I can’t remember if I’ve ever been able to listen to as much of Jon Solomon’s 25-hour #WPRBXmas as I did this year. It was fantastic as usual and produced some great quotes from my sister-in-law.
The voice assistant seemed so cool and made so much sense. What happened?
If you follow Internet of Shit, you already know. This Bloomberg story about Alexa adoption suggests even the biggest players in voice-enabled hardware are struggling to find their why.
We have several Echos in our house, all of which are used for extremely banal reasons that are just easier than connecting dumb speakers by bluetooth for the most part, or pressing buttons on an oven timer. Of course, they were envisioned as transformative technology, not egg timers.
Bloomberg doesn’t go deep on this, but points to the overall onboarding experience as being where users seem to check out, if not shortly thereafter. Some of the complaints are familiar: in an effort to get you to do more with the device, it starts asking you if you’d like to try new skills, few of which have any relevance to what you’ve been doing with it.
I was trying to find the right way to describe how 2021 felt and then I read this:
For Nikolas Tsamoutalidis, an assistant principal, the most vivid image of the post-pandemic student body was at lunch this year, when he saw ninth graders — whose last full year in school was seventh grade — preparing to play “Duck, Duck, Goose.” “It’s like fifth or sixth graders,” he said, “but in big bodies.”
There was a meme floating around Facebook this year that went directly to the heart of this, namely, that the last “normal” year for a 7th grader was 4th grade so the above hit me hard. I certainly see it firsthand with my own kids, but recognize how adults have been impacted, too.
At the outset of the pandemic, we quickly make some risk assessments around our pod. They weren’t perfect; in fact it was completely porous, but pared down nevertheless. Our core group was really three families. It hasn’t changed much since. We visited Michigan twice this year and it was like stepping back into our social lives.
At the outset of the pandemic, it truly felt like an opportunity to completely reimagine ourselves and how we live our lives. It’s felt more like trying to get toothpaste back into the tube, especially as new variants emerge and disrupt our lives again and again. How can we as a society realistically address these challenges?
I first wrote about how to combat the infinite scroll — since dubbed doomscrolling — back in 2018, borrowing from the updates Jason Kottke makes about his media diet. It’s still all about intentionality, right? It still is and I try not to stare at the screen in search of something that never materializes, but phones just demand our attention, don’t they?
Great example from Charlie Warzel why it’s important we put boundaries around this behavior. Can I just say I hate learning over and over that Neil Postman was more right than I could’ve imagined him being when I first read him as a college freshman?
So here’s how I’ve been keeping myself busy when I’m not watching Twitter unspool.
Sing Backwards and Weep. Mark Lanegan takes you on an odyssey through his career at the margins of the Seattle music scene and society itself. As someone who really became a music obsessive as grunge broke, it was a heartbreaking work. Lanegan tells a survivor’s tale that gives an overdue human and humane perspective on the lives and deaths of his close friends Kurt Cobain and Layne Staley. It’s a gripping, bracing read.
Newsletters. I need to declare newsletter bankruptcy but just can’t. Your newsletter is great and I get why people are turning to email to stop fighting algorithms, but I’m open to strategies for better email management so they’re not just completely buried.
But as Brian Morrissey writes in the Rebooting, email is harder than we’re ready to admit. I’ve spent the better part of the week on a new desktop (!) PC (!!) just to make my personal email more manageable and found that newsletter are frequently buried in the funniest places because of how AI sorts your inbox.
Ted Lasso. The first season hit me — and everyone else — like a ton of bricks at the outset of the pandemic. It just hit the right notes for the moment. Season two? It hasn’t charmed me in quite the same way, and it seems like public opinion has turned sour.
Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace. I was first introduced to this in grad school or thereabouts by Todd L. Burns. It’s on Amazon Prime and if you’re a Matt Berry fan, it’s wonderful to look back at this moment in his career.
Rick and Morty. I’m not caught up. Apparently the season redeems itself, but it’s been trying my patience.
The Phillies. I’m reluctant to admit that this deeply flawed team has won me back with a streak that put them in first place in August. I’m ready to have my heart broken again.
Chin Music — Getting Kevin Goldstein back is a gift that just keeps on giving.
Mixcloud — seriously this is the future of radio and I hope they can stay indie forever.
Albums — too many to list. I’ll share my favorites now that we’ve got just 4 months to go (!) in 2021.
Little League baseball. Charlie’s team finished fourth in New Jersey. He made a talented team in his only season in the league. If you’ve spent any time around youth sports, you might know how difficult this can be. It was a triumphant conclusion to an impressive Little League career. He’s excited to start travel ball again this fall, alongside hockey.
Running. I hired a coach last summer to try to train for a 100K race. It was going great, right up until the time of the move, when I was stricken by a relentless case of plantar fasciitis. I’m nearly completely recovered but have no races on the schedule. I’m back to running about an hour a day at a good pace, but the difference this time is that I’m focused on being lighter. I’m down about twenty pounds since the end of June and am looking to lose about twenty or so more. My hope is that being lighter will translate to fewer repetitive stress injuries.
Tech upgrades. New phones! We’re all on iPhone 12 now. I’m typing on a Windows desktop PC and it is hilariously wonderful to have an all-in-one in our lives again. I may even write more, but don’t want to commit just yet.
Keep choosing things that take you offline when you can and remind yourself that information isn’t the same as action.
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:
Arbor Labor Union — New Petal Instants
Arbouretum — Let It All In
Autechre — SIGN
Barry Walker Jr. — Shoulda Zenith
Beauty Pill — Please Advise
Ben Seretan — Youth Pastoral
Bill Fay — Countless Branches
Bill Nace — Both
Blitzen Trapper — Holy Smokes Future Jokes
Bob Dylan — Rough and Rowdy Ways
Bonny Light Horseman — s/t
Brigid Dawson and the Mothers Network — Ballet of Apes
Bruce Hornsby — Non-Secure Connection
Bruce Springsteen — Letter to You
Buck Curran — No Love Is Sorrow
Bully — SUGAREGG
Carl Stone — Stolen Car
Charlie Kaplan — Sunday
Chris Forsyth with Garcia Peoples — Peoples Motel Band (Live)
Chromatics — Faded Now
Chronophage — Th’pig’kiss’d Album
Circles Around the Sun — s/t
Constant Smiles — Control
Container — Scramblers
Country Westerns — s/t
David Grubbs & Taku Unami — Comet Meta
David Nance — Staunch Honey
The Dead C — Unknowns
Death Valley Girls — Under the Spell of Joy
Deep Sea Diver — Impossible Weight
Deep Space Duo — Spacetones
Deerhoof — Future Teenage Cave Artists
Destroyer — Have We Met
Dezron Douglas & Brandee Younger — Force Majeure
Dogwood Tales — Closest Thing to Heaven
The Dream Syndicate — The Universe Inside
Eartheater — Phoenix: Flames Are Dew Upon My Skin
Eli Winter — Unbecoming
Elkhorn — The Storm Sessions
Emma Swift — Blonde on the Tracks
Ezra Feinberg — Recumbent Speech
FACS — Void Moments
Fire-Toolz — Rainbow Bridge
Flat Worms — Antarctica
Fuzz — III
Garcia Peoples — Nightcap at Wits’ End
Greg Dulli — Random Desire
Guardian Singles — s/t
Guided By Voices — Mirrored Aztec/Surrender Your Poppy Field/Styles We Paid For
Gunn-Truscinski Duo — Soundkeeper
Gwenifer Raymond — Strange Lights over Garth Mountain
Hailu Mergia — Yene Mircha
HAIM — Women in Music Pt III
Heather Trost — Petrichor
Heathered Pearls — Cast
Household Gods — Palace Intrigue
The Howling Hex — Knuckleball Express
Imaginary Softwoods — Annual Flowers in Color
Irreversible Entanglements — Who Sent You?
Jackie Lynn — Jacqueline
James Elkington — Ever-Roving Eye
Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit — Reunions
Jeff Parker — Suite for Max Brown
Jeff Rosenstock — NO DREAM
Jeff Swanson — Fathoms
Jeff Tweedy — Love Is The King
Jeffrey Silverstein — You Become the Mountain
Jennifer Castle — Monarch Season
Jeremy Cunningham — The Weather Up There
Jess Williamson — Sorceress
Jessie Ware — What’s Your Pleasure?
Joe Westerlund — Reveries in the Rift
Joe Wong — Nite Creatures
Jordan Reyes — Sand Like Stardust
Josh Johnson — Freedom Exercise
Khruangbin — Mordechai
Kneeling in Piss — Tour De Force
Lambchop — Trip
Laraaji — Moon Piano/Sun Piano
Lewsberg — In This House
Lithics — Tower of Age
Liturgy — Origin of the Alimonies
Loma — Don’t Shy Away
Loose Koozies — Feel a Bit Free
Mapache — From Liberty Street
Mary Halvorson’s Code Girl — Artlessly Falling
Mary Lattimore — Silver Ladders
Masaki Batoh — Smile Jesus Loves You
Melenas — Dias Raros
Mike Polizze — Long Lost Solace Find
Moor Mother — Circuit City
Mosses — T.V. Sun
The Mountain Goats — Songs for Pierre Chuvin
Mute Duo — Lapse in Passage
Muzz — s/t
Mythic Sunship — Changing Shapes
Nap Eyes — Snapshot of a Beginner
Narrow Head — 12th House Rock
Nathan Salsburg — Landwerk
The Necks — Three
Nothing — The Great Dismal
Obnox — Savage Raygun
Oh Sees — Metamorphosed/Panther Rotate/Protean Threat
Oliver Coates — skins n slime
Olivia Awbrey — Dishonorable Harvest
Oneohtrix Point Never — Magic Oneohtrix Point Never
Optic Sink — s/t
Pacific Range — High Upon the Mountain
Pallbearer — Forgotten Days
Phish — Sigma Oasis
Phoebe Bridgers — Punisher
Protomartyr — Ultimate Success Today
Psychic Temple — Houses of the Holy
Quin Kirchner — The Shadows and the Light
Ratboys — Printer’s Devil
Rob Dobson — New Dystopia
Robert Haigh — Black Sarabande
Roger Eno & Brian Eno — Mixing Colours
Ron Miles — Rainbow Sign
Rootless — Docile Cobras
Rose City Band — Summerlong
Sally Anne Morgan — Thread
Sam Gendel — Satin Doll
Sam Prekop — Comma
Shabaka and the Ancestors — We Are Sent Here By History
Silver Scrolls — Music for Walks
Sir Richard Bishop — Oneiric Formulary
Six Organs of Admittance — Companion Rises
Soccer Mommy — color theory
The Soft Pink Truth — Shall We Go On Sinning So That Grace May Increase?
Stephen Malkmus — Traditional Techniques
The Strokes — The New Abnormal
Sun Ra Arkestra — Swirling
Sunwatchers — Oh Yeah?
SUSS — Promise
Tengger — Nomad
Terry Allen & The Panhandle Mystery Band — Just Like Moby Dick