Tuesday, December 25, 2012

What Christmas Means To Me

Christmas is an expression of all human chaos, spangled, drawn out and molested by venturing capitalists, hunting bargainers and humbling shepherds.

Following tradition of the past couple years, I’ll go with some of my friends to the Indianapolis tree lighting. This time we showed up late, paid too much for parking, got separated in a tight crowd, couldn’t hear anything, had to respond to insane strangers, felt cold, all to see a switch flipped and quickly scatter to the nearest restaurant.

I also decided to do Black Friday, a thing we all made up to sell shower radios or something. I decided to go to Wal-Mart, and I wasn’t doing the Jane Fonda, “I’m gonna essay about this later,” but to buy a TV. Though, I did complain about it on Twitter.

Christmas is continually and cleverly trivialized. Every year we’re fed an idea of Christmas that’s insulting as it is impersonal. Canned is a good word for this. (TV tries to convince us people actually buy luxury cars as gifts.) There’s a lot of trying going on that doesn’t serve much of a purpose, precisely because compassion, empathy, and nurturance are given low priority in society, especially one of endless economic growth. The easiest way to make us try is to sell an idea, and the best way to do that is to present an ideal as the norm. It ends up feeling more packaged than natural, a predictable byproduct of a culture that asks that everyone stop what they’re doing and Christmas, not really giving us a good idea of what that should mean.

That’s what I mean by chaos, trying to do Christmas like they want us to and also the way it’s supposed to, trying to find out what both means while not doing either, the fretting that comes with the responsibility of expressing meaning for something that actually has meaning. I don’t know many things more difficult and risky than presenting importance. And yet Christmas should be the easiest thing of all to make out to be important! It’s a time to celebrate love and hope and peace with loved ones (few do), or if we take it literally, it’s a scheduled history lesson to allot emotional strength to religiously reflect (fewer do), or to buy each other some stuff to stand in for lapses in the former. No disrespect; I love stuff. Though stuff does a good job at collecting dust, and I can never enjoy a videogame as much as I enjoyed Banjo Kazooie.

But I love Christmas! I love Christmas, right? When people ask me, I’ll always say I love Christmas, even with all it’s traffic jams and familial dinners, the commercial expose, wanting and the gross expectation of getting, saying that this gift will come in handy, really, late church services and shouting empty canticles, Gloria in excelsis Deo!, and it makes me wonder if there’s any other way to be doing this and what all this work is even for.

And I think it all hit me at the tree lighting, as I heard every small child ever crying half as reaction and half as a request, a mother maneuvering her stroller through continually closing space, young punks slipping through past because they feel the right to live faster, the faintly audible chorus of a cloying jingle made spectacular and lifeless by the singers and backing band of the nearest mega church that values production value and mass attendance over individual reflection and growth, a reddened father mouthing that he had been nice to everybody all day, but some people are testing his patience and he just doesn’t know what he’s even gonna do…, the spoken and not regrets that everyone chose to come here at all, that it was just as bad last year, do you remember how it was last year, that it was exactly the same as it is now, wait, and that it’ll be the exact same next year, hold on, and that we’ll be upset about the same expected things and not, ok, and maybe that’ll be ok, and why am I smiling when I can’t control anything that’s going wrong with life, and why would I be crying if there weren’t people here, so what am I supposed to do, and so what, god shut up, and why is Kiotta asking me why I’m smiling, and why do I feel uncomfortable and serene all at once in this noise, and why do I feel as though this is really what Christmas is to me at all, entanglement and human chaos in a cavity of wanting and disappointment, and that even here, maybe only here in this arrant constant that I can feel love, and that I can feel hope, and that I can feel peace, and how I want so much to have it some other way, but not really, and how I wish you a Merry Christmas, with all its frith and frivolity. Flip that switch.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

My Favorite Albums of 2012

I feel fortunate to enjoy as much music as I do. You'll see this list is really all over the place. It's hard for me to be focused because there is too much out there that is great. I've never really understood when people'll claim to only be able to listen to one genre, or worse, artist (usually Drake) and judge quality on a scale of being similar to or different from that one genre or artist (again, Drake). A cool thing about music is that you can have a completely acceptable music taste and not listen to anything on this list, or any list!

But! Don't gloss over stuff you haven't heard of on this list! I try my best not to! It might even be good!

Albums are ranked on how much I enjoyed them/played them in my car.

I have video links of what I consider must-hear songs.

30.  Lonerism - Tame Impala

29. Red - Taylor Swift
28. Piramida - Efterklang

This is one of the more beautiful songs I heard this year. I really wish it wasn't in an ad to sell iPads, or whatever.

27. 1991 - Azealia Banks
26. Skelethon - Aesop Rock
25. Kindred - Burial
24. Coexist - the xx

Jamie xx, the rhythmic force behind the xx who uses only electronic instruments and loves making excellent remixes, really shines on this effort, so much the band feels like it's keeping up. He takes a lot from the recent movement of UK two-step (Burial, Four Tet, Flying Lotus, Radiohead), and it results in incredibly approachable songs with very complex bases. I feel this album has been under-appreciated (because yeah a lot of the songwriting sucks).

23. Hands of Glory - Andrew Bird
22. Silver & Gold - Sufjan Stevens

Every year for ten years, Sufjan Stevens recorded an EP of Christmas music. It began as an undertaking he released to friends and family, and later to the public. This collection, of the last five years, highlights the chaos and serenity of Christmas. It captures it in a way that is peculiar and completely makes sense and is the only honest Christmas album you will hear ever (sorry, Cee-Lo).

21. Voyageur - Kathleen Edwards
20. Bruce Springsteen - Wrecking Ball
19. Norah Jones - Little Broken Hearts
18. Until the Quiet Comes - Flying Lotus
17. Shrines - Purity Ring
16. good kid, m.A.A.d city - Kendrick Lamar
15. Spooky Action at a Distance - Lotus Plaza
14. Life Is Good - Nas
13. Voyageur - Kathleen Edwards
12. Celebration Rock - Japandroids
11. Devotion - Jessie Ware

This might be the biggest smash hit in Britain for 2012, but it's only marginally popular in America, for reasons I don't understand. It is constantly playing on BBC Radio 1 through 40. Also one of my favorite videos of the year.

10. The Palace Garden - Beat Connection

9. Be The Void / Wild Race - Dr. Dog

Insanely consistent bands that are under-appreciated and are constantly compared to the Beatles should be cherished (also see: Spoon, Tame Impala).

8. Bloom - Beach House
7. Silent Hour/Golden Mile - Daniel Rossen

From the lead guitarist of Grizzly Bear (spoiler alert my #1) Almost unbearably sad and beautiful.

6. Break It Yourself - Andrew Bird

5. In Our Heads - Hot Chip

4. Threads - Now Now

Brief pointless brag/story- I was shooting a Margot and The Nuclear So And Sos concert this past Summer. Now Now opened for them and I didn't know who they were. Before the show I saw this girl in the crowd I immediately thought was very attractive. It turned out she was the lead of the band. I guess attractive people are in bands. Who knew.

3. Master of My Make-Believe - Santigold

2. channel ORANGE - Frank Ocean

Art continually needs to be refreshed, which is what makes art so good and sad. Frank Ocean deserves a lot for saving R&B for five years (see: six Grammy nominations).

1. Shields - Grizzly Bear

Albums I Thought Were Ok But Could've Been Better/Different

Cruel Summer - GOOD Music
Pink - Four Tet
OF Tape Vol. 2 - Odd Future

Hate OF, love OF, Earl Sweatshit's verse at the end of this kills. Also, Frank Ocean came out to be bisexual on this track before "channel ORANGE" even came out. And look at the fun they're having. Look at these punks. God, this track.

Centipeded Hz - Animal Collective
Swing Lo Magellan - Dirty Projectors
The Idler Wheel… - Fionna Apple
III - Crystal Castles
Sees the Light - La Sera
God's Father - Lil B

Lil B is all over the place, and fails most of the time. I relate.

Le Voyage Dans La Lune - Air
Trilogy - The Weeknd
51 - Kool A.D.
Believe - Justin Bieber
FANTASEA - Azealia Banks
Port of Morrow - The Shins
Sun - Cat Power
Words and Music - Saint Etienne
Visions - Grimes

Albums I Didn't Like All That Much, But You Might

Born to Die - Lana Del Rey

All of this is boring. It's true I generally dislike what I see as the culture of Lana Del Rey. She's this fake, constructed celebrity, variable but entirely inauthentic. I dislike the swath of young women who have taken to this brand of youth. It's a view of youth I find boring and setting itself up for self-superiority with age. To me being young doesn't mean you have to choose between selfishness and being old. I feel like I know people who grew up like this, assume everyone grew up like this, and therefore feels entirely superior to everyone young because of it. BUT, I also just dislike the music. Please debate Lana Del Rey with me in person. I love doing that.

The Seer - Swans

This is one of the boldest and brilliant efforts I've listened through all year. It's impossible to listen to and I hate it. Post-everything.

The Money Store - Death Grips
The Idler Wheel… - Fionna Apple
Love This Giant - David Byrne & St. Vincent
Clear Moon - Mount Eerie
Come of Age - The Vaccines
Confess - Twin Shadow
Blunderbuss - Jack White
Fragrant World - Yeasayer
Daughter of Cloud - of Montreal
End of Daze - Dum Dum Girls
America - Dan Deacon
Galaxy Garden - Lone
Neck of the Woods - Silversun Pickups
Valtari - Sigur Ros
Former Lives - Benjamin (c'mon, it's Ben) Gibbard
Tempest - Bob Dylan
Mirage Rock - Band of Horses
I Know What Love Isn't - Jens Lekman
Breakfast - Chiddy Bang

Stuff I Haven't Listened To Yet But Would Like To

True - Solange
Heaven - The Walkmen
Warrior - Ke$ha
Tramp - Sharon Van Etten
The Haunted Man - Bat for Lashes
R.A.P Music - Killer Mike
Allelujah! Don't Bend! Ascend! - Godspeed You! Black Emperor
Live from the Underground - Big K.R.I.T
Reign of Terror - Sleigh Bells
Any one of the four albums Ty Segall put out this year
Old Ideas - Leonard Cohen
Nocturne - Wild Nothing

Comment with something I should listen to! Or text me! Or talking words in real human life!