Thursday, December 10, 2015
With 2015 winding down on, let’s say, less than firm footing - I find it fitting that (for me anyway) the best album of 2015 is arguably the most difficult listen of the year (and probably many more beyond that).
Following the loss of his estranged mother, Sufjan Stevens wrote an album that is heartbreaking, reflective, bleak and well, poignantly beautiful. All the feels, as the kids say on whatever form of non face-to-face communication is on trend these days.
From reflections on a relationship that hardly existed, to being by her side as she drew her last breathe...Sufjan took us down his path of mourning and living the heaviest of heavy. All the while managing to turn his situation into hushed, melodic phrases and harmonies that are somehow enjoyable enough to sing along to. For me though - aside from loving the music - a deeper prophecy revealed itself, which is: deep down inside - we are wired to comprehend such oppressive things.
Last spring I had the pleasure of being able to see Sufjan perform this album in an ornate concert hall in downtown Los Angeles. I was amazed at the poise and energy he was able to conjure up for the performance. He professed his deepest pain to an ever-still and reverent audience; as if he were presiding over a sermon or reading from his journal. It felt like we were being let into a private conversation...only one that was all too familiar or one we’ve had before.
How could he do this night after night, I wondered?
I suppose my best guess would be so he could feel some sense of peace and understanding.
Now, I think that’s where this wiring business comes into play. I believe those are the two most prominent emotions missing when something goes awry but our inner compass does its best job to right the ship.
Regardless of his intention - I find an obvious through line to the current unsettling nature of things. Unfortunately our daily routines are being shaken and intruded upon, leaving us searching for those two said emotions.
What can we do until there’s a restored order of things, I wonder?
Well, surely there are joys we can participate in...whether it be reading a book, watching the sunset, surfing a wave, getting lost in a piece of art or even listening to the melodic heartbreak of another man’s tribulation. Engaging in pursuits that elicit new experiences and knowledge will naturally lead us to - yep, you guessed it - peace and understanding.
With Carrie & Lowell dominating my ears over the past year and of course the tragic world events that took place in Paris, San Bernardino and beyond...one thing has never been more certain to me: life is a precious, beautiful thing that we - sort of - rent (not too unlike that car from Hertz you drive around on vacation).
Sounds silly, but I’ll stay with that grotesque analogy. It seems ever more important to put some miles on this life, get it dusty and when the journey is over return it in a condition you can be proud of… or something?
I recently read a story about two cousins who lost their lives while attending the Eagles of Death Metal concert at the Bataclan. These guys sounded awesome. Skilled chefs, musicians and devoted fans of the bands they loved. They were always surrounded by a tight-knit group of friends and family at a restaurant where they worked. They were by all accounts, full of enthusiasm.
I’m heartbroken by their ending but I feel a strange sense of calm after learning they lived a life continually doing the things that made them happy. “Rock!” Was the caption to a picture taken by one of them that horrible night. For me, it’s now an honor to do so with that story in mind.
Furthering that account - I was touched by an interview featuring the band that simply played rock & roll for those wanting to enjoy a night out at a club (not dissimilar to countless evenings you or I had this past year).
How could that band ever perform again, I wondered?
Jesse Hughes (co-founder) proclaimed quite simply: because we have to. For the fans, for their own livelihood, for a semblance of normalcy. Just another example of incredible human spirit that switches on in the face of extreme circumstances.
If I’ve learned anything this year, it’s that beauty can be found in almost all things.
But no matter how many ups and down, I guess I’ll always wonder how life can be equal parts profound and punishing.
I hope you’ll shine bright this holiday season and that you and yours will find peace and understanding in all that you do in 2016.
“The world breaks everyone, and afterward, some are strong at the broken places.”
~ Ernest Hemingway
Top 10 Songs of 2015
(counting down to 1)
Best Albums of 2015
10) Little Wings - Explains
9) Tobias Jesso Jr. - Goon
8) My Morning Jacket - The Waterfall
7) Courtney Barnett - Sometimes I Sit and Think, And Sometimes I Just Sit
6) Jamie xx - In Colour
5) Deerhunter - Fading Frontier
4) Father John Misty - I Love You, Honeybear
3) Tame Impala - Currents
2) Kurt Vile - b'lieve i'm goin down...
1) Sufjan Stevens - Carrie & Lowell
Natalie Prass - Natalie Prass
Wilco - Star Wars
Martin Courtney - Many Moons
Jack and Eliza - Gentle Warnings
Ducktails - St. Catherine
Destroyer - Poison Season
Phil Cook - Southland Mission
Missed this record from 2014...LOVE
Hamilton Leithauser - Black Hours