It’s 9:03 on a Monday morning. I don’t have work for a while. The bank account is quickly draining. I should pay bills this week too. The world is literally a mess and it’s not just in Exene Cervenka’s kiss, though we should all be so lucky. Right? Whatever. America is a failure and all we have left is escapism, which is probably going to be abandoned en mass is we don’t all want to live in a fascist regime. Shit. We’re so fucked.
As such, I am truly afraid that enjoyment of making and in taking art for the sake of art is now gone. 2016 is the last gasp of a trend we’ve been on since World War II in terms of consumption for consumptions sake and production for production sake. Which isn’t to say people should stop creating what they feel and believe or tell the stories they want to tell no matter how cosmetic they may be. But who’s really going to have time for the superficial when the fuck heads are shouting everything down with fear tactics?
Which is hard because for someone who likes sadness music more than the battle hymns of revolution, I really enjoyed the depressed adults making music arc that 2016 was. Maybe it was all these people tapping into a darker fear and bleak reality lying under the surface, but a lot of sad shit came out this year and I was way into.
Creative Adult is one of the most Joy Division bands out there that doesn’t really sound like Joy Divison. There Fear of Life LP is simply brilliant. It’s also British as fuck with out feeling derivative. The classic Marshall tones, the distinct, mournful bass lines and drums that sound like they were taken from a Lush album make Fear of Life perhaps one of the best albums to sink into before the end of the world comes. Singer Scott Williams haunting voice, buried just at the perfect Steve Albini levels and nearly indistinguishable are the perfect cry for help.
As a Washington DC expat I am always pleased when new bands from there tickle my fancy. I’m totally stoked that there is a great burgeoning hardcore scene once again in the nation’s capital but it’s old friends who really blew me away. I had the pleasure of hosting Big Hush this summer and our little dusty town was not disappointed. Also washed out in fuzz their new EP Whose Your Smoking Spirit is aptly titled and beautifully executed. All of the instruments and vocals sound like they are being played behind a wall with the occasional wailing guitar. Vocals and harmonies are so fragmented and well placed as to sound almost accidental but heavenly at the same time. Bad Moves has also won my heart with their self titled 4 song endeavor. Both bands have left me wanting more. DC’s never been a town known for its singing, but the harmonies and supplemental vocals on this enrich the great pop song writing. I can’t stop listening to “The Verge”. Four songs is just not enough, but these two EP’s together makes for an enjoyable and extended listening experience.
It pains me how much of a fan of Self Defense Family I am. But it’s true. Patrick Kindlon has been one of my favorite lyricists over the last few years and on the last several singles and EP’s he’s been exceptional in his personal, confessional narratives. On Colicky, their final offering of the year, he gets supper into letting himself loose on the wax and behind him is a band unhinged from their past. The repetitiveness and Lungfish worship is still present, but form and exploration have also taken over. And fuck if the epic ender “Brittany Murphy in 8 Mile” isn’t about the most beautiful thing I’ve ever heard. Benny and Chris are both dicks though.
On the heavier side of things veterans Darkthrone released another banger in Arctic Thunder. Black Metal as a genre was rather humorous and never really reached the levels artistically and aesthetically that it should have. But the duo from Norway, one of the early progenies of the scene are still making great records. They have largely abandoned tenants and rules of the Black Metal Coven and instead just tried to make great metal albums. This year’s work is no different and it even has traces of their original sound.
The return of Planes Mistaken for Stars is one that also personally warmed my heart. The Denver quartet remains one of the most haunting bands I listen to. So when Prey finally emerged this year, I could not have been more pleased. The band hasn’t skipped a beat in their ten-year hiatus. Prey stacks up to their legacy and in many ways even exceeds some of it. Gared sounds just as desperate and broken as always and the songs are punishing to fatal degrees. Bands who reunite or reemerge for a second go rarely capture their former glory, but hopefully this is the beginning of another trip back to hell that we can all be dragged along with.
My final entry for music in 2016 is of course the great voice of Canada, John K. Samson. His Winter Wheat album is the perfect soundtrack for these cold mornings as fall descends into winter and the world crumbles underneath us. But don’t listen to “Virtue at Rest” because you will cry. But thanks John for another album to give me some sense of comfort that sadness doesn’t always have to be a struggle and we can do beautiful things to get by.
In terms of books, I did a piss poor job of reading this year. I didn’t read a single piece of fiction all the way through, though I started plenty of classics. But Baldwin and Rushdie and Fitzgerald just didn’t really do it for me. But it was a good year to read about music. I found a few memoirs disappointing in their execution but two tales I was rather surprised at how much I enjoyed considering I was skeptical of both. Larry Livermore, the once bright and quirky king of pop punk relived his experiences of the rise and fall of Lookout! Records in How to Ru(i)n A Record Label. Once being a young, suburban punk, Lookout! played an central role in my love for the poppier sides of punk. Green Day and Operation Ivy and those damn Crimpshrine records were on constant rotation in my various Sony Walkmen. Reading the story of their simple rise and unfortunate and greedy downfall (despite putting out great Ted Leo and Pretty Girls Make Graves albums) was heartbreaking. Something that did not have to be was and pop punk suffered as a result. On another part of that spectrum is the band NOFX and their tell all The Hepatitis Bathtub and Other Stories was easily the best book on music I’ve ever read and perhaps one of the most punctuated stories about success that’s ever been written. The California Quartet are not known for being anything other than dick head goofballs, but this biography characterizes the real people behind this band. It’s hard to have respect for Fat Mike and crew sometimes because his songs and antics are childish at best, but after reading this book I can honestly say that I am on his side, even if I can’t defend all of his choices. This is a book about hurt and pain and the attempts at redemption and self-love that are not always easy and proof that we are all much more complex than we let on.
So, that’s my 2016 in quick narrative form. There was more great shit, but this is what stood out for me. Uh, yeah, whatever. This is a terrible ending and I am going to jump ship now before I cause more damage. Peace.