music i thought about in 2018

Here’s my futile act of resistance against posting screenshots of algorithmically generated “Your Top Songs 2018” playlists.

eli keszler - stadium

This album broke my brain during a late night subway ride. It sounds like the city more than any: the predictable randomness of machinery; the steel scrapes of the train bouncing through the tunnel; the steady, ethereal drone of electricity; a beeping that you can’t place. Two men board a nearly empty subway car, sit on opposite sides and start chirping each other like only old friends can.

Those two friends are Eli Keszler’s hands and what he does to the drums creates this soundscape. It wasn’t until after I heard it that I read the album is performed live with a drum kit and percussion, with sounds from a laptop triggered by his playing. There are other drummers exploring this technique but none with as much delicacy and intention as Keszler. He layers melodies and rhythms effortlessly and his virtuosity allows him to improvise within them. The result is an ever-changing document of our environment.

playboi carti - shoota (ft lil uzi vert)

My favourite rap subgenre is widescreen euphoria raps, for lack of a better term. Music for staring out into the great beyond, driving fast down an elevated highway through the city on a summer night in a vehicle with no top. Leave it to Playboi Carti, a rapper with a taste for the surreal and blissful to release the years best1 example of the genre.

“Shoota” is a pile of questionable arrangement choices that came out so well; the drums come in whenever but they lock everything into place. It continues to pile on sound and new frequencies throughout, continually raising the compositional stakes before letting Lil Uzi Vert jump in to bring the song to its ecstatic climax. Two guys rapping about how good it is.

m geddes gengras - hawaiki tapes

As an unrepentant gear nerd I can’t help but be humbled by this LP made almost entirely on a Korg Volca FM and some effects pedals. The prolific M. Geddes Gengras made it while on vacation in Hawaii and its sound reflects the sun and waves in that place.

When I visited Maui with my family a few years ago I couldn’t seperate its idyllic location from how American it is. There’s a Wal-Mart there. I picture Gengras retreating from happy hours and luaus to make this record. It’s a demonstration of how restraint can help create something larger than its parts.

earl sweatshirt - some rap songs

My memory of early Odd Future is clouded by a lot of critical hand-wringing over their lyrical content and attitude. Not that many years later Tyler the Creator is making songs for the Grinch movie and has branched out across the pop spectrum. Earl Sweatshirt is making the most honest and introspective music I’ve heard. This might be surprising to those critics, but it shouldn’t be.

Some Rap Songs is like leafing through tabs of youtube videos in Earl’s web browser, bouncing from influence to influence, rooted in the sounds of what he’s found. It’s freeflowing and unconcerned with polish and perfectionism; the samples and production service the idea rather than the final mix, sounding like you’re right inside of his head.

And that head is reconciling a lot of things: the death of his father, expectations of his musicianship and celebrity, his relationship to his mother. The songs exude it. I can’t overstate how personal and emotional it is, moreso than any other music I heard this year. It makes everything else sound vapid and meaningless.

gang gang dance - kazuashita

I joke that all my favourite music came out in 2008, when I think I started to finally understand it and develop some taste. Gang Gang Dance was a staple. They showed that being in a band didn’t have to mean staying inert in sound or attitude. Their Saint Dymphna is exemplary of this approach has been on repeat for me since. I still find new perspectives and ideas in their music years later.

Kazuashita reflects living in a frustrating, seemingly futile political atmosphere, but it remains rooted in optimism and joy. At the end of the album’s opener, audio from this video of the Dakota Access Pipeline protests enters. A protestor elequently describing the unfathomable philosophical gulf between the oppressed and the oppressor that plays out in media daily, before being interrupted by a heard of buffalo in the distance. I cry every time I hear it.

honorable mention

Laurel Halo’s ambient journey Raw Silk Uncut Wood, Burna Boy’s summer dancehall perfection Outside, Duppy Gun Production’s dancehall acid trip Miro Tape, Swae Lee’s synthwave rap excursion Swaecation and finally seeing Radiohead play live.

  1. Sorry, nothing will ever top “Citgo”


pacific concrete

Museum of Anthropology at UBC

The Pacific Northwest has a very specific architectural feeling to it.

Dark wet concrete, sometimes pitted and rusty from the sea air, seems at home against the rippled grey sky. The damp greens and browns of parks and public spaces are a natural contrast against the monochrome palette of giant cement staircases poured over the hilly landscape. Extremely comfortable ergonomic shoes on a really hard surface.

This sort of International Brutalism that pervades Canada’s infrastructure was birthed during our centennial in ‘67. Centered around Helvetica Bold, Cartier and the simple athletic pictographs of that year’s Monteal Olympics.

It seems the style stuck around for about 20 years, establishing itself as the de facto system for our national parks’ signage, museums and rec centres1.

UBC Campus

The Museum of Anthropology at UBC is a great example of this. I rode the bus out to visit when I was in Vancouver in September on many friends’ recommendations but nobody told me about the building itself.

Inspired by first nations’ building techniques of the area, Arthur Erickson designed it in 1971 during the maturation of this design movement. It’s a triumph of concrete and glass seated in fir trees at the north end of UBC’s campus. It looks west out onto Straight of Georgia from the remains of a World War II gun battery.

But despite being interested in 20th century architecture since high school and taking university courses on the topic Erickson was totally unmentioned. Frank Gehry and Daniel Libeskind seemed to be the only Canadians worth mentioning, whose works are mostly ignorant—even spiteful—of their surrounding environments2. Erickson preferred to enhance and integrate, emphasising function but still creating drama and beauty. The MOA functions fantastically as a museum but overachieves by also being a building of interest and complexity. A visit takes you on a journey from the grand glassed hall of totems flooded by natural light, exhibits in more traditional gallery-like spaces and the endless archival collection rooms. You’re never far from that cool grey texture of concrete.

Maybe the best example of this unity is the Evergreen Building, best described by its landlord’s website:

Designed in memory of a former escarpment, this unique building is stepped in a series of receding, and angled balconies, recalling mountainside, hence the building’s name, Evergreen. Plantings overflow the concrete brows into which the railings are set, creating the effect of a terraced garden and softening the edge of the building’s distinctive profile.

Erickson said of concrete in 2000, “It’s still a wonderful material. To cover a building with stone is to disguise its truth. I try to make concrete as beautiful as possible — I treat it as a precious material.”

After looking up Erickson’s works I felt a new understanding of the architectural landscape of my upbringing. While not as flashy as a giant piece of folded and curved steel, Erickson’s style obviously had a profound influence on public buildings of the 70’s and 80’s. Smaller projects like the civic centres, arenas and public schools of my Ontario childhood could more economically follow his lead to create a bit more visual interest than simple brick or drab prefabricated buildings.

Life Building, UBC

  1. Check out Canada Modern for a great archive of this style. 

  2. My favourite example of this is when sunlight reflected off of the stainless steel exterior of Gehry’s Walt Disney Concert Hall, focused and intensified by it’s curved surface started frying people on nearby sidewalks. Cladding a building with polished metal in sourthern California doesn’t demonstrate a lot of forethought. 


the truck exhaust gender reveal party

I can’t stop watching these videos. They succinctly illustrate the present era a of participatory media better than anything else I’ve seen; how social media encourages us to make an event out of everything. They are the last grasps at gender rigidity and the internal combustion engine.

Let’s begin with a simple example of the genre:

What a way to combine your love of your toys and your children into a simple video to share with friends and family. Lest you think that this is a party with only trucks, you can announce your offspring’s genitalia with a burnout on your motorcycle too:

It could even gain you a mention on your local network affiliate for “going viral”.

Why stop at indoctrinating your child into your love of trucks and impart a political orientation?

This one is like the Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon of truck exhaust gender reveals. It’s a pastoral static shot of blue powder falling in slow motion from the pipes of a huge semi.

Sometimes it doesn’t seem to go well at all. This one is so low-key its depressing; no cheering, no fanfare. Do these people even care about their baby’s gender or what?

More recent videos introduce a lot of production value. With this one they either found a cousin who owns a DSLR, gimbal and is a bit dangerous with Adobe Premiere, or they brought in Robert Zemeckis.

I’ll leave you with the first one I saw and still the best, for reasons that will be self-evident:

older stuff

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