I changed my mind: Year-end lists matter | Bleader

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

I changed my mind: Year-end lists matter

Posted By on 12.23.14 at 03:30 PM

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My favorite record of the year
  • My favorite record of the year
I recently picked up Amanda Petrusich's fascinating book on 78 RPM record collectors, Do Not Sell at Any Price, and, early on, paused on a passage about Facebook. After collector and preservationist Christopher King mentions Facebook postings as the kind of bits of everyday life that can easily vanish in the future, Petrusich posits the possibility that these digital scraps could last longer than we might imagine when we type them out: "Although King would have scoffed at the notion it's possible to argue that our digital legacies (all those dopey Facebook posts) will ultimately prove infinitely more enduring than our material legacies. They are, after all, replicated and indissoluble—such is the way of the Web."

The passage made me realize it's been a little more than ten years since the social networking site was introduced to my college, back during my first semester at Brandeis University. So, for nearly a decade (give or take the half-year I quit the site, and the months I've barely touched it) I've been posting memes on friends' walls or quoting The Simpsons at length, which is a lot of fairly unmemorable web detritus. Only a few instances of using the site are really burned in my memory, and Petrusich's book also brought one to mind: the death of Bernard, a friend of mine from college.

My friend Bernard was a thoughtful and fiercely intelligent person with whom I enjoyed unexpected conversations about New Orleans (his hometown, always close to his heart) and overdue books (I worked at the library, so that subject inevitably came up). We'd run into each other on campus and talk until one of us was forced to tear away to deal with some pressing college matters. We weren't the closest of friends, but he was more than an acquaintance and I found it easier to confide in him than some pals I spent significantly more time around.

Bernard committed suicide at the end of our junior year. I was in Switzerland when I found out, crashing with a friend while backpacking around Europe after a semester abroad; my roommate back at school e-mailed me the news before the administration informed the rest of the campus. I could see the grief spread the next couple days by logging onto Facebook and watching familiar faces post messages of heartbreak, confusion, and anger on Bernard's profile. All I could do was sit and watch the messages pop up—much in the same way I imagine that all some of my peers could do was type out their feelings—and think maybe, just maybe, I'd wake up the following day and see that my friend responded.

The memory of Bernard's death would occasionally surface when I repeatedly listened to my favorite album of the year, Home, Like Noplace Is There, from Massachusetts emo band the Hotelier. On the searing "Your Deep Rest" front man Christian Holden sings about a friend's suicide, and his sobering lyrics detail the stomach-knotting anguish of seeing a friend's body laid out in a coffin. Holden's voice cracks into a piercing scream while he sings about his friend's depression, and his performance sparks with a cathartic frisson as life-affirming as the forceful, anthemic guitars at his back.

On "Your Deep Rest" it sounds like the guys in the Hotelier are pushing themselves to play as powerfully as they can in the hopes that if they hit the notes just right they can somehow reverse the painful events that brought this song to life. The group played "Your Deep Rest" at Riot Fest in the fall. When the song's huge riffs segued into a hushed melody and left Holden's voice naked to sing the lines, "I found the notes you left behind / Little hints and helpless cries / Desperate wishing to be over," I felt my guts quiver and my eyes tear up. It was undeniably a highlight of the festival, and one of the moments I'll treasure from the year.

Home, Like Noplace Is There is among my favorite albums of 2014. Yet for the past month I planned on not assembling any kind of all-encompassing year-end list that would spell out my love for that album or any others. I'd once relished year-end list making, but whatever pleasure I took in the task receded in recent years, and I didn't even take a stab at a definitive end of the year list last year. It could be fatigue with listicles and the online arguments that surround them, but I questioned what I was getting out of making a list; in part I no longer felt that the format and ritual allowed me to detail my deep, complex relationship with a series of albums that touched me.

But reading that passage about Facebook in Petrusich's book, and thinking back to my peers' grief-stricken posts, made me once again alter my feelings towards end-of-the-year lists. I realize that these inventories are as good a way of providing a window into how I felt about a specific set of albums at the end of a 12-month period as my definitive estimation of their worth. I know that my interpretation and understanding of a song or record will grow beyond New Year's the more I listen to it, or, in some cases, the more I distance myself from a piece of music. But there's something of real value in pointing out the things I love now—it will change, no doubt, but I can return to the list at some point in the future and hope that such a catalog will remind me of the specific emotions I felt towards an album at a specific time.

I can't provide a numerical score that neatly summarizes all my reactions to an album the same way that the people I saw writing on Bernard's Facebook wall couldn't possibly express all the deep, meaningful aspects of their friendships in a few words like "I miss you." But if we don't write something, and if I don't assemble something, it's harder to remember how I felt at this particular moment years down the line. With that in mind, here are a few lists of some of my favorite releases from the past year. My overall favorites include three Chicago rap releases and two albums that sound like they were made by TV on the Radio, although the Brooklyn band only made one of the records. These releases aren't assembled in any particular order, but I've felt strongly about all of them. Jump in:

My favorite albums of 2014:

Hotelier, Home, Like Noplace Is There
Young Fathers, Dead
Lil Herb, Welcome to Fazoland
Ratking, So It Goes
Saba, Comfort Zone
Mick Jenkins, The Water[s]
Run the Jewels, Run the Jewels 2
Ricky Eat Acid, Three Love Songs
Sun Kil Moon, Benji
TV on the Radio, Seeds

My favorite songs of 2014:

Vic Mensa, "Down on My Luck"
Against Me!, "Black Me Out"
ILoveMakonnen (featuring Drake), "Tuesday"
The City on Film, "I Blindly"
You Blew It!, "Award of the Year Award"
Tree, "Probably Nu It"
Hurt Everybody (featuring Mick Jenkins), "Treat Me (Caucasian)"
Owls, "Four Works of Art . . ."
M&O, "Neighbor"
Hotelier, "Your Deep Rest"

I also wrote about "the best things about Chicago music" for our Year in Review, which you can read here.

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