Sometimes the old world feels a little wobbly – half a click off its axis – and our comforting routines evaporate. Things are not as they seem. On a walk this morning, the “feels like” temperature was -11. The ground was covered in still white snow. Tall bare trees crackled on either side of the trail, and in the distance ahead of me I watched a brave and fluffy rabbit take twenty or so hops steadily forward. My rabbit then leaped on a tree trunk and scramble up to its limbs. My rabbit was a squirrel. Weird.
If you are lucky like me, routines take a hit because of positive life changes. In addition to other things that have taken my attention, I’ve happily had extra work this year, and we moved to a new home – so my off-kilterness is both explainable and manageable.
I gravitate towards songs to help me find some balance, and this year has provided bountiful musical treasures that were beyond my ability to harvest and bank them. All that I have missed listening to greatly outweighs what I have caught. But these are a few of note, including a couple of **recaps from earlier in the year.
**The lasting power of punk is evident here — Priests are not satisfied to simply build graceful songs from the rubble of musical bedlam. They are also taking the next step by making their sound essential. This music has consequences – the band wants you to (for the love of god!) feel something. Artistic rebellion takes the form of making beauty from chaos. Nothing Feels Natural is the title track from this year’s release by Priests (2017 Sister Polygon Records).
I love Fleet Foxes Crack Up, and one of 2017’s musical highlights was when Jude and I got to see them perform an outstanding concert supporting their new record. (The link will take you to the full album, released on Nonesuch.)
**Through luxuriously layered vocals and crafty instrumentations Moses Sumney investigates intimacy, isolation, and existence. Experience a journey inward with his deeply introspective recent release, Aromanticism (Jagjaguwar.) Try Make Out in My Car.
I keep going back to Mac DeMarco‘s This Old Dog (2017 Captured Tracks.) Chilled out and thoughtful beyond its simplistic surface, this is a great representative tune: My Old Man.
Off the beaten trails, Simon Raymonde, co-founder of Bella Union Records, and bassist of my beloved Cocteau Twins, formed a new band called Lost Horizons with former Dif Juz percussionist, Richie Thomas. The new release is Ojalá, and I learned about his new project from an interview he did with Bob Boilen of NPR. It is linkable here, AND you can listen to a beautiful song from it with vocals by Karen Peris called, I Saw The Days Go By, with barely a scroll.
**RTJ3 by Run the Jewels (self-released) probably logged the most headphone time for me this year. Killer Mike and El-P pack so many ideas and such power into 14 songs that I often found myself hitting replay at the end of one listening to begin another. This one really moves: Call Ticketron.
There is one special release from this year that has occupied my thoughts a lot. I have been concentrating on it, and here are a few ideas:
My friend Tama is a dedicated meditator. She compared the feeling of going a day without meditating to the icky-ness of going a day without brushing one’s teeth. I feel that way on days when I don’t get to take a walk. I guess it is my form of meditation. Even when walking with a companion, or with headphones on, I get the sense of clearing my mind, and I have loved taking regular walks since I was a little kid.
Fairly often, I return to the town of my boyhood. Sometimes when I make these visits I carve out a few minutes to drive familiar roads and lay eyes upon some cherished old sites. When I re-explore my hometown it seems each time to have shrunk.
For instance, I recently drove roughly the route from the house I grew up in to my old elementary school, a trip taken on foot many hundreds of times. At age eight or nine it seemed far, and in my memory the walk almost always provided at least a bit of an adventure. In fact, though, it would take perhaps six or seven minutes to walk that distance now, over 40 years later.
I think this is not uncommon. The world seems huge when you’re a kid. And to me, in memory it seems nearly paradisiacal. Returning as an adult, the un-hugeness of my own remembered world is disorienting.
Sometimes one craves the possibilities of a big world. Driving around my old town gets me thinking of all my years growing up there, when the world seemed larger. I think of fights and friendships; exploring fields and ponds on the edge of town; crushes, romances, and the little heartbreaks that did not seem little at the time.
As I drove around on that recent visit, I thought especially of the summers I used to spend there between college semesters. And I thought of a particular work of art, a movie, that inspired and helped to inform my aesthetic. When I was about 19, Jim Jarmusch’s deliberately slow and wonderful film, Stranger Than Paradise, appeared. (Click on this for a summary of Stranger Than Paradise.) It was a movie I watched repeatedly and studied. For a few of my friends and me it was a formative movie that featured characters that were extremely different from us, but they were people we recognized and related to. Jarmusch had a vision — in his strange paradise, the mundanity of everyday existence was given an exotic sheen; life’s inevitable boredoms were studied and cool.
Like those adventurous walks to and from elementary school as a child, Stranger Than Paradise made the world seem huge, and the movie was something I wanted to be as familiar with as the steps covering the blocks that I walked each day as a little kid.
All this is to say, sometimes when we are not looking, we get lucky and are provided with new art work that inspires and helps to re-inform our aesthetics. In 2017, such was The Ooz by King Krule. There is no kooler kat than King Krule, and his unclassifiable music makes my wobbly world seem pleasantly bigger and full of possibility.
There are elements here of jazz, rockabilly, rap, and ambient. I think I will be listening to this for a long time – and I certainly do not tire of this tune — check out Dum Surfer.
It sure wasn’t perfect, but I will look back on 2017 with some special fondness. Here is hoping that 2018 provides everyone great memories, and lots more good music. Enjoy!