Do we still move in 2017? In a year when our AI systems were becoming citizens and shut down for inventing new languages, when our social media interactions were weaponized with unprecedented precision by political campaigns, when our very DNA could be encoded with malicious software, what does movement even look like in such an information-rich world? A string of data waiting to be computed? If an average of 68 Facebook “likes” is all it takes to predict skin color with 95% accuracy, then it’s not hard to imagine a future when our movements find their significance not in expressing our desires, but in being algorithmically expressed.
But how much data do we create when we cry? What does data look like when we are fake laughing? The musical movements of 2017 offered both a glimpse into our mental health and possible ways to reconcile our technopolitical anxieties with our overbearing, untenable individualism. Our favorites this year didn’t offer solutions to our waking nightmares — why should they? — but they helped remind us that, while life is fragile (Ryuichi Sakamoto) and death is real (Mount Eerie), recovery is still possible (Björk). Amidst our fantasiis (MHYSA), dreams (Twin Peaks), and distorted reflections (Bell Witch), even our electronic music felt like ethereal gestures toward renewal, whether it was through reflexive neo-songs (Klein), a dance in the smoke (Actress), or an effervescent faith (Yves Tumor).
And our movements were many. For every articulation of bodily devotion (Perfume Genius), ruthless loyalty (Kendrick Lamar), and tender obsession (Lorde), there was a subversion of spacetime (Toiret Status), revelatory Euclidean algorithms (Konrad Sprenger), and circuitous experimentalism (Playboi Carti). For every instance of emotional nourishment (Charli XCX) and critique of power structures (Richard Dawson), there was a desire to build community “in the face of absolute fragmentation” (Club Chai Vol. 1) and to try “new forms of living in a deteriorating world” (Lawrence English).
We left 2016 already bruised and exhausted, and while 2017’s shitshow can’t be completely undone, we are not beyond repair. It’s easy to question our obsession with music, especially when our audio-editing tools find parallels in a gene-editing tool like CRISPR, when the noise of our time could be silenced in a flash by Minecraft scammers, when our hybrid musics coincide with hybrid wars and whatever the fuck these are. But this year’s sounds continued to expose and counter our artifices and mythologies in compelling ways, and we should count ourselves lucky that there was even a semblance of healing in both the ambience and the losses of 2017.
Our movements, especially in this small corner of the internet, remain vital — necessary, even. What will our movements look like in 2018? Hopefully something a little better than this.
In the music video for “Slip Away,” our introduction to the fourth Perfume Genius album, Mike Hadreas ran through a slideshow of soft-focus fantasies, away from a cast of hapless villains and toward an implied happy ending. Like a dream, the detail seemed both blurred and crudely exaggerated; the antagonists’ faces painted in caricature, overcome by Hadreas dashing through the exploding set with his fairytale bride. Most of all, for an artist who dealt nothing but shade on 2014’s comeback “Queen” — all vicious contours and slicked-back hair, lips frozen in a permanent sneer at American heteronormativity — “Slip Away” presented a palette that was warm, dynamic, and deliriously playful. From start to finish, the intersections of love and death that played out across the record (see: auto-erotic asphyxiation tribute “Die 4 You”) never felt cheapened by the gauzy nightdress they came swaddled in, but elevated by its vaudeville sexuality. Even the posthumanist tropes that swirled through the album were rendered with joy; at the death, No Shape swooned at the spirit’s liberation as readily as it lamented the body’s failure.
THE SADDLE OF THE INCREATE
[Sun Ark/Drag City]
Strike the stage. Think of the desert as a set, an empty set, one in waiting. Potential, not unrest. Perhaps an inclination. Look around, it’s barren and stable, tough to soil. (A grain of sand ain’t nothin’). Here it is: total poiesis (There’s a snake’s scale on that bird’s tail); the verbal rendering of all forms present by no trick greater than insistence (Ain’t that a sight). The presentation of a gift: a hidden giver, a lost recipient (…ain’t nothin’). Nowhere to go, cannot go beyond all that is present unless presented (There is a chute). It’s a classic place, an old joke, plain enough. A cowboy story, “as futuristic as possible.” Dehydration, waiting for a sign. It’s a trip, an experience, a losing time. “IT’S MORNING. HARNESS IN. STRAP UP. RIDE ON OUT BRAVE INTO TODAY.” My tongue is a chair, and I like that.
Tara Jane O’Neil
Tara Jane O’Neil
In the summer, the light warms and deepens everything natural. Summer sunlight makes shimmering greens seem deeper until the end of August, but come December, even at high noon, the empty branches look washed out; the air looks washed out. In 11 gentle songs, on a self-titled album, Tara Jane O’Neil tucked that deep, warm summer light into her pocket. In fits and starts on tracks like “Flutter,” “Kelley,” and “Blow,” she raised it slowly over the horizon. “The path forward is well lit,” she sang on “Metta,” and even on the harshest winter days, it is, thanks to her druidic calm. The path unfolds like a clean line traced by the afternoon across a bedroom floor. Follow it to keep inside its warmth. Look up sometimes, but never too directly or for too long without those heavy-duty and professionally inspected eclipse glasses. This album was inviting and elusive. It pulled us in close but never let us forget how fragile our little human retinas are. And then it dipped out of sight.
Nmesh’s plunderphonic monolith Pharma was many things: a chemical cocktail for a future nightlife, a hallucinogenic trip through the dark fractures of 2017 and its nostalgic histories, a waking nightmare catalyzed by vaporized pop cultural memories. Pharma went beyond simulation, toward the tangible archaeological rescue of base cultural artifacts, offering a digital rendering of the remnants of human primitivity that felt especially appropriate in this historical moment. The melodic duality of “White Lodge Simulation,” the psychedelic brutality of “Mall Full of Drugs,” and the grotesque fantasy of “Acid Baby” were all the stuff of cosmic horror, but channeled through aggressive grooves and hooks that can only charm and intoxicate. Through Pharma’s many tributaries, Nmesh took on a whole society’s obsession with the artificial and gleefully liberated us.
A flame my love, a frequency
The events surrounding the creation of Colleen’s seventh studio album, A flame my love, a frequency, were as heavy as it gets. Colleen’s real name is Cécile Schott, and she is from France. She happened to be in Paris, getting a viola bow repaired the night of the 2015 terrorist attacks. For weeks after, as the songs started coming, the looming specter of death wouldn’t leave her mind. Yet, for how overwhelmed she felt, the album she created was full of light and hope. The viola de gamba that created the backbone of her 2015 comeback album Captain of None was replaced here by a focus on the Critter and Guitari Pocket Piano and Septavox synthesizer, as processed by a Moog delay pedal. The minimal compositions were recorded live, without vocal overdubs, fostering a sense of personal immediacy amid the waves of synthetic sound. A flame my love, a frequency remains an album of essential contrasts.
“Mirrors are the doors through which Death comes and goes. Look at yourself in a mirror all your life and you’ll see Death at work like bees in a hive of glass.” Jean Cocteau’s 1950 cinematic adaptation of the Orpheus myth has its hero journey through mirrors to the underworld in a vain attempt to save his beloved Eurydice. Mirror Reaper, Bell Witch’s somnambulant third album, echoed that film’s themes of dreamlike movement, distorted reflections, and an obsession with death. After former drummer Adrian Guerra died during the writing and production of Mirror Reaper, current members Dylan Desmond and Jesse Shreibman created an album that alternated between an elegiac dirge and its angrier mirror image, a mournful march showcasing that death is but an inverted reflection of life. The power of Mirror Reaper lay in its world-building; consisting of a single 83-minute track, the album forced the listener to meet it on its own terms. Through repetition and a loud/quiet dynamic, Bell Witch lulled us into a slumber in which the voices of the dead spoke to us again and then violently shook us awake to remind us of our own fetid mortality.
Ingestion and invisibility, undo our reverse cornucopia; plunge and unplug, let loose the profusion. Microscopies swell to burst in bubbleshine, but don’t forget to meet the man, the man himself, who cans all that laughter. We’ve got lyrical machines, all pistons firing and tiring, building all those silly swirls of collapse and sweettoothing their hardware hollow.
The arc of the priest’s staff leaves a sparkling trail of emoji — snap, swing, zing, plonk. Things move fast and then they move faster and then they don’t. Thank you, thank you, grazie. The trunk sort of explodes, splitting loose and scattering the grid, leaving queues all out of sort, and cutting the stone with recrudescence. While you can help it, never stop iterating += 1.
TFW when the POP ROCKSTM pass the blood-brain barrier
I caught the cows tangoing on the roof, clapping and clacking their hooves hailstone-style on the corrugate. A toast to every comet that explodes overhead! Drum rolls please, but we shouldn’t cater to bourgeois enjoyment. Quiet, the show is set to start…
Elsa coughs a light cough and foghorns:
Dedesnn nn rrrrr, Ii Ee, mpiff tillff toooo,
Dedesnn nn rrrrr, Ii Ee, mpiff tillff toooo, tillll
Dedesnn nn rrrrr, Ii Ee, mpiff tillff toooo, tillll,Jüü-Kaa?llll,Jüü-Kaa?
Roshi, scepter at his side spilling smileys, nods. The crowd detonates.
And what would you call that act?
Not Even Happiness
[Ba Da Bing!]
Not Even Happiness is Julie Byrne’s truth, honesty, desire, and memory laid bare. It’s a woman accepting the universe, chaos, and herself through a calm that’s almost hard to take in. It’s airy. It’s layered. It’s self-love in motion. It’s an attempt to discern a place in the cosmos. It’s Grouper out of the mist, Angel Olsen on Xanax. It’s pure consonance. It’s about moments both meaningful and mundane — a cup of coffee in the morning while looking out the window — but they’re actually all important if you care about how you live. My friend who barely talks to me anymore sent me the record in April; I played it on repeat for five hours that day, and I’ve kept listening to it ever since.
I spend more time than I’d like in meetings centered on teaching middle school students empathy. It’s something I care deeply about, but these meetings often make me doubt that adults (especially those in positions of interacting with children) are actually competent models of reaching out and making positive contact. These meetings feel a lot like how most people would describe Pharmakon’s music: chaotic, headache-inducing, dissonant. I don’t think it’s an accident that what “kids these days” are bumping always seems, by adult standards, alienating. “At least it makes them feel something,” right? Truth is, kids are really good at “feeling things”; adults have just had more practice turning feelings into ulcers. Margaret Chardiet hasn’t forgotten how noise can make us feel things. Contact was what empathy (feeling what other people feel) really sounded like: generative, alleviating, and cathartic, qualities that may be better taught through unadulterated sound than through rudimentary recalibration. So next staff meeting, I’m playing “Nakedness of Need,” hoping that it will expand our discussion on how we can build better connections between us. If it doesn’t work right away, at least it will have made us feel, and that’s something.
AS TRUTH (MIXTAPE)
AS TRUTH (MIXTAPE) was as engrossing as it was adverse. With migrating noise and tones hammered out along pulsing rhythms, the mix was the out-loud dialogue of the desires and fears of machines laid flat. Of IP addresses beating like thumping veins. Of processors moaning and crying toward nothing. It was like the open wounds of aux cords oozing their creamy innards, reliving their nightmares on repeat, doled out into dulled infinity. This year has been tough, but out of strife and constant defeat comes a readmitted commitment to past truths. Processing grief and anguish is necessary for growth. Let’s just hope the machines have a better world in the works than what we have created for ourselves. Amnesia Scanner was here to help the wires deliver sensitive content with distance and grace, along with a mirror to gaze at our own created horror.