2021

Brought to you by the letter M: mending, magic, music.

sunreturn

We are, it turns out, going to sing it again. 2021, here goes.

2020: albums of the year

Less albums this year, oddly enough, but not unimportant for all that.

Górecki – Symphony No. 3
Beth Gibbons & Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Krzysztof Penderecki

I can’t remember where I first saw that this version had been recorded, with Portishead’s Beth Gibbons on vocals … but I ended up listening to this basically every day through the March & April lockdown in New York, checking the statistics, and watching the red lines go up and up and up. I only had one or two days of hearing too many ambulances, but those days were enough for me.

Sarah Davachi – Cantus, Descant
Davachi’s utterly beautiful album of organ drones and subtleties is basically the sort of bath you take after after a long and difficult day – or perhaps year.

London Is The Place For Me – Volumes 4 through 8
I got the remaining editions of this masterful collection on a Bandcamp Friday in the summer, and they’re incredible. A “window through time to London” is a trite statement, but that’s what you get.

Ana Roxanne – Because Of A Flower

Just gorgeous – not as bath-like as the Davachi album, (there’s a beat or two, even), but a really excellent record.

Honorable mentions to the psychedelic peaks of Primal Forms by Shackleton & Zimpel, the euphoria of ford’s The Color Of Nothing, Bohannon’s endlessly groovy Keep On Dancing, and the seismic K.O. by Miss Red.

2020: sets of the year

You’d think that a year of never leaving the house would result in me clocking in the DJ sets – but I ended up buying endless tunes instead. This list is slim pickings, but no less tasty pickings for that.

Laraaji – RA 733

I also didn’t think that a new age set with people laughing in it would end up being one of my go-to pieces of music for staying calm in the fast / slow stress drumbeat of 2020, but here we are.

Ben UFO – Live @ Nowadays, 01-18-2020

Yep – five hours of the live set of the previously mentioned best show of the year. Comprehensively excellent.

Yu Su – Virtually Nowadays

Another masterpiece of Vancouver-esq grooves. Like her live set that I spoke about last year, this one sounds like the rain coming down during a walk away on 12th Street – but much more relaxed, and thus perfect for 2020.

Shout to Riobamba for her Virtually Nowadays set, and to Duane Harriot for his collection of Prince rareties and jams on the same.

2020: concerts of the year

Once again, very little to talk about here, but two big NYC shows:

Dvořák 9 at NY Phil

Dudamel! What a guy. This one started with Ives and a contemporary piano concerto by Esteban Benzecry which was pretty good … but Dudamel leading an ultra-controlled romp through “From the New World” was a spectacle. There are obviously big tunes and big hits in that symphony, but Dudamel pulled out the harmony, the middle voices, and the little things, which just made the spotlight melodies better.

West Side Story

The Van Hove / De Keersmaeker production had some odd moments, and suffered a bit from the tunefulness of Bernstein’s score (e.g. “Jet Song”) not matching the deep-Queens grit of the staging. However! The dancing was fantastic, the cast got across the idea that these characters are teenagers making tragic choices, and most of the score still holds up – especially “Cool”, “America”, “Something’s Coming”, and the somehow still underrated tritone resolution in “Mariiiiiiiiaaa”.

2020: tracks of the year

Lots of music bought this year, thanks to both Bandcamp Friday and lots of time indoors.

The Pointer Sisters – Yes We Can Can

Not only was this an important song for that whole election thing, the drum part slaps, in the most exact sense of the word – to say nothing of the did-Biggie-sample-this bassline.

Paul Kelly – Take It Away From Him (Put It On Me)

I’ve been going through Vince Aletti’s compilation of disco columns from 1973-1978, and this not quite a hustle manages to be both plaintive and sexy (and has a great guitar part to boot).

Skipworth & Turner – Thinking About Your Love (Instrumental)

Let it be said: I love me a good low piano bassline. This was a very complicated Shazam dig from the Sadar Bahar show at Nowadays, via a compilation called “The ClubHouse Anthology Vol. 4 Special Edition”, by “The ClubHouse DJs”, and a track called “DJ Mixed Track Copulation”.

Caribou – Ravi

A tiny bundle of delight and joyfulness.

Robyn – Honey (Avalon Emerson Deep Current Reroll)

I think you could very reasonably copy and paste what I said last year about the Avalon Emerson remix I mentioned then, which involved words like “rocket-fueled”, and “to the stars”. Adding Robyn’s vocals only manages to, somehow, improve things.

Four Tet – Gillie Ama I Love You

Another tiny bundle, this one of happiness and relief, and maybe add gratification as well.

Two Lone Swordsmen – It’s Not The Worst (Lali Puna Remix)

Like the above Four Tet record, this one is nothing more and nothing less than the right sample, given the right backing – and the right year for this sort of vibe.

Pete Seeger – Amazing Grace, Cambridge, 1980

I ended up listening to a lot of Seeger around the election, and in general I didn’t like his sing-alongs; even though they were obviously the whole point for him, most of them sound iffy on record. This one, recorded in 1980 after he had moved mostly into elder-statesmen territory, sounds astonishing. Seeger takes it slow and then slower, and the audience eventually turns into an immaculate, Messiaen-esq wall of sound.

Honors out to the do-be-do-be disco of The Tymes – You Little Trustmaker, the relentless funk of The J.B.’s – Do in’ It To Death (Parts 1 & 2), Axel Boman’s tragically balaeric Eyes Of My Mind, Shanique Marie’s pure 🔥🔥🔥 Ring The Alarm, and Carly Rae Jepsen’s trio of Fake Mona Lisa, Solo, and Comeback.

2020: shows of the year

Not a lot to talk about here, for obvious reasons – but the first two months of the year were pretty great.

Ben UFO & Aurora Halal @ Nowadays
I didn’t realize this was my 20th anniversary of going to raves until I walked out of Nowadays at a few minutes past seven AM in a daze. My 17 year old self would have been shocked that I only spent seven hours there (and I had to have a nap beforehand), but I think that past self would be pretty happy, in general, with the past 20 years of techno.

Gilles Peterson & Kassa Overall @ Nuba

For some reason, I thought Peterson would be a laid back, selector-type guy … and in fact he’s a huge ham, leaning into every drop, eyes closed, head back. I spent lots of this show shamelessly Shazam-ing tracks, but spent more of it pretending I can dance to jazz music – a great time.

Honorable mentions to Sadar Baha, Barbie Bertisch, Paul Raffaele at a winter Mr. Sunday for their loose disco (and for introducing me to one of the tracks of the year), and to Honcho at the last Nowadays show before NYC’s lockdown.

Victory

My neighborhood didn’t explode in celebration when the race was called, but we did have some strong moments:

– The guy walking in front of me, blaring a remix of Beethoven 9, and clearly feeling it.

– Multiple instances of people blasting “Fuck Donald Trump”.

– The pure relief on the face of the woman who asked me what happened, when I said that Biden won.

Bad Ideas About Democracy

Filtering a bit of pre-election stress by writing down some bad ideas about political systems. Examples are Canadian, but the ideas are as transferrable as they are generally bad.

Districts:
– Draw deeply arbitrary (as in, random shapes greater than 10 km^2 and less than 1,000 km^2) districts every year, elect representatives accordingly.
– Every watershed is a district, every Köppen climate classification is a district.
– Allow each party to define their own districts, and let folks also vote for their specificity of representation – maybe those districts can overlap!
– Have districts of large or varying sizes that elect multiple or varying representatives.

Neighbours Matter:
– Ask other countries (or provinces?) to draw the boundaries for your districts – in return you get to draw their districts.
– All heads of state must come from outside the country – the Bernadotte method.
– A district votes to elect the representative for a neighbouring district – in either pairs, or in a wheel within a province, or at random.

Contrarian Libertarianism, via The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress:
– Form “districts” by age, or occupation, or at random. At-random within a larger boundary (say, a province of Canada) is an interesting idea – especially if those people could talk to each other and lasted for several years. The happy path here is that I, a coastal elite, might learn some compromise with a conservative voter from the Peace River.
– Elect a third house with the explicit job of repealing laws.
– Re-ratify each law every N years, or else it expires.
– The candidate with the least votes wins. Almost certainly not feasible, but you could have some fun whereby 1% of your house is picked from a random selection of last-place candidates (maybe over some threshold – 5%?).

Voting on Bills:
– Representatives get a certain number of votes per year, and can use more than one vote on an issue that they care about – like “dots” in Agile-speak.
– Representatives get a single “double vote” (or triple, etc) once a year.
– Representatives can exchange speaking time, or some other valuable commodity, for votes.

Representation:
– Pick N representatives by lot. (open to abuse by lobbyists, alas).
– Everyone can be a representative if they want to be; the winner of the popular vote selects a cabinet of some size, or the popular vote picks an upper house, etc.
– There are no representatives – everyone can / must vote on every issue.
– Individuals can self-organize into groups (of some minimum size, probably) and ask for / require a representative.
– Every district has multiple representatives, but they only get a single vote, together. If they can’t agree on a position for a vote, they don’t get one. This one could be enough of the top candidates to get 50% or 75% of the popular vote, or every candidate except the winner, etc.
– Any candidate who scores more than 10% of the vote “wins” – with a number of votes in proportion. 50% = 5 votes, 10% = 1 vote, and so forth.

Term Limits:
Allow up to N terms for presidents, senators, etc – but raise the margin of victory required for each subsequent term. Second term requires +2%, third term +4%, fourth term 8%, and so on.
– There are no term limits, but everyone is limited to no more than N days (5,000?) in political office, at any level. This could also be split across local / provincial and federal offices.
– Every position has overlapping terms, e.g. President-Elect, President, Past President.

“No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time” – Churchill, 1947

The Zoo