Carrie and Lowell
I’ve admired Sufjan Stevens’ music for a long time, but after BQE and Age of Adz I was ready to write him off as precocious, too obsessed with his own genius actually to make good music, instead making only good ideas. But this album brought it all back. Every bit of talent and musical inventiveness he has combines with honesty that’s more than precious, more than a posture here. Carrie and Lowell is not only my favorite record from this year; it’s one of my favorite records ever.
This is a new band for me. Waxahatchee have been making music for awhile in a homespun, stripped down style reminicent of early Bright Eyes records. They’re kind of anti-aesthetic, with little hushed or clean, and the album cover fairly shouts “we’re not going to be beautiful for you or anyone else!” but actually, they are. Truth is, I can harldy say why I like this record so much, but I’ve heard it every week this year, and when it’s not on, I think about when I can listen to it again.
Here’s another case in which the professional critics were right. It was a slow-grower for me, not as easily impressed by dance music as some. I kept playing this record mostly to see what some people saw in it. After awhile, it clicked. Song after song cleverly rewrote 80’s tracks, or else acted as though they had no inheritance whatsoever and where simply making music for the kind of world they thought this was or might be. It’s a hip record, but also kind of dorky; it’s futuristic and retro at the same time. As an educator, and a therefore a pitchman for difficult beauty, I appreciate having to work at art sometimes, and appreciate being taught.
Airborne Toxic Event
Though the Airborne Toxic Event’s first record was one of my favorites of 2008, I didn’t expect to see much more from them. That record was so raucous, such a party, I thought surely they’d get the buzz out of thier collective system. Dope Machines doesn’t even sound like it’s from the same band, jangly guitars replaced with electronic loops, big Springsteenesque riffs flipped instead to faders and blips. But the attitude is still here, and the joy, and the sense of abandon that seems only possible among foreigners or drunks. This record makes me want to do everything better, but also to do it more somehow.
This record actually came out in 2014, and I listened to it some then, but I didn’t love it till this year. This whole rainy autumn back in the Pacific Northwest, it was one of the only soundtracks that made sense to me. Female-fronted like Waxahatchee, delicate like Sufjan Stevens, brave like Airborne Toxic Event, and true to its own (new) aesthetic like Tame Impala, Ruins wraps up everything I loved about music this year.