Here's the perfect manifestation of this column at work — I can't describe Myshko Chumak's music taste or recognize a song on here, but I resonate with his attraction to the manic, the danceable, even the seemingly silent. Continue on for his lamentations on a year written in extremes.
I’ve been trying to distance myself from hyperbole recently, which means thinking about my recent listening in a way that neither repeats pablum about “comfort in unprecedented times” nor totally embraces dread. I like nervous music, music that’s unsettled and unsettling, even when it’s in a major key, and this seems somewhere between pablum and dread. Over the last 12 months, I’ve found myself falling into repetitive music and listening loops. Maybe read this as my way of rocking back and forth, my sonic self-care at best or anesthetic at worst.
Here’s the range. On the broadly "happy" side of my recent listening history is a strong manic, or perhaps sublime, tone. Songs sweet and bright that you play in denial or lullabies you might sing to keep the all-too-wakeful and waking world out. All of them danceable in their own way.
The flip-side here is music that sounds like it's fighting a war of attrition against the twin floodwaters of a choked present and a dead silent future. You can headbang to these. That’s the map; here are some landmarks.
'Narrator' (2021) by Squid
This is a song about being part of someone else’s life. Squid’slead singer (and drummer!)Ollie Judge and Martha Skye Murphy delve into its second half with a commitment, beating in a phrase: “I’ll play mine.” The song builds in section to Judge screaming the phrase and Murphy (just) screaming. This chant is a weird assertion of the right to take up a certain space, to follow in spite. It suits a fatalistic mood while spitting in your face. I love it! In the three days following this song’s release, I listened to it for a cumulative eight hours.
'Snow Day' (2020) by Shame
This is a song about weather(ing). There’s talk of a cold wind, an ocean hidden in plain sight, life advice — “They say don’t live in the past/ And I don’t/ I live deep within myself/ Just like everyone else” — all amid swirling, bitter guitars and surgical drumming. It’s all packed in and set ablaze. Reminiscent of hopped-up bands like Preoccupations or Women.
'Amma Jerusalem School' (2013) by Matana Roberts
Okay, the Coin Coin series by Roberts et al. is a masterwork, and “Coin Coin Chapter Two: Mississippi Moonchile” (2013) is a standout. This series focuses on the Black experience in the American South, ranging from the anthropological to the surrealistic, but always fantastic in execution. “Amma Jerusalem School” reads like scraps of a diary entry and sounds like a gentle stroll, with pain peeking out from the gutters. “There are some things I just can’t tell you about,” Roberts sings and repeats throughout the album. And I concur. I open my mouth and words come and yet these last few months are ultimately unspeakable. Maybe one day I will find the words for them.