Our Favorite Albums, 2021: Individual Contributor Lists & Reflections, Part 2
Tone Glow writers reflect on 2021 through albums, songs, and more
Each of our writers was asked to submit a list of their 10 favorite albums from this year. They also had the option to list their 10 favorite songs and to create another list of any 10 things of their choosing. Below, find reflections and individual lists from our contributors, listed in alphabetical order.
Leah B. Levinson
[C]aring for art, so far as most artists are concerned, often means finding the time, space, proficiency, and determination to make the best thing possible, whatever that means to her.
—Maggie Nelson, On Freedom, 23
This is the eternal origin of art: that a human being confronts a form that wants to become a work through him. Not a figment of his soul but something that appears to the soul and demands the soul’s creative power. […] Such work is creation, inventing is finding. Forming is discovery. As I actualize, I uncover. I lead the form across—into the world of It [the world of objects and experience]. The created work is a thing among things and can be experienced and described as an aggregate of qualities. But the receptive beholder may be bodily confronted now and again.
—Martin Buber, I and Thou, 60-61
Last year I took this space to reflect on music that colored broad swaths of uneventful, unpunctuated time with strong moods, hues, and ambiances, providing companion through a challenging period while marking time as seasons change. I approach this year with a similar mindset (because, honestly, fundamentally, little has changed) but now I turn my mind partially towards the changes that were made.
As we entered our second year of the current pandemic in the spring, vaccines rolled out at large and the U.S. began to formally reopen (as if we had ever really closed). The U.S. then saw a mass exodus of workers across multiple industries from low-paying retail and food service work to white collar salaried jobs and well-paying industries such as healthcare. This was accompanied by major strikes and boycotts against corporations such as Frito-Lay, Nabisco, and Amazon throughout the year. Such a cultural shift indicates a degree of intentionality and self-determination in regards to our individual and collective material realities. It indicates the power found in taking agency over the actions, decisions, and institutions one involves themselves in in their daily life.
As both musician and critic, I am intimately aware of the ways material realities shape the quality (i.e. form, texture, or taste) of creative work. For instance, I have no doubt that much of the music I loved this year would have taken a different shape were it not for Bandcamp and the periodic continuation of Bandcamp Fridays. At worst, this monthly event could feel like a digital analogue to an overcrowded street fair, so full of creators desperately pushing their work that all this culture could suddenly begin to take the shape of undifferentiated rubbish. Effectively, however, these days helped many musicians not only find funding but also eager ears now taking active roles in their music discovery and relating to artists more directly in their consumption.
The ability for artists to act as both producer, distributor, and major beneficiary (all while operating at zero loss) means many artists are emboldened to take greater control (even if subconsciously) over their aesthetic decisions while still reaching sympathetic ears (no longer beholden to the expectations of a profiting label, the taste of a journalist or publication, or the predilections of a platform’s playlist). Such freedom, I find, encourages output which is niche, idiosyncratic, inexplicable, and strange. Such freedom offers a space where artists can follow their wildest inclinations and carve out a voice or approach unlike any other.
In On Freedom, author Maggie Nelson writes of aesthetic care and the importance for artists to find the space for such work; on setting boundaries around our time and protecting the space for difficult engagements with concerns that may seem trivial to others and even sometimes ourselves:
It may sting when you get (or give) an I Can’t, but it likely indicates that care is engaged elsewhere. For many artists, that “elsewhere” is the fierce, sometimes unconscious protection of the conditions that make their ongoing artistic practice possible. This protectiveness can infuriate others. This makes sense, in that aesthetic care is of a different order from other forms of care. It appears not to care directly for others because it doesn’t. Aesthetic care entails caring about other things, such as paper quality, pigment, gravity, oxidization, chance, pattern, the dead, and the unborn. All of this is also the world, also constitutes forces to which one might feel compelled or obliged. That such forces do not always make their claim on us via human bodies or ethics is no reason to doubt the intensity or vitality of their calls. I am married to an artist, and although we presumably understand the importance of each other’s work more than many others might, the fact that our work consists mostly of self-directed, time-consuming, solitary labor … with few to no hard deadlines or guarantees of financial profit … makes it a quick target if and when one of us thinks the other could or should be doing something else (cleaning the house, playing with the kids, paying attention to one another, making money, and so on). At the same time, we both know—especially as teachers—that one of the most vital things we have to impart, both to ourselves and our students, is the importance of making time and space for one’s art in a world that will always threaten to disregard or diminish it.
While I have felt intimately the difficulty of protecting the space for creative work (written work like this included), I contend in a small way with the notion that such aesthetic care “appears not to care directly for others because it doesn’t.” I have often felt traces of such intensity of care as a recipient, when, on occasion, I find myself enraptured by a work. As a maker, listener, curator, writer, and reader, I often feel such care as a refusal to devalue the practice of musicking, as author and musicologist Christopher Small would have it, a verb that foregrounds the relationality of music and the active involvement it requires by all participants. I feel it as a refusal to take lightly the commitment each of us makes when we show up, share, support, and engage; a reminder of why we’re all so planted in our involvement; and, to put it simply, a refusal to waste anyone’s time.
Many of my chosen pieces of music this year were album-length works in which that commitment to form and practice was palpable, works that developed and explored a singular style or approach, testing its bounds and capabilities. This was clear in the insistent minimalism of Dean Blunt, Darius Jones, Skogar, Tonstartssbandht, Terre Thaemlitz, and ThouxanBanFauni; the formal and sonic explorations of Dear Laika, ---__--___, ODAE, Fire-Toolz, and Black Dresses; the alien and uncanny worlds of Matt Norman, Jana Rush, ZelooperZ, and pedazo de carne con ojo; and the inexplicable textural qualities of secat, claire rousay + more eaze, Koldovstvo, Klein, and Presser. These were works that excelled by way of their makers’ commitment to their works’ specificity. These were artists who took time with the choices they had made, testing the impact of small variations, and investing themselves fully in those choices. By way of this they opened themselves up to me and I opened myself up to them.
In his 1923 book I and Thou, Jewish scholar and philosopher Martin Buber presented his philosophy of existence. In it, he proposed that each of us relates to the world around us in two separate modes: I-It and I-You. The former mode is largely characterized by an experience of external entities as objects and the formation of knowledge. The latter is characterized by an experience of presence in which boundaries between entities dissolve and we experience true relation. Buber offers insight into how such an outlook might influence an experience of art, inadvertently providing helpful insight to critics [emphasis mine throughout]:
What he [once] beheld as present he will have to comprehend as an object, compare with objects, assign a place in an order of objects, and describe and analyze objectively; only as an It can it be absorbed into the store of knowledge. But in the act of beholding it was no thing among things, no event among events; it was present exclusively. … What has become an It is then taken as an It, experienced and used as an It, employed along with other things for the project of “conquering” the world. […]
Art, too … The Chinese poet relates that men did not want to hear the song that he was playing on his flute of jade; then he played it to the gods, and they inclined their ears; and ever since men, too, have listened to the song—and thus he went from the gods to those with whom the image cannot dispense. As in a dream it looks for the encounter with man in order that he may undo the spell and embrace the form for a timeless moment. And there he comes and experiences what there is to be experienced: that is how it is made, or this is what it expresses, or its qualities are such and such, and on top of all that perhaps also how it might rate.
Not that scientific and aesthetic understanding is not necessary—but it should do its work faithfully and immerse itself and disappear in that truth of the relation which surpasses understanding and embraces what is understandable.
—Martin Buber, 90-91
This is why I present my list this year not as “Top Ten” or even “Ten Favorite” but simply “Ten Albums from 2021.” Because, in doing so, I hope not to present such a list as an object of its own, but to highlight the fact that such a list is an act: one of relaying, sharing, and hopefully relating through music, curation, and writing.
In this, I hope to highlight the aspect of lists that is similar to J. L. Austin’s performative utterance, an act of speech that is not only descriptive but is itself accomplishing an action. In the case of year-end lists this is often declaring and christening certain albums as particularly notable above others. Here I wish to foreground the act itself, rather selecting albums I would like to note and share in this space than present any evaluation which could be considered fixed and objective for even my own purposes. I wish to highlight list-making (and criticism itself) as an active, transitory process, one that falls under the umbrella term musicking: shaping the work we remember and the work we forget; influencing the ways we listen and what we think about the music in our lives.
This year I largely refrained from attending shows (first out of health and safety concerns, then out of a general apathy I felt towards them and the lack of aesthetic care I found in their space), I gave up the form of the traditional album review (a form I’ve wrestled with for well over five years now), I started DJ-ing and making mixes more regularly, and I joined a black metal band (finding pleasure not only in the process of making music with others, but in engaging with music that perhaps is best experienced live). As I’ve begun choosing my modes of musicking more intently, I’ve found myself less and less often silently resenting Music for its intermittent failures in providing moments of relation. I’ve also found my “critical” brain receding from my thoughts (that is, the brain that places moments of music on a pedestal, ready for evaluation). Now I begin setting intentions for the future, the present, the only time I’ve got, where music, its magic, may be retained as a blessed force in my life and yours, a shimmering string of nothing, lighting the horizon.
10 Albums from 2021
Tonstartssbandht - Petunia (Mexican Summer)
Matt Norman - Thoughtless (self-released)
Black Dresses - Forever in Your Heart (self-released)
Dean Blunt - Black Metal 2 (Rough Trade)
---__--___ - The Heart Pumps Kool-Aid (Orange Milk)
Presser - Presser (Bestial Minds)
ThouxanBanFauni - Time of My Life (self-released)
Skogar - Paradise City Jams (Studio Barnhus)
Koldovstvo - Ни царя, ни бога (Babylon Doom Cult)
pedazo de carne con ojo - dun dun (Citrus City)
10 Albums from 2020
Joshua Chuquimia Crampton - THE HEART'S WASH (self-released)
Treasury of Puppies - Treasury of Puppies (Förlag För Fri Musik)
Blod - Livets Ord (Aguirre Records)
Feminazgul - No Dawn For Men (Tridroid)
Jordana - Resistencia E.P. (self-released)
Moss Golem - The Woods of Galdura (Serpent’s Sword)
Richard Dawson - Republic of Geordieland (self-released)
Lorenzo Senni - Scacco Matto (Warp)
Liz Durette - For now (self-released)
Westside Gunn - Pray for Paris (Griselda)
10 Songs from 2020
Dear Laika - “Black Moon, Lilith” (Memorials of Distinction)
Jana Rush - “Moanin’” (Planet Mu)
claire rousay + more eaze - “smaller pools” (Ecstatic)
ZelooperZ - “Bash Bandicoon feat. Danny Brown prod. Dilip” (Bruiser Brigade)
Terre Thaemlitz - “Meditation on Wage Labor and the Death of the Album (Sprinkles’ Unpaid Overtime)” (Comatonse)
Darius Jones - “Beautiful Love” (Northern Spy)
secat - “crawlspace” (self-released)
Uj Bala - “Rush” (self-released)
Fire-Toolz - “Where On EARTH Is My Sacchidānanda?” (Hausu Mountain)
Klein - “suprise for bailey” (self-released)
Top 10 Albums of 2021
black midi - Cavalcade (Rough Trade)
New Age Doom & Lee “Scratch” Perry - Lee “Scratch” Perry’s Guide to the Universe (We Are Busy Bodies)
Juçara Marçal - Delta Estácio Blues (Mais Um / QTV)
DJ Sabrina the Teenage DJ - The Makin’ Magick II Album (self-released)
TEKE::TEKE - Shirushi (Kill Rock Stars)
Jadsa - Olho de vidro (Balaclava)
Darkside - Spiral (Matador)
Nala Sinephro - Space 1.8 (Warp)
Springtime - Springtime (Joyful Noise)
Mdou Moctar - Afrique Victime (Matador)
After 10 years of living in Tkaronto, my 2021 was defined by a move to the stolen, unceded territories of the Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh Nations, colonially known as Vancouver. Since I’ve been here I’ve spent a lot of time in the Downtown Eastside, disparagingly described as “the country’s poorest postal code,” which makes a release like 100 Block Rock profoundly moving and important. My partner Reagan says Mike Richter’s song “All The Best” is how she feels about me, and I’d be hard-pressed to find anything that means more than that. (p.s. 100 Block Rock just announced a sequel!)
On a personal/professional note, I started a label called We Are Time this year with my friend and collaborator Chandra Oppenheim, and was honoured to release the debut albums from Body Breaks, New Chance, and my band Motorists. My other band Tough Age released a split 7” with Dumb, and we’re now making plans for our next LP with original bassist Lauren Smith back in the mix. Bonus thanks to Sled Island for inviting me to join a supergroup!
I was grateful to write 12 reviews for Pitchfork this year, alongside my first contributions to The Wire culminating in a review of Matt Marble’s wonderful new Arthur Russell book. I interviewed William Basinski for Xtra, Tom Scharpling for FLOOD, and Myriam Gendron for Aquarium Drunkard. On the morning of Joe Biden’s inauguration, I spoke to Bill Orcutt and Chris Corsano for Tone Glow, as we all watched in real time with caffeinated anxiety, unsure of what the year ahead could unleash.
It was a pleasure to remain a regular contributor to Bandcamp Daily, write about obscure corners of music for Ears to Feed, and dig into a long-form feature on ecological storytelling for Musicworks. I was honoured to write the liner notes for Telephone Explosion’s reissue of Frank Hatchett, dance instructor to the stars. If you prefer to do your reading offline, pick up the latest issue of Zine Obscura, which I joined as editor this year. Finally, as a founding member of New Feeling, I was excited for the co-operative to hit a milestone of becoming 100% reader and member funded, as we relaunched and published two new issues in 2021.
My biggest writing project this year was an oral history of Big Shiny Tunes, the zillion-selling compilation series that started me down the path of music fandom in my formative years. Over five months of interviews, I had a blast reminiscing with Perry Farrell, Poe, Sloan’s Chris Murphy, Bif Naked, and a bunch of other CanCon celebrities that I never could have imagined talking to as a teenager watching Much Mega Hits. After it was published, CBC Q invited me as a guest to chat about the article alongside William Shatner and Public Enemy’s Bill Stephney. None of it seemed real, but it was strangely familiar—a feeling that likely won’t change any time soon.
Favorite Albums of 2021
Willie Dunn - Creation Never Sleeps, Creation Never Dies (Light in the Attic)
The Stick Figures - Archaeology (Floating Mill Records)
Myriam Gendron - Ma délire - Songs of love, lost & found (Feeding Tube)
Irreversible Entanglements - Open the Gates (International Anthem)
Chris Corsano & Bill Orcutt - Made Out of Sound (Palilalia)
Dean Blunt - Black Metal 2 (Rough Trade)
Ryley Walker - Course in Fable (Husky Pants)
Dummy - Mandatory Enjoyment (Trouble In Mind)
Mas Aya - MÁSCARAS (Telephone Explosion)
Fiver - Fiver with The Atlantic School of Spontaneous Composition (You’ve Changed)
Favorite Songs of 2021
Mike Richter - “All the Best” (Incidental Press)
Leanne Betasamosake Simpson - “I Pity the Country” (You’ve Changed)
Dorothea Paas - “Anything Can’t Happen” (Telephone Explosion)
Wau Wau Collectif - “Mouhamodou Lo and His Children” (Sahel Sounds)
Dummy - “Daffodils” (Trouble in Mind)
Madlib - “Dirtknock” (Madlib Invazion)
Black Dice - “White Sugar” (FourFour Records)
CFCF - “Punksong” (BGM Solutions)
New Age Doom and Lee “Scratch” Perry - “Holy Dub” (We Are Busy Bodies)
Idle Ray - “Water Comes in Through the Windows” (Life Like)
I really didn’t get to a lot of music this year and I feel like my top 10 list reflects that. The only artist I encountered this year that made the list was RXK Nephew, the rest are artists I have known and loved for years. Maybe my taste has stagnated I’m not sure, but I am glad I listened to RXK Nephew. His chaotic energy was a backdrop to my chaotic year of moving and changing jobs twice. Beyond that I listened to one disc of Migration of Silence every day since its release. I hope I’m able to finish writing about it.
Top 10 Albums of 2021
William Parker – Migration of Silence into and Out of the Tone World (Volumes 1–10) (Centering Records)
Wadada Leo Smith’s Great Lakes Quartet – The Chicago Symphonies (TUM Records)
Tyshawn Sorey & Alarm Will Sound – For George Lewis | Autoschediasms (Cantaloupe)
Apartment House – Number Pieces (Another Timbre)
Roland Kayn – Tektra (Reiger Records Reeks)
Hamid Drake, Elaine Mitchener, William Parker, Orphy Robinson & Pat Thomas – Some Good News (OTOroku)
RXK Nephew – Slitherman Activated (Towhead)
Godspeed You! Black Emperor – G_d’s Pee AT STATE’S END! (Constellation)
Guy Vandromme / Bruno Duplant – L’infini des Possibles (Elsewhere)
Melaine Dalibert / Stephane Ginsburgh / Nicolas Horvath / Wilhem Latchoumia – Three Extended Pieces for Four Pianos (Sub Rosa)
The greatest artistic joy in my life this year was the film club I maintain with my friend Brian. We watch a movie a week, the only rule being that it has to be something neither of us have seen. It is quite rare to find a partner in crime who is not overwhelmed by my endless curiosity for rare, strange, and/or difficult artistic experiences, and it has been an enormous privilege to screen films with someone with the same appetite as me. Below are a few favorites from the 90+ films we saw together this year. Film club forever.
Top 10 Films
Limite (Mario Peixoto, 1931)
Laura (Otto Preminger, 1944)
Le Diable Souffle (Edmond T. Greville, 1947)
McCabe & Mrs, Miller (Robert Altman, 1972)
A Poem is a Naked Person (Les Blank, 1974)
Forest of Bliss (Robert Gardener, 1986)
A Child’s Garden and the Serious Sea (Stan Brakhage, 1991)
Sopyonje (Im Kwon-Taek, 1993)
Knock Off (Tsui Hark, 1998)
There are many competing ways to define how an album should be considered the Album of the Year. If the criteria should be, as I believe, “the album that made the greatest impact on my person,” then there is only one answer for me: Space Afrika’s Honest Labour.
The hour’s worth of forgettable beige sound design that comprises Honest Labour had, without a single doubt, a greater effect on me than any other album this year. The music itself did nothing for me, but the responses to a negative review I wrote for Tone Glow taught me more about music culture, and by proxy music itself, than any other event in 2021—and clarified more for me what my own priorities in music and life should be. Hard to beat something like that.
If the criteria for Album of the Year is just “the album with the best music” then the answer is clearly Michael Winter/Liminar’s Single Track.
Top 5 Albums of 2021
Michael Winter/Liminar - Single Track (Another Timbre)
Choi Joonyoong - Tone Glow live set
Caspar Sonnet/Eren Guney - GRUST II (Andromache)
Πάνος Πανόπουλος/Γιώργος Σαμαντάς - σε τό τον τόπο οτ' εχουνε κουδουνι να (λ)α (Rekem)
Takehisa Kosugi - Takehisa Kosugi (Slowscan)
The titular line of ’90s TV cornerstone Long Vacation arrives so ham-fisted, I have to laugh at the attempt. Nagai oyasumi, Takuya Kimura’s Sena says to Tomoko Yamaguchi’s Minami about the lull in her life. If nothing seems to be working no matter what you do, just think of it as a break and don’t think so hard about it. It’s corny, and worse with the Japanese translation of the title, but it has lingered in my head throughout the year anyway since I watched the show this spring.
2021 felt like an extended detour as I cycled through two different jobs before landing back to my former employer that I quit from last fall. I tried to figure out a new way forward only to return more or less to the same spot I was a year ago. Looking back, the first half of 2021 feels a lot like a dream. A long vacation, more like.
I’m still trying to adjust to the lack of stability in adulthood especially after last year with COVID iterating that reality very clearly to me. The music that spoke to me most this year, I realize, find comfort and peace in the temporary while acknowledging the sorrow in seeing things expire. “You meet somebody / then you break up / and you move on again,” another one of my favorite songs of the year reminded me. The facts feel daunting though it also honestly feels liberating.
Top 10 Albums of 2021
Pasocom Music Club - See-Voice (self-released)
Porter Robinson - Nurture (Mom + Pop)
For Tracy Hyde - Ethernity (P-Vine)
mitsume - VI (self-released)
Kabanagu - OYOGUMANE (Maltine)
STARKIDS - 4D (self-released)
Piet Onthel - ambo(l)enitaksu(p)odulu (Utraid / Zegema Beach)
Serrini - GWENDOLYN (Jengs Bunka)
Kudaranai 1nichi / Anorak! - Split (Ungulates)
Lyrical School - Fantasy (JVCKENWOOD)
Top 10 Japanese TV Dramas of 2021
Watashi No Musume Wa, Kareshi Ga Dekinai!!
Koidesu! ~Yanki-Kun To Hakujo Girl~
Oomameda Towako To Sannin No Otto
Konto Ga Hajimaru
Hakozume: Tatakau! Koban Joshi
Kanojo Wa Kireidatta
Kikazaru Koi Ni Wa Riyuu Ga Atte
I don’t know what to even say about 2021. A year in purgatory more removed from the hell that was 2020. But, it was dope regardless. Striving to better your person and be more insightful, more thoughtful, more fulfilled, is ever present regardless of year. And in terms of writing, I became that much more well-regarded in the field, earning respect and well wishes. I got to interview Mike Park, a titan of punk. I wrote several fun pieces for Bandcamp. I’m involved in the Tiny Mix Tapes revival. And most importantly, I got to hang with Tone Glow friends irl (love u Mariana). It was fucking sick to get yelled at with my man Vincent. It ruled to see Sam McLemore piss off the entirety of ambient music Twitter with his completely correct sentiments. Thank god that Josh finally took a break, he really works too fucking hard. Tone Glow is a gang, is a clique, that pushes itself forward to get better at their passions, and supports each other. I just know we’re all gonna fuck 2022 up.
Top Albums of 2021
leroy - dariacore (self-releaesed)
Tyler, the Creator - Call Me If You Get Lost (Columbia)
Sugar Wounds - Calico Dreams (Toxic Loli)
black midi - Cavalcade (Rough Trade)
ThouxanBanFauni - Time of My Life (self-released)
NEUPINK - Seaweed Jesus (No Agreements)
ZelooperZ - Van Gogh’s Left Ear (Bruiser Brigade)
Big Up Menace X - Thank God! Giant from the X (self-released)
Cochise - Benbow Crescent (Columbia)
MIKE - Disco! (10k)
Top Songs of 2021
leroy - “theyfriend” (self-released)
Frogman - “Cult Party” (Dismiss Yourself)
YTK - “Let It Off” (Montebello Lake)
Cochise - “USOPP” (Columbia)
Valee - “HIMMYimmy” (Interstreet)
PinkPantheress - “I must apologise” (Parlophone)
MIKE - “Crystal Ball” (10k)
Tyler, the Creator - “Lemonhead” (Columbia)
SPEED - “WE SEE U” (Last Ride)
JPEGMAFIA - “HAZARD DUTY PAY!” (EQT)
This week, as I often do around this time of year, I went on my bi-yearly shame tour where I get in contact with all the people I’ve been ignoring for months. I let them know I’m still alive and tell them I’m perfectly fine so that they don’t worry too much—that’s usually a lie, but y’know. It’s an exhausting exercise. It’s a little bit humiliating. But it’s also necessary, for my own mental health and for the people I care about. What struck me about this particular leg of the shame tour is that it had a lot more stops than possibly ever before; I’m usually keeping an open channel of communication with someone even in the worst of times, but I had essentially cut off everyone.
Something I’ve learned from doing a lot of interviews with artists this year and the last is that I love talking to people exactly once. I love to let people go long, give them the space to work through their ideas, and give them encouragement that someone has made the effort to understand those ideas. I don’t have to give very much of myself while still feeling like I made a meaningful connection. When people start to wonder about my thoughts and feelings, I get uncomfortable. I find a way to avoid answering any question. Increasingly, this behavior crept into my personal relationships, and before I knew it, I didn’t feel close with anyone anymore.
As for why this has happened, I can’t really say. Pandemic exhaustion would be an easy thing to point to, but my lifestyle is largely unchanged. I’ve been keeping busier and working harder, but I think that’s also a symptom rather than an explanation. Just the same as last year, art and writing were my primary outlets for self-reflection and expression, but my relationship to both are now dramatically different. 2020 was a year of striking out and taking risks, making connections and broadening my horizons. 2021 was a year of retreat, building walls around myself, and familiar comforts. I held it together well enough, but if I’m being truthful, I don’t know if I could make it through another year of this.
I pretended not to be too bothered by the Tone Glow hiatus, but honestly, it does bother me a bit. I’ve really felt the lack of a space to express myself the way I like to, but I also realize it’s on me to find a fulfilling way to do that on my own—and I am going to try. I signed off 2020’s year-end reflection with “see you next year,” and I was determined not to make a liar out of myself. (If not for me bothering Josh until he agreed to do this again, I don’t think it would have happened. You’re welcome. ^_^) My thoughts here have been a bit scattered, but I’m just extending an olive branch to my own heart and allowing myself a bit of room to be genuine. Another stop on the shame tour, I suppose, and hopefully one of the last for a while. I’m gonna call my mom as soon as I’m done writing this. I dunno if I’ll see you here next year, but I’ll definitely see you somewhere. Take care.
10 Cool Albums of 2021
Enji - Ursgal (Squama Recordings) [read my interview with Enji, if you want]
Mito Tsukino - Moon Rabbits Dream About Virtual (SCARA Music)
Foodman - Yasuragi Land (Hyperdub)
Her Ghost Friend - Best Wishes (self-released)
JJJJJerome Ellis - The Clearing (NNA Tapes)
Michael Pisaro-Liu - Revolution Shuffle (Erstwhile)
Rogér Fakhr - Fine Anyway (Habibi Funk)
Soshi Takeda - Floating Mountains (100% Silk)
Stones Taro - Yakusugi (Breaks 'N' Pieces)
Phew - New Decade (Mute)
10 other things that were cool
I modded an original model Game Boy Advance with an aluminum shell and IPS screen and NiGHTS into Dreams: Score Attack looks really fucking good on it.
I finally found a brand of Thai tea that tastes as good as the stuff from the hole-in-the-wall place in Seattle I haven’t been able to go to for two years.
I read a lot more books this year than any previous year, but this one was right in the middle of my current intersection of interests: Japanese Immigrant Clothing in Hawaii, 1885-1941.
Tim Rogers did a massive 10 hour interactive review of Cyberpunk 2077, and it’s by far the best piece of critical media about video games this year. I also interviewed him, and hopefully I will post that sometime.
I got through the first three expansions of Final Fantasy XIV and it’s a very good video game. My character is really cute.
YAWARA! a fashionable judo girl! came out in 1989 but it’s better than any anime from 2021.
Garage: Bad Dream Adventure—a late 90s horror game for PC—was officially localized into English for the first time, and nobody really seemed to care.
The holding pattern. Where were we again? Just here. Maybe a few feet this way or that, but essentially just the same spot. Recycled feelings and time. The curve of the horizon just looks to wrap around back to the start. I’ve been squinting to discern any varying textures in the sameness. I wish I felt stronger at the time of writing this out, or at least could think of a time in the near future when I might feel better.
I’ve sunken into two different forms of status quo. The one that defined my life before March of last year has, up until very recently (Omicron), mostly reestablished itself as normal: for months now I’ve been constantly going out to shows and events again and engaging with the community around me almost as often as I did before. And the one that clouded that normalcy in a feeling of general worry and doom: case numbers dropping then growing, death counts rising, worldwide vaccine inequity, constant reminders in the form of masks and vaccine cards and warning signs. And no end in sight. None of this is news, just trying to exhale and let go a little bit—I need to get some blood back to my hands. They’ve grown white with all of the clenching.
I do have regrets from this last year. I’m sorry for not learning the names of those I spoke to while waiting on the Subway platform. Their stories aren’t forgotten but their anonymity feels unfair. I’m sorry for all of the great works of music, film, literature, and more I missed—I hope I can find more of you as time goes on. I’m sorry for letting restlessness get the better of me. I’m sorry for not being a better partner and person.
But I want to try and hold on to some optimism, for my own sake and sanity. By all accounts my frustrations are probably unearned—I have continued to be unreasonably fortunate, and how lucky it is, that in the last two years, I’ve mostly only had to witness catastrophe from a distance. Upon reflection, 2021 might prove to be an incredibly influential pivot point in my life. A long-term relationship ended. My parents decided to sell their house and move away from my hometown. I started seeing a therapist and started really wanting to be and feel better for maybe the first time in my life. Despite any feelings of murderous stagnation, my life has changed, and forward is a direction I cherish. Beside me through all of this have always been remarkable people, who have been so generous to share their time, and remarkable pieces of art, created by those who were so generous to share it. I’m so thankful for it all.
Here’s to safety and fulfillment, accomplished in any way—however small or grand—that you can muster. Here’s to art. The people who make it and the people who observe. Here’s to those who remind you of what you’ve forgotten and show you what you never thought of knowing.
Next year in any place better than here.
Top 10 Albums of 2021
Kiran Leonard - Trespass on Foot (self-released)
William Parker - Migration of Silence into and Out of the Tone World (Volumes 1–10) (Centering Records)
Injury Reserve - By the Time I Get to Phoenix (self-released)
Southeast of Rain - 42 Days (self-released)
Roscoe Mitchell & Mike Reed - The Ritual and the Dance (Astral Spirits)
Lucia Nimcová & Sholto Dobie - DILO (Mappa)
MIKE - Disco! (10k)
Wild Up - Julius Eastman, Vol. 1: Femenine (New Amsterdam)
Yvette Janine Jackson - Freedom (Fridman Gallery)
Nico Hedley - Painterly (Whatever’s Clever)
Top 10 Songs of 2021
MIKE - “Evil Eye” (10k)
Kiran Leonard - “Castell” (self-released)
Nico Hedley - “Sounds so Familiar”
Hakushi Hasegawa & 諭吉佳作/men - “巣食いのて” (self-released)
Water From Your Eyes - ““Quotations”” (Wharf Cat)
blackwinterwells/p4rkr/fish narc - “STRENGTH BONUS” (Helix Tears)
Jazmine Sullivan - “Pick Up Your Feelings” (RCA)
Cassandra Jenkins - “Ambiguous Norway” (Ba Da Bing!)
RXK Nephew ft. RX Papi - “Squabble” (Towhead)
Dijon - “Many Times” (Dark Green)
First Time Reads
Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o - Moving The Center
Clarice Lispector - The Complete Stories
Scholastique Mukasonga - Cockroaches
Miguel de Cervantes - Don Quixote
David Wojnarowicz - Close to the Knives
Evan Dara - Provisional Biography of Mose Eakins
Karen Barad - Meeting the Universe Halfway
Claudia Rankine - Just Us
Robert Macfarlane - Underland
Aimé Césaire - Notebook of a Return to the Native Land
My father got the worst call of his life on Christmas Day; his brother patiently straddled the 14-hour time gap between Perth and Houston to let him know, right when he woke up, that their father, my grandfather, had died. I only saw my father cry about this once (in the living room, a year later, when he thought nobody was looking: he was soundtracked by “White Christmas” playing from his big column speakers); the wound has loomed, raw and unprodded, over every subsequent holiday season I’ve spent with my family. So, every December I think about death: abstractly, vividly: passage, transference, liminality. The new year can never come soon enough.
My favorite music of 2021 felt more esoteric to me than ever before. I fell in love through questioning my intent, scrolling across vast plains of sound and picking apart, piece by piece, why certain timbres lodged themselves so firmly in my brain and not others. I focused less on discovery and more on refinement; I whittled broad quirks into pointed tastes. All of this underpinned a tumultuous year where I reckoned heavily with fear, shame, isolation, self-discovery – struggles I’m not sure I’ve managed to reach the other side of. There’s a certain line from quickly, quickly’s “Everything is Different (To Me)” that I keep coming back to:
It’s kind of funny and pathetic
How much better I could be.
The world is bleak, getting bleaker. I live for evenings: I measure life in time-after-work, time-between-daylight. I am feeling parts of myself stretch and grow thin; I don’t know whether they’re capable of breaking, and I hope not to find out. Through it all, I’m very thankful to have had good music to keep me company.
Top 10 Albums of 2021
a0n0 - Calopteryx atrata (fals.ch)
Teresa Winter - Motto Of The Wheel (The Death of Rave)
Brin & Josiah Steinbrick - Bliss Place (Full Bloom)
Scot Ray - Hypnogogic (self-released)
Yoshinori Hayashi - Pulse of Defiance (Smalltown Supersound)
Jana Rush - Painful Enlightenment (Planet Mu)
Mom - Owari No Caricature (Colourful Records)
Dark0 - Eternity (YEAR0001)
Lucy - The Music Industry is Poisonous (Dots Per Inch)
quickly, quickly - The Long and Short of It (Ghostly International)
Top 10 Songs of 2021
quickly, quickly - “Everything is Different (To Me)” (Ghostly International)
Bisk - “Woven Garden” (Ominira)
Vegyn - “I See You Sometimes” (PLZ Make It Ruins)
Perila - “Time Date” (Smalltown Supersound)
Lucy - “Turn Page” (Dots Per Inch)
Parasol - “Jitterbug” (Midheaven)
DJ Orange Julius - “DOWNWIDDAPRO” (Low Key Recs)
Western Kite - “Inline” (john choi)
Nu Genea - “Marechià” (NG Records)
Alpaca Fur Rug - “Simmer” (self-released)
10 memos I wrote in my phone
1/27/21 – are you still in love? is everything alright?
3/22/21 – before you count you must decide what is counted
5/31/21 – There was a kind of flower i had never noticed before growing outside my window.
6/22/21 – i wish i could tell someone everything i want and everything i love and everything i think before i die.
7/19/21 – i can kind of feel myself getting sucked out of my reality
7/22/21 – there are words that roll around in my stomach like marbles
7/31/21 – i don’t like the look in my eyes. too bright
8/21/21 – Keep yourself accountable. Polish your sword. Drink more water
9/15/21 – you can’t put out good with the expectation that it will return to you; rather, be content that it buries itself in the earth, fosters roots; you are not a wellspring nor a conduit: you bless others as wind may bless you, as rain may bless the field.
10/18/21 – i love feeling beautiful. music makes me feel beautiful.
11/27/21 – I will look and not touch; I will make the world.
This was a pretty terrible year for me—I got knocked with a TBI halfway through, received a slew of more health complications, and still am not mentally the same person— but getting into Tone Glow at the start of it was one of the best things that’s ever happened to me, and I look forward to its re-awakening. For a few weeks there was a possibility that I had hearing loss and I practically left my body because I didn’t know how to live without music. Tomorrow is Christmas and I’ll open up a Pearl Pink Zojirushi Stainless Steel Vacuum Insulated Mug. It’s 2 AM and I’m listening to “Peace on the Rise” by Chad VanGaalen and I’m writing a story about a girl who gets off a plane and doesn't stop walking. Come the new year, I hope I can recognize myself again.
Top 10 Albums of 2021
Japanese Breakfast - Jubilee (Dead Oceans)
Makthaverskan - För Allting (Run for Cover)
Croatian Amor & Varg²™ - Body of Content (Posh Isolation)
Magdalena Bay - Mercurial World (Luminelle)
Opposite Sex - High Drama (Spik & Span)
Naoko Sakata - Dancing Spirits (Pomperipossa)
Midwife - Luminol (The Flenser)
Yung - Ongoing Dispute (PNKSLM Recordings)
Filmmaker - Vlad Tapes (Body Musick)
Radio Supernova - Takaisin (Soit Se Silti)
Top 10 reasons I cried this year (I keep a meticulous spreadsheet)
The lyric “I’m safe inside and I’m never coming out” in “Twinkling” by Black Wing
A Chinese makeup ad featuring two lesbians in hanfu and then modern clothing; the caption read “How nice, we’ve met again in this life”
Fighting with my mom about taking my little sister to see Japanese Breakfast (I lost)
Crying in H Mart by Michelle Zauner [this accounted for 12 times]
Remembering the last lines of the short story “Bullet in the Brain” by Tobias Wolff
The Eleventh Doctor’s regeneration
Sad that I rushed through my childhood too quickly
Watching the music video for “Oxford Comma” by Vampire Weekend and realizing I would never look like ‘00s Ezra Koenig [this lasted half an hour]
Irrationally afraid I was going to be murdered on the way to getting a caramel swirl coffee from Dunkin’ Donuts
A video of a border collie tearing through an obstacle course in under 30 seconds
Shortly after boarding a Southwest flight heading home to LaGuardia a week ago, after a musicless moment of barrel-bottom emotional exhaustion—the source of which I’ll spare the details of here—I put on headphones and pressed play on the new Julius Eastman recording I have listed as AOTY for the first time. Staring at the Chris Rusiniak photograph of the late composer that adorns its cover on my phone, I instantly heard the ensemble breathing new life into belated work, interwoven histories unfolding and expanding enraptured, an (unmistakably queer) joy that knows pain. Over the growl of Marta Tiesenga’s baritone saxophone, I recalled Eastman’s credo: “what I am trying to achieve is to be what I am to the fullest”. At once the tears I have repressed all year instantly started to flow.
And now I raise an imaginary glass of yellow-label champagne: here’s to maintaining composure and wonder; to suppressing and releasing inner screams; to saying “yes” to too many brilliant people; to the balancing act of laughter and grief; to watching old friends flourish and new ones thrive; to close collaborators I have yet to meet in the flesh; to miraculously surviving an endless flux of transitional labor without so much as a raise or a furlough; to a steady diet of turmeric and garam masala; to reading Proust on the roof and Dhalgren on the beach; to bearing witness to innovative improvised sets and screenings of structural films to small, packed, rapt houses; to the reciprocal pedagogy that unexpectedly emerges in production; to cultural riches forever outweighing material ones; to learning to understand the difference between criticism and cruelty, generosity and guilt, “nice” and “life”; finally, to being who we are to the fullest.
Wild Up - Julius Eastman, Vol. 1: Femenine (New Amsterdam)
L’Rain - Fatigue (Mexican Summer)
Fievel Is Glauque - God’s Trashmen Sent to Right the Mess (La Loi)
Vanessa Rossetto/Lionel Marchetti - The Tower, The City (Erstwhile)
Michael Pisaro-Liu - Revolution Shuffle (Erstwhile)
Haptic - Weird Undying Annihilation (Notice Recordings)
Marina Rosenfeld - Teenage Lontano (Room40)
Eiko Ishibashi - For McCoy (self-released)
Richard Youngs - CXXI (Black Truffle)
Lucy Liyou - Practice (Full Spectrum)
Ten Skies (James Benning, 2004)
All That Jazz (Bob Fosse, 1979)
Memoria (Apichatpong Weerasethakul, 2021)
Queen of Diamonds (Nina Menkes, 1991)
The Decline of Western Civilization Trilogy (Penelope Spheeris, 1981-1998)
Drive My Car (Ryusuke Hamaguchi, 2021)
All the Vermeers in New York (Jon Jost, 1990)
The Quince Tree Sun (Victor Erice, 1992)
The Souvenir Part II (Joanna Hogg, 2021)
Losing Ground (Katherine Waterson, 1982)
Sodom and Gomorrah (Marcel Proust)
Dhalgren (Samuel Delany)
Within a Budding Grove (Marcel Proust)
Malina (Ingeborg Bachmann)
Life a User’s Manual (Georges Perec)
Swann’s Way (Marcel Proust)
Culture and Imperialism (Edward Said)
Species of Spaces and Other Pieces (Georges Perec)
Cruising Utopia: The Then and There of Queer Futurity (José Esteban Muñoz)
The Guermantes Way (Marcel Proust)