2015 in music

OPNCover

This was originally gonna lead off with a longish post  with a bunch of thoughts about listening to music in 2015, but it’s New Year’s Eve and I didn’t finish it in time. (According to the rules of online, “best of the year” stuff expires on January 1st.) I did, however, have time to make some lists of music. Here’s some of it I liked from this year.

Top 10 records (alphabetical):

Alex G – Beach Music
Beach House – Depression Cherry
CFCF – The Colours of Life
DJ Paypal – Sold Out
Future – 56 Nights
Gaussian Curve – Clouds
Julia Holter – Have You in My Wilderness
Oneohtrix Point Never – Garden of Delete
Sufjan Stevens – Carrie & Lowell
Vince Staples – Summertime ’06

 

I also blogged about some concerts I went to over at Seattle Times dot com.

 

Others:

 

Arca – Mutant
Battles – La Di Da
Beach House – Thank Your Lucky Stars
Briana Marela – All Around Us
Carly Rae Jepsen – Emotion
Car Seat Headrest – Teens of Style
CFCF – Radiance & Submission
Colin Stetson and Julia Neufeld – Never Were the Way She Was
Container – LP
Courtney Barnett – Sometimes I Sit and Think, And Sometimes I Just Sit
Denzel Curry – 32 Zel / Planet Shrooms EP
Earl Sweatshirt – I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside
Floating Points – Elaenia
Flying Saucer Attack – Instrumentals 2015
Four Tet – Morning/Evening
Gilligan Moss – Ceremonial EP
Helen – The Original Faces
Holly Herndon – Platform
Jlin – Dark Energy
Joanna Newsom – Divers
Julien Baker – Sprained Ankle
Kode9 – Nothing
Lotic – Agitations EP
Lower Dens  – Escape from Evil
Moire – Gel EP
Mount Bank – Island Life EP
Ought – Sun Coming Down
Panda Bear – Panda Bear Meets the Grim Reaper
Rae Sremmurd – Sremmlife
Sam Gellaitry – Short Stories EP
Sam Prekop – The Republic
Strategy – Noise Tape Self
Tame Impala – Currents
Unknown Mortal Orchestra – Multi-Love
Vietcong – s/t
The Weeknd – The Beauty in the Madness
Young Thug – Barter 6
Zora Jones – 100 Ladies EP

 

Playlist (Spotify sucks but it has the most songs; shuffle is recommended):

 

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Smarm

The idea of success, or of successfulness, hangs over the whole subject of smarm. It is not true, after all, that the crisis of postmodernity has left us without any functioning system of shared values. What currently fills the space left by the waning or absence of traditional authority, for the most part, is the ideology and logic of the market.

Market reasoning is deeply, essentially smarmy. We live, it insists, in a world that is optimized by the invisible hand. The conditions under which we live have been created by rational needs and preferences, producing an economicist Panglossianism: What thrives deserves to thrive, be it Nike or sprawl or the finance industry or Upworthy; what fails deserves to have failed.

I’ve been thinking a lot about this general idea: that the collapse of traditional institutions (as Tom Scocca puts it in the essay this quote is from, “the literary inner circles, the top-ranking daily newspapers, the party leadership”) has led to a meritocratic values system, where what’s popular is always self-evidently “good.” The essay is probably about 20 percent too long, but it’s an important take-down of the modern Internet monoculture that can be so frustrating for writers, musicians, and creative types in general.

[“On Smarm”]

A quick thought on Lou Reed

You do this because you like it, you think what you’re making is beautiful. And if you think it’s beautiful, maybe they think it’s beautiful.

I’ve never given Lou Reed’s catalog more than a cursory listen. (This is a requirement for “people who care about music,” or so it would seem.) I also don’t have anything particularly novel to say about his death. But this quote from his New York Times obituary struck me as poignant, an eloquent summation of why creative people do what they do. It’s originally from a review Reed wrote of Kanye West’s Yeezus, where at age 71 he demonstrates a better understanding of West’s music than 99 percent of people my age on the Internet.

Chastity Belt: No Joke

Chastity Belt: No Joke

Photo by Sarah Creighton

Photo by Sarah Creighton

I wrote my first long(ish) story in quite a while. It’s a profile of Seattle band Chastity Belt; there have been several of these, but I think it’s the first that doesn’t talk about Buzzfeed shenanigans. Instead it looks at the tension between being funny and being serious for bands, like Chastity Belt, who are on to bigger things.

Football.

To commemorate my first-ever fantasy football regular-season championship, I’m posting this gem of a beer commercial I found the other day. It’s an informative study on just how dated an ad from 2002 can look 10 years later, especially when much of that ad’s content—the glorification of concussion-inducing hits, terrible early-’00s post-grunge rock (is that you, Kid Rock?), and out-and-out misogyngy—is considerably less palatable today. This must be what my friends who don’t watch sports think about people who watch sports.

The cult of Tommy Wiseau

The Room cast

It’s been way too long since I’ve posted on here, but after seeing The Room auteur Tommy Wiseau live, in all his rambling, possibly drug-addled glory* last night at a screening at UW, I couldn’t not write something about it.

A bit of background: The Room is Wiseau’s 2003 film, a melodrama whose only coherent plot point involves a love triangle between Johnny (Wiseau), his “future wife” Lisa, and his best friend Mark (Greg Sestero) that eventually leads to—spoiler alert—Johnny’s demise. Interspersed within this narrative are directionless asides, unidentified minor characters, extraneous B-roll of San Francisco, and no fewer than four cringe-inducing sex scenes set to canned R&B slow jams. (This informative Entertainment Weekly article—not an oxymoron, I swear—provides some good context.) I’ve seen the movie four times now, and I could go on for 2,000 words about everything that makes it terrible; it’s widely considered one of the worst films ever made. But unlike your average B horror movie, it’s bad for very memorable reasons, most of which stem from Wiseau’s leaden directorial hand. He also wrote and produced the film, and his  singular vision of interpersonal relationships, gender roles, and the American dream (“USA is the greatest country in the world,” he effused last night) permeates every aspect.

Screenings of The Room happen once a month at the Central Cinema, but those don’t feature Wiseau in the flesh. His long, stringy hair is still jet black, and he was wearing an outfit that made him look like a combination of Bono, a Hell’s Angels member, and a high-school sophomore going to his first formal dance. Sestero attended as well, but clearly out of obligation. He gave one- or two-word answers to questions while chewing gum, seeming genuinely bemused at the absurdity of him standing on a stage, taking questions from college kids about the dreadful movie he made nine years ago.

Wiseau, on the other hand, enjoyed every second of it. He gave advice, signed DVDs, and showed off his monogrammed boxer shorts when a student asked if she could called him Thomas. Wiseau makes a good chunk of his living through appearances like this one, and he seemed genuinely appreciative of the audience’s surprisingly genuine admiration (more on that in a second).

Tommy Wiseau at UW's Ethnic Cultural Theater, iPhone pic by me.

Tommy Wiseau at UW’s Ethnic Cultural Theater, iPhone pic by me.

Later that night, one of my friends said that the The Room is our generation’s Rocky Horror Picture Show. He’s right to some extent—audience interaction is what makes a screening of The Room special, but Rocky Horror lacks a cult of personality like the one Wiseau provides. For hardcore Room fans, he’s a transcendant leader. For me, the screening acted as a rebuttal to the attitudes expressed in that superficial, straw-man New York Times opinion piece meme last week about the end of irony. In theory, a Room screening should be ironic, but if anyone who attended last night did so out of irony, the joke is squarely on them—between waiting in line, watching the movie and Q&A session, and waiting in line again for Wiseau’s autograph, they would have sacrificed more than four hours in their contemptuous pursuit of a bad joke. Like any kind of cult anything, Room fandom is about the genuine adoration of a really, really bad art. And Wiseau—in all of his pale white, heavily accented glory—is the phenomenon’s unquestioned figurehead, irony be damned.

*Considering that Wiseau said “maybe” when an enterprising student asked Wiseau if he would smoke DMT with him and his friends after the show, I’m not entirely making a cheap joke here.

‘The beginning of the end’ for UW’s newspaper (or, the importance of a good Twitter handle)

Throughout the summer, I’ve been in charge of the social media accounts for UW’s student newspaper, The Daily. It’s been something of a thankless job, but it’s also been entertaining in ways I never anticipated.

First, a bit of backstory: There’s a much larger newspaper called The Daily that happens to be dying. This is big news for a couple reasons. First, it’s owned by Rupert Murdoch and the News Corporation, which makes it attract controversy faster than the average digital newspaper. That ties into the second reason The Daily is big news: It’s a tablet-only experiment that’s failing. Badly. News came yesterday that the website is laying off 50 employees, a third of its staff.

So how does this affect the UW Daily? Ironically enough, Murdoch’s Daily has a Twitter issue (and it’s probably fair to say that, for a digital newspaper, this is symptomatic of its larger problems). Years ago, someone at the UW Daily grabbed the @thedaily Twitter handle, which resulted in Murdoch’s Daily being stuck with the confusing @daily handle. As a result, I see around three to five misdirected tweets per day to our account (4,650 followers) from people who are really looking for the other Daily that isn’t a college newspaper (more than 97,000 followers).

With the recent news about the layoffs, the mistweets really started heating up yesterday:

The end of The Daily?

But what’s even better is when writers for The Daily do it themselves when tweeting out their stories:

Or when we get mentions from bizarre conservative blowhard Twitter accounts, like @libertydefender and his oh-so-clever profile pic:

This all shows the importance of having an intuitive Twitter handle—it must be at least a little embarrassing for The Daily to be beaten out by a college newspaper. One thing is certain, however: With Murdoch’s Daily in very real danger of being shut down, those who manage The UW Daily’s Twitter in the future won’t be privy to such amusing tweets.