The calendar year spins around the day I got married, a watercolor of injustice and trauma circling a perfect afternoon in the park where we spewed our endless love for each other while our friends and family stood in witness. Part of me feels guilty—because the mealy blood of a Midwesterner flows through my veins and I will always feel guilty—but for a moment it was as if all hell disappeared just so we could commit our love into the great cosmic ledger under a tall oak tree on a temperate afternoon in October. We delivered through our vows an immutable truth in a year absent of it. It was and will remain the happiest day of my life.
Last year, I wrote about death as the one thing we can be sure of. It was a miserable winter then, too, Bowie had died, and his final album Blackstar the one that prefigured his leaving of earth felt magical—extraterrestrial. It was a moment in pop music that seemed to float above anything that could be argued or refuted, a self-evident marvel. The things we try to avoid talking about as writers so as not to seem fatuous and mawkish, this was Bowie at the end of his life: legend, deity, stardust. Nothing felt too grand.
Nothing felt nearly as grand this year, and I of course blame Trump who has since last November blocked out our sun. The music I was drawn to this year felt more about people trying to connect to each other. Love is a truth harder to believe than death but it’s one whose steel-born self I was lucky enough to find this year, and so was drawn to those trying to find it as well. The breathless exaltations of Perfume Genius, the vibrating hum of Björk being pulled by her chest to find a new world made of a love unbidden to a long history of bullshit.
I think of Phil Elverum’s A Crow Looked At Me, an album ostensibly about death that naturally becomes about life. It’s funny how being truly close to death can put us on a path away from it. I imagine, as I did last December, being drawn to its literary mystique when it doesn’t feel as real, when it’s just a song or a story or a pose. But when it is real (the dark and ill-fitting suits, the sudden emails, the garbage bags of clothes and personal effects) I’m sent running for life. Blindfolded and numb, Elverum's album carved a path of righteous life through ruddy cheeks. It’s the one sound of being alive, of surviving, of finding a force in the world even though you want with every ounce of blood in you to destroy this thing that keeps you living in absence of someone.
It makes me wonder how you could ignore life, how could anyone. It’s foolish, the choice of a clever idiot. The end-around of the most important thing as a service of narcissism and ego. How do we constantly fail to see the love that lives in and around everyone, the little it takes to give to someone else, the layers we build to protect ourselves from ever show it. Look at the vibrating rage this idiot administration causes, teeth-breaking anger and vituperative screeds. The act of listening—to just sit there and listen to someone else—is the first and greatest act of love, to just let someone else in for a second. Take a moment to ask how their day was, to bury hatchets, to bury your pride, and try.
I still find Moses Sumney’s album Aromanticism so curious. It still flickers in different forms every time I listen to it. It was our intention that, when we got married, we would blow past as many traditions as possible because my wife and I hardly believe in the institution of marriage (not least of which as we are both only children of divorce) but for its history of abuse and exclusion and general stuffiness. We don’t believe in marriage, we believe in each other, our friends, and our community, and our troubled cat. So does Moses wonder what love makes him believe, if he can beleive, and where he can believe. Each song is an low amber filament. It glows without heat in search of small rooms of darkness in which to bring its small possibility of light.
It feels proper that this is the album that represents my year: sad, searching, full of a kind of love. Sumney’s hands are outstretched, his voice tired. The permanence of Aromanticism lies in the strength it provides you, the comfort it forms, the bed it makes for you when you want to sleep easy.
And of music itself, of my passion, I think of LCD Soundsystem's album. One day and with great sorrow, you will remove your nipple rings and sign the instruments of unconditional surrender to getting old, the one thing you promised yourself would never do. At best it's because you’re being honest with yourself, which is all the salt and pepper disco impresario/enterprising sommelier and coffee roaster James Murphy has ever asked of you.
I joked earlier this year that I hate it when teens gaslight me into liking bad music. Truthfully, I worry sometimes how I will synthesize music now as I get older, as my Saturn Return recedes into space and I regenerate into a new person unbidden to his youth save for the few tattoos that I have on my arms. I wonder how to age, how to continue to be a student of the world. I miss being young and listening to music the way it just means something more.
That's the challenge, though: to listen to the experience of others while grounding yourself in your own truth. Finding that balance will occupy my next 28 years of life until, as Tool once said, Saturn comes back around. Because this is what makes you real, not a simpering empath, but a whole and real person who continues to be a student in the world. Next year it begins with listening closer.
1. Moses Sumney - Aromanticism
2. Mount Eerie - A Crow Looked At Me
3. Kendrick Lamar - DAMN
4. The War on Drugs - A Deeper Understanding
5. Jlin - Black Origami
6. Big Thief - Capacity
7. LCD Soundsystem - American Dream
8. Open Mike Eagle - Brick Body Complex
9. Kelly Lee Owens - s/t
10. Björk - Utopia
11. Kamasi Washington - Harmony of Difference
12. Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith - The Kid
13. SZA - Ctrl
14. Kelela - Take Me Apart
15. Yaeji - EP 1 / EP 2
16. Vince Staples - Big Fish Theory
17. The Weather Station - s/t
18. GAS - Narkopop
19. Pile - A Hairshirt of Purpose
20. J Hus - Common Sense