There is an entire symphony within Buke and Gase’s opening track of their recently released album, Scholars. “Stumbler” wakes up hazily, like the groggy narrative it comes to tell. “I fall down on the weekend,” Arone Dyer repeats diligently, over layers of sound that build and crash around her. “You couldn’t find a better friend than me,” she finally admits, through a form of electronic distortion – before the song again takes a compete turn, jumping between tones and instruments. The sounds often make no sense, yet are guttural, instinctual, familiar. They resonate, they clash. They ache, they irritate. They spark curiosity, movement, discovery. And so it begins. Arone Dyer (her) and Aron Sanchez (him) have initiated us into their reimagined landscape, given us a test. And a warning: hang on for the ride. (There’s nothing else quite like it.) Are you ready?
This year, I went to 14 shows. That’s only about one per month on average. Back when I lived in Minneapolis, there was a time when I went to almost 14 shows in one month alone. But I haven’t lived in Minneapolis for over two years now, and this year was full of many, many other events. Thankfully, a good number of them are still music related.
In January, I went to Norway for an Arctic science and policy conference, one of the best weeks of my graduate career and my life. I pursued stories in Alaska and back in Minneapolis, interviewed people all over the world about the arts in a changing Arctic, worked for Nature Conservancy magazine, graduated with my master’s degree, visited San Francisco for the first time in seven years, photographed live shows, interviewed Kimbra on the phone (!!!), finally saw Dessa perform live, took my best friend to her first ever indie show (Wye Oak), started a new full-time job, moved within town, visited New York for an arts and climate change workshop, travelled to Germany and the UK for work, saw Reinhardt Buhr perform on the street in Berlin, and most recently, found myself back in Washington, D.C. for work – where I saw The Japanese House live. I made many new life-long connections, visited old friends, and lost my grandpa in the spring. It’s been an amazing and difficult year, in so many ways. But through it all, as always, there has been great new music. And that’s the one thing I hope never changes.
There are albums that make the top ten you tell everyone about, to relate to other people, so they can know you better. I often name bands like Radiohead, Sylvan Esso, Elliott Smith, and (old) Coldplay. And there are albums you put in a different kind of top ten: the ones that help you relate to yourself, so you can know yourself better.
It doesn't matter if anyone else has heard of the artist. It often seems more personal because you found and listened to it without expectation, without other people's opinions in your head playing at the same time as the music. You might not even want to share this album, because then it's no longer entirely yours. You hope this artist gets just big enough to tour so you can see them live, but not too big so that you lose them to commercial radio and Pitchfork critique. You are protective of this album, this artist. You hold them close to your heart in a way you rarely do with people. At times these songs seem more "you" than you do. They can bring you back to yourself when little else can, orient you back between your ears and down toward the heart. This album will forever remind you of the day, the week, the year that you listened to it most. Where you were, how you were, how you felt. Like an anchor forever at the bottom, holding memory hostage.
This past year has been full of Phoebe Bridgers, Sylvan Esso, Overcoats, Typhoon, Half Waif, Dessa, Kimbra, Lissie, Liza Anne, Mimicking Birds, Bad Bad Hats, S. Carey and Now, Now. But again and again and again, it has returned to Tomberlin and her twice released At Weddings.
Last night, I could have easily been at a show in Minneapolis. Bad Bad Hats headlined, there were numerous Macalester grads in the audience, and the crowd sang along to every song like they've known about the band forever. But I was actually in Denver, Colorado, at the Hi-Dive. Who knew Bad Bad Hats had such a following out west?
"I'm a loser sometimes," Jess Abbott states matter-of-factly on "Clipping," right in the middle of her new album, under the moniker Tancred. But the fact of the matter is, no matter how Abbott feels (sometimes), she is very much the opposite. Nightstand -- a versatile, dynamic and emotionally raw indie pop-rock record -- is simply the latest piece of evidence.
For starters, there's "Song One." Less than two minutes long, it introduces us to the album in a dream-like state, reminiscent of a flashback in an old film. It's enchanting, mysterious, a hint of what's to come. And we're given a promise in the lyrics that sets the stage for the next 33 minutes: "I will not lie to you, these words will be true."