My year in


…singles
Deliberately set out to hear (stream) more new music in 2021 than I have since whenever it was I used to write about the stuff, and that was a good thing. And I previewed a great deal of it in as unfiltered a fashion as is still possible—with zero prior knowledge of song, artist, sometimes even genre. One unintended not so great consequence was that it ultimately meant a lot more stuff to half-listen to. Constantly adding to playlists merely feeds my worst tendencies as a dabbler. Still, these ten are pretty well test-driven (in no specific order), and with more time and energy the list could quite easily be doubled.
— “Far Away,” Stacey
— “Terra,” Vhoor
— “Need to Know,” Doja Cat
— “Break It Off,” Pink Pantheress
— “Paradise,” H.E.R. (feat. Yung Bleu)
– “Control,” Mannequin Pussy
— “I Don’t Mind”/”On the Wrong Side,” Lindsey Buckingham (Showed up on Spotify the same day, I think, which made me think of them as a double-sided single. Weirdly, didn’t care for the album at all.)
— “BOA,” Sam Gendel, Sam Wilkes
— “Brutal,” Olivia Rodrigo
— “Neon Lights,” Dean & Britta


…albums
Basically ditto the above, albeit on a smaller scale. The three long players I’d vouch for right now are:
– Tinashe, 333
– San Holo, you’ve changed, i’ve changed
– illuminati hotties, Let Me Do One More
(I note that upper-lowercase is becoming much more complicated these days.)


…music podcasts
Transmissions: The Definitive Story of Joy Division & New Order – Eight-part/four-hour doc, ending in 1983 with “Blue Monday.” It didn’t lose me for a second.
Mogul, season 3 – Seven-part series on DJ Skrew and the “chopped & screwed” phenomenon.
Producing the Beatles w/Jason Kruppa.
33 1/3 Podcast w/Prince Paul – I get daggers in my eyes when someone mentions the 33 1/3 book series, but Prince Paul is great here (as were guests Harry Allen, Chuck D., Mike Watt, De La Soul’s Posdnuos).
Rock’s Backpages w/Barney Hoskyns and Mark Pringle – Lenny Kaye, Vivien Goldman, Nelson George, Geoff Travis, Mary Harron, and Neil Tennant episodes, with half a dozen others still sitting in my queue.
Rolling Stone Music Now – Mostly just tune in when the subject matter is of interest; I always enjoy hearing Rob Sheffield talk, and laugh.
Let it Roll – Nate Wilcox is a fantastic interviewer. Start with his Ed Ward and Robert Christgau (pre-2021) discussions, and branch out from there.
Twenty Thousand Hertz w/Dallas Taylor, delves into the possibilities and mechanics of “the world’s most interesting and recognizable sounds” (i.e., the episode about the Netflix “Ta-dum”).


…movies and tv featuring pop music
The Velvet Underground (Todd Haynes) – Mixmastering genius; don’t just watch, listen. “Heroin” completely choked me up.
Get Back (Peter Jackson) – A laugh-riot and a cry-fest all over the place. So much to say on this but still flying high from the experience itself.
Sharp Objects (Marti Noxon) – Wildest ending I think I’ve seen in any TV series, but here for Amy Adams constantly queuing up scary Zeppelin tunes in her beater of a car.
Small Axe “Lover’s Rock” episode (Steve McQueen) – For “Silly Games” (Janet Kay) and (especially) “Kunta Kinte Dub” (the Revolutionaries).
Jimmy Carter, Rock ‘n’ Roll President (CNN) – Wrote a bit about this here.
— “I Wanna Be Your Dog” as covered in Cruella and Sid & Nancy. Obviously Sid & Nancy isn’t new, but I watched it for the first time immediately after watching Cruella, and let’s just say it’s not every night you watch back to back movies with excellent cover versions of one of the greatest Stooges songs ever.
— Pet Shop Boys, “Opportunities (Let’s Make Lots of Money)” (All-State) / Delta 5, “Mind Your Own Business” (iPhone) – The Delta 5 spot caused a bit of a stir online, but I’ve yet to see it on TV, so maybe the Leeds post-punks didn’t pass the audition after all. For a time it seemed like I was hearing “Opportunities” every 20 minutes; whatever forgettable news program was on quickly became background din to the most gargantuan of PSB hits. Simultaneously amused and creeped out by the disco diva hood ornament, though.


…critical brouhahas
Land of Hope and Dreams: A Celebration of Dave Marsh’s Work and Vision (YouTube) – A brilliant idea, well executed (the organizers deserve praise for pulling this together), and I hope we see more of its like, large-scale and small (and the moreso about the living, the better). Honorary mention: the Creem panel with Jaan Uhelszki, Susan Whitall, and Chuck Eddy, which spoke volumes more about Creem to me than the Boy Howdy movie, which receded quickly.
– Deaths of Ed Ward and Greg Tate. Had plans to write a little about Ward and a lot about Tate but such work requires more hard thinking than I’ve time for (or, more to the point, would be capable of pulling off), and anyway, there’s lots of good stuff here and here on Ward, here, here, and here on Tate.
Gene and Roger (Podcast/documentary re: Siskel/Ebert, in case that wasn’t obvious. Sent me down a YouTube S&E rabbit hole, though the doc itself might hold up better than the TV segments.)


…books
I don’t think I read a single new(ish) music book that I cared for in 2021 (got any recommendations?). An excellent work of criticism I’m reading now (far enough into it to garner a mention) is Alex Kitnick’s Distant Early Warning: Marshall McLuhan and the Transformation of the Avant-Garde, re: McLuhan’s considerable dialog with art history and the art world of the (his) present. Along with Philip Marchand’s 1989 biography, it might be the most clear-headed longform writing anyone has done on MM (not that I’ve read every book on the subject, but I’ve read, and have attempted to read, several).

Best in the year ahead to anyone still bothering to look here.


8 thoughts on “My year in

  1. I’m about 2/3 of the way through Kelefa Sanneh’s book Major Labels, and I am loving it.

  2. Absolutely, Steven, great suggestion. I listened to a couple interviews with Sanneh and thought he was great. Very funny and engaging guy. Not to mention that he is responsible for getting rockcritics.com in the New York Times (Oct. 31, 2004, “The Rap Against Rockism”), not that I framed it and hung it beside my desk or anything…

  3. It’s the kind of book I wish I had written … Sanneh has a comprehensive knowledge of his subject, and he is very effective at integrating his personal experiences with the music to illuminate the larger picture.

  4. I think I mentioned both of these to you already, but the two movie-music things I’d recommend are Them and Little Fires Everywhere (the first is 2021; the second goes back to 2020). Both are on Prime. I can’t remember specifics, but each had a fair amount of pop music with at least one song that stood out.

  5. So strange, I watched Little Fires Everywhere, all of it, and barely remember any music (I vaguely recall one ’70s or ’80s song of note). If I were to look back at some episode recaps something might come back to me. I ended up not caring that much for the show, so that might have something to do with it.

  6. Checked Tunefind, and there are 30-40 songs throughout. My favourites are Liz Phair’s “Whip-Smart,” “Femme Fatale, ” and “Tubthumping”–I think it was the last one that really caught my ear.

  7. Small Axe Lover’s Rock episode. Same same; loved that. Music and life all mixed together: those two songs like these heightened distillations of people’s feelings, young, Jamaican immigrants, West London, late-’70s. Great stuff.

    Need to listen to more music podcasts; thanks for the list. (I’m always trying to keep up with political ones.) Cocaine & Rhinestones is the only music podcast I know.

  8. Thanks, Jack. If I had commented on “Lover’s Rock” I would’ve noted something similar, i.e., the way so much can happen emotionally when not much on the surface is happening at all (it’s a house party–the dancing and the meal prep is basically the story).

    I’ve been seeing references all over the place to the C&R podcast–I’m queuing it up for sure. If I were to target you with one from my list (I’m vague on all of it, aren’t I?), it would be the Mogul/S3/DJ Screw thing. Remarkable story, remarkable sub-genre, very well produced segments. If you’ll grant me a moment of pomposity, I’m starting to wonder if we’re entering some kind of golden phase of music podcasting–sounds preposterous, perhaps, but people have figured out good new ways to tell stories, and companies with dough are putting lots behind them. I’ll call it “golden” because I suspect the surplus of goodies won’t last forever.

    Screw: https://gimletmedia.com/shows/mogul

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