For the last few years, my friends and I have had an annual tradition where we compile a “Best of” playlist from the music we discovered that year. This tradition has been going on long enough that they used to be burned on CDs and were accompanied with differing levels of complicated liner notes. Nowadays, they are mostly folders uploaded to Dropbox. Some lazy sods even just roll out a YouTube playlist, or more scandalously again, a Spotify playlist. HOW AM I MEANT TO LISTEN TO YOUR FRENCH POP MUSIC IN MY CAR IF YOU ONLY GAVE IT TO ME VIA GOOGLE?!?
It’s been a great, simple way to mark the passing of time and I often listen back to my favourite entries. You can tell when that one friend was spending the year DJ-ing in Tokyo and remember how that company the other friend was working for famously collapsed in on themselves while he discovered the glories of Blackalicious. The mixes are evocative, not just of the music of that year, but of the great moments with friends in that time.
Taido Chino, a recent but treasured addition to our group, stuck his up on his blog, so as with everything, I am going to copy him. You can download the album here: KEVINDECENCY 2014 and this is the tracklisting.
The terrain of the year is apparent in this track listing. A vast amount of time was spent sitting at a desk in the TheoLab, reading popular histories of the Irish economic crash of 2008, early Patristic writing about wealth, and Karl Barth on the parables of Jesus. I found that three kinds of music suited the sort of in-depth reading I was doing: jazz (socially acceptable), movie soundtracks (slightly below the threshold for social acceptability), and (overwhelmingly) video-game soundtracks (full on musical pariah status guaranteed).
But think about it: video game soundtracks are composed with the intention of encouraging focus. The art of the Halo soundtrack is that it helps you focus on nothing but Halo. I soon sent my ears wandering from games I knew (Command and Conquer’s “Hell March” was an old favourite) to new soundtracks for games I’ve never played. The only computer game I play is Football Manager, so this meant I was fairly voracious in sucking up old classics. The PS3 game Journey has a great soundtrack but the best of all time has to be the 1998 game Katamari Damacy. I didn’t want to be dishonest about how very uncool my music selection is this year so I kicked it off with a track from that soundtrack.
Later I chose “Go Big or Go Exctinct” from the Pacific Rim soundtrack because that record was so often an early morning selection to get my concentration-on. The loud announcement noise of the guitar that features so prominently throughout that album is part of my brain’s furniture at this point.
One other thing I notice from this album is how predictable my middle-aged tastes are. Jenny Lewis and The New Pornographers and Janelle Monae have all featured on earlier Best-of mixes. And throughout it, the recurring aural arrangement is a combination of male and female voices with a strong piano line. Amazon’s algorithm could just write music for me for the next 20 years and save me from becoming a fan of Ed Sheeran.
The final thing that I notice is just how sad the songs that stick in my ear are. 2014 has been widely hailed as a miserable year and personally it has been a bastard to me at times, even in the midst of my larger contentedness with my studies. The music that resonates with me this year is music about struggle with ourselves and others and death.
Even the song about dancing is a satire about amusing ourselves to death.
The best album of the year for me was The Both, the project that brought America’s wittiest lyricist Aimee Mann into collaboration with America’ wittiest punk Ted Leo. It doesn’t feature in any of the prominent Best-of lists because Best-of lists are inherently stupid.
Anyway, go download my Best-of playlist. Adding the word “play” always turns stupid things into wisdom.
Your Correspondent, Like Danish pastry, he’s looking tasty