My Year in Music

Dan Bejar

It’s Decem­ber 30th, I’ve sub­mit­ted my for­mal fake P&J bal­lot and I’m lis­ten­ing to the new Emma Swift album and hav­ing regrets. A music crit­ic’s work is nev­er done!

It’s been a hard year but I was per­son­al­ly soothed by all the great music that came out this year. For the first time in my expe­ri­ence as a music enthu­si­ast, I had a list of 100+ albums that I enjoyed so much I might have includ­ed them in a top ten. I had top tens of scuzzy rock, jam, folk, coun­try, jazz, ambient/new age and more. I have a defen­si­ble top five albums by guys named Jeff! As much as we suf­fered in quar­an­tine, through a dif­fi­cult move to a famil­iar place that isn’t yet home again, music was a balm.

My favorites this year fall com­fort­ably into what you might call “head music.” I found myself return­ing time and again to psych, ambi­ent and jazz ver­sus try­ing to focus on lyrics and hooks. That said, my album of the year was Destroy­er’s “Have We Met.” It fit the year too per­fect­ly and coin­ci­den­tal­ly was the last show I saw this year and my last in Detroit. It was per­fect and bit­ter­sweet. Eleanor Fried­berg­er opened. I prob­a­bly saw her play Detroit in the last 6 years more than any oth­er artist. I get emo­tion­al think­ing about it.

Even in 2020’s dark­est moments, there was always a record to lis­ten to. These were my favorites, in alpha­bet­i­cal order:

  1. Arbor Labor Union — New Petal Instants
  2. Arboure­tum — Let It All In
  3. Autechre — SIGN
  4. Bar­ry Walk­er Jr. — Shoul­da Zenith
  5. Beau­ty Pill — Please Advise
  6. Ben Sere­tan — Youth Pastoral
  7. Bill Fay — Count­less Branches
  8. Bill Nace — Both
  9. Blitzen Trap­per — Holy Smokes Future Jokes
  10. Bob Dylan — Rough and Row­dy Ways
  11. Bon­ny Light Horse­man — s/t
  12. Brigid Daw­son and the Moth­ers Net­work — Bal­let of Apes
  13. Bruce Horns­by — Non-Secure Connection
  14. Bruce Spring­steen — Let­ter to You
  15. Buck Cur­ran — No Love Is Sorrow
  16. Bul­ly — SUGAREGG
  17. Carl Stone — Stolen Car
  18. Char­lie Kaplan — Sunday
  19. Chris Forsyth with Gar­cia Peo­ples — Peo­ples Motel Band (Live)
  20. Chro­mat­ics — Fad­ed Now
  21. Chronophage — Th’pig’kiss’d Album
  22. Cir­cles Around the Sun — s/t
  23. Con­stant Smiles — Control
  24. Con­tain­er — Scramblers
  25. Coun­try West­erns — s/t
  26. David Grubbs & Taku Una­mi — Comet Meta
  27. David Nance — Staunch Honey
  28. The Dead C — Unknowns
  29. Death Val­ley Girls — Under the Spell of Joy
  30. Deep Sea Div­er — Impos­si­ble Weight
  31. Deep Space Duo — Spacetones
  32. Deer­hoof — Future Teenage Cave Artists
  33. Destroy­er — Have We Met
  34. Dezron Dou­glas & Brandee Younger — Force Majeure
  35. Dog­wood Tales — Clos­est Thing to Heaven
  36. The Dream Syn­di­cate — The Uni­verse Inside
  37. Earth­e­ater — Phoenix: Flames Are Dew Upon My Skin
  38. Eli Win­ter — Unbecoming
  39. Elkhorn — The Storm Sessions
  40. Emma Swift — Blonde on the Tracks
  41. Ezra Fein­berg — Recum­bent Speech
  42. FACS — Void Moments
  43. Fire-Toolz — Rain­bow Bridge
  44. Flat Worms — Antarctica
  45. Fuzz — III
  46. Gar­cia Peo­ples — Night­cap at Wits’ End
  47. Greg Dul­li — Ran­dom Desire
  48. Guardian Sin­gles — s/t
  49. Guid­ed By Voic­es — Mir­rored Aztec/Surrender Your Pop­py Field/Styles We Paid For
  50. Gunn-Truscin­s­ki Duo — Soundkeeper
  51. Gwenifer Ray­mond — Strange Lights over Garth Mountain
  52. Hailu Mer­gia — Yene Mircha
  53. HAIM — Women in Music Pt III
  54. Heather Trost — Petrichor
  55. Heathered Pearls — Cast
  56. House­hold Gods — Palace Intrigue
  57. The Howl­ing Hex — Knuck­le­ball Express
  58. Imag­i­nary Soft­woods — Annu­al Flow­ers in Color
  59. Irre­versible Entan­gle­ments — Who Sent You?
  60. Jack­ie Lynn — Jacqueline
  61. James Elk­ing­ton — Ever-Rov­ing Eye
  62. Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit — Reunions
  63. Jeff Park­er — Suite for Max Brown
  64. Jeff Rosen­stock — NO DREAM
  65. Jeff Swan­son — Fathoms
  66. Jeff Tweedy — Love Is The King
  67. Jef­frey Sil­ver­stein — You Become the Mountain
  68. Jen­nifer Cas­tle — Monarch Season
  69. Jere­my Cun­ning­ham — The Weath­er Up There
  70. Jess Williamson — Sorceress
  71. Jessie Ware — What’s Your Pleasure?
  72. Joe West­er­lund — Rever­ies in the Rift
  73. Joe Wong — Nite Creatures
  74. Jor­dan Reyes — Sand Like Stardust
  75. Josh John­son — Free­dom Exercise
  76. Khru­ang­bin — Mordechai
  77. Kneel­ing in Piss — Tour De Force
  78. Lam­b­chop — Trip
  79. Laraa­ji — Moon Piano/Sun Piano
  80. Lews­berg — In This House
  81. Lithics — Tow­er of Age
  82. Litur­gy — Ori­gin of the Alimonies
  83. Loma — Don’t Shy Away
  84. Loose Koozies — Feel a Bit Free
  85. Mapache — From Lib­er­ty Street
  86. Mary Halvor­son­’s Code Girl — Art­less­ly Falling
  87. Mary Lat­ti­more — Sil­ver Ladders
  88. Masa­ki Batoh — Smile Jesus Loves You
  89. Mele­nas — Dias Raros
  90. Mike Polizze — Long Lost Solace Find
  91. Moor Moth­er — Cir­cuit City
  92. Moss­es — T.V. Sun
  93. The Moun­tain Goats — Songs for Pierre Chuvin
  94. Mute Duo — Lapse in Passage
  95. Muzz — s/t
  96. Myth­ic Sun­ship — Chang­ing Shapes
  97. Nap Eyes — Snap­shot of a Beginner
  98. Nar­row Head — 12th House Rock
  99. Nathan Sals­burg — Landwerk
  100. The Necks — Three
  101. Noth­ing — The Great Dismal
  102. Obnox — Sav­age Raygun
  103. Oh Sees — Metamorphosed/Panther Rotate/Protean Threat
  104. Oliv­er Coates — skins n slime
  105. Olivia Awbrey — Dis­hon­or­able Harvest
  106. Oneo­htrix Point Nev­er — Mag­ic Oneo­htrix Point Never
  107. Optic Sink — s/t
  108. Pacif­ic Range — High Upon the Mountain
  109. Pall­bear­er — For­got­ten Days
  110. Phish — Sig­ma Oasis
  111. Phoebe Bridgers — Punisher
  112. Pro­tomar­tyr — Ulti­mate Suc­cess Today
  113. Psy­chic Tem­ple — Hous­es of the Holy
  114. Quin Kirch­n­er — The Shad­ows and the Light
  115. Rat­boys — Print­er’s Devil
  116. Rob Dob­son — New Dystopia
  117. Robert Haigh — Black Sarabande
  118. Roger Eno & Bri­an Eno — Mix­ing Colours
  119. Ron Miles — Rain­bow Sign
  120. Root­less — Docile Cobras
  121. Rose City Band — Summerlong
  122. Sal­ly Anne Mor­gan — Thread
  123. Sam Gen­del — Satin Doll
  124. Sam Prekop — Comma
  125. Shaba­ka and the Ances­tors — We Are Sent Here By History
  126. Sil­ver Scrolls — Music for Walks
  127. Sir Richard Bish­op — Oneir­ic Formulary
  128. Six Organs of Admit­tance — Com­pan­ion Rises
  129. Soc­cer Mom­my — col­or theory
  130. The Soft Pink Truth — Shall We Go On Sin­ning So That Grace May Increase?
  131. Stephen Malk­mus — Tra­di­tion­al Techniques
  132. The Strokes — The New Abnormal
  133. Sun Ra Arkestra — Swirling
  134. Sun­watch­ers — Oh Yeah?
  135. SUSS — Promise
  136. Teng­ger — Nomad
  137. Ter­ry Allen & The Pan­han­dle Mys­tery Band — Just Like Moby Dick
  138. These New Puri­tans — Hid­den [MMXX]
  139. Tid­i­ane Thi­am — Siftorde
  140. Trees Speak — Ohms/Shadow Forms
  141. Trum­mors — Dropout City
  142. U.S. Girls — Heavy Light
  143. Wast­ed Shirt — Fun­gus II
  144. William Tyler — Music from First Cow
  145. Windy & Carl — Alle­giance and Conviction
  146. Xetas — The Cypher
  147. Zachary Cale — False Spring

We Don’t Deserve The New Pornographers

I wrote this about the New Pornog­ra­phers in 2017. It still holds up. Their new record is fab­u­lous. You should lis­ten to it if you haven’t already! I’m still wrestling with why I ever took a break from them in the first place.

A big part of why I tuned out on the New Pornog­ra­phers was around the time “Chal­lengers” was released. It got a 6.0 from Pitch­fork and my mem­o­ry of that album at the time was just that it lacked the unsus­tain­able punch of their ear­li­er records. Carl talked to Tom Scharpling about this right before he released “Shut Down the Streets” and it was deeply affect­ing for all the rea­sons you can imagine.

Carl revived that thread with a series of tweets. and it’s kind of delight­ful through the wincing.

Flash for­ward and the band is tour­ing and doing press on their new record, “In the Morse Code of the Brake Lights.” New­man has been curat­ing amaz­ing pow­er pop on Twit­ter and shar­ing gems like this cov­er of a brand new GBV song in case you won­dered why we real­ly don’t deserve a band this good.

Spend some time with their new album and their cat­a­log now that it’s get­ting cold­er and you’re stuck indoors. 

Video

Cat Power — Wanderer

If a new album from Fred Thomas was­n’t enough, the news that Chan Mar­shall will be releas­ing her first record in six years made my week. I’m not usu­al­ly crazy about album trail­ers but I’ll make an excep­tion for Cat Pow­er. She’s one of those artists I don’t know I need until I hear it. The Great­est still haunts me twelve years lat­er. Now I just need some­thing to dis­tract me from the fact that this won’t be out until October.

Video

Fred Thomas — Good Times Are Gone Again

I saw Fred Thomas open for Eleanor Fried­berg­er last year at Third Man Records down­town. His ver­bose indie pop on last year’s Chang­er caught me com­plete­ly off guard. How had I over­looked an artist whose music so res­onat­ed with me? “Open Let­ter to For­ev­er” is the per­fect mix of poignan­cy and com­e­dy. It’s a song that makes me smile every time I hear it.

Yes­ter­day, Fred’s first sin­gle from After­ing debuted at The Fad­er. I can’t wait to hear the rest of the album in September.

How to Defeat the Infinite Scroll

We all stare into the infi­nite scroll. Sure, it was once a ques­tion­able UI solu­tion that cre­at­ed an even more dubi­ous UX for sur­fac­ing con­tent on web­sites — don’t like what’s on the menu, well, what if that menu were end­less — now defines how we con­sume con­tent online, inter­rupt­ed only occa­sion­al­ly as the time­line lags. It’s an exhaust­ing, indis­crim­i­nate way to inter­act with media, but what’s the alter­na­tive? We lit­er­al­ly look at mobile devices hun­dreds if not thou­sands of times a day and the social web waits to scratch an itch our brains have to be con­stant­ly entertained.

Ever since the elec­tion, I’ve striv­en — unsuc­cess­ful­ly- to change my media diet. As some­one who con­sumes a ton of con­tent that streams through my var­i­ous time­lines for pro­fes­sion­al rea­sons, I’m try­ing to be more mind­ful of and inten­tion­al about my media con­sump­tion and the habits that enable it.

I’ve long admired Jason Kot­tke’s work and late­ly I’ve appre­ci­at­ed how he’s doc­u­ment­ed his media diet in much the same way one might keep a food jour­nal. Here’s a recent exam­ple.

To that end, I’ve com­piled a list of things I’m engag­ing on purpose!

Listening

  • Yo La Ten­go — There’s a Riot Going On. Seri­ous­ly just what the doc­tor ordered to start an unsea­son­ably cold spring. I did­n’t think they’d match the bril­liance of Fade, but this is a great coda on a won­der­ful career.
  • Stephen Malk­mus and the Jicks — Sparkle Hard. Ever since I heard the first sin­gle, “Mid­dle Amer­i­ca,” which sounds like it would fit com­fort­ably on Ter­ror Twi­light, yet still sounds fresh.
  • The Breed­ers — All Nerve. Ugh I know this has been very “Remem­ber the 90s” but the new Breed­ers has so much atti­tude! “Ner­vous Mary” is one of my favorite songs of the year.
  • Kamasi Wash­ing­ton — Heav­en and Earth. A per­fect­ly defi­ant record. It’s how I start Sun­day morn­ing in 2018.

Reading

  • Abbott. Sal­adin Ahmed’s phan­tas­magoric thriller set in the ’70s about a Detroit reporter inves­ti­gat­ing mur­ders in Cass Cor­ri­dor is reminscent of Lau­ren Bewkes’ fan­tas­tic nov­el, Bro­ken Mon­sters, but less nou­veau Detroit.
  • Red­dit. I remem­ber when Red­dit was cas­ti­gat­ed as being the inter­net’s cesspool, but now the notion of self-mod­er­at­ed com­mu­ni­ties that you can vis­it inten­tion­al­ly feels pret­ty great.

Watching

  • Every­thing trail and ultra run­ning, start­ing with The Barkley Marathons: The Race that Eats Its Young. The Barkley Marathons aren’t an insane race, they’re an exis­ten­tial cri­sis. A friend of mine from high school went this year to observe the race and he wit­nessed its bru­tal majesty first­hand. There were no fin­ish­ers this year. Check out The Year Barkley Won in Trail Run­ner Mag­a­zine, too.
  • Baby­lon BerlinJason wrote a bit about the music here, but I was pos­i­tive­ly spell­bound over 16 45-minute long episodes. “Zu Asche, Zu Staub” is a show­stop­per. Baby­lon Berlin is thrilling and punc­tu­at­ed by fan­tas­tic song and dance numbers.
  • The 2018 Philadel­phia Phillies. I’ve been bull­ish on the Phillies’ rebuild, but had not expect­ed them to lead the NL East in the first half. I also did­n’t expect the Braves to be at the door so quick­ly either.

I’ll try to update this on a quar­ter­ly basis. How do you man­age your cul­tur­al con­sump­tion habits?