Tuesday, December 31, 2013

At least I'll never have to wonder what it's like to sleep a year (…or two?) away: Music-related things that kept me going in 2013

So, I really did plan to post here this year, I wanted to, but, I didn't, obviously. Instead of pouring a lot of time and energy that I didn't really have to spare into this blog, I took some time to live my life, to borrow some Beyoncé lyrics. (This might sound like an ironic reference, but it isn't, the more I think about it, the more I realize that that's exactly what I did this year.) I worked on personal life stuff, which meant asking myself why I do the work I do, and if I really want to be doing it.

I thought long and hard about this project, and whether or not I should just abandon it. I'm back here, updating right now, because I eventually came to the conclusion that this is something that I need to be doing, and that I shouldn't put it off, not even for a few days or until next week. And yes, this is partly because I've found that 'putting stuff off' isn't a good strategy for life and don't want to do that anymore. But if I'm being completely honest, I'm posting now in great part because, well, I really detest year end best-of lists and wanted to take the opportunity to rage about them.

It's not like I'm the first person to feel this way or even blog about it, but, if you think about it, the year-end best-of lists that most (white dude-run) mainstream music publications make such a fuss over don't make sense. There is no such thing as 'best' in music or any art form, because our tastes and what we enjoy are subjective.

Music journalist bros, of whatever gender, especially those who write about 'indie' music made by white kids, make money and social capital off of pretending that there is some objective standard of what is good and bad. They conveniently position themselves as the objective arbiters of what is good and bad, all the way at the top of the hierarchy. And then they make their lists of all their white, usually dude-dominated fave bands, and the social capital stays up near the top of the hierarchy, and whiteness and masculinity (not to mention heteronormativity, cis-normativity, and body-normativity) are reinforced yet again.

Fuck hierarchy though, and fuck cis-het-white-middle class dude normativity. Fuck objectivity, which is nothing more than the strategic, clandestine privileging of this cis-het-white-middle class dude subjectivity, no matter how hard bros (of whatever gender) try to tell you differently. (Ugh, I feel like I had to listen to so much of that mess this year, good grief.) Fuck the way 'objectivity' is used to dismiss and discredit so many of us, if not all of us who are not bro dudes.

If I wanted to, I could make a 'best of' list. I know a lot about popular music, how it's produced and distributed, and what's happening at the moment in a few genres and 'scenes' or whatever. If I wanted to I could pretend that I know what's 'good' and what's 'bad', and I could use this blog to tell you what to listen to. But I've never wanted to do that; that's not how I choose to use my power or social capital.

Instead, like my musician/writer/artist friendsJes Skolnik, Kate Wadkins, and Suzy Exposito, I'd rather talk about the music that I enjoyed this year, the shows, events and moments that got me through the hardest parts of 2013, and the occasional thing that wasn't quite from this year, and is perhaps even 10 years old, but still resonates with me. Because that's the point of music and all art forms: having feelings about it, and communicating with each other about it. Talking about what we like, without any kind of shame or self-consciousness or anxiety about not being 'cool' enough is how we make friends, and how we make community.

The following is a list of music, bands, performances and some other stuff that I fell in love with, that I cried to and at, that I talked about with my friends. So, enjoy! -- because that's what all this is for, damnit.

1. Slingshot Dakota's Dark Hearts LP

Okay, so technically Dark Hearts came out in November of 2012, but due to shipping delays, I didn't get my copy of it and listen to it in full until well into the following December. I spent the second half of 2012 having all kinds of 'I relate to this too hard!' feelings about their song "Light" after seeing them perform it at C.L.I.T. Fest in New Brunswick, NJ back in July of 2012, and I'm still ridiculously happy that it made the LP. Record opener "Intro/May Day" is what I listened to and sang on days when I didn't want to get out of bed or go outside this year though, especially during what felt like an endless winter:

2. Beyoncé and the Sugar Mamas' Super Bowl Halftime Show Performance

I have a vivid memory of being on an Amtrak train headed toward New York back in February, on my way home from a long, tiring, and frankly expensive day trip to Albany to meet with professors and use the library. The idea of going back exhausted and overwhelmed to an empty house made me feel like crying, but instead of crying, I used the train's wifi to watch a video of Beyoncé and the Sugar Mamas half-time show performance. It was exactly what I needed. In that moment, I stopped being a casual Beyoncé fan and began to really appreciate her influence and messaging, an informal project that I would end up working on all year.

3. Smash it Dead

A potent mixture of life anxiety, vehicle anxiety, and total New Yorker antipathy toward the city of Boston almost kept me from going to this annual fest and benefit for the Boston Area Rape Crisis Center, but I will forever be so, thankful l that I was able to be there, and that my desire to see Condenada was stronger than my many negative feelings, see the full set (and also me, standing on the side, quietly having many emotions about all of it):

Condenada (Full Set) from hate5six on Vimeo.

Condenada's was only one of many powerful sets that night and weekend; that Saturday night alone I got to see my friends and faves in Shady Hawkins (http://vimeo.com/63569959), In School (http://vimeo.com/63570063O and Curmudgeon (http://vimeo.com/63570067) play and talk and sing about resisting the violence, harassment, and other manifestations of rape culture and white supremacy that women, girls, and QTPOC face every day. Whenever I think back on that night, I remember feeling completely present, safe, and grateful to the organizers for all the work that they put into this event every year. The fest raised close to $6,000 dollars for the BARCC, and I'm proud that I was there and that I contributed.

The organizers are currently working on Smash it Dead 2014. I'm not sure if I'll be able to go, but either way, I'm already pumped for it.

4. 'Formal punk brunch'/all and any meals and events that include lady and genderqueer punk 'gossip' and/or 'shit talk'

Okay so 'formal punk brunch' is not exactly a real thing (it's more like an affectionate joke one of my friends made recently when I told him that I went to Champs with a certain powerhouse frontwoman and distro owner from Boston while they were in town). 'Gossip' and 'shit talk' amongst lady and genderqueer and gender non-conforming participants in punk and diy subcultures are a very real thing, though, except that it's not 'just' gossip or shit talk. It, in actuality, is how we communicate to each other when bands, other punks, venues, and other things are dangerous or unwelcoming to folks who aren't cis-dudes or who aren't white. If someone does or says something that's oppressive or fucked up and we talk about it, we're not 'gossiping' -- what we're doing is warning each other. We're figuring out strategies to work around people who aren't trustworthy (because these unsafe people frequently have some kind of crucial power in our scenes, ugh), and we're also figuring out ways to work through our feelings and maybe even laugh at these problems so that they don't isolate or demoralize us. We talk about it so that we can keep participating and making space in a subculture for ourselves, because that subculture doesn't always want to make that space for us.

5. Paramore's Paramore LP

Paramore's self-titled record is unquestionably one about moving forward, about using 'the future' to motivate you to work and live in the present. It's a record about recovery and learning how to start over, and so it has a lot in common thematically with the aforementioed Slingshot Dakota record. It's a record about facing unhappiness, accepting and working with change, and how hard but rewarding it is to learn to have hope. And that's also almost certainly why I continue to have absolutely no regrets about having listened to it more times than I can count since it came out in April. See and hear all of these themes in the video for their first single:

6. Aye Nako's Unleash Yourself LP

I'm not sure where to start with Aye Nako. The truth is that I know these people, I volunteer and occasionally socialize with them, and see them play as often as possible. I know something about them as people, as opposed to only knowing them as musicians, and I care about them, so I'd probably be really proud of everything they've done even if I wasn't so into this record. But as it happens, Unleash Yourself is an incredible, incredibly subtle document of QTPOC punk experiences and subjectivities, and also proof that deliciously bummer, relatably ambivalent songs about feelings, identities, and relationships are not and have never been just for sad dudes with flannel shirts and jazzmasters. Hear and see for yourself below, where I've posted what is somehow one of the very few videos of the band I could find. My theory is that folks are either hoarding the videos they've taken, or that they're not taking videos because they're too busy making out or swooning (you know, both activities that make holding a camera steady difficult) during the band's sets (which, whatever, I personally feel like that is totally a valid response to have to them):

7. Limp Wrist

While we were working on a Bikini Kill cover set for The 3rd Annual Anti-Valentine's Day Riot Grrrl Cover Band Show back in 2011, some friends told me about Limp Wrist. Coincidentally there was a Limp Wrist cover set that year, right before our set, which involved 1/2 of Aye Nako (yes, they all dressed in short shorts and underwear like the real Limp Wrist does, and yes, you do wish that you could have seen this or that there was a video if you weren't there and it's totally okay). After the cover set, I was enamored with the idea of a gay hardcore band, so I did some research, asked some questions, sent some emails to my professors, and before I knew what was happening, I was cleared to write about Limp Wrist and/or frontman Martín Sorrondeguy's previous band, Los Crudos, for my dissertation. Which means that my investment in both bands is both really personal and seriously professional, which is weird but not bad. Seeing them at Union Pool in June, and watching as my 'punk' life and academic work collided was surreal, but it was also one of the most ridiculously amazing nights I've ever had. Here's a video of that set:

8.Whore Paint's Swallow My Bones LP

My brief but ardent love affair with Whore Paint and their music started in early 2012, when guitarist Hilary sent me an email asking me I'd like to write up their Menarchy 7", I listened to their bandcamp mostly because their bio mentioned their affiliation with Girls Rock! Rhode Island. I wasn't really blogging at the time, so I wrote a review-slash-love letter for Tom Tom Magazine, and then waited patiently for their full length. It took a year and a half but it was more than worth the wait. Whore Paint repurposes early metal sounds into loud, often ugly, wrathful, "pre-post-feminist" noise about what it really feels like to know that you live in a society that doesn't allow you to own your own body. It's awe-inspiring. Watch the first video from the record below:

9. Deep Pockets' You Feel Shame LP

I've said more than once that Deep Pockets are the only all-white guy band I'll ever shill for or give my money, which doesn't sound all that complimentary but I swear that I mean it with nothing but real affection. They're another band that I sort of know somewhat personally, they're friends/former housemates of friends, they're great people who I would be proud of even if their first record didn't do much for me (but, uh, as it turned out it made me cry while I was on a bus to Philadelphia once, but I'll talk about that some other time, maybe with a therapist instead of on this blog). You Feel Shame made me cry because it is the typically heavy-yet-agile Long Island post-pop-punk-'emo'-I don't have words for it-core that I've been dreaming about since my days as a youngster in Queens who listened to a lot of Brand New and Taking Back Sunday but didn't realize how close Levittown actually was, in every sense. This is a record about feeling old and crotchety in a subculture that frowns upon 'growing up', anxiety about the future, anxiety about your nostalgic longing for when you weren't so worried about things, and using your sarcastic wit to cover up and also express your many feelings, and it's surprisingly beautiful. You can watch the video of them below from a show of theirs at Mr. Beery's, a place that probably won't mean anything to you unless you've gone to shows in Nassau County. Sorry about that!

10. Nashville

I know that it's not a 'hip' opinion to have or whatever, but, I kind of like tv. Most of it is awful, and often outwardly regressive and pretty boring. But when done right, narrative television shows can be an effective medium for studying and revealing human behavior. Does Nashville qualify as tv done right? I'm not sure, I'm not a tv critic or media scholar, and I also don't know that much about the country music industry, but it delivers what I really wanted from it: complex, sometimes unlikable women characters who are both human beings with personal lives and working musicians with careers and professional responsibilities. The show might be more soap than 'prestige drama', but it frequently addresses music industry sexism, and the various ways in which the women characters respond to it, and often in ways I find extremely satisfying. Also extremely satisfying: the ridiculous, hilarious, and heartwarming twitter exchanges my babely friend Dominique and I always seem to have about the show.

11. Chumped's self-titled 12" EP

I saw Chumped open for the aforementioned Deep Pockets back in May, at a show where I didn't expect to see anyone onstage who wasn't a dude. And yeah, maybe front woman Anika and her Bikini Kill tshirt were initially what got my attention. But their fuzzy, noisy messy, catchy, tightly-constructed songs (as well as their live covers of No Doubt and Ke$ha) are what kept it. Their self-titled debut is short, but its songs about old friends, personal failures, bad decisions, city life exhaustion and excitement, and long-term relationships are possibly the most fun thing I've heard all year, and whenever I listen to it I don't feel quite so bad about not having any idea what to do with my life. Watch them play my personal favorite "Something About Lemons" with a kicky "Die Young" intro below:

12. M.I.A.

Just as Gotham deserved better villains, the world deserves better, or maybe more complex pop stars. M.I.A. is one such pop star, who's both a musician and media artist, an entirely transnational, fully digitized, epically postmodern figure and product of our rapidly globalizing world. M.I.A. doesn't shrink from these forces, she faces them head on, making music and the occasional violent video about the divide between the 'first' and 'third' worlds, and movement and connection between the two. She also regularly antagonizes Western mainstream media outlets, who probably do think of her as their own personal Heath Ledger-style Joker, and seem frantic to discredit her and her origin story about her family's flight from Sri Lanka and relocation to Great Britain. This year alone her record label has tried to suppress a documentary she's trying to make and her record, which was finally released in November, after she threatened to leak it. I remember streaming it last month late at night, after a long, emotionally taxing day, listen to the first song I listened to from it below:

13. Beyoncé

Speaking of more complex pop stars: where does one even begin with Beyoncé's self-titled 5th album, and the recent mass hysteria over it? I'm not here for blind Queen Bey worship, there are nuanced critiques of her work and career written by black women critics all over the internet for nerds like me that are more than worth googling. But I can't help but inspired by her as a creative and professional force, despite not being familiar with most of her catalog.

I remember the night the record came out because I was up late, unable to sleep at 2:30 am, unable to stop fretting over an ailing, possibly unsalvageable friendship, unable to just make myself go up to bed after an entire day of feeling that way. The seemingly unanimous freak out over the record, and the apparent consensus that it was a major artistic achievement, somehow snapped me out of it. Suddenly, there was a worthy distraction from my personal issues, something to motivate me to go to sleep, so I could get up the next morning and investigate further, something to motivate me to finally get stuff done. I remember reading about the album and its 13 videos and thinking to myself: dude, if Beyoncé can record all those songs and make all those videos and keep it a secret, you can do the dishes and put out the recycling. And I did, I stayed up until 5:30 that morning doing stuff around the house that I'd been putting off. Beyoncé made me feel like I might, at some point, get my shit together, if I work hard enough, and I'll only stop listening to this album when it stops making me feel that way. Watch the video for "Yoncé" below, which I have watched many times but am still not anywhere near being over it:

Beyonce 'Yonce' from Forever on Vimeo

HONORABLE MENTIONS: This list is kind of long, but it is by no means comprehensive. This year was weird, but it was filled with a lot of good things, good times, and good shows, and good records that I didn't even get a chance to download, much less listen to. I know so many people who are doing such amazing work, and have so many friends and acquaintances who are making fantastic zines and records, and I'm excited for all of them. Here's to keeping better track of these developments, and maybe even blogging about them regularly in 2014. See you next year!