Discover more from AHB's Goodies
20 musical revelations & some evergreen holiday tunes
musical light at the darkest time of year & an AI-assisted conflagration
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First a congratulations. You’ve made it over the hump. The solstice has passed. For the next 360something days, there will be more daylight than there was on December 21st. I hope this installment of my mixtape delivery service helps you wrap up your year and keep your light alive.
# of Tracks: 20
Length: 1 hour-ish
Themes: songs I listened to & thought about a lot in 2022
Link: spoti.fi/3HYfK3k (Spotify)
This playlist contains 20 mostly-new-to-me songs/artists that parted the clouds for me in 2022. It’s Spotify-only because I’m low-key lazy this time of year. (I’ve provided names of the tracks in the footnotes1 if you want to reconstruct it on other services.)
This shouldn’t be confused for a “Best Of” list. For example, while I agree Rosalía and Kendrick Lamar are the most interesting pop artists of our time, I just didn’t get as wrapped up in their new albums this year as I did a number of less heralded projects.
Each of the recordings on my playlist posed a question in the form of a mystery: Why do I want to listen to this again and again and again? Answers included a lyric that surprised or stuck with me (John Moreland, Lil Baby, Adeem the Artist, The 1975). Or a vibe hinting at a larger world-building project (HTRK, Contour, Joan Shelley). Or a hypnotic, layered repetitiveness that allowed me to blur the distinction between playing a song once and one hundred times (Men I Trust, Joao Gilberto, Oren Ambarchi). Or a chaotic aspect that offered my mind something to untwist upon repeat listens (Alabaster DePlume, Big Thief). Or an efficient concision which scratched a lizard brain pleasure center. (👋 Harry Styles and MUNA.)
The pair of songs by isomonstrosity2 and Caroline Polachek are honorable mentions. I’m not sure I listened to them ‘on repeat’ but I admire the specificity, oddity, and fastidiousness of their music. The tracks point to concepts and future frontiers no one else is exploring at their level. (It's far harder to make semi-popular music which operates in its own lane than it is to, like, make an intricately wigged out Bill Orcutt guitar record.3)
Then there was the pure humor and audacity of a track like Paul Cauthen’s “Cocaine Country Dancing”—a late in the year discovery which I discovered when I made an Instagram post asking for suggestions of “modern country music.” Cauthen and Adeem the Artist each traffic in big, established tropes—that’s country music for you!—but there’s something fresh about how each of them do it.
Finally, one song, Ice Spice’s “Munch (Feeling’ U),” ticked so many of the boxes I’ve just enumerated, I would crown it Song of My Year if I believed in such things.4
I tried (and half-failed) to generate this playlist’s meta-materials with the help of artificial intelligence. I thought it’d be fun to tie the cover art and introductory words into another resonant theme of 2022: our rapidly changing relationship with the technological tools that threaten to totally mediate our social lives and culture: ChatGPT! DALL-E Mini! Crypto collapse! Twitter takeovers! Computer-enabled, consumer-facing tech has seemed both powerful and fragile this year.
The mere mention of those proper nouns would baffle a time traveler from a few decades ago. But the pace of visible change has been rapid, chaotic, and dramatic. And all this stuff has some dystopian implications. I'm facing this moment of transformation as I do most things—with skepticism and humor. So the cover art depicts a fantasy....
I have a dream…that our social media era could be destroyed in a puff of atomic smoke. Read more about the AI prompts I attempted in the footnotes.5
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Part two: Here is a gently updated version of the evergreen holiday music playlist I’ve started promoting more widely over these past two, post-Covid years.
# of Tracks: 50ish
Length: 3 hours
Themes: a sorta indie Xmas ~ a very Brassland Xmas ~ an observance of the solstice ~ built around selections from Mx. Justin Vivian Bond’s House of (Holiday) Whimsy
The mix builds on a series of singles my label Brassland commissioned from artists in our extended creative creative community in the mid-2010s. (If you want song-by-song stories behind those recordings click this footnote >>>6) One of those artists, Justin Vivian Bond, also curated a playlist of holiday songs that paired well with their EP. Each year I update it with a sprinkling of new additions. For a mid-sized exegesis on this playlist, here is what I had to say about it last year.
This year’s holiday playlist includes new songs such as…
^ Phoebe Bridgers “So Much Wine”
^ The Temptations “Silent Night”
^ Low “Taking Down The Tree”
Here’s the track-by-track rundown for the unSpotified:
Contour: “Trench Prayer”
Ice Spice: “Munch (Feelin’ U)”
Men I Trust: “Billie Toppy”
MUNA: “Silk Chiffon” (feat. Phoebe Bridgers)
Paul Cauthen: “Cocaine Country Dancing”
Harry Styles: “Keep Driving”
Caroline Polachek: “Sunset”
Big Thief: “Time Escaping”
João Gilberto: “Undiú”
HTRK: “Kiss Kiss and Rhinestones”
John Moreland: “Generational Dust”
The 1975: “Part Of The Band”
Lil Baby: “Emotionally Scarred”
Adeem the Artist: “Middle of a Heart”
Oren Ambarchi: “I” (really just one section of an album-length work called Shebang)
isomonstrosity: “i used to” (feat. Kacy Hill & International Contermporary Ensemble)
Alabaster DePlume: “Don’t Forget You’re Precious”
Joan Shelley: “Amberlit Morning” (feat. Bill Callahan)
More than two-thirds of these recordings are newly released in 2022. A handful were merely new-to-me. i.e. “Kiss Kiss and Rhinestones” is from late 2021, “Cocaine Country Dancing” from 2019, and João Gilberto’s “Undiú” from 1973. (It’s the only truly archival outlier, but I got so obsessed with it, I had to include it.)
I’ll admit it’s borderline embarrassing how slowly I grock mainstream pop culture sometimes. The Lil Baby song is from his album My Turn, possibly the most streamed album of 2020.
Conflict of interest alert: my label Brassland put out the isomonstrosity record.
Orcutt’s Music For Four Guitars is not represented on my playlist because I leave curatorial opinions on extreme/improvisational/experimental music to the weirdos who spend all their free time exploring the stuff. Much respect to those players and that game. At best, I’m a tourist in that arena.
Unsurprisingly “Munch (Feelin’ U)” is the only song which made it onto all three Best Songs of 2022 lists created by the New York Times’ music critics.
I generated this mixtape’s cover art with Craiyon—formerly known as DALL-E Mini—an AI image generator that was made widely available this autumn.
First I fantasized: Was 2022 the beginning of the end of social media? Then I catastrophized: my prompts included “a world without social media” ~ “social media icons destroyed” ~ “social media networks destroyed in a nuclear mushroom cloud”
Here’s how the AI reacted:
Mostly I struggled to create a picture that wasn’t entirely dominated by the mushroom cloud. Fair enough. That’s what mushroom clouds do. (And why we should probably avoid them.)
I also tried using ChatGPT to quickly write a pithy intro to this post. It sucked. Don’t believe me? Well…