My friend is a doctor in a hospital and has been totally crushed by the effect of months of Covid cases. She started to see a therapist to help. One day on Instagram she posted a photo of a cake and wrote that he’d given her an assignment to do three things she loved. The first was bake. I messaged her to ask what the other two were. She said she didn’t know.
I tried to think of my own three. Everything involved crowds and indoor socializing not possible during a pandemic. That’s not to say that I’ve not found plenty of pleasant ways to occupy my free time this past year, but was any of it fun? Watching The Crown may be mesmerizing, but it’s less fun and more a way of dissociating from reality when the sun goes down depressingly early. Last month I discovered Nutella. For a few weeks, I was dunking cookies by the fistful. That was fun, but also a bad idea. Last week I downloaded TikTok and have been scrolling in slack-jawed jags. Feels similar to the cookies.
Then there’s music, such a constant presence in my life that it feels wrong to consider it a discreet experience. When I talk to my therapist during phone sessions at home, I always play La Selva, a recording Francisco López made of the rainforest. The frog croaks and bird sounds are a makeshift white noise machine. When I put my son down for a nap, I sing a song about how I love him that I thought I made up, but I recently realized it is an adaptation of the refrain of a Cate Le Bon song. My wife has been watching Gilmore Girls for weeks and whenever I close my eyes all I hear is Carole King singing, “If you’re out on the road…” Without trying, music is everywhere. But compiling these playlists, a more purposeful act, has been fun. This week, quarantined when normally I would be with my family, I instead poured myself into making this playlist, selecting songs from different eras, genres, locations, attempting to create a freaky little journey for you. Last week, I had some highbrow thoughts about music; this week I just have songs. Enjoy.
It’s surprising it took me 26 playlists before including Akasha System, but I may have OD’d on his music in the first half of the year. A prolific Portland electronic producer, his sound quality is largely raw, befitting of the rapid pace in which he releases music. Typically the unperfumed sound quality of his drums is associated with more aggressive techno, but his tracks are buoyant, curious, warm. This week I listened to Echo Earth, his second full length of 2019, for the first time in a while. It’s understated and sweet, not afraid of grabbing a trendy sound here or there, but fundamentally timeless due to its sturdy composition. You can also ignore that songcraft and ride the vibe. Good music for zoning either in or out.
Jason Letkiewicz has recorded as Malvoeaux, Confused House, Rhythm Based Lovers, and a handful of other names, including his actual one. He’s been in a dozen groups, too, producing dreamy ambient techno, fuzzy post-punk, immaculate house. The guy is unstoppable. I have a few favorite tracks, like this lush (and cheap!) collaboration with Bookworms, and do my best to keep up on his stream of releases. This year he released a new album as half of the poppier vocal duo Waking Dreams. In the middle of the album is the instrumental “Image Scatter” a brief, psychedelic song with backwards production that I included to move from a more abrasive song on the playlist to a more quietly strange run of songs. (“Image Scatter” is unfortunately not available on Apple Music). I envy people with Letkiewicz’s diverse amount of output at such a high level. Does he ever watch TV? If you’re not familiar with his work, dig in starting with Steve Summers, an alias he’s used for over a decade.
As I mentioned above, I joined TikTok. In an effort to find people to follow, I searched for videos made using Dean Blunt songs. My favorite is carterzoryan, who has a very funny video explaining your personality type depending on what avant garde musicians you like. Dean Blunt? You’re a virgin. James Ferraro? You’re a virgin. Oneohtrix Point Never? You’re a virgin who hates women. carterzoryan’s TikTok bio urges you to listen to “babysbreath” by Loveliescrushing. I thought maybe this was his band. It is not. Loveliescrushing were active in the late ’90s when I was too busy listening to hardcore and Pavement, so they completely passed me by at the time, but they’re a great example of the heavier side of the shoegaze, opting for a slow speed and fog of feedback fuzz that’s more heavy than ecstatic. “babysbreath” is the opening track from their 1993 album bloweyelashwish and it’s spectacularly blown out. I enjoyed the whole album, which probably means I’m a virgin.
Spotify has a feature where you can follow people and a sidebar will popup on your screen, showing you a feed of what they are listening to. I follow mostly friends, but also a few publications, some random people who made cool playlists I happened upon, and, after she inadvertently made it very easy to find her pseudonymous profile in a NY Times story, Aidy Bryant. But my favorite person to follow is the musician Loraine James. James makes super harsh and hyper electronic music, so I expected her listening to be similar and followed her looking forward to discovering some of her influences. Instead, that is almost exclusively not the case. She mostly listens to Spotify’s daily mixes and her own playlist called “Bangers,” which features Faith Hill and Justin Timberlake. But one day I saw she was listening to an artist named George Riley who I was not familiar with, so I clicked to check out the song. Riley turns out to be an extremely promising R&B-ish singer in the mold of Kelela with choppier, hazier beats. There are no choruses, only the forward motion of her unadorned voice. “Move” is the best of her handful of songs so far, and she is easily one of my favorite new artists of the year. Thanks, Loraine!