The year is becoming unwound, and so it becomes incumbent to find a thread that went throughout the whole thing. Normally I try to couch such year-in-reviews in the context of pop culture released within the year itself, but this wasn't the best year for new work, at least of the sort I'm interested in. Most things I got excited about this year came from years prior, but the people who brought this work to my attention were productive and interesting to pay attention to.
For instance, Matthew Thurber released a cassette tape with two Thinking Fellers Union Local 282 songs on one side around the same time as Douglas Wolk posted a best-of mix on Matthew Perpetua's Tumblr account. "Noble Experiment," the final track off Strangers From The Universe ended up being sent to a great number of friends, and the Every Day/Fistful Of Dollars single is noteworthy as well. Gorgeous compositions, fast-moving, good lyrics. Later this year, Vice did a "1994" issue, where Andrew Earles called them the best band of that particular year. That issue was drowning in a retarded irony, but consider the superiority of this band to what is normally extolled by that magazine, and realize that the few songs off Mother Of All Saints that are actual songs blow it all away.
The out-of-print single I've been thinking about the past couple of days is Smog's A Hit/Wine Stained Lips 7". I think I'd heard A Hit before, on a listen to Accumulation: None, but I am bored enough by that record on the whole to have not really remembered it. The single is from the era of early Smog, dissonance to an effect of sadness and rage. When I had a roommate who would punch holes and throw records at the wall, he said that Bill Callahan was his favorite song-writer. I really enjoyed living with that guy. "Ex-Con," off the later Red Apple Falls, is a lot happier musically but still as good an example as any as to why Bill Callahan could find purchase with people like us.
Matthew Thurber made some good comics this year, to be certain. And I've written about them already. But, in a panel discussion, Jessica Abel brought up a similarity between Thurber's work and that of Jon Lewis. I tracked down the three existing issues of his Ghost Ship, from 1996, and they're great comics.
Thurber's remark was that Lewis was, like him, a big Sun City Girls fan, and it's worth noting that their Horse Cock Phepner is incredible. It's got all the denseness of writing that I appreciate about Charles Gocher, but in a pretty straight-forward rock and roll context. The way the sarcastic singing on a thing like their cover of "CIA Man" still allows room for thrilling harmonies, all while outlining conspiracy theories- A fine record.
In some ways, the Sun City Girls' combination of the esoteric and lowbrow comedy (and disinterest in questions of "morality" in pursuit of a seemingly spiritually gnostic reward) is analogous to the PFFR dudes, whose Final Flesh was the most conceptually exciting thing I heard about this year. It didn't quite live up to expectations, but "expectations" aren't really the point with a thing like that- It put forward a vision people are going to try to rip off and then fail to do so, if the rest of PFFR's work is any precedent.
Mississippi Records reissued a Dog Faced Hermans record, which was pretty charming, and Douglas Wolk wrote a Trouser Press entry that led me to listening to their later Those Deep Buds. My friends in Portland, Kill Rock Stars, reissued the first Raincoats record- roughly comparable to Dog Faced Hermans in certain ways. And sure, Odyshape is the better, weirder, album, but still this stands as a notable deed in a dull year. But what records: The Dog Faced Hermans are anarcho-punks who, by a certain point, incorporated enough of folk music to no longer be irritating.
Wolk is also a champion of Peter Blegvad's The Book of Leviathan, which is one of the finest purchases I made this year. Again, we find the esoteric made entertaining, a fuck-off intellectualism that's compelling and beautiful.
My year was fun and exciting, but there was little, really, to correspond to the virtues found in these bits of art: I don't know how anyone could hope to live like a Peter Blegvad comic or a Charles Gocher lyric. I know how people can live like The Raincoats: That music seems particularly open and personality-driven and free. All these things are types of inspiration.
I believe this was also the year I got really into Amps For Christ, another band where a gentle spirit prevails.
Thurber also championed, in a Comics Comics interview, Donald Barthelme, another favorite this year- I just got The Teachings Of Don B anthology for Christmas. I read Barthelme before this year, of course- George Saunders was talking up "The School" in The Braindead Megaphone, a Christmas gift from two years ago- but I read Forty Stories this year, and while that's not as wide-ranging as Sixty Stories, to some extent it covers a more straight-forward narrative terrain that I appreciate. I realized while paging through some of my favorite Barthelme stories how many of them seem like romantic comedies, of a sort- the comedy coming naturally and the nature of relationships grounding his work in recognizable emotions. The Charlie Kaufman/Michel Gondry collaborations could also be considered romantic comedies, as was pointed out in college, and Dash Shaw has talked about his comics in the context of that genre, rather than the sci-fi designation they most frequently receive.
As has been the case for the past few years, the best band to produce music this year was Big Blood, whose two albums from early this year, Already Gone I and II, are available on the Free Music Archive and I am listening to them now.