Enjoyments of 2021
favorite run of albums / most fruitful practice:
I have a riff about prolific artists where after a certain point they stop viewing things on a traditional/experimental axis and enter a realm of pure problem solving. Jack Kirby, Tezuka, Lazy Magnet, Aphex Twin, Lil B-- the unifying thing here is that these are all prolific artists calmly making bold decisions, invested with the simple power of having already put in their 10,000 hours or whatever. It's like if you put in enough time learning the ropes you forget about them entirely, and start to activate the spaces between the ropes. You've worked through catharsis, and have a healthy peristalsis.
Anyway this has been a great time for prolific artists who can finally sit in their studio alone and unmolested by well-wishers for interminable oceans of time. One that I've really been dialing into is Brattleboro VT's Chris Weisman, who released a stultifying 15 records via bandcamp this year.
Some are mp3 releases of previously issued material, some are instrumentals, and some are new incredible pop songs. The instrumentals are nice but (in my opinion) it's on the vocal cuts where he truly shines-- lyrics with enough substance to grasp immediately and enough abstract shadowplay to keep paying dividends throughout the ages. I would call his compositions Beatlesy, with great melodies, great harmonies, and great arrangements. And great joy! In another age and with the proper support, Chris might have put out 2 or 3 records in the past 5 years. In this age, with no label, no tour schedule, no promo, and no exec saying "this isn't what we agreed to", he drops more than one a month, and the ones that are simply good hold space for the ones that are dynamite.
My fav from this year is Sequent Toil, which has the beautiful lullabye "Speak Welsh To Me". I listen to this record a lot, and each time I do I unlock some small gem or turn of phrase.
A few people and groups have worked on streaming media as a substitute for a show or gathering, and for the most part it doesn't work for me-- while it's always nice to see someone jam, it's been too sad for me to see them alone in their bedroom, and to wish I was there. But I've really enjoyed Flan's radio show, which every week is like a great mix tape from a very cool friend. There's a theme to each show, which gives it some form, and most of the time I'm hearing music I've never heard before, and it's lovely. "Radio program of obscure music" could have kind of a downer vibe in some instances so I'll just add that it's not sophisticated and aloof and mysterious, it's hot and fun and engaging.
In addition to being a wonderful selector, Flan's voice is great for radio. On the air she has a real sleepover feeling, like imagine you're camping with your friend and there's a long silence after you both tacitly agree to go to sleep, and you're just listening to the night bugs or whatever, and then your friend says "hey, if you got reincarnated but you had to choose between being a cat or a dog, what would you do?". I mean that's not what she says on the radio, she's quite sensible. But that's the vocal posture and mood-- "hey...". Anyway you can listen live online every week, and listen to past episodes as you see fit.
best group project:
I think this sublimated from the vaporous chat rooms of Michael DeForge's movie night and Mickey Zacchilli's new video game performer career (both of which streamed live over Twitch). Anyway it's a fandub of 1988's Akira movie, with Michael and Mickey in the lead roles, and a cast pulled from other cartoonists, including James Kuo, Lala, and O Horvath. Sofia Foster-Dimino was the organizing force. To be honest it's incredible that this came together at all. But it doesn't only exist, it's also good! :) It was fun to watch and also had the regional theatre feeling of "a bunch of non-professionals having a great time putting a show together". That's a feeling I can really groove on. If you don't know any of the people involved, then it's probably less fun, but this isn't the sort of project that shoots for the moon, this is like "it's fun for people in a certain context" and I'm in that context, and I loved it. Roughly the same group followed this up more recently with a fandub of Princess Mononoke, and now Mickey's trying to break through to the Voice Over Actor profession. I believe in you, Mickey!
Sadly there's no way to watch this after the initial airing... that's life baby.
best YouTube hole:
JB skate videosI spend a little too much time on youtube. Non-narrative video can be very comforting, and it's great when you can find a little world in there and hang out for a while. Some worlds I've enjoyed include deep woods cabin builders, hobbyist storm drain uncloggers, Indian sports, sealed terrariums, Japanese woodworking, antique automata, soothing Canadian ax men, Cambodian fishing, and goth ASMR. But my favorite youtube hole at the moment is JB skate videos.
JB skating is a style of modern roller disco that started in Chicago in 1971 and came to be associated with the music and fancy footwork of James Brown. The videos being currently produced of skaters operating in this legacy are a little bit like the street skate sections of skateboard videos, with people gliding effortlessly through thick crowds, flowing through boundaries. But in skateboard videos the feeling is aggression-- the skateboard is attacking the street, and the people are either amused or annoyed, or sometimes frightened. With these JB skate vids, everyone is flowing around everyone else and everyone's having fun and enjoying each other's magnificent light. And everyone gets some time in the sun-- the first one I watched had a bunch of people spinning around and doing atomic drops and then a minute or so of one guy just having a great time cruising through and waving his arms. Some people are really dressed to impress, whereas others are wearing a clean t-shirt and their nice sweatpants. It's extremely welcoming and joyous. There are solos, couples, groups of buddies doing synchronous routines, and people in the center of the rink doing relatively static routines in a battle dance setting, while everyone else swirls around them. As I understand it, some rinks that do a JB skate night start with an hour of lessons for anyone trying to get onboard-- that's very thoughtful, and probably cuts way down on collisions between novices and old hats.
I'm not sure what's playing in the rink itself, but the music in the videos seems to be entirely made for this scene, which is incredible. Because of the deep connection to James Brown, more than half of the tracks have a JB sample, not a breakbeat but a vocal bit, like the "1 2 3 4" from "Funky Drummer", or just a shout, deployed in the style of contemporary footwork music but smoother and less frenetic, to suit the flowing feeling of the skaters. There are a few music genres that depend on a single sample source as a marker, so this isn't so extraordinary-- Jungle has the Amen break as it's foundation, and as I understand it, Ballroom bizarrely uses the "Ha!" loop from the regrettable blackface section of the movie Trading Places. Hard House had the hoover sound, and all of Hip Hop is extremely indebted to the breaks from James Brown records. But it's amazing to have a genre so invested in James records ut only the non-breakbeat elements! It's like going to the pyramids and coming back with sand. Well anyway I love it. And for what it's worth, if someone brought me sand from the pyramids I would be delighted.
I'm aware of rollerskate dancing as a "pandemic thing", and I have a few friends that post semi-regular videos of themselves rollerskating solo. I love my friends and I love to see them accessing joy in this global rough patch. But these JB skate vids are a pure and unrestrained joy without caveat, a delirious and swirling mass of joy.
Here's the first video I saw, it's from Sparkles, in Atlanta Georgia. Why did this show up in my recommended list? Was I searching for "Sparkles" in some other context? I don't remember. Anyway what a gift! This channel, SkateLyfe TV really does a great job with the edits and the slow mo and giving you a great feeling of being part of it all. Thank you!!!
website other than this one that I enjoyed the most:
this is a really nice aquarium simulator where you have the opportunity to try and balance a few different species-- algae and vegetation grows in the sun, tiny invertebrates eat the algae, fish eat the invertebrates... I let this run in an open tab for a long time, tweaking it and trying to reach a point of stasis but I never got there... eventually there's some disharmony and one of the elements either dies out or gets too populous and the whole ecosystem crashes. At a certain point I got over the feeling of failure and treated it as a regular fish tank, checking in now and then to see if it needed something. I guess this is a big spoiler but the winning moment for me was when I decided that I actually can't "win", that if I want the system to be healthy and ongoing then I'm forever constrained to being a part of it.
best movie I saw:
Lovers RockI went to a theatre once this year, because I'm lucky enough to live near a functioning drive-in, which is the only viable movie theatre in an airborne threat situation. Unfortunately the movies we saw were the new Space Jam, which was cynically bad, and Old, which was an insipid stinkeroo, so bad that I thought "everyone talks like they're in a poorly scripted movie" was going to be part of a big reveal at the end. It wasn't. Thankfully I can still illegally download movies, which I did a lot. Of the movies I saw for the first time this year, the best was Lovers Rock. Here's an excerpt from my personal journal, where among other things I keep a list of what movies I saw:
I've never seen a movie that describes a great party better than this one. The whole movie is the party, and there isn't really a huge plot, just some stuff that happens. It's not like an 80s rager with 1000 people and a rock band and a swimming pool, it's just in a house with like, 50 people? Maybe less. There are 2 lonnnnng sequences where everyone on the dance floor loses it to a song, both are transcendent and very different from each other. The whole movie I was waiting for something really bad to happen, and I cried at the end when (spoiler) everyone gets home safe and sound. It's like the first part of a horror movie where everyone's hanging out and having fun, but then no killer ever arrives. The music is all reggae and everyone speaks in a heavy West Indies British dialect that I couldn't always figure out, but for me it was like being at a loud party and only understanding 1 out of ever 4 words people are saying. I loved it. Probably the best movie I've seen all year. Flan wrote a great review of this where she said "not since Terminator 2 have a watched a movie and wondered 'how did they do this?'". Not only are the performances incredible but the movie itself is incredible-- it's hard to believe that they were able to raise funding for a movie that's just a really great party, not punctuated by some tense event. I guess because it's part of a series of movies by the same director, and the other ones have more conventional stories. Anyway, great parties are transformative by themselves, that's enough of a story event. I loved this movie!!!
most inspiring jammer:
I think for the first time in his life, Lazy Magnet's Jeremy Harris got a good, "real" job-- a rare combination of he's good at it, he's valued for his skill, he enjoys the challenges involved, and he's paid well. So I felt a mote of fear that maybe his musical activities would simmer on a low flame for awhile. What a fool I was! Instead he jammed harder than ever, running the tape daily on 4 hour synth jams and collecting the best into a mammoth release called "Electro Negativity". Then, because there's really no context for a 70-track release with a casual and drifting atmosphere, he did a 5 hour radio broadcast via YouTube: Lazy Magnet Radio - Adult Contemporary Music For Your Work From Home. I don't usually like to listen to music while I'm writing but I put this on and it was great. At one point the laptop mic was on and you could hear him walking around, typing, etc.. I guess this part was a mistake but I appreciated it. Maybe this sounds kind of boring but considering that he's done everything from singer songwriter to free metal to noise to deep house, I found this foray into... (what do you call this) library music (?), shocking and fun.
In addition to this one mammoth release, Jeremy also released a slow gloomy rocker that sounds like it could be on the Crow soundtrack, and his 2020 collection of Debussey-inspired solo piano music (played by Sakiko Mori) came out on vinyl. He played a single gig with his full band variation, and he hosted an online talk show, "Everything I Touch I Destroy", the next episode of which airs on Youtube and the guest is Mike Watt! Plus he made a website with the best URL I've seen in a while: "[lazymag.net]". I can't believe that perfect name was just sitting there this whole time!!! the [Lazy Magnet bandcamp] has tons of great records on it, dating back 20 years and striding confidently though about a million genres.
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