"But there was nothing about the little, low-rambling, more or less identical homes of Northumberland Estates to interest or to haunt, no chance of loot that would be any more than the ordinary, waking-world kind the cops hauled you in for taking; no
small immunities, no possibilities for hidden life or otherworldly presence; no trees, secret routes, shortcuts, culverts, thickets that could be made hollow in the middle – everything in the place was right out in the open, everything could be seen at a glance; and behind it, under it, around the corners of its houses and down the safe, gentle curves of its streets, you came back, you kept coming back, to nothing; nothing but the cheerless earth."
Thomas Pynchon, "The Secret Integration"
This is Ian Mathers' Tumblr. I live in Canada. I've written about music and other things for Stylus, PopMatters, Resident Advisor, the Village Voice, and a few other places. Hi.
As mentioned yesterday, there were two reasons I’d been playing/hearing/thinking a lot about Mogwai recently; this column at PopMatters, just over 2500 words from me on songs from the length of the band’s career, is the other. It was a wonderful excuse to delve into the back catalog, and I’m pretty happy with how it turned out. I do apologize for the use of “epics” above; I try not to use that word about songs, but nothing else seemed to fit here (which says something about my feelings about Come on Die Young as well). Anyway, twelve more songs at the link if you’re curious.
There was a definitely a time when calling Mogwai a subtle band would have gotten you some odd looks. Even leaving things like “Blur: Are Shite" and the Jim Morrison t-shirt aside, this is a band whose debut album included a 16-minute conclusion entitled “Mogwai Fear Satan” and who have often sounded like they were trying to replicate several different types of explosions in the medium of guitar.
True to form, 2011’s Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will (Mogwai’s titles often being funny and/or piss-taking in addition to lacking subtlety) was a bright, bold album that was among the band’s most immediately gripping and pleasing work. That record, which felt a bit like a summation of everything the band had done to date, would be hard to top on its own terms; most guitar bands probably wouldn’t have begun its successor by having a member return from Germany with some analog synthesizers.
Dusted Magazine is living on Tumblr (for the moment at least), and I’m writing a bit for them. This review of a really excellent Mogwai album, which is one of two reasons the band’s been on my mind recently, is my first review there.
So here it is, the big list; the 114 records released in 2013 that I deliberately listened to. At its heart, it’s a very simple system, and one I’ve used for years. The ones in bold you’re probably familiar with; they’re my favourites, the ones I definitely one to keep and what made up my best of 2013 mixes (again, plus the Necks and Retribution Gospel Choir, because of track lengths).
The albums in plain text are somewhere in the middle; I’ve listened to them, and right now I still have the whole album. Some of them I already know I’m going to keep, I just don’t love them as much as the bolded albums. Some of them are one more assessing listen away from being scrapped for parts. Some I didn’t have the time or inclination to listen to enough to decide yet. There are a few cases where these albums list in parentheses the tracks I’ve ditched; so, for example, there’s a version of the Knife’s Shaking the Habitual that I’m keeping, but since it’s not the full album, I don’t feel comfortable saying it’s one of my favourites of the year. Reissues are also in this category, since I bold things partly to decide what to vote for if I’m voting and I don’t generally vote for reissues unless that’s a separate category.
The albums in italics are ones I have already decided not to keep in full. In some cases I didn’t get all the way through a first listen; in some cases I’ve listened a dozen times or more. Italicized entries with song titles in parentheses after the album title indicate cases where I liked those listed songs enough to keep them, even though I don’t think the album is something I’m going to want to hear again in full. I don’t necessarily think these are bad albums; just not for me, at least at the moment. There’s not a ton on here I outright hate. There has to be some reason I decided to try the full album, and I don’t hatelisten.
These 114 records don’t represent all the music from 2013 I heard last year, of course. I didn’t track nonalbum songs, for example, because the very idea makes my brain explode. These are just the albums I decided at some point I wanted to hear all of. There were other cases (generally bands I’d previously disliked or hadn’t heard) where I was intrigued enough to check out a single or a few songs but at that point not interested in investigating further. One reason I wanted to post this list was because of the freedom it gives you, the reader. You can look for an album you love, and if it’s not here you can decide I’d love it if I’d heard of it, or I’m a philistine who wasn’t interested. You can wonder about an album that wasn’t on my best ofs and see whether I disliked it or just didn’t like it as much. And you can decide what my motives and the circumstance were on whatever basis you like. You can apply as much or as little inferential charity as you want! Think I’m an idiot with horrible taste? Plenty of evidence here! Think I’m a swell guy with great taste? Same. But at least if I recommend something, you have some idea where I’m coming from.
It also gives context, of course. Who listened to music mostly made by white guys last year? This guy! Who’s proud of that? Nobody! If you’ve ever wondered exactly how much metal I check out, or how broad my taste is, or anything like that, there’s probably something for you here. I hope it’s of some interest to some of you. If not, well, I hope you’re not on your phone.
I didn’t want to write about this when it happened but now I want to write about it and just put it down before it gets fuzzy in my mind and I forget. I had lunch with my family on my birthday and I was kind of nervous about it because events with my family are prone to something going wrong or someone being dramatic or something. Everything was going ok, it was all delicious and no one had started any problems and I was like, “man, not a bad day.” It was not thirty seconds after I thought that that my grandpa got up from the table and my stepmom sort of adjusted it a bit so he’d be able to get out from his corner.
"You don’t have to do that, I’m not that fat yet," he said to her. "It’s not like I’m Anaïs."
Which was the exact moment that, you know, something just snapped inside me. I’m not going to say my heart although it hurt but more like this flood of anger. No one noticed that I got up (without having to move the table, thank you) and sat in a nearby armchair and started crying quietly despite feeling so fucking angry. Soon someone asked when I was going to cut my birthday cake. I said I didn’t want to and everyone then realized I was crying. With enough prodding, I explained that I didn’t want to do anything else and I just wanted to be left alone.
Things fell apart from here. This led my mother to dramatically leave, exclaiming that this is exactly what her father (my grandpa) had done to her all her life and she didn’t need to listen to someone doing it to her daughter now; mind you, my mother’s constant pressure to be skinnier even when I was very skinny led to me not only having an eating disorder as a teenager but spending countless years after feeling completely uncomfortable and disconnected from my body. Everyone else just looked generally uncomfortable that I refused to let it go and play along and cut the damn cake. My dad was the only one to actually try to talk to me and remind me that it was all kind of bullshit and that I was fine. Someone angrily threw birthday candles into the trash at some point. When my grandparents finally left after the longest awkward silence, my grandpa apologized only for being concerned about my health; mind you, nothing is wrong with my health.
The rest of my birthday was great but the hour or so surrounding that moment felt like total and utter shit. There’s a sort of cycle that happens when you get hurt like that, when you get angry like that, you get really, really low for a bit and you wish you just didn’t even exist at all, because if you stopped existing, you wouldn’t feel as shitty as you do right then. I was so mad because if some extra pounds could make someone be this to shitty to you on your birthday, like, what is my family valuing? Because it doesn’t seem to matter that I have two degrees, have started a new successful career, that I’m in a happy marriage, that I’ve gone to therapy and become this (especially in comparison to the past) much more together person who is healthier in so many respects.
So what is enough? I was thinking this and all I could realize is that it doesn’t fucking matter at all because there is no room in my life for anyone who thinks I’m somehow lacking or not enough somehow. And it sucks when it’s someone you love but at this point in my life, I just love myself more than to feel bad about myself every time I see that person. I have worked so hard to learn how to be good to myself, why would I let someone else undo what I’ve done? And you know, all of this doesn’t mean that I think there aren’t parts of myself I would like to work on and change but it means that that’s my decision and my call and not something that anyone else gets an opinion on.