“But I didn’t open up my mouth
Just to piss and moan.”
Okkervil River, “Okkervil River R.I.P.”
In my imagination, there’s a Liner Notes HQ. It’s an office on the second floor of a warehouse-y building in a nondescript city. Every morning, I grab a coffee downstairs from the local shop, climb the stairs to the door with the headphones logo, turn the key, and walk inside. Owen isn’t there yet; he’s usually late. And so is the staff. I set down my hip messenger bag and look around. Festival and concert posters line the walls of the waiting area. The receptionist’s monitor has a boring screen saver (the headphones, again) bouncing slowly from corner to corner. I walk past a morning-dark conference room, where the cloudy daylight slants across an old-fashioned chalkboard with a few unfinished lists – one titled “NEXT” and another titled “2016” and double-underlined. The former is blank; the latter seems like a work in progress, things erased and written over and other things crossed-off. Year end stuff.
Our spaces are at the end of short hall, and they share an internal wall against which O tosses a squeezy ball when he’s on the phone with A&R guys or other bloggers. His office is a mess. Phish paraphernalia, mostly, including what he calls the four-fecta. On his desk, there’s the Fishman bobblehead, natch. There’s the real cactus wearing a fake gray wig and holding a fake fretless bass. There’s a square of what looks like astroturf with a balding and bearded Fisher-Price little person next to microphone. And, my fave, the framed pic of peak-70s Arthur E. Neuman with a bright red beard and wire-rimmed glasses wearing tennis whites, ala Jimmy Connors, and holding a Wilson racket. Obviously, pics of his beautiful family, next to stacks of cds – promos, perched perilously next to the trash can (I really love it when he just sweeps them in and laughs every month or so), and, next to the computer tower, the “important ones” – Kezar, 12/31/95, some Miles Davis, Arcade Fire, the National. You can’t see his dual monitors from his dual chairs, and that’s probably by design—stills of Dennis Bergkamp’s amazing thigh muscles have been known to stop fluid conversations.
My office is on the left. Two windows, and pictures of my team on the sill. Above the computer, a bulletin board with yellowing print cut-outs of authors, musicians, soccer players (Zidane, just post-headbutt, standing over that floppy racist bitch Materazzi), and, of course, snapshots of all four kids. My vanity wall has all three diplomas and two law licenses. A piece called “Four Blue Sky Windows for J. Freitag” by my dead best friend hangs between the windows. The whole place is tidy, to humble-brag. Lester Bangs’ Psychotic Reaction sits alone in an inbox next to several piles of paper, which I really need to get off my damn desk right away. I listen to my voicemail, check my email, and scribble a few notes. Call so-and-so at such-and-such, lunch with that one person, etc. Boring rock scribe shit. You can see my dual monitors from my dual chairs, and that’s not necessarily by design, but gotdam those mirrored Windows abstract wallpapers do look super tight together. (Tech-wise, I guess LN would be Apple-based, but my everyday office isn’t. Those are really the wallpaper on my work monitors, so it crept into my daydream.)
A sip from my Starbucks travel mug, which the barristas downstairs pretend to think is cute, and a cursor blink. Where was I…oh.
Hi. It’s been too long. And now it’s that time. List time.
And. Whuh. Why bother.
It’s late-January already. And just like retail stores start selling xmas right after hween, all the big sources (magazines and websites) start posting their “best of” lists way too soon. We all know what we should listen to. And once we do, we all know what we should like. It’s Beyoncé and Bowie. And many, many other things by other artists.
(I’m making a few huge assumptions. Namely, if you’ve read this far, you actually (a) care about new music, and (b) took the time to peruse some lists.)
Insider info. Do you want to know why the lists from those big sources are so diverse? It’s because they have more than two people listening. We here at LN believe in doing it ourselves. Actually, we don’t believe in that, but we have no choice. My attempts at staffing this thing last year failed miserably. LNHQ doesn’t exist, except in my head. O lives in the East; I live in the Midwest. He’s a dad of two little boys; I’m a dad of two less-little boys. He and I never see each other unless we text pictures, and we rarely talk.
But we do. We text and email a lot, especially around this time of year. Sure, there’s chatter about Arsenal FC’s festive period. There’s even more chatter about music because of these silly lists – the ones we read, and the ones we write. And we need to post our version here for the handful of people who care. (Two people are a handful, O. Trust me. You’d think it was five, but two is a quorum because the thumb doesn’t count. Ha.)
What’s our tag line? We write, you listen. That’s completely inaccurate. We listen, then we write (or we used to), then you maybe read, and then you probably don’t listen. Guys, true story: I have never understood why. I have never understood why more people aren’t as into this as we are, or were.
Maybe life is too short to care? Maybe these posts are so annoying that you don’t take the first step (reading) to the second (listening)?
I’m conscious about being negative and critical. My best friend tells me that I’m a snob. And, yeah, I am (and can get pointlessly righteous about my bona fides to stand on a soapbox re: music). Another friend told me earlier this year that I’m the most negative person he’s ever known. Ever known. Wow. Just as the blog was clipping along (remember “Grateful Dead Weekly” and “Jazz Is…” and the “It’s Friday, I’m in Love” playlists?), I tripped on my own too-clever words and too-cool opinions, and offended one of the very few folks that I hoped would read what I wrote and pass it along.
So that’s why I quit. I don’t want to be that guy. Not here, not anywhere. Opinions are fine, but humility is better. And music is the best.
It’s sure better than my opinions about it. This isn’t about me. It’s not. LN is me and Owen talking, but it’s us talking about art. And art is weird, innit? (Pretty sure I blogged about that in some iteration of this blog – can’t be bothered to link it.) Does an artist make art for herself, or for somebody else? Both? Is the latter a matter of false consciousness? That’s only partly rhetorical. I’m not sure that “both” is the wrong answer, but it’s definitely the right answer to pay the bills. Digression.
Blogging isn’t art. Writing is, for sure. But blogging isn’t writing. It’s opinioning. It’s criticizing and ranting – and the more obnoxious, the better. Clickbait rules. I’d like to think that I’m humbler than that. I listen to a lot, then sometimes I write about it. And I can do that in a kind way. I can do that in a way that doesn’t expect website hits. I’m 47 years old (feeling every one, lately), and my validation shouldn’t come from you. It should come from me. My best friend usually doesn’t read this blog; Owen’s doesn’t, either. Why, then? If the two most important people in our individual lives don’t really care, then why?
Why do we do this? I can’t speak for Owen. I can make screw of his virtual office swag, but I can’t put words in his mouth. Me, I do this because it’s fun to write, to string together words in interesting ways to describe music. And that’s plenty. If art enters the equation, it’s the art of the artists – the musicians, who have produced so much amazing work. And if you don’t care about what I liked, that’s totally ok; if you do, that’s great. It would be even greater to know that you heard my shouts, checked out something outside your comfort zone, and shouted back.
Let’s start conversations – irl, like President Obama said in his farewell address – and disagree and fight (header image), amicably.
That starts with a proposition like, “holy shit, the last track on that Tim Hecker record is so indescribably ominous.” Or, “there’s a connection among the Bon Iver, Frank Ocean, and James Blake records that we should discuss because maybe modern pop music is moving in an introspective direction, and what does that mean?” Or, “damn, I just plain love ‘90s indie guitar rock and its progeny.” Or, “I just don’t get much hip-hop, lately, and I can’t really explain why because it’s a big part of what I dug in law school, but A Tribe Called Quest is still good and Run the Jewels is even better.”
If you’re reading this still (and tl;dr is an actual thing, I get it), there are three more things that I want to say.
- I’m always honest in what I recommend or unrecommend.
- Connecting about anything – music or art or even just fn life – is awesome. Awesome in a colloquial sense, and awesome in the larger sense of awe. We’re all electrons, milling around a nucleus called Earth. We all have good and bad days. Nobody’s joy or grief is better or worse than anybody else’s. But insularity is bullshit. The 1/21 marches and rallies across the world showed us that.
- One and two are related, so this post and this blog is an open invitation.
I might be done with LN, tbh – it just doesn’t matter. Or I might not be because…idk. There’s something about new beginnings. And in that spirit, here’s my fave lyric passage of last year (and part of my #1):
“But if we learn how to live like this
Maybe we can learn how to start again
Like a child who’s never done wrong
Who hasn’t taken that first step”
The 20 Best Records of 2016, imho:
- Car Seat Headrest – Teens of Denial
- Radiohead – A Moon Shaped Pool
- Frank Ocean – Blonde
- Bon Iver – 22, A Million
- Vijay Iyer & Wadada Leo Smith – A Cosmic Rhythm with Each Stroke (non-Spotify)
- Mitski – Puberty 2
- Solange – A Seat at the Table
- David Bowie – Blackstar
- Blood Orange – Freetown Sound
- Explosions in the Sky – The Wilderness
- James Blake – The Colour in Anything
- Mogwai – Atomic
- Parquet Courts – Human Performance
- Okkervil River – Away
- Lost Under Heaven – Spiritual Songs for Lovers to Sing
- Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith – EARS; FRKWYS Vol. 13: Sunergy
- Run the Jewels – Run the Jewels 3
- Kyle Dixon & Matthew Stein – Stranger Things OST Vol. 1 & Vol. 2; Survive – RR7349
- The Field – Follower
- Weyes Blood – Front Row Seat to Earth
Honorable Mention (abc order):
(Notes: All links to Spotify. If you don’t have pay Spotify, you should. The HMs were all pretty close to making the Top 20 – or back half of it. Just wanted to mention what I left off for reference.)
Let me know what you think. I hope your holidays were grand, and 2017 is a happy and healthy year for you and your people. To quote some guy from Avatar…ahem, sorry…to quote awesome Toronto’s very own Kevin Drew: “Hope is not a fucking word, it’s a responsibility.”