Set the Unwinnable Best Music of 2016 playlist on random.
Listen to nothing else for all of January.
Cling to sanity.
Write about it.
Hyperbole aside, week one of the challenge this year was infinitely easier than last year. I didn’t cry once. This might be because I turn the volume down on songs I dislike to a barely audible level. Is this against the rules? Nope. The song is still playing. I can still hear it. Sorta.
Is it in the spirit of the rules, though? Uh-uh.
You can fight me on this later. The thing that really galls me about the volume cheat is that it didn’t occur to me at all last year. It didn’t occur to my fellow contestants, either, though they may be more fundamentally good than me, I dunno. Maybe I was more fundamentally good last year, too. Maybe 2016 was a gauntlet and I came through changed.
I doubt it though. I’ve always loved playing Lawful Evil characters. And they are all disappointed in me right now.
And, before you try to come at me about cheating, I would like to declare this entire challenge illegitimate. It is supposed to be us vs. what our crazy colleagues think is the best music of 2016. I am so into that. What this really is, though, is us vs. Spotify’s shitty algorithm. I demand a recount. Let’s impeach Spotify.
Seriously. The other day, I mentioned to Ed how I enjoyed “Connect the Dots,” by Car Seat Headrest. I explained that it was the first song I’d heard in over an hour with any kind of pulse, so it was good by virtue of its energy alone. I also remarked that Car Seat Headrest is a terrible name for a band. Spotify heard me type that, and every fucking time since I’ve queued up the playlist, “Connect the Dots” has been the first song to play. I now have no idea if I like it or not, now. I just never want to hear it again. Please.
Before I get into my rip-through of this experiment in torture, I have some things to confess. Firstly, I am good friends with Ed Coleman. In fact, we do a podcast together called Office of the General Counsel (which should be on your radar), so of course I voted for The Uncanny, the latest album from his band Ruby Rae. I didn’t vote for Ruby Rae because Ed is magnificent on guitar (he is!), I voted for Ruby Rae because the band as a whole is marvelous and their unified sound is punctuated by Abby’s words and vocals. I also (shamelessly) voted for myself because I just wanted to share something I crafted during a very dark period with all of you. I’m also curious to see if my music can hang with with the best of 2016. So, with that being said, bring on the pain.
My highlights for the first week:
“Too Right,” by Wye Oake – I feel like this song has no right to be as noisey and hard as it is in certain parts. Stop trying to pull me into your neo-country! Yet I’m attracted to this awkwardness musically and vocally. It’s an absolutely bizarre mishmash of music. Guess I was wrong.
“When It Rain,” by Danny Brown – I love the strides hip hop producers make when creating new songs, but I just can’t get into the current roster of rappers. Nothing they say speaks to me. Love the beats though.
“Love and War, ft. Ghostface Killa,” by Banks and Steelz – Ghostface makes anything sound good.
“Handmade Cities,” by Plini – This has to be a Don Becker pick!
“Room 3,” by 36 – Never heard of this before the list and love it! This song is not especially unique, but it is well crafted.
“Light Up,” by The Avalanches – Great! I love weird little interludes that flow between songs on albums. I’m being serious. Ed Coleman would probably hates this. Plus it ends with delay and a wind chime sample. I love delay.
“Lazarus,” by David Bowie – Finally, something great! I have no words that I can add to the “How great is David Bowie?” conversation. I’m honored I had the chance to see him live years ago.
“Hedy Lamarr,” by Ruby Rae – I had a feeling the last song was setting me up for Ruby Rae and I was not disappointed to hear this gem!
“The New Kings (I) Fuck Everyone and Run,” by Marillion – Well, I heard my third Marillion song and I’m not sure what to make of it. It sounded pretty, well, pretty ordinary. Part of me thinks it’s part of an overall concept album, so I’m probably listening to it out of context. Also, Don Becker loves Marillion, so I’ll just refrain from any harsh judgments. I’ve heard Marillion before, so I understand their technical prowess and craftsmanship.
A Tribe Called Quest – “The Donald,” Smooth transition from the Marillion track. It’s good to see an older hip hop band come back and say to the new generation, “We’ve been making weird music for years, but it’s dope. What are you doing?”
In preparation for the challenge, I subscribed to three months of Spotify Premium. I haven’t been a Spotify member since Google Play Music’s All Access launched and there’s a part of me that feels weird about paying for two streaming music services, but I hate ads that much.
I clicked Shuffle and Play and the first thing I see is a 15-minute song. And it’s not one of my selections. It’s a quarter hour slice of doom metal from SubRosa, who I had never heard of before this. And I think I like it. Parts of “Despair is a Siren” remind me of Steven Wilson’s “Raider II” from my 2011 Album of the Year Grace for Drowning, more so in scope than tone. Then it went into Carly Rae Jepsen. I’m curious if there’ll be a more rickety segue in this project and what my officemate now thinks of me.
It’s around this time that I realize that all the separate sections of the three long songs on my 2016 Album of the Year, Marillion’s Fuck Everyone and Run, are tracked separately.
The rest of the week was dominated by Animals as Leaders, Anderson .Paak, Ariana Grande, Autolux, and Angel Olsen. It’s at this point I begin to question Spotify’s shuffle algorithm, but I had better luck on mobile getting artists that didn’t begin with A. Early surprise favorites besides SubRosa include Olsen’s “Woman,” “Heksebrann” by Kvelertak and “Nineteen Ninety Heaven” by Nothing.
Still, there’s nothing more exciting in this than hearing stuff I submitted to the list, like Wolfmother or Big Big Train.
I’m starting to believe that my frequent jokes about hating all music aren’t so glib as I’d like to think. And that maybe, just maybe, I actually do despise all things melodic, harmonious, rhythmic and metered. Because I must have spent the better part of the 13 hours I spent trying to hang this last week eyeing the “forward” button on my Spotify app, eyeing my iTunes library, wondering why the devil I was putting up with this.
Sure, I’d get lucky from time to time – I don’t know why I put off listening to Starboy as long as I have; The Weeknd really is spectacular, probably one of a handful of pop stars we have left that can get me to perk up; and every time a track from Life of Pablo dropped I was reminded that Kanye may not be a genius but he is supremely talented; I only got to peep a handful of the new Tribe Called Quest album but loved what I heard – but the bulk of it was an exercise in masochism.
I’ve come to realize I despise the majority of metal. Punk rock is basically dead: anybody who said that the Trump years might spark some revival of revolutionary art has only to listen to the NOFX track “Generation Z” to despair. Or whatever the hell it is Jeff Rosenstock is wailing out over on Worry. While I enjoyed To Pimp a Butterfly well enough, I was also right to fear that Kendrick Lamar was soon going to be inescapable and that I was going to despise just about every track he showed up on. TPaB worked because of the astounding production work; take that away and Lamar’s just…kinda of grating. And is it just me or do critical-darlings Car Seat Headrest have about one trick and absolutely no sense of moderation? All of their songs sound the god damn same and they just spin on and on into irrelevance, long past the point where they should have ended. It’d be almost comical if I didn’t find it actually exhausting. Like, I start to get fatigued listening to their songs. I actually get physically tired. It’s a novel phenomenon, but I’m not sure I appreciate it.
I’ll keep plugging on, though. Maybe there’s still gold in these mines? (Also, Spotify’s shuffle algorithm hasn’t been treating me so poorly as it seems to be treating everybody else. I do, miraculously, get a pretty wide sample of music. Though it also seems to know how much I despise Car Seat Headrest and takes sadistic joy in attacking me…)
Pain: Wode, Anderson .Paak, Kendrick Lamar
Pleasure: PUP, The Radio Dept., Kursse
Thoughts: Thank the heavens Bowie kicks this playlist off. The Spotify shuffle gods have been kind. I see Kendrick Lamar on this playlist again; as of Thursday, January 5th at 12:11 PM, we have thankfully not yet crossed paths. A much better experience so far than last year. I was pretty frustrated one week in last time. As Danny Brown comes on…oh now what the hell is this? This song is abusing me. At least it’s short. Ain’t it funny how much I hate this? Still, there is some fantastic instrumental music on here.
1:53pm on Friday January 6th – I still hate Kendrick Lamar and I may be forced to endure this album at the end as this is, by far, my least favorite thing that’s come up so far…can this guy take a year off or something? This song is over eight minutes long?
The 2015 Can You Hang? Challenge® was a rough slog. Yet, for some reason, I was looking forward to doing it again. Perhaps I was rewarded for my positivity, because the first week of this year’s challenge was a million times better. That said, it was also not great. The music hasn’t been “bad,” but so much of it is really, really, really boring. Like so boring. I mentioned this fact to Stu one day as we chatted over the interwebs. His theory was that during the tumultuousness of 2016, people needed calm music to prevent them from succumbing to rage strokes. Keep in mind, Stu loves to look at the world through rage stroke colored lenses. Maybe I just need more sleep.
Here are my “highlights”:
“She Don’t Love Me,” by Zayn – Knowing this artist was on the CYH?C® list, I asked a young person about Zayn on New Year’s Eve. As I suspected, he was in One Direction. The fact that this knowledge existed somewhere in the shadowy recesses of my brain made me very sad. So much so that I had to spend the rest of New Year’s Eve night (and much of the following early morning) drinking heavily and dancing. Then I pressed shuffle play and this was the first goddamn song that came up on this playlist. So this is how it’s going to be, 2017? Fine. Well, this song is stupid. It literally could have been a Phil Collins song in the ’80’s.
“The Visitor,” by Kadhja Bonet – This song sounds like it belongs in a commercial for a high-end watch or a fragrance line. It has a grooving bass line, some smooth strings, a quirky vocal melody and some mellow tippy-tappy drums. It’s not my thing, but if you are a Gucci model or happen to be a character in a James Bond movie you might dig it.
“Seven Words,” by Weyes Blood – This is some sleepy folk music lulling the listener into staring off obliviously until the song ends. At least that was my experience.
“Drunk Drivers/Killer Whales,” by Car Seat Headrest – I can’t determine how terrible a name for a band this is. I will definitely not be able to remember it in a few minutes. Next weekend I’ll be asking Stu if he has come across that band, Backseat Seatbelt or Passenger Side Airbag [This is actually a much better name for a band -Stu]. This guy is a mumble mouth. It must be annoying to have a phone conversation with this guy. I like the music though. An interesting mix of jangly guitars and smooth synths. I’d like to hear more from Glovebox Organizer.
“Glow,” by Enemies – This song is like the soundtrack to a dream that takes place inside of a Sephora. More nap music.
“Continuity,” by Antoni Maiovvi and Umberto – Okay, this is the second Antoni Maiovvi and Umberto song I’ve heard and it is just as menacing as the first. I noticed the album cover on Spotify is a POV shot of looking through closed Venetian blinds. This makes me picture someone in a motel room doing all of the drugs and scrawling a manifesto on every available surface. I do not like this image. Antoni Maiovvi and Umberto have almost certainly murdered people.
“Christine,” by Martha – Unlike a lot of what I’ve heard so far, Martha is a band with spunk. Also vim and vigor. The music is catchy and the vocals have an authenticity (and ambiguity as to the gender of the singer) that is engaging. I like it.
“Room 1,” by 36 – This song takes about 20-30 seconds before any audible noise is made and then it quietly bloops along until it ends. In between I took 7 naps.
“Requiem for Hell,” by MONO – Who has time to listen to this? I got the point after a minute. The additional 17 seem excessive. It’s deja vu inducing. In the middle of the song you think to yourself, I’ve done this before. After 10 minutes the song seems to stop, but rest assured the band is just taking a sip of their drinks and wiping the redundancy off their brow so they can prepare for the big finale. Things get intense about 12 minutes in. It starts to sound like the band is playing their instruments to death.
“BoRdErSz,” by Zayn – I trust that if you are a rational human being, you are as unhappy reading the title of this song as I was while typing it. This song is another boring, hollow slow-goer.
“Welcome to Earth (Pollywog),” by Sturgill Simpson – This song is deceiving. It starts slowly with only Sturgill’s unfortunate name and very powerful voice to cling to. Then, about half way through, the song explodes into a soul-infused upbeat booty shaker. Best song of the week?
“Not What I Needed,” by Car Seat Headrest – It didn’t take long for another song by Sideview Mirror to come my way. This song is like the last. There’s something interesting about it, even though there is little change to the song’s dynamics and the vocals sound like Beck muttering something in his sleep. Still can’t make up my mind about Car Trunk Bike Rack.
In completing the first week of the Can You Hang Challenge, I’ve learned two very important things about myself. One, I have little patience for songs lasting longer than three minutes, and two, I am far pickier than I knew I was.
Like many, I stopped listening to new music some time after high school. I’ve become pretty stuck in some kind of musical rut that is home to a rather small sampling of bands and genres. Generally, if it’s not Bad Religion or Frog’s Theme from Chrono Trigger I take a hard pass.
I thought the Can You Hang Challenge would expand my horizons a bit, maybe expose me to something I didn’t know I liked. I was wrong. The instant I hit play and “Butcher” by Umberto started playing, I knew I was in for some kind of horrible, musical torture. And among all the hip hop and metal and new age gibberish, I think I’ll be hard-pressed to call this a success.
There is one upside, though: the feeling of elation when a song of your choosing is bestowed upon you by the Spotify gods is unmatched. These small victories are going to be what keeps me moving forward with the challenge. Hopefully next week fares better.
First of all, a few disclaimers: There are a few factors that have made it harder to participate in this challenge as much as I would like. I currently live at a place that has incredibly slow internet, so I can’t play Spotify while I’m at home. (Believe me, I’ve tried – it just stutters.) Also, my phone will only play like two songs on data and then dead silence, and I can’t stand driving to work and back in silence. Top that all off with a few bad mental health days and it seems like the challenge has been evading me rather than me evading it.
However, I did get a decent amount of listening in while at work, and the challenge has actually been much easier than I expected. I misunderstood when I joined in thinking that it was like the top 40 songs of 2016 or something, so I expected to be listening to Justin Bieber 24/7. Instead, it’s a mishmash of all of our favorite songs, so I’m mostly enjoying it! I’ve even been posting daily updates on our Twitter since I’m the Official Social Media Person. You can follow along with everyone’s updates and post your own using the #UWCanYouHang hashtag on Twitter!
Tweet updates for this week, accounting for days missed due to slow internet:
Day 1: The first song that played for me is called “I Hate Myself” – an apt title.
Day 2: My playlist just shuffled from the Doom soundtrack to Ariana Grande, nice
Day 3: How do y’all listen to metal and hardcore on a regular basis? It just makes me sad.
Day 4: This Brian Eno song is 21 MINUTES LONG.
If there is one thing I’ve learned from the Can You Hang Challenge it is that I am not nearly heavy enough to hang with y’all. For every Laura Viers track – and oh just one second how did I not realize that she had released this year, she with such a voice that it takes me back to the first time I heard her in a dark hall her voice echoing as if through a cave system, lonesome and forgotten and lush – there’s a black metal cacophony perched around the corner.
The Spotify algorithm (fingers crossed) has been kind to me so far. I’ve been listening to A Tribe Called Quest, which I heard a lot about this year but never actually heard. It’s a really good sound and something I would have missed out on. For every Kvelertak screamer or 9 minute (woof) Spectral Lore track there’s a brief interlude of Alicia Keyes speaking as if through spoken word or the epic strains of the Rogue One soundtrack. It’s a bit…odd? There’s not a lot of sense between the two tracks and you lose that feeling of a mix-tape made just for you.
Part of me wants to suggest that next year we have two different Can You Hang playlists: one for metal and one for not, but I don’t want the chance of missing out on something I might really love just because so far the experience has been grating and unpleasant.
It might be the complete absence of Fear Factory on this year’s list that is making my ability to hang much, much easier, or maybe it’s just that Spotify’s algorithm is giving me a reprieve and offering up more overall variety for 2016’s challenge. In any case, that was 2015, and this is now. I come to bury Fear Factory, not to disparage them (further).
I’m glad there’s some metal on the playlist, however, as nothing beats having a serious conversation with a coworker whilst a dude screams about spitting out bones from the PC behind you. “I’m working on a music project for a website,” you say.
“I thought you write about cartoons or something?”
“How about you lay off the judgment and just go with it, Janice? For once?”
To whomever chose the soundtrack to Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping for their Best of 2016: you, sir or madam, are a true American hero. “Equal Rights” is a pitch-perfect parody of Macklemore’s “Same Love,” with the Andy Samberg character’s message of equality for the LGBTQ community being constantly undercut by his scattered interjections of “I’m not gay, though,” and “titties,” and most hilariously, the solitary word “sports.” It’s a good reminder to allies that there are many discussions regarding minority communities when it’s best to go ahead and have a seat.
I hope next week brings some real clunkers to my stream; it’s hard to write when everything scores from good to passable. Why does everyone else get to have a miserable time? I didn’t hear anything I hated. Everyone should have the right to be equally wretched! Sports!