now rank this!
against rankings, in favor of Samia, Lil Yachty, etc.
Two weeks ago I used the word biweekly to describe my goal for this newsletter and, well, it’s time to pay up. But I’m happy to do so, because giving myself that timeline made me take note of the places where my attention was drawn. Do self-imposed deadlines work?! We unpack below…
I spent much of last week in Dallas, seeing friends and family and celebrating a few birthdays. I was also able to see Angel Olsen for the first time, which was a treat.
I had breakfast with my friend Kevin, and we talked about our creative projects, both real and hoped for. My annual zine has helped me to articulate my values in sharing the things I like, which is now carrying over into this newsletter. I realize that it’s a joke about men that we turn our interests into our personalities, and while I think that’s generally fair, I’m intrigued in how our interests might become gateways to becoming vulnerable with one another when we’re able to break past the topics of likes and preferences. What does this mean to you, personally? opens doors we didn’t see were there before.
For me, sharing music I like is one way I hold true to my belief in supporting artists. I buy concert tickets, records, and merch, but that’s transactional, an individualist and consumerist solution that I feel is personally important but not something that lives outside of me. Sharing music with others, however, is an act of faith, one that can move the act of listening from a solitary to a communal experience.
It’s the reason I didn’t feel the need to include Taylor Swift or Harry Styles on my 2022 list. While I listened to both albums many times, I was drawn to other albums more, and I felt comfortable in the assurance that people know about both of them, while artists like Charlotte Adigéry and Ezra Furman deserved more attention. And I know exactly how many people my zine goes to, so I don’t think I’m doing some great service for any artist, but I do see the way that recommendations grow legs and spread between people. I’ve already had friends text or tell me about their new fandom for Sudan Archives, Orville Peck, and Bartees Strange. That means something to me, opening doors for future conversations or the possibility of standing rapt in front of the artists live someday.
I also dispensed with the numbered rankings in 2022. It’s always been important to me to get my rankings down exactly right, toying with the placement of albums up until the last minute. Last year, I let that go. Although the albums are *technically* ranked, I strongly believe that our culture overvalues rankings. What’s the best thing? It doesn’t matter, it’s all subjective, and there are better ways to consider the art that defines us. In fact, after writing and sending it out, I usually realize how much higher I would have ranked an album after articulating how much it mattered to me: for example, Soccer Mommy’s Sometimes, Forever, ranked officially at #8, is probably more like… #2. Proof that the numbers are fleeting, but music is forever, etc.
So while it matters to me that my list has grown more inclusive over the years (there have been far more women than men in the last three years than in the decade prior, for instance) and that, yes, Beyoncé’s RENAISSANCE is number one for me, I’d rather my contribution be used differently. It’s a listening guide, and not everything that worked for me will work for you. My hope is that you open the zine to any page, find something you haven’t listened to, and dive in. My greater hope is that you reach out, if not to me then someone else in your life, and spread the word about good things. Same goes for this dispatch.
Maybe you don’t subscribe to my zine and none of this has made any sense to you. You can always reach out and I can hook you up, or you can wait until this December and join. I always say I don’t want to pressure anyone into signing up, but I also assume that friends who don’t must hate me. And I’m working on that in therapy, but you could certainly make it easier.
Here’s what I’ve been on lately:
I was really happy that January was fairly quiet with new music releases because I deserve a break. But I was thrilled to hear Samia’s second album, Honey, which led me to her first album, The Baby. Both albums are so good, and the five days I listened to them in January made her my most listened to artist for the month. Her lyrics are full of lines both funny and melancholic, like the single and lead track on Honey, “Kill Her Freak Out,” in which Samia thinks about someone taking care of their grandma and listening to worship songs on an iPod. In the chorus, Samia hopes that you marry the girl from your hometown, which will prompt her to do as the title says. The music video features Lucas Hedges being weird like I like him. If sad’s not your speed right now, there are more fun songs on the album, such as “Mad at Me” and “Honey,” but you should know I’m an album purist who has to listen front to back and am not the one to condone skipping around. But do what works for you, because, as Samia says, “it’s all honey.”
The Last of Us — Episode 3, “Long, Long Time”
Let me join the Internet in saying that I wasn’t prepared to be devastated by the beautiful, self-contained love story episode on the show about zombies, but wow. Nick Offerman and Murray Bartlett delivered spectacular performances.
There’s been a lot of talk about Lil Yachty’s psych-rock album, which Questlove praised on Instagram alongside other “departure albums” like Radiohead’s Kid A and Childish Gambino’s Awaken, My Love! I’m a fan of the departure album because I like when artists pivot to show a different side to their talents and interests, especially when it pays off. I also consider Taylor Swift’s folklore and evermore as twin albums that shined. But not everyone was as impressed with Yachty’s effort, such as Alphonse Pierre, whose Pitchfork review rightly points out how overly hyping rappers doing something other than rap has racist undertones that miss how innovative the genre truly is. While I think Pierre is right in his criticisms of the talk around the album and right to point out that it’s not exactly innovative, I have found Let’s Start Here. enjoyable through and through. It’s fun, and even if it’s not doing something wildly new, I’m more likely to listen to a rap album than psych-rock, so it’s somewhat new to me. Even if Lil Yachty, in his words, wants to be taken more seriously with this album, I’m more inclined to think about how each of us in our artistic crafts can use the talents we already possess to cross boundaries—real or imposed—and loosen the notions we or others have about the forms we’re assigned to. Essentially, Lil Yachty is doing the serious work of having fun, and that—to me—is more interesting than whether he has broken new ground in this or that genre.
If you know me, you know I’m a sucker for anything happening in or around the universe of the Muppets. I finally got around to reading the last issue of The Believer before it was saved again, and this essay about Sesame Street and its first music composer, Joe Rapuso, by my one of writing mentors at Antioch had me in tears several times over. The essay, like the show, treats children as people, believing them capable of holding grief and other complex emotions in the face of reality and showing how adults can approach those feelings honestly and bravely. The story about Big Bird learning about death really got me.
I would be remiss not to mention the best book I read in the last two weeks. Anne Boyer was diagnosed with cancer at the age of 41, and this memoir wonderfully interrogates the cultural, historical, and personal implications of writing about an illness, that, like all illnesses, is mitigated by patriarchy, capitalism, and white supremacy. “In our time,” she writes, “the challenge is not to speak into the silence, but to learn to form a resistance to the often obliterating noise.” I learned a lot from this book about what it means to have a body, to write about illness, to write from within but against the systems that reduce our language to something lesser. I’ll be sitting with this one for a long time.
Thanks again for stopping by the general store. If you found something you liked, you can share it or subscribe. See you next time.