little babbling, runoff moments become under Ryan’s compositions. I’m not entirely sure if this is the best comparison, but it sounds like a homely videogame soundtrack to reality.
When I need a break from the world, I turn this album on and my mind decompresses as Ryan hums. Seven tracks in thirty-five minutes, Quiet or You’ll Wake Them sounds like a literal lullaby, Philip Seymour Hoffman Died Today almost sounds like it could back the quietest moments of Synecdoche.
Building on comparisons of fantasy (after all, what constitutes something lived this year at all?), escapism seems to be a constant in many other artists’ work, yet Holland rejects it (?) for the sake of being. Terrors directly commented on, better denounced, logistical workings and drops shifted in the name of being virtuous (such as Phoebe Bridgers words when dropping Punisher), but this album exists for itself, easily clinging to anyone willing to give it a listen. It’s elegaic; the last track All Our Enemies Are Finally Dead, Thank God presses on organs and sounds like it could come from post-rock contemporaries––ending in silence, enforcing a pause before you loop back to From Pawling‘s soft piano ballad. To me, there’s something magical here. Intention and care felt and alive. What a beautiful work I stumbled upon.
Following Holland Patent Public Library’s early 2020 release that made serenity possible again, Ichiko Aoba’s latest album is the thing of folklores, myths, and richness. Where the last entry portrayed the realities of life in new lushness, Ichiko Aoba takes us on to another world. Singer-songwriter, folklorish, poppy, avant-garde. All insufficient. Following in her distinct
vocal minimalism, the album is cohesively hush and transient like in her traditional style, but lets tracks blooms further more.
It’s an easy, gorgeous must-listen with layers of intricacies that defy its surface simplicity. On first listen, I felt like the music was drowning; literally suffocating in its oceanic motifs due to the density of the world we were being pulled in. Drowning in the sense of picturing peace after struggle. There are these undertones of helplessness under her act of exploration, and depths that you can allow yourself to submerge further and further into if you only allow yourself to with your heartbeat and ear.
Her compositions are unparalleled. A easy way to describe this is it sounds like a Ghibli film, wartime and memoirs hidden underneath poppish ambience, piano, and grand chords. I wish I knew more about music so I could try to encapsulate how this album simultaneously is so complex yet simple––which like knowledge, must be one of the best markers of adeptness at the trade. With unskippable interludes that touch on the experimentation explored throughout her career to her once-more, resounding voice, I can’t help but to want to sink deeper into the depths that she so tries to quell. It seems like there is no other way.
I can’t count the amount of times I’ve fallen asleep to Big Thief’s Capacity and UFOF in Bass Library, cubed up in single-study rooms that I would leave at 2am nearly every night. In the cold New Haven air, I tread back to my dorm room head blurred and carrying pounds of printouts and chargers, feeling solemnly alone in struggle. I remember everything and why I do this: the distance comes crisper along with this personal rationale and resolve. And then the music plays and for a moment, it feels like burdens are lifted.
In a leading solo effort, Adrianne is as pensive and prosaic as ever through songs as sympathetic as ever. Her voice is lush, smooth, and distinctive, guitar and vocals taking the stage and building their own tiny worlds. Every word she sings reaffirming. Like in Big Thief, Lenker excels at capturing little objects and mundane moments to more renowned tribulations like motherhood. In nothing special contemporary lowercase style, the soft songs capture rivers, memory, and time.
Melee – Dogleg
Electrifying, nerdy, and cathartic in every sense. It’s blatantly obvious that I spent the last years of high school listening to midwest emo in the middle of Philippine suburbia, Catholic school and all, clamoring at the likes of Glocca Morra, Snowing, and Marietta to feel invincibile in the face of nothing. This comes alive all over in the first few seconds of opener Kawasaki Backflip––playing fast, reckless, and all-in-all thrilling emo masterpiece. Drawing a bit from post-hardcore elements, backing vocals tucked in to vocalist Alex Stoitsiadis’ familiar and raw delivery, and filled with ridiculously fueling riffs––I’m returned to basements, music played too loud of tangled earbuds on flights in between past and future homes, my childhood bedroom, the musk of Makati’s bars––everything I’ve wanted from my youth all at once. In this realm, everything is personal, everything is true, and everything is potent: there is no drop of energy wasted. It’s music you feel in you bones.
When I first discovered Dogleg through a missearch of Fall Out Boy’s From Under the Cork Tree-era rarity Star 67, I was blown away. On their Remember Alderaan EP, they deliver a perfect four-minute ode to life and longing. With the same infectious vocals and instrumentation dropping the melancholic in favor of a more choleric and true approach, Dogleg finds where they truly shine––all messy, angsty, and resilient, without the stigma behind any of those words. It’s an adrenaline rush, a return to the titular times of rhythm games, GTA (which now has ridiculously good songs on the radio, mind you), and Nintendo party classics, and the unadultered youth many of us have thought to abandon. Adolescence becomes explosive now. Titles like Prom Hell that appropriately open up a bit of existentialism, and Melee-following Fox sings almost like an intense anime opener. All of them could be English-language OPs to a shonen, really. The feel of perfect arcs, impossible barriers moved over and then forgotten so easily, and the fitting of yourself in the protagonist’s shoes come so easily. Disintegration and all be damned.
The explosiveness of Dogleg in an age where emo is thought to be dying is saving us all. It’s the early 2000s in music revived, in the best way. Everything old is new again. Yet Dogleg is never tired in this pursuit, they fill in something long lost––awakening something I feel like I should have deserved better in my youth (that I still am currently living, really). When Alex sings “any moment now, I will disintegrate / you’ll make your move and I will fade out” in an intensifying drawl that is nothing short of hypnotic in Fox, I believe it. Cannonball has more movements, a lyrical favorite, where the band steadily continues a stream of emotions no less heavy than the last. It’s punk, modern, angsty, righteous, and bursting with fun. Their music videos for Kawasaki Backflip and Fox show this all simply: smashing pots in garages with baseball bats, stagediving off 60-person venues. To an outsider these moments are silly and childlike, but in the moment, they are everything. Isn’t that all we really need?
I am waiting for the day to drown into these songs in a pit of people who have lost, over and over, questioning the persistence of aging––decaying into allowed destruction.
Kid Dakota, artist of my music discovery on YouTube phase with Darren’s 2002 release So Pretty, changed my life for the better. Just released a few weeks ago on the 11th (lots of 2000s artists seem to be coming back for a second calling), his ageless voice returns again, also mythologizing the world’s end and eventual forgetting. Homeward, familiar, and necessary, this folkish narrative had been circling since as early as 2011, then formally released on Bamdcamp over a year ago on April 1st, 2019. The stories about nuclear warfare and the fears that follow are perhaps realer than ever in our time as Darren now holds to whatever remaining ounces of innocence he bears. Unlike Deerhoof’s rapidly encroaching end taken to the prehistoric era, Kid Dakota’s survival instinct is meditated and refined. Each preserved line shows that this has been a continued effort. Age and experience are offering no answers to these fruitless questions as existence and worth is questioned, over and over.
Like where they shone in So Pretty, the act of self-preservation is dark and ominous; the timbre of Darren’s vocals show the proficiency of his passion from his decades of experience as a teacher as they unravel into murky earths (Cold War), impulsive breakdowns, and even poppier, upbeat rhythms (Futurecide). Both innocence and apathy are destroyed in these monotonous, ghastly arrangements. Has the world ended already?
The best of modern math rock / post-hardcore. I have been waiting for Tricot’s return for ages, and was properly blown away by how they make pop rock work and turn aggressive for the better. Behind the seeming minimalism accentuated by the pitch black album cover and catchy hooky lyricism are layers of technical complexity. While the genre has long seemed repetitive and afraid of progression, Tricot denounces that immediately here in a flashy groovy, unique, and fun approach to the genre. There are few bands I know today actively touching on these sensibilities and pushing it forward, and am so glad to have fallen into Tricot’s works over the past years (previous favorite being 2013 release T H E). An incredible welcome to a new decade alongside their anniversary release 10.
My confusing Zoom background for the semester. I miss u so fucking much black dresses
Noisy pop, chaotic and too smart of their own good, self-aware and the soundtrack of dissociation, acknowledging identity before demolishing it again––all while being rather acessible (read: can send this to my friends without them wanting to slaughter me, for the most part) and intense. I will follow Devi and and Ada’s stuff forever and I am so, so bummed that I was not their for their entire musical journey as black dresses, but am excited for all to come.
The age of computation and desire deserves no less than this incredible masterpiece of rough hyperpop and industrial rock. Every track is oozing with creativity, especially seen in the memorable low-poly and glitchy worlds that their music videos draw you in. Black Dresses also has alarmingly incredible vocals, hypnotizing and overwhelming in some tracks and then laidback and freeing in the next. Listening closely beyond what sounds like datamoshing in audio form are incredible pieces on expression, dystopia, stardom, and delirium. How inventive, carefree, and cathartic can such a polarizing (if you do not like 100 gecs, it’s still really not that hard to get into this) project be?
All I can think of is the era of y2k panic, the lone Heaven’s Gate representative and acting webmaster still maintaining the website, Top 8 friends, the death of cyberspace, and everything in between. It feels like a logical progression to the time of Death Grips-Kero Kero Bonito-etc. era that is obviously divisive
…but also, The Ascension’s B-Side My Rajneesh as a musical throwback to his older works while perfectly blending Seven Swans and Adz-era instrumentation (see: Vesuvius) with a ridiculously delicious long outro that I love and love and love
Happy fifteen years to Clap Your Hands Say Yeah‘s self-titled, and the lovely bonus tracks collection they shared with us that I cried to a good amount
Charli XCX’s how i’m feeling now, process and all exemplifying “building in public” better than many technologists.
I Disagree‘s hypnotizing “Watashi wa anata ni doi shimasen” whispers!!
What did you enjoy this year? Please, please send me recommendations; discovery is hard and the intangible is better when shared.
Thank you. I have a Tinyletter if you want to get an email about what I am doing like once a year. I love you.