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”

tags: words-about-music