7 Dec 2017

no.8// Twin Peaks the Musical!

This is one of my ten short essays about Twin Peaks Season 3. Click this link to read my introduction to this series.

At the Roadhouse, every night is Twin Peaks night. The dream fades, the band rematerialises, the episode draws to a close, and Lynch turns the camera on us for the final few minutes. Our faces are still fixed on the stage, still glued to the screen with reverent patience, waiting for one more clue before the final credits roll. The fans at home convene with the fans in the crowd, sharing in this tribute, this séance, this 18-hour vigil, this wake for a beloved television series.

The Roadhouse is a portal to Twin Peaks. This is common knowledge. That’s why the hipsters gather there, night after night, to pay tribute. That’s why the artists make the pilgrimage, with their reverb pedals and their bewitched voices and their vintage pouts. They are summoned to the Roadhouse, just like the motley ensemble that Cooper summons decades before, for the revelation of Laura’s murderer. They gather and they wait for something to happen: for the Giant to appear, or Cooper, or Audrey.

In his Pitchfork article about the music of Twin Peaks 3, Daniel Dylan Wray attempts to articulate the role of the Roadhouse performances that end almost every episode:
The scenes, and the music within them, are used as a guide back toward something resembling reality, a reassuring embrace of the familiar following the rest of the show’s deeply disturbing and bizarre images. […] [O]nce you’re in the Roadhouse, you know you’re safe—relatively speaking, at least.
Wray recognises the Roadhouse’s liminality, as a gateway or antechamber between two worlds. He too suggests that the punters in the Roadhouse are somehow closer to ‘reality’ (closer to us) than the characters whose meandering ‘stories’ their appearance punctuates. But Wray’s gloss is ultimately unsatisfactory, begging more questions than it answers: How is music supposed to guide us back to reality? Beyond the superficial ‘familiarity’ that a music writer might feel when faced with ‘real-life’ musicians ‘playing themselves’, what is so ‘reassuring’, ‘safe’ or ‘real’ about musical performance? And why would a fictional text even want to ‘guide its viewers back to reality’ in the first place?

6 Dec 2017

no.7// The Blue Rose: TV as Performance Art

This is one of my ten short essays about Twin Peaks Season 3. Click this link to read my introduction to this series.

If there’s a true precursor to the seemingly unprecedented strangeness of Twin Peaks 3, it is the superb half-hour prologue to Fire Walk With Me: Chris Isaak, Kiefer Sutherland, Harry Dean Stanton, David Bowie, etc etc. In his monograph on Lynch, Michel Chion makes the point that Deer Meadow, the setting of this prologue, is effectively the opposite of Twin Peaks in every way (its evil doppelgänger, one might say). On arriving to investigate the murder of Teresa Banks, FBI Agent Chet Desmond discovers an alienating town with a hostile sheriff’s station, an unfriendly diner with bad coffee, and no discernible community spirit.

Deer Meadow and Twin Peaks seem to have merged together in this new series. Harry Dean Stanton’s eerie Fat Trout Trailer Park once seemed a world away; in 2017, however, we discover the trailer park transplanted like an organ into Twin Peaks without its being rejected. The two towns are overlaid and their differences neutralised.

There is an even more significant reason why this sequence is the spiritual precursor of Twin Peaks 3 though, and it has to do with Gordon Cole’s cousin Lil.

5 Dec 2017

no.6// Manufacturing Narrativity in Twin Peaks 3

This is one of my ten short essays about Twin Peaks Season 3. Click this link to read my introduction to the series. 

Early on in the original season of Twin Peaks, Agent Cooper learns the identity of Laura’s killer in a dream. On awakening, he immediately phones Sheriff Truman to inform him of this knowledge, but tells him that the disclosure of the killer ‘can wait until morning’. Unfortunately for Cooper (but luckily for the audience), by the next morning he has forgotten the killer’s identity completely. Thus, three episodes into the show, the alien logic of the Black Lodge comes perilously close to undermining the show’s constitutive mystery—betraying Laura’s secret without this revelation having been earned by either Cooper or the audience—and thus scuppering its narrative trajectory. In the event though, narrativity is saved by Cooper’s forgetfulness, and the mystery is only intensified.

Let’s compare this moment to the relationship developed between Cooper and the Black Lodge in Twin Peaks 3, which I can only describe as an inversion or parody of that iconic dream sequence. Rather than an unpredictable fount of gnomic clues, threatening the integrity of what should be a conventional murder mystery narrative, the Black Lodge (and Mike, its custodian) appears to be one of the last sources of narrative momentum in the Twin Peaks universe: a final bulwark against total stasis.

3 Dec 2017

no.5// Return, Repeat, Refuse

This is one of my ten short essays about Twin Peaks Season 3. Click this link to read my introduction to this series.

Is it... happening again?

The horror of compulsive repetition is at the heart of the Twin Peaks franchise.

Teresa Banks and then Laura and then Maddy and then Donna and then Annie and then Audrey. Ritual sacrifice.

To ask for a repetition of Twin Peaks is to ask for another dead body, another dead girl, another secret history of violence and abuse, all wrapped up in a comforting shroud of picturesque mysticism. As with all murder mysteries, the thrill of the original series derives from the friction between the two chronologies that the murder initiates: the first, linear, the mystery-solving procedure; the second, cyclical, the murderer killing again and again. The dynamic behind serial murder, as the original series showed us, isn’t so much accumulation as repetition. Maddy and Donna: they were vulnerable because they were Laura’s doubles (or, because they came to occupy the position that Laura had previously occupied for the murderous men of the show). Laura had to be killed, over and over.

1 Dec 2017

no.4// The Stagnation of Twin Peaks

This is one of my ten short essays about Twin Peaks Season 3. Click this link to read my introduction to the series.

Twin Peaks 3 is about the passing of time: a portrait of asynchrony, two time periods overlaid. Agent Cooper is still sitting in the Red Room—in the same chair, wearing the same clothes—but his face is 25 years older. Major Briggs’s body is found 25 years after his disappearance, but it hasn’t aged a day.

Twenty-five years later, a much-loved TV franchise returns to our screens. Twin Peaks 3 reminds us that time doesn’t pass in a uniform manner. Twenty-five years have elapsed—this fact is inescapable. We can never go back. And yet the passage of those 25 years will have proceeded in many different ways, according to many different routes with many different destinations, and all of these simultaneously, in the same world: the frayed threads of a once tightly woven rope. In this way, there can be asynchrony even in contemporaneity. Time doesn’t proceed with the linearity of TV narrative. If we lose the thread in 1992, we can’t expect to recover a unified narrative in 2017, 200 hypothetical episodes later.

Twenty-five years later, a much-loved TV franchise returns to our screens. But this isn’t The Force Awakens, or Blade Runner 2049; in Lynch and Frost’s take on the cult revival, nothing is taken for granted. Instead, the show’s creators use this opportunity to ask: how is time supposed to pass? How did we expect or wish for time to pass when we celebrated the announcement of this new season back in 2014? And what do we want our reboots, our nostalgia vehicles, to ‘say’ about the passing of time?

30 Nov 2017

no.3// The Gentrification of Twin Peaks

This is one of my ten short essays about Twin Peaks Season 3. Click this link to read my introduction to the series.

The seventh episode of Twin Peaks 3 ends with a long, static shot of the Double R Diner. The place is buzzing, full of customers. We watch Shelly and Heidi serve them, as they have presumably been doing, day in day out, for the 25 years since we saw them last. We don’t know who these people are. We can’t catch their conversations. All we can do is sit in the corner and watch.

This significant scene—and, to a lesser extent, analogous shots in Big Ed’s garage and the Roadhouse after hours—encapsulates one of the key effects of the rupture in time on which the show is constructed: the gentrification of Twin Peaks. As I wrote in the previous post, Twin Peaks (and Twin Peaks, the franchise) has been set adrift within a wider world, its inside and its outside both subsumed within the amorphous sprawl of Lynch’s USA. But the world has also entered Twin Peaks. Just look at the crowd of faceless hipsters congregating at the Roadhouse for its nightly Angelo Badalamenti tribute hour. Who are these people? We are teased with names, faces, snatches of dialogue, fragments of lives filled with drama and intrigue, but we are never allowed to know these people.

(“Has anyone seen Billy?” No. And we never will.)

29 Nov 2017

no.2// The Worlding of Twin Peaks and the Crisis of White America

This is one of my ten short essays about Twin Peaks Season 3. Click this link to read my introduction to the series.

Expelled from hell, Dale Cooper crashes to Earth.

Watching Cooper’s cartoonish attempts at navigating real-life Las Vegas, I was reminded of nothing less than a newly 3D Homer Simpson, clambering out of a West Hollywood dumpster after being torn from his animated world and dropped into real life, via the mathematical wormhole behind the bookshelf in ‘Treehouse of Horror VI’.

Although nominally the same world from which he disappeared 25 years prior, the world of Twin Peaks 3 is clearly more real than the soap opera/crime drama world he left behind. Thus, the series ironically invokes that most hackneyed of movie tropes in which a beloved fictional character, usually resident within a self-enclosed fantasy world, is forcibly transplanted into (urban) ‘everyday life’, with comedic consequences (recent examples include the Smurfs movie, the Chipmunks movie, the Goosebumps movie, even Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them). The jarring cheapness of this trope is further reproduced through the flattening of Cooper’s character into a few meaningless trademarks: slicked hair, coffee, cherry pie, thumbs up, etc.

28 Nov 2017

no.1// Lost in Space: Twin Peaks 3 and Lynch's Late-Period Sublime

This is one of my ten short essays about Twin Peaks Season 3. Click this link to read my introduction to this series.

Disorientation sets in almost immediately. A glistening helicopter shot of the New York skyline wrenches us from the clearly circumscribed, immaculately dressed set of our Twin Peaks reboot fantasies, before it has even had the chance to materialise. This recurring, HD flight over New York, along with similarly pristine shots of Las Vegas, threatens to usurp the sea of shaking pines and slow-motion waterfalls as a representation of the trademark Lynchian ‘sublime’.

Twin Peaks 3 begins with a cut of 25 years: Cooper in the Red Room, sitting, waiting patiently, and then 25 years older, still waiting. Already, with this cut and the future shock that it elicits, we have a valuable key to appreciating everything that follows. Twin Peaks 3 is about the passing of time, seen not as continuous change but as a disjunction between two temporal points. A whole world is interrupted, frozen, shelved, and then reanimated with a jolt, 25 years later. Rather than glossing over this temporal lacuna, David Lynch and Mark Frost have made a whole show about it. ‘Is it past or is it future?’, we’re asked. And then, much later: ‘What year is it?’

27 Nov 2017

Ten Short Essays on Twin Peaks: The Return

The third season of David Lynch and Mark Frost’s Twin Peaks completed its 18-part run on 3rd September, a full 25 years after the previous installment of the franchise: the film, Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me. Like so much of contemporary culture, it promised my generation the chance to ‘relive’ a cultural memory that, although deeply engrained, we were too young to actually experience. It was carried onto screens on a wave of pre-emptive nostalgia, with a new generation of artists and commentators attesting to the deep and lasting influence of a cultural event that they missed the first time round.

Perhaps it was a lot easier to talk about Twin Peaks Season 3 (aka Twin Peaks: The Return, but henceforth Twin Peaks 3) before it actually happened. I've been struck by the comparative paucity of public discussion—especially now, in the wake of its cataclysmic final episode. I understand that this is partly a symptom of a strict taboo on spoilers (one of our culture's newest and most fearsome taboos), combined with the asynchronous nature of today’s streamed television ‘event’. Nevertheless, is there actually a consensus on whether Twin Peaks 3 was good or not? Was it as good as the original? Was it even better? From the few critical perspectives that have risen to the surface of public consciousness, it remains pretty hard to tell.

Still, this is hardly surprising. Twin Peaks was hard enough to talk about already, requiring 25 years of cultural digestion and canonisation to provide the meat for the think-piece previews. What's more, Twin Peaks 3 is nothing like Twin Peaks; in fact, taken in its 18-hour entirety, it is nothing like anything else. Showing an indifference to its own cult that borders on the sadistic, it seemed dead set on wrecking every planned fancy dress, coffee-and-cherry-pie viewing party. Of course, in denying the critics another shallow reboot that would cement the franchise’s existing reputation with triumphant reviews that read like eulogies, the new season has hopefully furnished us with decades of actual conversation, once the dust settles. This series of blogposts is my attempt to get in (relatively) early on the action.

24 Apr 2017

Albums of 2016: Beyoncé's Lemonade

(An essay about music writing as political praxis)

- Introduction

What was Lemonade about? If you answered, “Jay Z cheating on Beyoncé,” dismiss yourself now. (Erica Thurman, Life Behind the Veil)
You may have watched Beyoncé’s Lemonade… but have you seen Lemonade? (Megan Carpentier, The Guardian)
Whether you love her, hate her, or stay strong in your neutrality, our exchanges are kind of the point. This is what art makes us do. (Frannie Kelley, NPR)
  • What is Lemonade?
(Or, we might now ask, a whole year after it dropped—)
  • What was Lemonade?
  • What is/was Lemonade about?
Beyoncé’s Lemonade was preceded by questions. We knew it was coming, we knew when and where it would occur, but we didn’t know what it was. All we knew was that it was Beyoncé’s Lemonade.

What was Lemonade? In the frantic flurry of news stories, reviews and think pieces offering an answer to this question, one common conclusion was that Lemonade was ‘a statement’. In this essay, I will argue that Lemonade was also a question. In fact, it was several questions, including those listed above. Beyoncé’s Lemonade asks: ‘What is/was Beyoncé’s Lemonade?’ and ‘What is/was Beyoncé’s Lemonade about?’

23 Jan 2017

Albums of 2016: Xiu Xiu's Plays the Music of Twin Peaks


A note is struck and
carried on a nightsea wind
for twenty-five years.


A year ago, I posted an essay about Twin Peaks and Xiu Xiu’s live performance of its soundtrack. It’s a piece of writing of which I’m still very proud. A few months later, the band announced that they would release a recorded version of the project on Record Store Day. The resulting album, Xiu Xiu Plays the Music of Twin Peaks, follows the structure and texture of the live show very closely, and certainly my inclusion of it in this list is testament to my enjoyment of and subsequent engagement with that performance. Still, what more could I have to say about Xiu Xiu and Twin Peaks?

In the earlier essay, I described the music of Twin Peaks as somehow vacant, suggestive of empty rooms and empty stages, but also of characters as empty vessels: like Laura and Audrey, ideas or images of girls, waiting to be filled with meaning, desire and blame. I described Jamie Stewart—along with Sheryl Lee in Fire Walk With Me—as an uncomfortably real body, materialising at the centre of that dreamy vacancy. But that was an essay about live performance, and this is an album review, and one that reminds me of the fact that, for those familiar with it, the Twin Peaks soundtrack will never be totally vacant. Each track is replete with iconic scenes and indelible images from your favourite TV show. The soundtrack contains the images, in a very literal sense, in that the ‘frame’ of the television sits within a space vibrating to the rhythm of those famous themes. Of course, in many of the scenes, the images also contain the soundtrack: via jukebox, record player, rock band, etc.

On stage, this subtraction of Twin Peaks (as set of images/icons) from Badalamenti’s soundtrack is offset by the interpolation of the band in the centre of the frame, imposing a liveness that is anathema to David Lynch’s approach to music. By creating a studio record on the basis of this live show, the already vacant soundtrack is doubly emptied-out of the precise mental images that accompany the original tracks. Since it is a recording, the bodies of the musicians are also necessarily absent; moreover, only four of the twelve tracks feature discernible sonic bodies in the form of vocals.

Even so, all studio recordings re-create a fantasy space within which their various elements can cohere. On this twice-erased canvas—a palimpsest on which the soundtrack’s iconic locations are legible only in ghostly form—Xiu Xiu mark out boundaries and horizons with a crude grid of thick drones and thin drum machines, and populate it with a new set of protagonists: vibraphone, piano, voice, heavy guitar. And just as Xiu Xiu the live act were exposed in their irreducibility to Badalamenti’s and Laura Palmer’s unreal perfection, so this record exposes a great deal about Xiu Xiu the studio act, or the modes and motifs of their musical fantasies.

19 Jan 2017

Albums of 2016: Deerhoof's The Magic

I saw Deerhoof perform back in November and, while their new album didn’t feature too prominently on their setlist, its title—The Magic—struck me as a particularly appropriate designation for their show. I don’t mean this in any banal acclamatory sense—that it was a ‘magical evening’, or that their playing was ‘magical’, etc. It wasn't just that the performance produced the kind of astonishing effortless joy that we would might describe as ‘magic’ (although it was a phenomenal show). It's more that, for me, the band seemed to evoke the aesthetics, the mechanics and the performative vocabulary of stage magic as a genre: the world of illusionists, conjurors, escapologists and hypnotists, frilly sleeves and blow-dried hair, dry ice and lasers, big-budget live magic in all its cheesiness.

There are three precise ways in which Deerhoof’s live show reminded me of stage magic. Firstly, Deerhoof gigs are now dance gigs: their grooves, especially from the most recent four albums or so, are totally irresistible. Treguna mekoides trecorum satis dee: their music gives life to inanimate bodies. Yet rather than furnishing a venue with interlocking flows and thermodynamic currents of rhythm and counter-rhythm to ride, in the manner of most dance music, Deerhoof’s music takes possession of individual limbs and pulls them in different directions. Theirs is a malevolent school of enchantment, with a mischievous streak, recalling the clichéd ‘voodoo puppeteer’ in children's cartoons, or the twinkle-eyed hypnotist who has audience members clucking like chickens. While a lot of dance music invites you to move with the music, or even grants you extraordinary powers of super-strength, lightning speed or flight, Deerhoof’s music takes hold of you and forcibly moves you around. It is trippy, not just because it takes you on a physical trip, but because it will leave you tripping over your own feet.

Secondly, their live performance exudes a theatrics of magic spectacle. In Deerhoof shows, noise becomes a barely containable force to be conjured up, compelled into musical obedience, and then let loose onto the audience. Although their songs evoke a phantasmagoria of musical styles, clichés and references, in their live shows these are always at risks of breaking down into generalised chaos. The band’s frequent time and tempo changes, abrupt shifts between songs, and twin guitar parts that career in and out of synchronicity lend a feeling of palpable danger to the live show, with the four musicians forming a magic circle around the demonic noise of their creation, wielding their instruments like wands in an attempt to bend it to their collective will.

15 Jan 2017

Albums of 2016: ANOHNI's Hopelessness

Long-term readers of this blog will know that there is no artist whose work I return to more obsessively than Anohni. As such, she’s the artist who forces me to break my own rules most flagrantly, when it comes to discussing consecutive albums in terms of a ‘career arc’: that ubiquitous one-size-fits-all narrative that I’d usually consider a reductive, insightless crutch.

Anohni’s work—with Antony & the Johnsons and now as a solo artist—has always had a strong conceptual identity and purpose, as suggested by her strident interview statements and her proximity to the art world. For me, the explicit positioning of Hopelessness as a ‘political’ record—a collection of ‘protest songs’—has only clarified the political potential inherent throughout Anohni’s previous work. Indeed, I hear Hopelessness as an album about Anohni as activist: revisiting the political potential of her work as it has evolved across ten years, weighing this potential against the demands of a catastrophic present, and using it to articulate a rich and radical theory of politicised hopelessness.

At every stage, the crucial element has been Anohni’s physical presence (as voice) within the worlds of her songs. As an unmistakable, entirely singular vocal presence, Anohni can never appear on her tracks as ‘this-or-that type of voice’—she can never simply ‘fit’ into a genre or style, and therefore always retains her queerness within the space and time of the song—but this also means that her music is perfect for thinking about voices-as-such. On Hopelessness, Anohni’s voice appears and acts on each track in a different way, performing a variety of different ‘protest’ tactics, while simultaneously speaking to the value and limits of certain forms of queer/gendered knowledge, in relation to broader political imaginaries.

3 Jan 2017

The Night Mail's 2016 Dispatch

I wanted to give a short update on my activities over the last year. While this blog has lain pretty much dormant since last January, I have still had a fairly busy year with regard to music writing and I've begun a couple of projects that I hope will make their way onto this site within the next few months.

1. Live music as theatre/ritual

My main project this year has been developing a theory of music theatre that incorporates all live music performance. The impetus for this came from a short catalogue essay I wrote for a showcase of British music theatre companies at the Music Theatre Now meeting in Rotterdam. Having been challenged to characterise a national 'scene' on the basis of a diverse group of artists and companies (working with rock, pop and electronic music, as well as classical vocal and experimental styles), I attempted an inclusive definition of 'music' and 'theatre' that would allow me to think about the differences between musical performance genres and the meanings that they variously assign to the music therein. It is also a   reaction against another attempt at such a definition that I encountered this year: in Eric Salzman and Thomas Desi's book The New Music Theater. The text was greatly aided by my fortuitous reading of Richard Schechner's performance theory, and infused with my palpable relief at finally having finished  Alain Badiou's Being and Event.

The resulting essays, which I have published on my other blog the biting point, could constitute the very first elements of a far bigger project. They are primarily designed to provide a flexible framework for talking about any kind of musical performance, from a very particular perspective: one that I consider under-theorised. Like most of my academic work, it proposes a theoretical frame designed to aid the discussion of specific musical phenomena that nevertheless doesn't rely on traditional musical analysis or a musicological background (which, for me, has always been incapable of really engaging with the things I love most about the music that I love most).

I initially split my music writing between these two blogs according to genre ('popular' and 'classical'), but the music theatre essays have as much to say about pop music as they do about classical music and opera. Indeed, it is becoming increasingly apparent that the more significant divide between the two blogs is based on recorded music (this site) vs live music (the other site)—although this too is far from strict. At any rate, the music-as-theatre theory is designed to serve as a complement to the theory of recorded music that is still being developed on this blog.

Here are links to the essays:
  1. Staking a Claim: Music Theatre as Provocation (Catalogue Essay)
  2. Surveying New Music Theatre in the UK
  3. What is Music Theatre?
  4. What is Music Theatre Actually? (A Theory of Musical Performance)
  5. Logics of Musical Worlds (A Theory of Musical Genre)
2. Music and (Queer) Failure

I've spent this year engaging with some of the canonical texts of contemporary queer theory (Halberstam, Edelman, Muñoz), which has proven a revelatory experience for me on a personal level. In addition though, these texts have suggested a number of fruitful ways to think through my own musical tastes, and various 'gay' or 'alternative' aesthetics in music more generally. The discussions of failure and utopia in these texts supports and enriches my existing interest in performative negativity (fragility, humiliation, masochism, failure) in relation to some of my favourite queer artists (e.g., Xiu Xiu, ANOHNI/Antony & the Johnsons), while clarifying certain questions about how we might conceive of a 'successful' musical act or identity, within genred fictions as well as in musical discourse and systems of judgement.

I'm excited to begin developing a theory of primarily gay male music in relation to queer failure, that would allow me to talk about most of my favourite artists and think through my massive predilection towards a certain tradition of gay pop. I also think that this approach allows an examination of a specifically musical queer aesthetic among gay performers who are less easy to discuss in relation to their appearance onstage, their subversive gestures/iconography and their music video aesthetics (the non-sonic dimensions usually privileged by performance/cultural theorists).

Moreover, I think an investigation of the song act in terms of the possibility of success/failure—and therefore also a notion of the 'ideal' or 'utopian' conditions of musical action—can be used to characterise a particular sonic aspect to the 'alternativeness' of alternative music, in relation to the hegemonic rules/laws/desires of genre.

So, perhaps more of this in the months/years to come…

3. Ten Albums of 2016

I still periodically feel the desire to turn this blog back into a normal, up-to-date music blog that discusses and reviews music as it is released, not many months later, and features short posts rather than huge essays. And then I think: who am I kidding? It's not so much that I find it hard to write short articles to short deadlines; it's more that I think there's far far too much of that around. The more I read music reviews, the more I balk at the banal and often destructive narratives that they rely on in order to make their takes seem substantial. In a way, it's fascinating: more so than any other mainstream art critical discourse, music reviewing borrows from and reproduces raw ideology. I know I obsess about it (and one publication especially), but I think it's a critique that is rarely made and one that I'd also like to develop over the next few years.

[To take one example, Pitchfork's supposedly whimsical but actually exasperating 'Thank You Note to Everyone Who Didn't Release an Album in 2016' post… because the most important thing for Pitchfork is absolute control over the master narrative of 'our musical moment' (a master narrative whose apparent dramatis personae are handily listed in the article). It is this master narrative, or musical history in the making ('it was a good year for music', etc.), that is the primary product of Pitchfork as an enterprise. It is a narrative whose figures are mythic giants like Rihanna and Beyoncé, and James Blake and Arcade Fire, but whose meanings and import is dictated by the Pitchfork writers as witnesses. It is these faceless writers and not the famous protagonists who have the story to tell—always the same story, the story of Western art, the story of the creative individual, the story of romantic love, the story of the human story, the story of telling one's own story, the story of here-we-are-now-in-the-present-being-human-story-universal-story-of-everyone-has-days-when-they-feel-like-this story. And the real purpose of this story is to deflect the guilt these people rightly feel because their job effectively entails legislating on which creative expressions/human labours/personal testimonies are incrementally 'better' or 'worse' than the others. Because we can't do musical tribalism anymore: we can't write zines saying all disco is terrible or all rap is bollocks, and we can't just say 'I hate the way this sounds, I think it's shit'. And yet we still have to review and quantify and rank, as if we don't all believe in the relativism of all value systems and the arbitrariness of personal taste and the impossibility of objective judgement, etc etc. And so, we end up writing an open letter that may as well be addressed 'from all music fans', thanking the music industry in general for not making more music, because the stuff we got was so important and historic… (To quote the actual letter, the year was 'cluttered', because 'a staggering amount of huge artists released major albums'). I hope that, in 2017, all those artists release an album a month so that  the Pitchfork writers are so inundated that they can't possibly wring it into another boring 'This was the year in music' narrative without very obviously picking and choosing, and thus drawing attention to their construction of certain market-determined categories that need to be attacked ('huge artists', 'major albums'), and undermining their whole 'musical creativity = universal-liberal-humanism' schtick which pretty much prevents them from saying anything interesting about any music!!!]

Anyway, I'm happy with my own slow and deeply partial approach to music criticism, finding something to say about the music that seems most meaningful to me, to introduce these meanings (that I consider valuable) into the reader's subsequent experience of that music. On this basis, there are a number of albums from this year that seem to me to be bursting with valuable (and beautiful) meanings, and which I subsequently wanted to review. Still, I didn't manage to write any album reviews last year, so instead I want to repeat what I did last year and write ten reviews over the next month or so, for…

my ten favourite albums of 2016, unranked:::

1. ANOHNI —  Hopelessness
2. Deerhoof — The Magic
3. Xiu Xiu — Plays the Music of Twin Peaks
4. Beyoncé – Lemonade
5. Rihanna – ANTI
6. Michaela Dennis – Miracles
7. Chrysanthemum Bear – Prophecy
8. Bon Iver – 22, A Million
9. Frank Ocean – Blonde
10. Kanye West – The Life of Pablo

Thanks to everyone who read and shared articles from 2016—and all the best for a hopeful New Year…