One of the major ways that I cope is by making lists. It’s funny because list articles generally aren’t my favorite to write. Sometimes I’ll make a quick list of art that evokes an emotion, or connects things in a way I hadn’t thought of before.
One of the ways this takes more solid form is creating playlists of music videos and performances. It’s not just the song, it’s about what the video and performer evoke, the way all of it together flows into the next or contrasts with it.
Sometimes I’ll go through dozens of music videos putting 10 in the right order. I always feel like what I come up with is imperfect, that there’s something missing I haven’t tripped upon or been introduced to yet. I’m frustrated when a song doesn’t have a video or performance I like, and then I sit on the list for ages wondering if I should put the song itself in. But I also feel like whatever I do come up with is useful for storing an emotion, processing it, seeing it turned over and over in this weird tumble dryer of videos.
As something extra, I thought I’d put together a playlist of videos every two weeks – no discussion like I might put in an article, just an order of videos that helps me to think about something, cope with it. In this one, it felt like I had permission to be sad and frustrated. They’re emotions that I often deny myself – angry and frustrated, sure, but sad I fear de-railing work, I fear getting in the way. I hate the way it makes me doubt myself, second-guess my worth. I fear wasting time when I already have trouble focusing. I hate permitting stress when it feels like I already have enough, as if that doesn’t somehow create more stress.
I think putting these particular videos together helps me create a space where I have permission to be sad, where I can let that be legitimate, where I can feel safe feeling that, and realize how badly I sometimes need to allow that for myself.
“Rich, White, Straight Men”
Little Simz ft. Tilla
“Just Make it Stop”
“On a Hilltop Sat the Moon”
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Lana Del Rey’s “Norman Fucking Rockwell!” is a phenomenal eulogy that dismantles a dangerous mythology of excess. She’s spent her career clarifying this excess by inhabiting it. She’s presented and idolized the intractable pull that makes us chase it, while simultaneously charting her own chase of it and what it costs. She’s painted haze-filled, sepia-toned stories of enjoying its conveniences and comforts as an enabler of others’ toxicity, while marking down the scars it creates.
Her albums to this point have created a lore-filled American mythology featuring celebrities as our gods and goddesses. That Lynchian, Laurel Canyon-double of her that exists in celebritized excess and 70s-era Hollywood has acted both as siren luring listeners in and specter warning them away. There’s duality and dissonance to her music, a feeling of being lost in a dream-state between the illusion and what maintaining it takes from you.
The part of Lana Del Rey that speaks to this time and generation is that she’s both one of those who’s been holding the guillotine’s rope, and the first one marched out to set her head beneath its blade. Her mythology has always been that of an enabler and beneficiary of excess, seeking to partake in that mythology and the privilege of that excess, at the same time hollowed out and distanced, victimized by what it asks her to leave behind. Her career has charted an evolution from feeling emotions through others to increasingly remembering herself.
Her first single “Video Games” in 2011 repeated:
“It’s you, it’s you, it’s all for you
Everything I do
I tell you all the time
Heaven is a place on earth with you
Tell me all the things you want to do
I heard that you like the bad girls honey, is that true?”
Here was someone who compared changing who and what she was for someone else to playing a video game. It came with ease. It was expected, repetitive, and most dangerously – fun.
Compare that to “hope is a dangerous thing for a woman like me to have – but I have it,” the last song on “Norman Fucking Rockwell!”
“There’s a new revolution,
a loud evolution that I saw
Born of confusion
and quiet collusion, of which mostly I’ve known
A modern day woman
with a weak constitution, cause I’ve got
Monsters still under my bed
that I could never fight off
A gatekeeper carelessly
dropping the keys on my nights off.”
In “Norman Fucking Rockwell!” it feels like she’s realized the most responsible action to take – perhaps more for herself than for us – is to dismantle that mythology in front of us. She still yearns for it, she still idolizes moments in it, and she also treats it as toxic.
Critic Izzy Black once wrote about the increasing role of the cinema of excess. This includes movies like “The Wolf of Wall Street,” “The Bling Ring,” “Spring Breakers,” “Pain & Gain,” “The Great Gatsby,” and “The Counselor”. Unlike previous films regarding capitalist excess that were either tragedies or satires, these all presented excess that brought their protagonists in on the joke. As Black wrote, the characters “own this absurdity. They’re aware of it and embrace it. They participate in the comedy, as they participate in the irony.”
This risked an issue of endorsing the behaviors in these films rather than questioning them. Lessons aren’t learned. Characters don’t face moral dilemmas. Black argues that these characters present a critique of capitalism not in facing negative consequences, but in getting off relatively free from ethical struggle, remorse, and often consequences altogether. These are films that – instead of calling out the actions of their characters – seek to call out the complicity in their creation and our viewership of it.
Where those films created a reflection of the audience that’s in on the joke, Lana Del Rey created a Lynchian doppelganger of herself who’s lost in it: beneficiary, enabler, and victim all at once. Where does it end and where does that double begin? Well that’s the difficult part for all of us in an age of social media, personal branding, and influencers.
This has always been the line that Lana Del Rey has balanced on. She crafts a mythology of hypocritical iconography. She clarifies its role in complicity to excess, and creates an icon who inhabits that complicity in order to do so.
Her character initially identified with malleability to someone else’s whims. As long as she was benefiting or achieving a desire, some other part of herself could be hollowed. That was the consistent theme of her debut album, “Born to Die.”
We weren’t told whether that was a warning or not because the character was never called out on it. Over time, Lana Del Rey’s albums have become increasingly explicit in identifying the scars this has cost her, and the hypocrisy in the Americana mythology that she both worships and warns us of.
If this is her Lizzy Grant album, then Lana Del Rey is being acknowledged here as her given name’s double, as the complicit, both a shield that’s protected her and the hypocrisy that was utilized to do so. The songs here seem to move on from it because that’s where the evolution is, but they don’t try to shirk their burden.
“Norman Fucking Rockwell!” is a sloughing of skin, but not in a way that seeks to escape. She’s still squarely in the ring. The entire album calls out hypocrisies and makes more express the trade-offs her character has made. It is a dismantling of her complicity, perhaps because the artists practicing art of excess didn’t get there fast enough, or weren’t enough in number, or maybe just because that hypocrisy-as-critique wasn’t effective.
Whichever way, the most important part here is that Lana Del Rey’s still inhabiting that evolutionary moment. “Norman Fucking Rockwell!” is a snapshot of it, and it’s an honest one. She’s now holding that double at arm’s length and assessing it. She still needs to express that dreamlike foray into excess in order to make clear the path to leaving it. She treats the complicity of that double as if a recovering addict, someone who “used to shoot up my veins in neon.”
Whether that character of complicity has been more effective in critiquing it or embodying it seems to vary by perspective, but Lana Del Rey’s career has charted the course of the United States falling into an illusive and dangerous mythology of excess in a way no other artist’s has. As she sings in “The Greatest,”
“If this is it, I’m signing off
Miss doing nothing the most of all
Hawaii just missed a fireball
L.A. is in flames, it’s getting hot
Kanye West is blond and gone
‘Life on Mars’ ain’t just a song
Oh, the live stream’s almost on.”
The featured image is from Consequence of Sound here.
A friend recently asked me if I could only listen to a specific decade’s worth of music for the rest of my life, which 10 years would I choose?
Folks idolize other eras – perhaps it’s the pop of the 60s or the radical shift the 80s represented. Maybe it’s the grunge and alternative movements of the 90s. For me, the answer was simple. I said the last 10 years, and if you ask me next year you can just shift it up a year.
There are a lot of things technology has endangered lately, but art is both stubborn and flexible. It’s easier to make music than it ever has been. More people have access to releasing music, more subjects are acceptable to talk about in music, and we have instantaneous access to a wider variety of artists and cultures than ever before.
2018 was a long, tough year, unbearable for many people in many ways. It demanded a lot, so I tried a few ridiculous things putting this together. Eventually, I decided to share my top 100, but only allow myself a sentence for most. The idea is to give a brief impression of what each album is so that you can find something new that appeals to you.
If you’ve got Spotify, I’ve made a 1,000 song playlist of the best songs of 2018. It contains these and other artists. It allows you to find the artists and albums listed below easily:
These are my top 100 albums of 2018. Prepare to hear me use the word “range” way too often.
100. Extralife – Darlingside Ultra-precious, quiet indie pop that alternates between navel-gazing as an art form and harmonizing about optimism in darkness.
99. Bad Witch – Nine Inch Nails
Trent Reznor discovers saxophones and tortures them until they give up their secrets, much like David Bowie once did on Outside.
98. Aviary – Julia Holter Experimental orchestro-electro-jazz-pop that sounds like the music they put in sci-fi films to symbolize what people from the future who dress like they’re from the 1930s will listen to.
97. Depth of Field – Sarah Blasko Ridiculously catchy yet intensely moody synth pop that (mostly) dumps the synths for strings.
96. You Never Were Much of a Dancer – Gwenifer Raymond Welsh guitar music in the style of Appalachian folk, aggressively realized in its ambition, speed, and atmosphere.
95. Port Saint Joe – Brothers Osborne The funniest country band out there flexes its muscles across a broad range of country and rock genres.
94. Birthplace – Novo Amor Gentle indie folk that feels like getting tucked in for the night.
93. Oxnard – Anderson .Paak A self-aware rap critique of the dangerous risk Black men are expected to face in today’s America that unfortunately descends into a creepy and misogynist reinforcement of the dangerous role women are expected to fill in today’s America. The lighter sexual fantasies are fine-ish, but it veers too close to hatred later. Half is in the top 50, and half has no place on this list, so consider this an average with an asterisk.
92. Premonitions – Miya Folick
Inventive indie rock that tests a wide range, often echoing Florence + The Machine in versatility, but much more bluntly pop-oriented.
91. Open Here – Field Music Art rock that evokes Talking Heads, playgrounds falling apart, flutes conspiring against you, and lost Beatles songs each in turn.
90. The Midnight Hour – The Midnight Hour
Tight jazz songs soaked in atmosphere with a range of guest performers; just beware an ill-advised CeeLo Green appearance for one song.
89. Mother of My Children – Black Belt Eagle Scout Folk-grunge that builds strength out of vulnerable introspection, contemplating singer Katherine Paul’s indigenous and queer experiences in a world that’s often hostile to both.
88. A Laughing Death in Meatspace – Tropical Fuck Storm Australians get mad about the state of the world and shout about it over powerful, deliberate art-punk, burrowing into hopelessness and frothing anger.
87. All at Once – Screaming Females 2018 was the year for this album, which pretty much gives you exactly what you want out of a punk alternative band named Screaming Females.
86. On Dark Horses – Emma Ruth Rundle Fast-paced slowcore post-punk (yeah, I know) for those who miss early Esben and the Witch or Mazzy Star, even though Mazzy Star came back this year, too.
85. Double Negative – Low Slowcore champions of the world shove what sounds like a brilliant album through a shredder and let you try to reassemble it.
84. Nearer My God – Foxing Emo band gets artsy, borrows pieces of industrial, pop, and folk from various decades, actually succeeds, news at 11.
83. Tell Me How You Really Feel – Courtney Barnett Australian gets mad about the state of the world and tells men off in music that leans into a lo-fi punk aesthetic. It highlights the album’s extremely clever and very legitimate bite (often referred to in Australia as “dolewave” – yes, really).
82. The Horizon Just Laughed – Damien Jurado Indie rock meets lounge music, and I mean that in a good way, like in a really cool lounge that plays indie rock with heart-achingly beautiful lyrics.
81. abysskiss – Adrianne Lenker Soft, floating, often yearning folk delivered in a simple style that alternates between calm groundedness and eerie dissociation.
80. Let Night Come On Bells End the Day – Sarah Davachi
Drone music is composed of tone clusters elongated into slow, hypnotic rhythms, a kind of ambient sound art that evokes prog rock and Gregorian chants all at once – Davachi realizes a clear and surprisingly organic interpretation here.
79. The Other – King Tuff Psychedelic power pop that expertly recalls classic rock in sound, storytelling, and – for better or worse – ego.
78. I Don’t Want: The Gold Fire Sessions – Santigold Santigold loosens her laser-precise approach into a more free-flowing album focused on Afro-Caribbean influences.
77. Lush – Snail Mail Patient indie rock storytelling in perfect song structures, though its focus on restraint may make the difference between a good and a great album for some.
76. Recovery Mission – MIDI Myers Disclosure: I’m acquainted with the musician.
A very meticulous consideration of trauma and many of the pitfalls and setbacks that can undermine a process of recovery that never fully ends, housed in an album that at times evokes late 90s Aimee Mann levels of lyrical storytelling.
75. Twerp Verse – Speedy Ortiz The forefront of grunge’s still-thriving evolution starts in the work of Sadie DuPuis and her band.
74. Dans da main – Jean-Michel Blais Beautiful, haunting piano solos accompanied only by spare electronic touches, played by a performer who ditches technical perfection for emotional whirlwinds guarded with a sense of world-weary hesitation.
73. Radyo siwel – Melissa Laveaux Dance, folk, and French pop fused together by Afro-Caribbean rhythms and vocals that often slyly take lead on percussion.
72. Orquesta Akokan – Orquesta Akokan Superb, original, big band mambo music performed by an all-star band of Cuban players, with buttery horns, brilliant rises and falls, and soulful singing by Jose Gomez.
71. El Mal Querer – ROSALIA Emotionally compelling flamenco music by way of Spanish pop and R&B, captured in a concept album about a 13th century toxic relationship.
70. Analogue – ODIE
Stripped down rap that essentially presents a character in honest detail and focuses on everyday fears and inspirations.
69. All Melody – Nils Frahm A mix of live instrument work and electronica that sparks an emotion not always focused on in music: curiosity.
68. Chris – Christine and the Queens
Synth-pop that could have come straight out of the 80s, and that delves into questions about gender roles and presentation. There are both English and French versions included, so listen to the one that helps you understand the lyrics first, but the French one feels more seamless.
67. Cloud Corner – Marisa Anderson Thick, weighty guitars that paint sonic landscapes from folk and blues – with no lyrics, just your imagination.
66. For Ever – Jungle British electro-soul driven by layered hooks, funk loops, and joyful singing about disillusion.
65. Safe in the Hands of Love – Yves Tumor Remarkably produced hip-hop built around sound collage and a poignant, unrelenting confrontation of culture-wide racism.
64. Room 25 – Noname Noname’s rap conveys a simultaneously laid back and documentarian presentation of her internal monologue (even when racing along at impressive speed).
63. Dead Magic – Anna von Hausswolff One of the world’s greatest experimental rock artists makes a variety of instruments feel like they’re eyeing you up suspiciously and just waiting till the pipe organ gets there to start something you don’t want to be around for.
62. Beyondless – Iceage Punk from a band that’s flexible enough to stretch into either commanding grunge or rollicking pop hooks depending on what each song needs.
61. Cocoa Sugar – Young Fathers A band that very consciously tries to elude genre might best be described as experimental rap that’s able to veer from Radiohead-like art rock to Massive Attack’s strangest moments of trip-hop.
60. Icon of Ego – Arc Iris
Arc Iris is a little-known art pop group that fuses just about every genre you can think of smoothly into immensely listenable and consistently unpredictable pop songs.
59. Childqueen – Kadhja Bonet Soul music with complex orchestral backing that feels directly lifted from an alternate history where the music is cooler.
58. 7 – Beach House Dream pop that occasionally threatens to become Phantogram but realizes it wants to lurk in the shadows for a while longer, you just keep on what you’re doing.
57. Temet – Imarhan Algerian rock that draws from blues, yet is upbeat and centers its hooks around a distinctive Tuareg vocal style.
56. Love is Dead – CHVRCHES Powerful Scottish synth-pop that’s reminiscent of Paramore and is very easy to re-listen to over and over again.
55. Loma – Loma Dream pop that marries Americana and hauntology elements, with a focus on slow burn song evolution and clearly demarcated layers of sound.
54. Time ‘n’ Place – Kero Kero Bonito As much art installation as album, full of overly comforting pop music undercut at regular intervals by uncomfortable sound collages, as if you woke up in the 90s and a new episode of Friends was suddenly interrupted by static garbles of an unnerving public access program showing photos from your childhood.
53. Bark Your Head Off, Dog – Hop Along Mostly acoustic indie rock that paints short stories and their characters in moments of both struggle and beauty with incredible depth.
52. Yesterday Was Forever – Kate Nash Some will furrow their brows, but if you want airy Britpop fused to punk, grunge, speak-singing, and diary entries that can veer from George Michael 80s pop to Machines of Loving Grace-style industrial at the drop of a hat, all inside an honest connectional about mental health, there is nothing else I know that’s even brave enough to try.
51. The Drought – Puce Mary Cold and unrelenting feedback and noise tracks built into haunting sound environments by a Danish woman who makes Future Sound of London look tame and passe by comparison.
50. Hunter – Anna Calvi
Aggressive art rock where the instruments themselves can’t help being in awe of Calvi’s operatic delivery, where nearly every song sounds like a James Bond theme if Bond were a woman bent on challenging gender concepts and toppling the patriarchy.
49. Bon Voyage – Melody’s Echo Chamber French baroque pop that suddenly breaks out R&B backing, drumline solos, jazz flutes, electric guitars, and noise electronica in ways that all feel like they genuinely build each song into an expansive yet cogent whole.
48. Exit Future Heart – Dustin Wong, Takako Minekawa, Good Willsmith Wong’s surreal habits, Minekawa’s experimental Japanese pop, and Good Willsmith’s pattern-heavy electronica all accentuate each others’ strengths, resulting in a focused experimental electronica album.
47. Wide Awake! – Parquet Courts Extremely political punk with forefronted vocals that extends into pop accessibility with natural ease.
46. The Lookout – Laura Veirs Chamber pop-influenced folk where each sound feels either very close or very distant, creating a space where every note is resonant, occasionally invoking the work of Sufjan Stevens or Listing Ship.
45. Can’t Wake Up – Shakey Graves Alejandro Rose-Garcia makes the shift from folk to alternative so that he can concoct dreamy mixes of detail and abstraction. Sometimes it sounds like antique cartoon music and other times like someone dug up old Portugal. The Man demos.
44. Heaven and Earth – Kamasi Washington Exquisite jazz that’s cinematic in scope, incorporating everything from Ennio Morricone-style, Spaghetti western choirs to Busby Berkeley dance numbers and Santana-like guitars, though it can all feel a bit bloated and lacking enough attention to the listener at points.
43. Future Me Hates Me – The Beths New Zealander gets mad at the state of the world and politely takes it out on herself near to the point of breaking so that she doesn’t bother anyone else, via energetic and deceptively well-studied indie pop.
42. Your Queen is a Reptile – Sons of Kemet Surging, emotional jazz that calls out Britain’s history of colonialism and declares a list of Black women as queen instead, searing in its delivery and constantly advancing in pace.
41. Criminal – The Soft Moon Traditional industrial music on the near-pop side, like the better moments of Gravity Kills or Stabbing Westward, yet that explores territory of an abusive childhood through concepts that come around to self-analysis and self-care – itself an emotional evolution in industrial that’s badly overdue.
40. Sweetener – Ariana Grande
Grande’s extensive control over the various elements of her brand is rare for women in pop, and allows her to take bigger risks and more aggressive evolutions, creating a broader style of pop that can stretch further than an older Millennial pop front that’s quickly stagnating.
39. Music for the Long Emergency – Polica, s t a r g a z e Polica’s indietronica is melded to Berlin-based orchestra s t a r g a z e, resulting in seamless shifts between electropop and orchestral composition in an album of expertly crafted unease.
38. Only Love – The Armed Hardcore that does a superb job of creating breathing space for each melody and theme to surface, allowing you to understand and identify each even as the noise builds into chaos again – like playing different At the Drive-In songs into each ear.
37. Isolation – Kali Uchis Pop built off Latin roots and an incredibly strong foundation in soul music, dreamlike and hopeful while still socially conscious, aware, and communicating a great deal about having multiple cultural identities.
36. High as Hope – Florence + The Machine What might be the worst Florence + The Machine album is still easily in the top 50 of the year and introduces more than a few masterpiece songs, a testament to just how good Florence Welch, Isabella Summers, and their crew are.
35. The Dream My Bones Dream – Eiko Ishibashi An experimental jazz album with elements of Japanese pop, accompanied at times by drone music, haunting choruses, eerie strings, and a range of found noises.
34. This One’s for the Dancer & This One’s for the Dancer’s Bouquet – Moonface The best marimba rock album about the Greek Minotaur forgiving his captors as a metaphor for our daily technological exposure to toxic abuse you’ll find, complete with surprisingly good use of auto-tune, and a natural voice that stakes out David Bowie-esque territory while still feeling very original.
33. Fever – Black Milk Rap with a basis in funk and soul, with enjoyably loose production and relaxed delivery, even when calling out systemic racism and police violence.
32. Cannonball! – Sen Morimoto Experimental rap framed by jazz hooks, with genuinely funny wit, honest internal monologues, and great mood work. It works as both an easy background listen and a rewarding focused listen.
31. At Weddings – Tomberlin Soft indie pop that perches on the balance between acceptance and denial. At Weddings deals with a Tomberlin growing up and rejecting the role her family’s Baptist faith expects her to play as a woman. The songs hover in those moments where you do everything you can just to take another step. “I’m Not Scared” is the best song of the year.
30. Knowing What You Know Now – Marmozets
Relentless mathcore with an incredible range across rock and punk, powered by Becca MacIntyre’s vocals that metamorphose at will.
29. Honeybloom – Choker Mood-heavy rap that leaps from indie pop to math rock influences and varies quickly from minimalism to ultra-modern production.
28. soil – serpentwithfeet Avant-garde, R&B, and electronica all join together in contribution to an album that feels like a deeply personal and progressive gospel.
27. Broken Politics – Neneh Cherry A profound album that starts with a trip hop foundation and extends into a terrific scope of rap, jazz, pop, and indietronica that all center on, well, our broken politics.
26. How Many Times Have You Driven By – Hana Vu Straight up dream pop built off catchy hooks and production that deliberately layers Hana Vu’s unique voice just a little off-center.
25. Remain in Light – Angelique Kidjo A complete cover album of Talking Heads’ Remain in Light, redone with Afropop, Caribbean, jazz, and a variety of other influences.
24. Negro Swan – Blood Orange A superb funk and R&B album with a throughline of hope that addresses the common traumas people of color suffer, and the anxieties that grow because of it.
23. In a Poem Unlimited – U.S. Girls Experimental pop doesn’t quite cover it. Each song sounds like it could have been the standout single for completely different bands, yet a variety of echoed themes and sounds tie it all together in a way that feels incredibly consistent.
22. Follow Them True – Stick in the Wheel A re-imagining of British folk that hauntingly connects modern political and cultural battles to those of other eras.
21. Black Times – Seun Kuti & Egypt 80 Seun carries the tradition of his father (Fela Kuti) in intensely political music geared toward protesting foreign imperialism by highlighting the futures and possibilities it continues to cost Africa.
20. How to Socialise & Make Friends – Camp Cope
Australian gets mad about the state of the world and tears into the old boys’ clubs, toxic masculinity, and gaslighting she and her band’s encountered in lo-fi, somewhat minimalist punk.
19. Old Rockhounds Never Die – Odetta Hartman Bluegrass and rockabilly encounter a woman who slices them open, adds in electronic and experimental elements, and replaces all the broken patriarchal parts piece by piece with feminist concepts while she smiles and nods at them with just enough reassurance. This might be the most excitingly meta album of the year, and as the title song states in an observation/mission statement, “Old Rockhounds never die, they just slowly petrify.”
18. Stranger Fruit – Zeal & Ardor Scandinavian black metal in part grew as a rejection of Christianity, so what would have happened if American slave spirituals had followed a similar path? Black spirituals have a long history of hidden meaning, but Manuel Gagneux imagines a blunter alternate reality as a modern take on resistance, fusing black metal to delta blues in what he calls Satanic spirituals.
17. From When I Wake the Want Is – Kathryn Joseph The bones and sinew of Scottish folk resurrected into a stalking indie horror of loss and survivor’s guilt that rivets you to the spot.
16. I Need to Start a Garden – Haley Heynderickx One of the purest folk singers I’ve heard, with a talent for taking very laid back and detailed songs into crescendos that realize their point with a stunning catharsis.
15. DROGAS WAVE – Lupe Fiasco An expansive hip hop album that takes real tragedies and paints heartbreaking alternate realities, from rebel slaves who live underwater and sink slave ships, to a drowned refugee boy who instead grows up to become an Olympic swimmer, and a little girl who dies in a shooting instead becoming a doctor and saving another little girl from yet one more shooting.
14. I’m All Ears – Let’s Eat Grandma Art pop blended with a punk mentality and very plainly delivered psychology, that finally inhabits life underneath that meta, we-live-in-a-cyberpunk-reality barrier that’s been scratched and cracked over the years by Sneaker Pimps, Porcupine Tree, and 18+.
13. Dirty Computer – Janelle Monae Funk expertly revolutionized through pop, R&B, and electronica elements in an album about empowering women, people of color, and celebrating the array of sexual identities.
12. Primal Heart – Kimbra Pop that calls on a range of other genres to tackle various doubles that we wrestle with: those that result as a defense from abuse, those that copy what we see in media, those we invent to perform a more idealized version of ourselves online, those we attempt to inhabit to make relationships work, the list goes on.
11. Hell On – Neko Case If screwed-over, out-of-work Millennials who had the rug pulled out from under them are this era’s screwed-over, out-of-work manufacturers who had the rug pulled out from under them, then Neko Case is this era’s Bruce Springsteen, on a determinedly feminist album that at times out-Fleetwood Macs Fleetwood Mac, and echoes in the shape of its narratives a similar masterpiece like Tori Amos’ From the Choirgirl Hotel.
10. Pasar de las Luces – Mint Field
Mexican shoegaze that evokes ethereal moods of quiet lulls in cities at night watching bleary-eyed as if taking a shortcut to dreaming without going to sleep, like an aural cradle for the ghost of a moment warmly held.
9. Lavender – Half Waif A tour through missing senses, places, people, and normalcy, in songs that may evoke Bat for Lashes but are more insistent and alarmed about our dreamy dissociation from gently delivered nightmares.
8. KOD – J. Cole Incisive rap with an expectation of the listener, that runs through experiential victimizations and hypocrisies to build connection with our own yearning to make change.
7. Shades – Vera Sola Needle-precise Americana bent on eviscerating the very idea of Americana, centered on haunting emotional scars left from colonialism and misogyny, and hell-bent on reclaiming Americana, country, and folk for the people it’s erased. (Makes a great companion piece to Odetta Hartman’s Old Rockhounds Never Die at #19 above.)
6. LONER – Caroline Rose Piercing wit delivered by a hugely judgmental narrator on an album that re-purposes a rockabilly skeleton into snarky, poignant, catchy songs, which remain unpredictable even after many re-listens.
5. Be the Cowboy – Mitski There is no singer who so deftly and honestly dissects the experience of coming from a mixed identity. Mitski creates musical monuments out of both emotionally living inside a trauma and dispassionately analyzing it in the recovery – examined through indie rock heavily influenced by grunge.
4. Both – Okay Kaya Patient, stripped down, experimental indie pop that deals with the idea of performing a self that’s more polished than what feels natural. Unexpectedly, it thinks often about how these two aspects might begin to agree.
3. Now Only – Mount Eerie The most honest album about coping with the death of a loved one I’ve heard, inhabiting wrecked places and the unhealthy temptation of staying in those places as a way to not give up on the pieces of that loved one you keep alive.
2. Djarimirri – Gurrumul An indigenous Australian album that was the last Gurrumul worked on before his passing, filled with soaring tracks that evoke senses of discovery, warning, yearning, tension, and awe.
1. EXORCISM – Jenny Wilson
There’s no exact way to start talking about Jenny Wilson’s EXORCISM. It’s a painful maelstrom dealing with the after-effects of sexual assault. Please be aware the rest of this entry will talk about that topic before continuing.
The opening song of EXORCISM outlines an act of rape. Everything else unravels from there. This doesn’t make this a go-to album for listening, but it’s absolutely the artistic achievement of the year.
We often seek music for comfort, and EXORCISM has none whatsoever to offer, at least initially. The first half is about suffering and attempting to cope with a rape. The second half deals a variety of aftereffects, even lasting years into the future. One of the first steps taken here is a common one: staying in emotionally abusive relationships as an attempt to make sense of what happened. This is a dangerous draw if you’ve suffered trauma. If it becomes normal for other people to treat you with varying forms of abuse, then you can begin to justify the act of abuse you suffered as normal.
The music itself is interruptive and uncomfortable. It reminds me of The Knife’s Shaking the Habitual, but its order doesn’t feel as if it comes from structure the way that does. It feels instead as if it comes from the chaos itself, applied in a panicked kind of way. Many of the songs themselves are relentlessly anxious and alerted.
This feels far from Wilson’s more traditionally orchestrated – if still experimental – work. Yet it feels more grounded, which in itself is tragic. It’s confrontational in its bluntness, and always driving. Yet sometimes it drives forward, and sometimes it drives straight back into you. Recovering from trauma is an act of taking a step forward and sometimes taking a step back. There are whirlpools in the music that drag you in and reflect a sense of uncomfortable inescapability. Sharp synth choruses build over insistent refrains, as if Wilson desperately urging herself to stay in the healthy mindset that leads to recovery.
This is ultimately an album about that recovery, but not as an achievement or a goal. Too often, albums and songs like that are a before-and-after picture. That misrepresents the recovery itself as a snapshot, something easy to do. When you’re wading through its difficulty, you can look at those snapshots and wonder why it can take you years to recover when a song can do it in four minutes. EXORCISM is an album about recovery as a difficult, often painful process, full of pitfalls and mistakes. It’s an honest representation of something rarely honestly discussed.
It’s been a strange year for music, with the loss of legends and one essentially recording his own epitaph. Yet it’s also been a year of gifts – of rollicking country and an unexpected comeback from a band many had given up on, of Mayan hip-hop and gothic folk songs. My number one album of the year (so far) is from a woman whose heartbreaking work I feel stands at the juncture of Nirvana and Neutral Milk Hotel.
So let’s dive in:
10. Gag Order – Vainhein
Vainhein (roughly translating to “heinous vanity”) started off in the San Francisco drag scene as a lip-sync performer. In the last five years, he’s moved into producing original music as Vainhein (or Vain Hein). There’s not a lot out there, but you can listen to the debut album Gag Order on the Bandcamp page.
9. Collect – 18+
18+ maintained near-total anonymity for the first three years of the band’s existence. They’re difficult to describe – a band that takes the way love and relationships are portrayed in modern music and throws the formula out. They seduce in a manner that blends carelessness with deep feeling, through music that’s deconstructed to impressionism almost to the point of falling apart before it finds its way back.
8. Pawn Shop – Brothers Osborne
Yes, this is one of the most eclectic lists I’ve ever put together. It’s a testament to just how diverse 2016’s been in music. Brothers Osborne can push out anthemic country songs at the drop of a hat, but the best part of Pawn Shop is how often they drop the love song pretense on which country too often depends. The album is wickedly varied, stopping to comically sing the praises of the pawn shop or break down into a slow one-part bayou, one-part honky-tonk testament to rum. This is the kind of country I almost never go for, but this album’s just too good.
7. Freetown Sound – Blood Orange
Blood Orange has been carrying Prince’s musical torch for a few years now, so in the year when Prince died, it’s reassuring that Dev Hynes’s band continues to explore a similarly easygoing yet soul-baring musicality. Blood Orange has never found the kind of breakout hits that Prince did – they relent when it comes to that extra edge, that musical and social insistence that Prince brought – but that’s not exactly what Blood Orange is. They slant toward chilled out.
6. Strangers – Marissa Nadler
Strangers is a step back for Marissa Nadler, but a step back for the woman is still better than the vast majority of other music that’s out there. Her July was my choice for Album of the Year in 2014. It was so patiently stirring, a masterpiece of lamenting, gothic folk. Her music sounds like a message from another time, like black-and-white footage of old funeral processions. There’s sadness and importance, even celebration, but it all feels so beautifully removed, like watching (as in her 2014 music video “Dead City Emily”) the silhouettes of lovers dance out-of-focus from behind smudged, scratched glass. It’s always someone else’s sadness, someone else’s lament, and there’s a profound sorrow in not being able to share those pains.
Her music often evokes the frustration of empathy, of witnessing pain in another yet falling short of being able to truly understand and experience it, to heal it. It’s a rare evocation in any form of art: to have your empathy evoked and stilled, to witness yet be frozen, to stand on the shoulder of that passing funeral and yet not know it. The tragedy of people passing in and out of our lives is the tragedy of their moments – the experiences that let us step outside ourselves and into the connection of loving others – traveling further and further away. Yet there’s something to that disconnection that only makes us strain all the harder to step outside ourselves again and again. Nadler’s songs and albums and career are almanacs of connections made and treasured and lost, and so her music rests right against the bones like only nostalgia and closure can.
5. Blackstar – David Bowie
I’m weird when it comes to Bowie. My favorite period rests in his late 90s/early 00s experimentation combining industrial and jazz. Not all of it worked – in fact, some of it was downright bad – but it was supremely different to anything I’d heard before. Bowie’s Blackstar will always be remembered most for how it’s written to anticipate and guide Bowie through a death he knew was coming fast.
Blackstar picks up so many musical threads throughout Bowie’s career, so many stylistic endings left unfinished, yet among those endings, he also starts new ones. He seeks to process what’s come before, to conclude much of it, yes – but he doesn’t end there. He also pushes forward into new realms, starts new musical ideas he knows he’ll never finish. This is the way to go, he seems to say in Blackstar, by saying goodbye and wrapping things up not to conclude this life, but so he can say a fresh hello to whatever life is next.
4. A Moon Shaped Pool – Radiohead
Finally. Only the second album Radiohead’s released in nine years shows the time that went into it. For many, this is the first time Radiohead’s broken new ground in those nine years – while 2011’s The King of Limbs was good, it didn’t convey Radiohead’s irrepressible ambition. Maybe they fell off, we thought. Then five years passed. Maybe they disappeared. Then their site went offline. Their social media presence was pulled. Maybe that’s it, we thought. Just like that. And then A Moon Shaped Pool dropped, this whole new challenging, chaotic map of dreamlike and nightmarish places to tour.
3. Tributo a Los 20 Nawales – Balam Ajpu
This is a tribute to the 20 spirits that represent each day on the Mayan calendar. Balam Ajpu is a Guatemalan rap group that’s part of a growing movement of Mayan-language hip-hop. The verses on their album alternate between the Mayan dialect Tz’utujil and Spanish. In Guatemala, 60% of the population is Mayan, yet the country is rarely represented this way – both domestically and abroad. Hip-hop has been one way for the Mayan population to coalesce around surviving elements of Mayan culture.
Balam Ajpu combines hip-hop with a stunning number of styles and instruments. Salsa, reggae, and cumbia are all folded into the songs. The array of musical instruments and the talent behind them here is ridiculous. Guitar, cello, pan pipes, a host of drums, xylophone, and sounds from nature all underlie a patient album about spirituality and social change.
2. Not to Disappear – Daughter
Remember a moment when you failed to cope with the damn unfairness of it all. Now trap it in amber. That feeling of crashing against the shore, when you could barely hold your head up because the lump in your throat was so overwhelming. When you were numb and angry and your tears were the best act of vengeance you had against the universe. When your teeth grit and your lips quivered and your breath caught. When you sobbed and the time of day didn’t seem to matter. Daughter makes music of the moments trapped before catharsis. Thank God, because those moments could use some understanding of their own.
1. Puberty 2 – Mitski
She destroyed me in two-and-a-half minutes. Took me apart suddenly weeping. That was on track four, “Fireworks.” Then she did it again two songs later with “I Bet on Losing Dogs.” If it doesn’t share the same sound as Nirvana’s most plaintive moments, it shares the same character.
“I bet on losing dogs
I know they’re losing and I’ll pay for my place
By the ring
Where I’ll be looking in their eyes when they’re down
I’ll be there on their side
I’m losing by their side.”
Sometimes, it can be easy to feel like one of those losing dogs, still running because it’s what we know, because it’s the process – through repetition – for which we begin to believe we’ve been made. It can be the role we’ve been taught to play in relation to those around us, or the role we’ve been taught by a specific person. It can be hard to break out of being a losing dog, and to break out of the habit of betting on them. Is it an act of care to do so? Is it enabling? Can you create of someone else a losing dog?
These aren’t the questions directly posed to us, because Mitski isn’t a philosopher on her tracks. She’s the character, inhabiting every moment, and we witness every mistake, every want and need, every tiny victory and major defeat. Music often tells stories about experiences viewed through lenses, non-specifically emotive enough to be universal. That’s not what Mitski gives us. Her emotions are hers, her stories are deeply personal. It’s in the personal loss, in the impacts of defeat, in the hardening of herself to the world around, that we find connection. Her struggle to remain soft and loving despite it all is our struggle. Songs here aren’t wasted, they aren’t filled out any longer than is needed. This is an album of bare mental, emotional, and sometimes physical survival. It’s heartbreak as a way of practicing for mortality, and the resistance to heartbreak as a way of denying our mortality, the way each wears us down and builds us.
Marissa Nadler (whose Strangers I highlight above) is how I found out about Mitski. Nadler highlighted her favorite Mitski lyrics in article for The Talkhouse. This turned out to be from “Fireworks,” a melancholic take on…what, exactly? One’s own journey toward entropy? The desensitization of loss, both inside and outside oneself? That desensitization itself is a loss one must desensitize to? A lover’s simultaneous capability for support and inadequacy to heal?
“One morning this sadness will fossilize
And I will forget how to cry
I’ll keep going to work and he won’t see a change
Save perhaps a slight gray in my eye.
I will go jogging routinely
Calmly and rhythmically run
And when I find that a knife sticking out of my side
I’ll pull it out without questioning why.
And then one warm summer night
I’ll hear fireworks outside
And I’ll listen to the memories as they cry, cry, cry.
I will be married to silence
The gentleman won’t say a word
But you know, oh you know in the quiet he holds
Runs a river that’ll never find home.
And then one warm summer night
I’ll hear fireworks outside
And I’ll listen to the memories as they cry, cry, cry.”
Mitski Miyawaki sings about surviving through entropy, about becoming a bastion and falling apart, about betting on losing dogs, about being one. I once was told that Led Zeppelin didn’t make songs, they made musical monuments. Mitski does, too…but the focus is anxiety, using, being used, giving in, being unapologetic, forgetting how to apologize to yourself, settling on how you should be treated, remembering how to treat yourself. Here are monuments to the cycle of falling apart and constructing oneself never to fall apart again, and falling apart anew, and constructing anew, ad nauseum. It stops at some point, right? The album’s called Puberty 2, and it’s not named that because she recorded a Puberty 1.
I was hoping for one last triumphant popcorn flick on the way out of summer. At first, The Man from UNCLE seems to fit the bill. Based loosely on the 1960s TV show, it opens with enough style and energy to jump off the screen. I can’t count the number of times the planet’s been threatened this summer, and a playful riff on 60s spy movies should feel as light and airy as The Man From UNCLE starts.
CIA agent Napoleon Solo (Henry Cavill) and KGB operative Ilya Kuryakin (Armie Hammer) are both after the same quarry: a defecting East German car mechanic who’s also the daughter of a missing, ex-Nazi rocket scientist. The opening is everything you think the movie could possibly be. It zips along with a unique flair, cutting back and forth in time so you can understand each operative a little better. It works like jazz, its rhythm alternating between tight and loose in a call-and-response way. It’s a beautifully orchestrated opening sequence.
If you want more of that quirky, high-energy, stylish action then The Man from UNCLE is where you’re going to find it…once in a while. The film never goes straight downhill, but it does run up and down that hill faster than you can keep up. Brilliant comedic moments are interspersed with banter scenes that fall flat. The passive-aggressive competition between Solo and Kuryakin is realized wonderfully during a heist sequence but never revisited again. The daughter who joins them on their mission, Gaby (Alicia Vikander), has to mediate their competitive nature, which takes her into serious territory. With three comedic straight-men and no foil, it’s up to the film itself to invent comic interplay. When it’s there, it sings, but when it’s not, it’s like the jazz goes horrendously off-tune and you wonder if the trombonist just had a heart attack.
The Man from UNCLE has style to spare, a clever way of editing, a sharp sense of humor, energetic action, and three leads each more talented and charming than the last, but it doesn’t rely on any of these things long enough to create a consistent theme.
Is the point of the movie to be stylish? It forgets to be for long stretches of time. Is it to cleverly edit story in nonlinear ways that keep us hopping back and forth between expectations and reveals? The same energy isn’t put into its linear scenes; they fall flat by comparison.
Is the point of the film its wicked humor? Then why do we get a torture scene near the end where the torturer proceeds to tell us how he experimented on concentration camp prisoners? That’s a mood-killer in a comedy if ever there was one.
Why is each character introduced as a scenery-chewing joy only to devolve into a dour monument to solemnity by the end?
Why is the action joyfully cartoonish at the beginning and self-consciously gritty by the end? Did a producer pass by and think, “Yes, this bright, cartoonish 60s romp needs more Dark Knight in it?”
If nothing else, The Man from UNCLE reminds you of the value of Robert Downey Jr. Downey starred in both of director Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes movies. They shared similar tonal shifts, although the mysteries at their core were far tighter. Both Holmes movies shared the same grinding halts to deliver bland expository dialogue in between frenetic action scenes. The difference between Downey, Jude Law, and Noomi Rapace seizing on each others’ Victorian lines, versus Cavill, Hammer, and Vikander never finding their rhythm together in the 60s is night and day. Elizabeth Debicki, as the villain Victoria, is the only one really keeping things lively by the end.
That’s a lot of flaws for something I ultimately did enjoy, and The Man from UNCLE also suffers from arriving on the heels of the surprisingly better, funnier, and even more stylish Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation. As spy movies go, there’s an all-time great in the theater right now and then there’s a pretty good one in The Man from UNCLE.
The Man from UNCLE is as enjoyable as anything this year when its comedy and style hit. You just have to bear with the moments when it takes far too long to find its mark. These are enjoyable actors to watch, even when they’re all playing dry wit at the same time. If you’re looking for a spy movie or action comedy, Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation is the far better bet, and more specifically takes advantage of the big screen. If you’ve already seen that or you just don’t like Tom Cruise, The Man from UNCLE is a solid bet if you’re patient with it. It does boast some of the best music of any film this year.
Does The Man From UNCLE have more than one woman in it?
Yes. Alicia Vikander plays Gaby. Elizabeth Debicki plays the villain Victoria. They are unnamed, but other speaking roles include Simona Caparrini as a Contessa, and Marianna Di Martino as a desk clerk.
Do they talk to each other?
About something other than a man?
Yes. Nuclear weapons and nefarious plots are the order of the day.
It’s better balanced than the industry usually is, but The Man from UNCLE isn’t exactly equal opportunity. The two men are the central characters, and Vikander is sexualized in a way Cavill and Hammer aren’t.
The film’s world of espionage is also dominated by male side characters. While it may or may not reflect the gender balance in 1960s spy circles realistically, nothing else about this movie is realistic. The world created here would have benefited from women in more of the roles supporting these core four actors (Cavill, Debicki, Hammer, Vikander).
Debicki plays a villain who’s very in control of her sexual life. Unfortunately, that is used as a villainous trait at one point. We often see that kind of control over one’s sexual life in women villains, not women heroes, and The Man from UNCLE is no different. As her counterpart on the good guys, Vikander’s sexuality is treated in a more innocent, ingenue-like manner.
Thankfully, everyone’s sexual exploits are treated as their own decisions. We steer clear of any Roger Moore-era James Bond sexual assaults (or recent Daniel Craig, for that matter). For the amount of double-crosses at play and the centrality of sex at different points in the film, The Man from UNCLE is very conscious and specific about characters treating each other in careful and respectful ways when it comes to sex.
The film’s not perfect, but it does some things better than much of the spy genre. That said, the genre itself is still housed in some antiquated mores of gender roles, and The Man from UNCLE uses some of these in its storytelling.
One of the most exquisite and overlooked musical scores in film history belongs to Harry Potter Year Zero– er, I mean Young Sherlock Holmes.
When the 1985 film is thought of, it’s for its Academy Award-nominated special effects: it featured terrific stop-motion animation and brought to life cinema’s first fully CGI character – a stained glass knight. Written by Chris Columbus, its boarding school mystery mechanics would also one day serve as a rough draft for the first two Harry Potter films, which he would write and direct.
The standout for me was its music. I can’t remember how old I was when I first saw Young Sherlock Holmes. It was years after its original release – I was six, maybe seven. I’d encountered music that was beautiful as a child, and I had a particular fondness for classical, but music had always been accompaniment for something else. The score by Bruce Broughton was the first that made me yearn and hope, fear and loathe. The main theme could make me content in a moment, while its assertive suspense themes could rile me into nervous attention in a heartbeat. Listen to the ceremonial chant of “Waxing Elizabeth”:
Housed inside this scene is every fear I had as a child, suffused and purified into a single sound. It was as if every time I listened to it, I matched myself against some magical otherness and came out the other side. Why? Look at how the main theme is used throughout the rest of the film.
It’s often used playfully. Watch this scene from Holmes’ Defense Against the Dark Arts class as Ron Weasley and Draco Malfoy look on- I mean watch this scene from his fencing class:
The beauty of the score is how well it backgrounds the main theme to nearly everything else that’s going on. No matter how aggressive or creepy its other themes get, the main theme will find a way through. This is pretty important for a children’s movie (and Young Sherlock Holmes was a pretty dark one).
The main theme is the very first thing a child anchors to in a movie. It doesn’t symbolize a character or a thematic quality to a child, it doesn’t even symbolize hope – to a child, it just means normality, the starting point of a story. Normality is safety. So long as that safety is present, a child can let his or her mind run wild with the darkest and most dangerous possibilities. Listen to how that main theme is factored into the movie’s finale (the clip contains MAJOR SPOILERS):
That musical through line says, “Don’t worry, I’m still here.” It’s a musical trail of breadcrumbs that reminds children their starting point still exists. We forget that, as kids, we make a lot of decisions concerning how scared we allow ourselves to become when we encounter movies, books, and games. Young Sherlock’s musical reminder allows young viewers the room to be open-minded about getting scared. It’s what lets the film get away with a number of horror elements.
The only time that theme doesn’t poke its head out is during “Waxing Elizabeth.” It’s the one time that subconscious safety net is yanked out from under the viewer, but it’s executed with such captivating grandiosity and at such a crucial moment in the film that the viewer has no choice but to remain. It forces children to make the decision: I will go forward without a safety net. Here’s the full soundtrack version (complete with nonsense ancient Egyptian lyrics):
It still sends chills up my spine, even if I’ve seen the movie 20 times, but its impact in the film lies in glancing around, not finding my musical trail of breadcrumbs, and deciding to continue ahead anyway. The score is unique in that way. It asks children to be braver and trusts that they will be. Broughton’s score is a fine accomplishment on its musical merits, but how it interacts with children on a storytelling level by asking them to take an emotional chance – it’s risky and it’s textbook all at once. As far as watching movies goes, it was the most crucial musical moment of my childhood.
Bits & Piecesis a series that highlights overlooked technical and cultural accomplishments in under-seen films:
How do you introduce a writer? Gabe wants us all to write something about ourselves, and I told him that was stupid. You get to know your writers by what they write, not by who they’ve been. I don’t choose any book by its author description. I wouldn’t choose a critic by her bio. If you’ve been following here, you know I’m getting my PhD in vertebrate paleontology with a special focus in geochemistry. What does that tell you about my ability to review movies, aside from I’m really annoying to watch Jurassic Park with?
I put a lot of myself into what I write. I think we all do. It’s what this site demands. It’s the one thing that sets us apart from every other film site I have read. We want criticism based on empathy, not judgment. And empathy is not always the easiest thing for me.
I can’t empathize with bullies because I lived in fear for my life in my own house. I can’t empathize with the poor because I never wanted for anything material. I can’t empathize with the wealthy because my family treated us like boxes on an estate checklist, things to forget when not presenting us glimmering at parties between the art and name-dropping the private chef. I can’t empathize with the strong because of their power and I can’t empathize with the weak because they’re so powerless. I’m 25, the child left alive because the one lesson I learned early in life is to remain.
I’m a funny person to take over as creative director, yet I wasn’t asked. I created the job until it was there for me to take. That’s how I know the world. I’m not often a nice person. I try very hard to be, but there’s an inescapable foundation built inside of me – I will always value hardness and isolation as my greatest strengths.
Why do I write about feminism? Because I want it to be OK to be full of edges, to have “unwomanly” traits, to possess instead of need, to be a woman who can be cold and arrogant and difficult like a man because – who cares why? Because I have the right to be.
As I’ve gotten to know the writers here, there appears to be a common thread. We are people who have each bounced off the world in our own way. We keep on coming back because we don’t look at this as a fault in ourselves. We look at this as a fault in the world.
One of the things I take the most pride in is my Portuguese heritage, even though I was exposed to none of it as a child. Perhaps because I was exposed to none of it as a child. I cosplay because it allows me to live out the only cultural heritage I really do know – video games, movies, books. I don’t do cosplay as often as I used to because I’ve found other outlets – climbing, krav maga, belly dancing – but that media heritage was the only resource I had from which to draw strength, and I needed strength because the one lesson I learned early in life is to remain.
I’ve been accused of having an agenda because I write about women on film and I want to see MORE women on film, but what’s an agenda? I’m the only one in class who can turn new cladistics in my head faster than the computer models them, but I’m still asked out by the professor. I can be the best Aerith at the con and my dedication and artistry gets me groped that much faster. I can detour up a V, 5.8 and the most strenuous task is informing male climbers, “No, I don’t need any help,” as I pass them. I don’t go to krav maga to be asked out on dates but because I want to learn, and I don’t belly dance for you to stuff a dollar bill in my clothes.
If I’m to write something about myself, it is this: I was raised in a physically abusive family, from which I was thankfully taken away by a kinder relative. My brother was not removed, in part because he had learned to dole out abuse. Taking him would have put me at risk again. He did not get the psychiatric assistance he needed and he later killed himself. The few things I do in life to cope with this, to try to be human, to do anything other than just remain, are often treated by others as opportunities to sleep with me. Yet by saying no and slapping hands away and informing deans, I’m the one who’s rude. I’m the one “with an agenda.”
Saying there’s a problem with representation in film, or video games, or music, isn’t having an agenda. It’s loving something enough to be honest about it. It’s looking at the things that made me strong and saying, “I can return the favor. I can make them stronger.” Having high expectations of art isn’t hating something. It’s not a fault in me, or Anita Sarkeesian, or Laurie Penny. It’s giving back to the art that shaped us, that gave each of us strength to remain in big, dramatic ways and small, everyday ways.
I’ll repeat that: It’s not an agenda. It’s giving back.
It’s also doing our jobs. For those who can’t handle a few women doing their jobs and having an opinion, then gird your overrated loins because the world’s changing, and I’m just one of many more women looking forward to doing her job.
I created this position – creative director – not to have an agenda, but because this is one of the few places where I feel free of needing one; not because I’m very good at empathy, but because the writers I work with here have no limit of it; not because I always believe the world can be changed, but because these five people relentlessly do:
Staff Writer S.L. Fevre
Editor Eden O’Nuallain
Staff Writer Cleopatra Parnell
Research Lead Amanda Smith
Lead Writer Gabriel Valdez
(And because they’re all hopeless at organizing themselves.)
Thank you and enjoy,
Gabe here: As Creative Director, Vanessa Tottle will be shaping the regular features and overall direction of this site. She will also write Silent All These Years – a feature about women in film – every other Thursday, as well as contribute standalone articles about movies and music videos. In addition to collaborative articles, she has previously written the following on this site.