Set the Unwinnable Best Music of 2017 playlist on random.
Listen to nothing else for all of January.
Cling to sanity.
Write about it.
The past week of this challenge was all veggies, and if I’m being totally honest, I snuck a lot of cake on the side. This playlist was 88 hours long, and I was hoping to snuggle up to the entire thing, but apparently part of the “fun” of #UWCanYouHang is understanding that Spotify likes to re-shuffle the list and doesn’t really keep track of what you’ve already hear. Particularly after an update. So, while that Rancid album is actually 20 tracks, it probably felt so ubiquitous because each song was redundant and regularly repeating.
After this revelation, the whole shebang lost all its butter. I was hungry for the new tunes in January already, and trying to whittle down my Bandcamp wishlist, still loaded with juicy jams from yesteryear. Music is a tough medium to get seriously negative on without reverting to pure objectivity, but the more I listened to this playlist the more I hated those bands that already left a pall over my cochlea and yet seemed to be consistently shoved underneath my skull.
So I’m left with this echo of early car life, struggling against the radio waves, begging for familiar sounds, or at least something energetic. It’s not all bad, of course: I remember plenty of “Bohemian Rhapsody” singalongs, hearing “Killed By an Angel” by Sunny Day Real Estate one the first day of owning my own vehicle, whispers of college radio stations playing more than the usual diabetic spate. But while music grows out of a very communal experience for most, as I’ve gotten older, it’s transformed into a more solitary enjoyment. Give me my headphones on a walk or the train, without worrying that I’m hassling anyone in the room or around me. I love to make the case for many bands but there’s only so much you can say about screamo, avant-metal-jazz, high-pitched fourth-wave pop-punk, especially to a demographic that has had its mind made up for a decade or more.
Ultimately, I couldn’t hang. I skipped the tracks that I felt I’d heard enough of, even those bands I’d nominated, thirsty for a different taste. I’d heard enough New Found Glory in the early 00’s (and even then, not much) and didn’t feel it was necessary for more. I gasped for those bits I’d found electrifying, but not much new was gracing me in my struggle. I didn’t even take notes, though I remember grooving on Scattle and the one that’s like about synth horror. And it was a thrill to have a few of my choices vindicated, including my top record of the year, Emily Haines & the Soft Skeleton. It was a good hang but if nothing else, I’m even more jazzed to hear what 2018 has to offer. And based on the list I’ve been keeping while chained to Spotify, it’s looking to be a solid one at that.
When we entered the final week of the Can You Hang? Challenge®, my first thought was “This is no longer fun.” My second was, “Maybe we should only do it three weeks next year.” Both of these thoughts occurred despite the fact that this was the best Challenge we’ve had, packed with music I was happy to be introduced to.
When I made my first pass at an edited playlist, my criteria was to keep in everything I enjoyed. I kept dumping more and more albums as I went. I think I am down to 25 or so, which is still a fucking lot, but the last several days, I’ve been listening to two Lana Del Rey songs on repeat (“My Feelings” and “Heroin”).
I struggle with this thing every year. Music is…I don’t even know how to convey this. It shores me up. When I feel a certain way, I throw on the right music and it gives me energy I can use, or pushes me in the direction I know I need to go. It fuels my writing, my thinking, my quiet moments. It isn’t brain food, exactly. More like vitamins for my emotions. It isn’t an exact science, though, and it requires constant experimentation and ever more new music to feed the furnace. I love that Grave Pleasures album that I put in the playlist but fuck, I don’t want it served up to me randomly. I want to listen to that album when I want to listen to it, when I need it, when it serves a purpose. Having it in the challenge as a breath of fresh air from music I didn’t want to hear is grossly utilitarian. I diminished it, like using a crystal paperweight to hammer in a nail.
That’s why I gave up on the Challenge and just listened to those two Lana Del Rey songs over and over again. That’s what my brain wanted. I’ve woken up every day since Wednesday with the bridge from “Heroin” stuck in my head. It is fucking fantastic, that bridge. And why should I deny myself that?
Here at the end, though, I don’t think I do want to shorten the Challenge next year. It was exhausting, but the restraints of the Challenge are refreshing in a way. I feel like we’ve wrung every last drop out of the best music of 2017. It was a gauntlet. My ears have been scoured clean. But I’m ready to be free to go my own way again.
First stop: that new Titus Andronicus tune.
Well, maybe after a couple hours of Sisters of Mercy…
Congratulations to all the brave souls who saw this year’s CYH?C® through to the end. While the experience was far more positive than in the past, it is still difficult to be force fed other people’s music through Spotify’s offensive algorithm. We are all heroes.
Here are a few of the albums I found particularly unpleasant, but which I listened to all the way through in order to write a few snarky comments that will entertain, at best, several people.
Gas – Narkopop
Ugh. There are so many narkopops to get through and they are all so long. It’s all just ambient sound drifting along a lazy river of electric fuzz. The music is never jarring or even very present, but it manages to be unsettling at times. I guess that is an achievement, of sorts. Every once in a while, you’re treated to 20 seconds of a melody, as if Gas is saying, “Hey this isn’t just the sound of your washing machine in the background. It’s ostensibly a song. You know, like music.”
Rancid – Trouble Maker
The good news about this album is most of the songs are short. The bad news is that there are nineteen of them. I get that it’s unfair to expect Rancid to create a great punk album in 2017, but with the state of the world as it is, it would be nice if a few songs were about more than just punks being punks, punking around town. It would not surprise me to learn these songs were copied and pasted from parts of old songs from past albums. Why push the envelope when Tim Armstrong can so effortlessly slur his way through rhyming ‘rock and roll’ with ‘soul?’
I Hate Sex – World of Grief
If you’re into being screamed at for ten songs, you’ll love this. I’m not. By the end I wondered if the songs were recorded during an emergency situation and the singer was screaming for help. If that was the case I hope first responders reached the band in time. If not, I am very worried about her vocal cords. Since hearing this album, when I’m kneeling beside my bed at night and saying my prayers, I ask the baby jesus to make sure the singer gets plenty of hot fluids with lemon or honey.
Dean Hurley – Anthology Resource Vol. 1
I understand that this album is Twin Peaks background music, but no maker of music is more indifferent to whether or not they are producing sound than Dean Hurley. While it was “playing,” I repeatedly checked to see if the “music” was still “on” because I couldn’t hear anything. Do you want to make music like Dean Hurley at home? Get yourself an oscillating fan and turn it on at the lowest setting. Put a kettle of tea on the stove and record for a few minutes from the next room. Maybe you’ll hear the faint sound of the water percolating in the kitchen, but don’t worry if you can’t. You’re setting a mood. Now wait three or four more minutes and drop some silverware onto a towel. Maybe add some effects. Way to go! You’re making music the Dean Hurley way!
You know this years mix wasn’t so bad and maybe that’s the worst part of Can You Hang 2018 challenge. Half of the music is a throwback, whether it be an old band picking up the reigns again or a new band reeling in an old sound and that must say something about our collective conscience if we are yearning for the old days, ’cause the new days are dark days.
For those of us living in America, we’ve had a hell of a year and I thought for sure I would hear more protest music but I feel like everyone has laid down. I feel like this mix really does parallel the unimaginative, morale busting year we’ve all experienced.
But I really did enjoy Pissed Jeans and White Reaper the most since those bands, to me, represented the percentage of us that raise our middle finger on the daily to society.
And with that I raise both my middle fingers to the Can you Hang: 2018 Edition challenge and say Fuck you very much!
This year’s playlist was so relentlessly pleasant that its pretty-goodness became its own kind of endurance test. I didn’t even write an entry for last week’s round-up because as much as I listened, I found searching for writing prompts left me without much purchase.
I did run a grueling half-marathon two weekends ago with only the playlist to keep a beat in my brain and my legs, and was surprised to find it pretty much on my side throughout the whole thing. It leaned heavily towards the heavy metal, which I discovered about a year ago is a good compliment for a runner who can dig deep and find power in rage.
I’m also extremely proud to be at least tangentially the reason Stu Horvath – a man who, upon perusal of his wife’s Instagram, is revealed to be a person who wears black jeans and lug boots to the beach – has discovered a true passion for the work of glam-trash chanteuse Lana Del Rey. She’s been a favorite of mine since she came on the scene and her latest album is near perfection.
I’m also endlessly grateful to have been introduced to math rock band Tricot, the Chinese hip-hop group Higher Brothers, Schooltree’s rock opera Heterotopia and the steely cleverness of Young M.A. I’ve spent the last two weeks resisting the urge to tell everyone who sucks that they “don’t got no hot sauce.” I don’t want to be appropriative of a phrase like that, but it’s a comfort to be able to look the sucky ones in the eye, think it and know it’s true. They pick up on the vibes.
Finally, having just watched the 2018 Grammys, I just want to shout out the rest of the Unwinnable team for not including 24K Magic on the playlist. Bruno Mars is incredibly talented and I will always shout-sing “Uptown Funk” at weddings (though Mystikal’s “Feel Right” is the real gem on Mark Ronson’s Uptown Special), but 24K Magic winning Best Album over Kendrick Lamar’s DAMN? Damn. Glad the UW team was on the right side of history with that one.