Friday, December 12, 2014

On year-end lists

Imagine that at the moment of death your perception of time slows down to such a degree that, while the rest of the world moves on, your own world becomes built on the time-like substance of that moment as it appears to you, no longer transient, but of infinite duration. The world in turn takes on a new consistency. This, sort of, is what the end-of-year list amounts to these days -- not a statement on what was 2014, to take with you into years to come -- but a sideways look at a conversation of what we should have noticed and been talking about all along.

This happens because it's easier to just run a list of things, that contextualizes everything by the circumstances of how it came into being, then to try to write about each individual piece of artwork in terms of how exactly it was made and what it does, who it is for.

I am I think particularly mad at the lists of books, that say "these are the thirty-five best books of the year," or "here are twenty-five short story collections that came out this year" or "here are some notable independent presses and the most notable books each of them put out this year," because it seems so everyone-gets-a-gold-star, a promotional apparatus that seems to genuinely miss the point of what it is to be a reader, as someone who is engaged with a body of work spanning many years. The argument can be made, with music at least, that everyone is constantly consuming. Depending on your job, you could always be streaming something on Bandcamp, or your iPod, or wherever. I am pretty sure this is why the lists of "top albums of the year" have gotten increasingly longer as file-sharing has become ubiquitous. If you're not going to buy any music in a year, why not try to hear all that's remotely interesting? Whereas in the past a theoretical person could be wondering "I only have so much money to spend, what is the most rewarding way that money could be spent?" This was the way I read these lists when I was younger, basically, when I was in high school, I think. The funny thing about that time period now is that my perception of time was different, a year seemed longer, and there was also much more of the past to catch up with and familiarize myself with.

I am not sure there is any record this year that I would call a titanic masterpiece, working at a scale that cries out to be acknowledged, so much as there were multiple things that created moods, or were interesting documents of where the people who made them were at. Which is fine. Not every indie rock band is trying to be Brian Wilson, not every rapper is trying to do their version of Illmatic. A pluralistic view of what music is will probably be more true to the intentions of most makers.

Although I think many writers are trying to stake some claim to the title of "masterpiece," and that is what I think these long-list approaches are trying to honor, although it can't help just saying that most of what is out there is simply noise. (Before the end of the year I will make a post here listing all of the books I've read since the last time I made such a list, and offer my opinions on each of them, by the way.) The way that most publications compile these lists -- asking their select group of contributors to each make a list that is then tabulated into a master list -- seems the best way to come to a definitive selection but also doesn't really work for a world of books so large that few people read the same things. The world of literature is so diffuse that the only value to assert is that books matter, despite the fact that most people don't really read them.

The year-end list is also a way to state its intention, hoping that more eyes will be on this one list than can be bothered to keep up with a daily publication schedule. I can think of no better way for Pitchfork to announce that it intends to be the definitive music publication of this era than to name Kanye West the creator of the album of the year. Similarly, Tiny Mixtapes declaring the same of James Ferraro is a way of affirming their marginality, that that is what they value. The latter decision is the more interesting one; although yeah, Kanye rules.

I haven't written a best-of list to publish at my comics Tumblr because I've done a pretty good job of keeping up with posting about the work I find interesting as it comes out, and the way that Tumblr works means that I can't really control what people see and what people don't, or what context they have for it. I would maybe have to hand-draw a list that could be a single image that would circulate on its own terms to have more of an impact. I could write "HOW TO BE HAPPY" on a woman's ass, or "BEAUTIFUL DARKNESS" on my arms in blood. Maybe "MEGAHEX" in a bit of ejaculate. This is actually a really good idea.

I haven't written about music at all this year really, except a few write-ups in Acres this year about things that I think were already old, because it had been a year since I'd last had that opportunity. A list would be fairly conservative, but a document of my active engagement with music as a whole this year would be nice to have. I would like to have written about Future's Monster mixtape, the Cam'ron First Of The Month EPs, Vince Staples. The third Lazy Magnet box set, VVAQRT, Farewell My Concubine. Piece War, Trash Kit, Scrabbled, Moth Eggs, Cold Beat, Moth Cock, Kemialliset Ystavat. Wye Oak, Excepter, Mozart's Sister, Blanche Blanche Blanche, United Waters. Blanche Blanche Blanche were my favorite band, but they broke up this year, but two records still came out. Myriam Gendron, Angel Olsen, Courtney Barnett, Elisa Ambrogio. Discovering Mary Timony's The Golden Dove LP after listening to that Ex Hex record. Ex Hex, by the way, were the best live band I've seen this year. That Mary Timony talks up my friends Ed Schrader's Music Beat in interviews makes me very happy. I made a playlist with examples of this stuff specifically because writing about it seemed stupid.

As a mix it's probably not as good as the mix I made in August that was mostly gospel music taken from those compilations Mike McGonigal curated that Tompkins Square put out. I wanted to have that on a tape to listen to at Fields Festival, a festival set up by a friend, featuring many other friends, as a contrast to what it is that moment was. Humanbeast played and were great. The Family Tang are a great band, three siblings who can't really be a band too actively due to their geographic scattering. Metalux played a killer set and then Jenny Graf moved to Denmark not long after. The other festival I went to was Savage Weekend in North Carolina, a noise thing in a bar, which was sort of depressing, although the trip itself was beautiful, outside the bar. Lounging poolside at a hotel, without a bathing suit. Still, note the list's general lack of actual noise music and my general disenchantment from that culture.

Writing about movies using the time-scale of the year feels non-productive these days owing to the function of the festival circuit, and how some things seem to never really get a theatrical release, and how year's end brings a blast of Oscar-bait and other movies supposed to be good that filters into secondary markets, like the one where I live, well into February. Here's a top five as of right this minute: The Grand Budapest Hotel, Boyhood, The Raid 2, Under The Skin, The Strange Little Cat. I am really excited to watch Inherent Vice. I'm also excited to see Sion Sono's Why Don't You Play In Hell, the Safdie Brothers' Heaven Knows What, and all sorts of other things I don't know how long I'll have to wait before I get the chance to see them.

My turntable is acting screwy these days, a new fresh belt has seemingly created too much tension, so things are playing slightly too slow, so lower-pitched and distorted. That has contributed to my opening metaphor, I think. I was listening to Bill Callahan's Apocalypse, my favorite record of the year it came out, and it started to sound like shit, I couldn't deal with it. That image, of course, also has faint traces of psychedelic residue on it. I am pretty much free from any lingering trauma stemming from last year's hallucinogen use, but I remember being so excited at the end of last year, to move further into the future, to get past any thing that had happened and just put it behind me completely. This year has been terrible, not for me personally, but in terms of things in the news. The march into the future generally feels like a horrible plunge into the abyss, where torture is legal and white police can kill any person of color they want to, and upcoming elections seek to pit one presumptive nominee political dynasty against another. But the end of the year offers a chance of renewal, if we attempt to view it as such, try to kiss someone at midnight and have that bode well for what's coming. I think that's why I want a definitive statement on the year that was, not just this weird recapitulation of all that happened without noticing. I don't want to spend my December catching up on being a completist, I want something I can look back on years from now and say, oh yes, the year that happened. I remember being drunk on New Year's Eve, of 2011 turning into 2012, and having "Drover" off that Bill Callahan record running through my head. "One thing about this wild wild country, it takes a strong strong, breaks a strong mind. And anything less, anything less, makes me feel like I'm wasting my time." These days I do not relate to the second sentence of that sentiment at all.

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