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Right Here Where We Stand
Music 2012: A Year in a Day
Music is infinite. I've always known this, emotionally, but I've spent a lot of time pretending it isn't quite true, trying to understand everything. Or at least subsets of everything. Or at least pretending that my understanding of music simply grows with everything I hear, or that every new perfect 3:00 I discover brings with it 5 additional hours of life in which to listen to it 100 times.
But after a year of being paid to confront the insupportable foolish of this pretty much daily, I feel myself slowly, reluctantly, mercifully, letting go. Music is finite, of course, but so are we, and we are each of us far more finite than our collectively constantly exploding dreams. I used to aspire to find a few new bands to love every year. Now I can more or less conjure them into existence at will, can summon them from genres I've never even heard of, can pull them out of the swirling vortex with any random flourish. There is no way to catch up. There is no way to keep up. There is no up. These moments are irreplaceable and unrepeatable. Every song you fall in love with, you may never hear again. The joy of discovery must be the moment you are in, while you're in it, not a monotonicity of catalogs.
Forward, then, with less looking behind, less imagining that I have surveyed these places I have usually only slid through in awe. Forget with all of your heart, remember just what you need to feel like you're still you in the morning. But a day, maybe, we can afford that. A day for an astonishing year past. A day to reflect, and then onward through the mirror into whatever is next.
1. Emma Hewitt: "Miss You Paradise" (3:31, from Burn the Sky Down)
2. Emma Hewitt: "This Picture" (3:31, from Burn the Sky Down)
This wasn't just an album, for me, but practically an ecosystem: The album "proper", two more albums of remixes, some acoustic performances I watched over and over again online before they too came out on yet another release, and then a dizzying balloon ride over and into the rest of the glittering sub-archipelagos of trance. This is dance music, from a dance culture, and at least at the level on which cultures are based, it's fairest to say that I don't dance. And if I come back from the trip eager to go again, but perhaps with only this to share taken out of context, then maybe there are kinds of exploration for which a balloon is the ideal vehicle.
3. Taylor Swift: "Eyes Open" (4:04, single)
4. Taylor Swift: "Ronan" (4:25, single)
5. Taylor Swift: "Holy Ground" (3:22, from Red)
6. Taylor Swift: "Girl at Home" (3:40, bonus track from Red)
I quit thinking I didn't like Taylor a couple years go, but my retroactive tolerance had been morphing into admiration only gradually, a song or two at a time. But then she made a minor rock song, almost incidentally, on an album of perfectly peripheral music that wasn't even a soundtrack, and I couldn't stop playing it. And then she made a memorial song that wrecked me so badly that I actually haven't been able to play it all the way through since the first time I really paid attention to the words. And then she made an album that was literally overfull of songs that are not exactly masterpieces, but only because they respect their own limitations with such cheerful grace. There have been times in my life when I have slipped out of phase with popular music, and I know better than to claim that when we come back into such resonance, it's a product of any sort of objective quality. But I also know that visceral elitist disdain is no kind of gift, and that if you can turn on the radio and feel happy, then you have one more way to feel love, and more love is pretty constantly better than less. And if you can listen to someone looking for themselves, and hear your own dreams, you're closer to understanding both of them.
7. Lyriel: "Voices In My Head" (4:17, from Leverage)
8. Lyriel: "Everything Is Coming Up Roses" (3:24, bonus track from Leverage)
9. Clock Opera: "Once and for All" (5:13, from Ways to Forget)
10. Shear: "Scorched" (5:21, from Breaking the Stillness)
11. matryoshka: "Noctambulist" (7:18, from Laideronnette)
This was the year when I stopped being far better informed about metal than anything else, but not by loving it any less. There are new bleak thrilling things happening in metal, dark things and moments composited from fragments of pain. But then there are also ranks upon ranks of people who understand that fantasy (in the sense that all amplifications and syntheses are forms of fantasy) is a means of power over the quietly real. And how we imagine what we would be in our dreamworlds is the realest magic.
And so maybe this is also the year in which, reunifying my metal and "non-metal" worlds, I understand better than ever that genre lines and taste lines demarcate different notions of terrain, no matter how often they happen to coincide on maps. And give me enough time, it at least sometimes seems to me, and I'll find the quantification of my listening experience, if not of the music itself, that explains how galloping gothic folk-metal and shimmeringly ethereal synth-yearning and hard-rock and post-rock can be versions of the same elliptically redemptive urge.
12. P!nk: "Blow Me (One Last Kiss)" (4:15, from The Truth About Love)
13. P!nk: "Timebomb" (3:34, bonus track from The Truth About Love)
14. Enslaved: "Roots Of The Mountain" (9:16, from RIITIIR)
15. Kate Miller-Heidke: "I'll Change Your Mind" (3:01, from Nightflight)
16. Woods of Ypres: "Career Suicide (Is Not Real Suicide)" (3:44, from Woods 5: Grey Skies & Electric Light)
I have come into and out of sync with popular music to various extents before in my life. I'm 45 now, and precedent suggests I should be getting grouchy and taking up jazz, or circling back to whatever seemed like "good" music to me when I first started understanding that there was enough music in the world that I could afford to hate some.
But then I'd have to miss some of this, and I am not willing. We refuse, and our defiances take all these different forms, from the most literal to the least, and from obdurate romantic disbelief to the most haunting irony. All truths are about love. This is what "truth" means.
17. Dappy (ft. Brian May): "Rockstar" (3:39, from Bad Intentions)
18. Dappy: "No Regrets (Acoustic Mix)" (2:57, bonus track from Bad Intentions)
19. Shearwater: "Animal Life" (3:38, from Animal Joy)
20. Shearwater: "You As You Were" (3:42, from Animal Joy)
21. Frightened Rabbit: "State Hospital" (4:37, from State Hospital)
And what we mean by pain is disconnection from love, and thus from truth, and to fight against your incumbent context is to fight your way towards, whether back towards or for the first time, these things. Or, more often, to struggle to recognize them already around you, to find how truth and love can be not so much goals for journeying as perspectives, or how the journeys can be undertaken inwards, where you will not have the luxury of being thwarted by irrelevant external distractions.
22. School of Seven Bells: "Put Your Sad Down" (12:47, from Put Your Sad Down)
23. Sharon Doorson: "Fail In Love" (3:00, single)
24. Nightwish: "I Want My Tears Back" (5:07, from Imaginaerum)
25. The Birthday Massacre: "Leaving Tonight" (3:29, from Hide and Seek)
26. Rihanna: "What Now" (4:03, from Unapologetic)
27. Emma Hewitt: "Miss You Paradise (Venom One Extended Mix)" (5:20, from Burn the Sky Down - Extended Remixes)
And this is why the distinction between sad art and happy art is spurious. There is only towards truth and away, and you can move towards truth by understanding love directly, or by reaching towards love through understanding pain. Arguably the latter is to emotion what leverage is to physics, and sad cathartic songs are among the most elemental emotional machines.
28. Chairlift: "I Belong In Your Arms" (3:27, from Something)
29. CHVRCHES: "Lies" (3:32, single)
30. Haim: "Send Me Down" (4:19, from Don't Save Me)
31. Charli XCX: "Nuclear Seasons" (3:46, from You're the One)
32. Sky Ferreira: "Lost In My Bedroom" (3:13, from Ghost)
33. MNDR: "#1 In Heaven" (3:50, from Feed Me Diamonds)
34. Ellie Goulding: "Anything Could Happen" (4:46, from Halcyon)
35. Niki & The Dove: "Tomorrow" (3:52, from Instinct)
36. Bat for Lashes: "Lilies" (4:47, from The Haunted Man)
37. Kerli: "Zero Gravity" (3:51, single)
38. Loreen: "Euphoria" (3:01, single)
39. Calvin Harris: "Feel So Close" (3:26, from 18 Months)
40. Knife Party: "Centipede" (4:06, from Rage Valley)
41. Feed Me: "One Click Headshot" (4:47, from Feed Me's Escape From Electric Mountain)
42. High Contrast: "The Road Goes On Forever" (5:41, from The Agony & The Ecstasy)
And if I have an argument for voracious music discovery, beyond the self-evident observation that music is what humans are best at, and thus to embrace life is to want to hear more music, it is that mortal transcendance requires an almost-impossible suspension of disbelief, and the more moments you hear in which somebody has managed to perform this, the harder it is to believe that all these people have some gift that you do not. And the argument for listening now is that eventually you must logistically concede that they cannot reasonably be conspiring, and if these simple perfect ideas can come into so many separate souls independently, then maybe "separate" does not mean quite what we felt like it did.
43. Carly Rae Jepsen: "I Know You Have a Girlfriend" (3:03, bonus track from Kiss)
44. Upon This Dawning: "Call Me Maybe" (3:30, from Pop Goes Punk 5 compilation)
45. fun.: "Some Nights" (4:37, from Some Nights)
46. Evans the Death: "Telling Lies" (2:31, from Indietracks Compilation 2012)
47. Cheatahs: "The Swan" (4:26, single)
48. Candy Hearts: "Bad Idea" (2:34, from The Best Ways To Disappear)
49. Wildlife Control: "Analog or Digital" (3:02, from Wildlife Control)
50. California Wives: "Blood Red Youth" (4:18, from Art History)
51. Maximo Park: "This Is What Becomes Of The Brokenhearted" (3:54, from The National Health)
52. A Silent Film: "Danny, Dakota & the Wishing Well" (4:45, from Sand & Snow)
53. Killers: "Carry Me Home" (3:44, bonus track from Battle Born)
And so if we feel something that feels like happiness, perhaps we can just let ourselves be wholeheartedly happy.
54. The Mountain Goats: "The Diaz Brothers" (2:47, from Transcendental Youth)
55. Admiral Fallow: "Guest of the Government" (3:35, from Tree Bursts In Snow)
56. The Crookes: "The I Love You Bridge" (4:16, from Hold Fast)
57. Dead Sara: "Sorry for It All" (4:48, from Dead Sara)
58. Of Monsters and Men: "Dirty Paws" (4:38, from My Head Is an Animal)
59. Balmorhea: "Dived" (3:35, from Stranger)
60. Lissy Trullie: "Glass Mountains" (4:02, from Lissy Trullie)
61. The Joy Formidable: "Wolf's Law" (4:01, single)
62. Emma Hewitt: "Miss You Paradise (Strings & Acoustic Version)" (3:33, from Starting Fires)
And if we feel something that feels like sadness, perhaps we can just let ourselves be wholehearted.
63. Silbermond: "Unter der Oberfläche" (3:46, from Himmel Auf)
64. Eisblume: "Bis Zum Letzten Atemzug" (3:53, from Ewig)
65. Lapko: "Life Is Life" (4:01, from Love)
And there is more to this than language, of course...
66. Alanis Morissette: "Guardian" (4:19, from Havoc and Bright Lights)
67. Macklemore & Ryan Lewis (ft. Mary Lambert): "Same Love" (5:20, from The Heist)
68. K'naan (ft. Nelly Furtado): "Is Anybody Out There?" (3:58, from Country, God or the Girl)
69. Pitbull (ft. Shakira): "Get It Started" (4:06, from Global Warming)
70. Urthboy: "Stories" (3:49, from Smokey's Haunt)
71. Miguel: "Kaleidoscope Dream" (4:17, from Kaleidoscope Dream)
72. How To Dress Well: "Ocean Floor for Everything" (3:12, from Total Loss)
...but we will not let language scare us out of saying what we believe, nor out of singing something when we don't know what we should.
73. It Bites: "Map of the Past" (4:36, from Map of the Past)
74. Killing Joke: "In Cythera" (4:27, from MMXII)
75. Ultravox: "Brilliant" (4:22, from Brilliant)
76. Rick Springfield: "Wide Awake" (3:02, from Songs for the End of the World)
77. Oxygen: "When Tomorrow Never Comes" (3:01, from Final Warning )
78. The Electric Lady: "Who Cares" (3:53, from Black Moon)
In understanding the journey, we will see that we never really leave things far behind so much as we turn away, for a minute or twenty years. Only turn again and they are instantly here with us again and still.
79. Down Below: "Du Und Ich" (3:54, from Zeichen)
80. Mainpoint: "Black Traveller" (3:59, from Black Traveller)
81. Moonspell: "Incantatrix" (4:40, from Omega White)
82. L'Ame Immortelle: "No Goodbye" (4:18, from Momente)
83. Anneke Van Giersbergen: "Feel Alive" (3:42, from Everything Is Changing)
84. LIV MOON: "Alchemy" (3:42, from Symphonic Moon)
85. Xandria: "A Prophecy of Worlds to Fall" (7:23, from Neverworld's End)
86. Diabulus in Musica: "Sceneries of Hope" (3:51, from The Wanderer)
87. Dark Princess: "Fight With Myself" (4:43, from The World I've Lost)
88. Dharma: "Encoded in Fire" (4:18, from Dharmageddon)
89. Silesia: "Let Me In" (3:22, from Let Me In (No Alargues Mi Condena))
90. Yotangor: "No Man's Land" (3:32, from We Speak)
91. Lunar Path: "Promise Me" (3:32, from Memento Mori)
92. Dalriada: "Hunyadi es Kapisztran Nandorfehervari Diadalarol (Saltarello)" (5:32, from Napisten Hava)
93. September Mourning: "Love Is War (Romanticide)" (3:00, from Melancholia)
94. Lullacry: "Thousand Suns" (4:38, from Where Angels Fear)
95. Christian Mistress: "Pentagram and Crucifix" (3:49, from Possession)
96. Grand Magus: "Starlight Slaughter" (4:19, from The Hunt)
97. Unisonic: "Star Rider" (4:16, from Unisonic)
98. Devin Townsend Project: "Save Our Now" (4:01, from Epicloud)
99. Rush: "Clockwork Angels" (7:31, from Clockwork Angels)
So let your courage carry you, like a flag carries you by waving you on...
100. Varg: "Guten Tag" (3:44, from Guten Tag)
101. Deathspell Omega: "Fiery Serpents" (4:15, from Drought)
102. Arbor: "A Great Leap in the Dark" (6:34, from The Plutonian Shore)
103. Heimdalls Wacht: "Das Martyrium" (4:59, from Ekte Westfäölske Svatte Metal)
104. Ahnengrab: "Die Das Licht Nie Werden Sehen" (4:29, from Omen)
105. Timor et Tremor: "Shores of Light" (6:18, from Upon Bleak Grey Fields)
106. Oak Pantheon: "Aspen" (6:20, from From a Whisper)
107. ScerrA: "A Gyertyák Csontig Égnek" (4:54, from In Via)
108. Thormesis: "Sterbend Herz" (6:23, from Von Leere und Tod)
109. EїS: "Am Abgrund" (9:11, from Wetterkreuz)
...and when your courage fails you, because who can ever really trust flags, know that you can still trust your fear...
110. Cradle of Filth: "Frost on Her Pillow" (4:12, from The Manticore and Other Horrors)
111. De Magia Veterum: "The Deification" (3:48, from The Deification)
112. Dodecahedron: "I, Chronocrator" (7:26, from Dodecahedron)
113. Stagnant Waters: "Castles" (5:35, from Stagnant Waters)
114. Tempestuous Fall: "The Stars Would Not Awake You" (10:56, from The Stars Would Not Awake You)
115. Blut aus Nord: "Epitome XVII" (9:27, from 777 - Cosmosophy)
...and when your fear fails you, because fear is the feeling of something failing you, it frees you to soar into the abyss...
116. Alcest: "Summer's Glory" (8:04, from Les Voyages De L'Âme)
117. Lunaire: "Last Days of Summer" (6:48, from With the Same Smile as Those Days)
118. Líam: "VI" (5:18, from MMIX)
119. Thisquietarmy: "Aphorismes" (11:55, from Thisquietarmy/Year of No Light split)
120. Northumbria: "Black Sea of Trees" (13:04, from Northumbria)
121. Seirom: "1973" (4:35, from 1973)
122. Desiderii Marginis: "Procession" (5:29, from Procession)
...and into peace, and through, and thus to emerge again.
123. Ylvis: "Jan Egeland" (4:23, single)
Do this enough and perhaps you'll eventually see how the whole thing is funny. And then, after a few more times, how it's actually not just funny.
[A historical note: as of early 2013, it was still not quite universally possible to share extant music simply by reference. But it was getting close to universally possible other than the "simply" part, and getting close to simple other than the "universally" part. If you read this list when I made it, you could have recreated it for your own listening with some work but no real luck or heroism. In parts of the world where Spotify had reached, you could have begun with an availability-abridged Spotify version without any work (albeit not without either ads or money, your choice), and then decided whether to track down the missing pieces. In Rdio territories you could have started with a different Rdio abridgement as easily (albeit in excerpts of an abridgement unless you paid). There were other ways, too. None of them were quite ideal yet, for anybody, and it wasn't yet clear how the more ideal ways would come about, exactly. But it felt, for the first time, like they would. It felt, as for some of us it had always seemed like it should, like these acts of list-making and listening and cherishing could be more than bookkeeping, more than blank symbolic verse, more than gifts just to our wistful future selves.]
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