I found this designer named Nicolaus Ott recently through a heavy catalogue called AGI: Graphic Design Since 1950 that I picked up on our campus library last semester and I could not bear to turn in. I seem to encounter new designers every time I open it, even though I swore I flipped all the way through its 800+ page girth before. A large attention-grabbing visual dominates the center of almost every poster I’ve seen of his, but each one dresses itself distinctly via color, composition, and theme.
Also, notice how carefully he positions all the subtext.
///// . . . because I am obsessed with obsessing over my favorite albums. Seriously, send help. ///// DISCLAIMER: I’m not trying to say these were the best albums of the year. Actually, some of these albums I think are really not that good, (The National, I’m looking at you), but for some reason I listened to them a ton (maybe because they had some good singles?) so here they belong. ///// Enjoy.
Am I basic? I don’t know. I know I liked these albums, although the order in which I rank them varies widely (Zeal has jumped up and down a ton over this year; I loved it, and then I over-listened to it, and now I’m growing fond of it again. Same with Jesus is King and Igor). Some of these records’ release dates coincided with very important events in my life, such as Assume Form with the death of a family member and i,i with heading off to college, and even if they aren’t the greatest records those artists have published, I believe the personal experiences I equate with them justify their respectable positions in my hierarchy. A couple of these I threw on almost last second just because it felt like everyone was listening to them and loving them, like 1000 gecs and Norman F*cking Rockwell, and though I’ve been listening to them for less than a month, they impressed me enough to warrant their positions. I think it was a good year. My taste may not have expanded much but hey, who cares? I like these albums.
Two-three years ago, I stumbled across this cartoon strip on Instagram, I think thanks to Jon Klassen, and I quickly fell in love with the endearing characters, the quirky dialogue, the fantastical yet completely down-to-earth storyline, and the gorgeous, absolutely gorgeous line work. I actually found myself anticipating it on Instagram each day, which few artists, even the ones that post a project every single day, have managed to do. I was genuinely emotional at many points along the story, from Neville’s determination to be a good leader for the lonely crew, to even bossy Caroline’s unswerving devotion to Richard (who I hate and love at the same time). I miss being so excited to read each day’s story: I anticipated each post as much I anticipated reading the comics in the Santa Barbara News Press paper during breakfast.
So, imagine my excitement when he released all 475 days of this project as a book online. I took awhile to acquire it, mostly due to my empty wallet, but my grandpa was wonderful enough to buy me it (although, as he wrote in the front of the book, even after reading a bit of the way in, he still has no idea who Richard is or what even the plot is). Kudos to those grandparents out there buying random crap for their grandkids even though they have no idea what exactly they are purchasing.
Leaving Richard’s Valley not only inspired me emotionally but also creatively. I love the idea of working every day, no matter how small or crappy the project, and the dedication Michael Deforge wielded to write these four panels every freaking day is freaking admirable. I hope to be that dedicated next year.
Here’s a couple of my favorite strips (panels? dailies? pages?) from the book:
My new philosophy—although, to most artists, it is nothing new—is to create something, however small, or however little time it takes to make, every day. This idea has popped up so many times in the books I read as well as in the “Slowness” episode of the Start with This podcast, the greatest and bestest source for motivation to just get writing (or creating, or painting, or whatever). The best thing about this philosophy is it applies to every medium.
Near the start of my college semester, I made it my challenge to draw my roommate every day for the rest of the year. To be honest, I made the challenge as a joke, and as the commencement of the year was easy, almost boring, I started doodling him. (You can see a couple of those first sketches near the center of the installation). I started hanging them up in the closet. After a week of this, I tried sketching myself, and then whoever happened to enter my room that day, and then I just started whoever or whatever I felt like drawing, including a hideous rat-hound from Instagram and Obi-Wan Kenobi.
If only I had been dedicated enough to follow through and draw one every single day, I might have filled half the wall by now. Hopefully, next semester I’ll be more dedicated, and I can plaster the place up with these tiny caricatures.
//////// Also fun to note my improvement: I arranged them spiraling out from the center. My Drawing I professor appreciated my advancements and discovery of my personal art style, so that’s good.
While I was putting this list together, I could not decide whether I was going to compile the albums I enjoyed the most over this year, regardless of their release date, or only albums that came out this year, or even to adopt the extreme that Austin Kleon discussed on his blog recently, where we should focus on older pieces of art because, as he quotes from author Lucy Ellmann, “It seems so arrogant. These lists suggest that the most relevant [albums] must be the ones most recently published. That’s daft.”
My solution? I compartmentalized my list into groups, beginning with this year’s releases. To be honest, quite a few albums were letdowns upon release, such as The National’s sleepy I am Easy to Find and The Mountain Goat’s boring In League with Dragons. Other releases just never stood out much to me, no matter how much I listened to them. I’m not that interested in musical talent, so as well produced as I am Easy to Find and In League with Dragons were, I just found them so boring I had a hard time setting my foot outside of the singles (and even some of the singles were so boring I found myself skipping them every time they popped up on my queue). Other artists made up for the lack of solid releases for me, thank God. I made a list of other albums released sometime before this year that truly impacted me, a third list of albums I wished I could get into, a fourth of my favorite songs, and a final, albeit brief, record of the most atrocious, colorless releases. However, I’ll bring out those lists at a later time, because it’s already lot of work to put these together.
The crazy thing is I think all of the top albums of the year for me were recommendations or at least hyped up for me by my friend Trevor. So, thanks, Trev, even though my individualistic tendencies say I need to work on discovering music for myself, but I know I would never enjoy this music that much if you did not boost my interest in them.
Maybe this is a little too much information for a guy with a non-existent listening base, but hey, cataloguing my interests is one of my interests. I have a free thursday afternoon, a comfortable bed to sit on, and my finals are all done. So, here we go.
My (personal) top 5 Releases of 2019
Bon Iver – i,i
I remember how hyped I was for this album as the singles got dropped, and how even more hyped I was when a friend of mine texted me “DUDE. BON IVER DROPPED HIS ALBUM AS A FREAKING PLAYLIST.” Meaning, Justin released the entirety of the album early, each song as a standalone single, one at each hour of the day. He described it like a big middle finger to the entire music industry. I also remember not being as hyped as everyone else about some of the songs: “Hey, Ma” still does not click with me like it did most. Fortunately, some of the other songs did, like “Faith”, which to me contains the same balladry of “8 (circle)”, one of my favorites from his third record; “iMi” is gorgeous and chaotic; and everyone should know I am a sucker for closing songs, so even though “RABi” is on the weaker end of his songwriting spectrum, I love it regardless. Also, dude, that cover art.
I got bored with the album eventually, but I did play it enough for half the songs to appear on my Spotify wrapped list, so he has that going for him, at least. I just wish I had more memories to associate with this record. It came out right as I was starting my college semester, so I think I intended for it to be my comfort album, a monument of my transitional period. I may have even fallen asleep to it once or twice. In comparison with 22, A Million, I’m not as big a fan, and nothing will beat FEFA. Still, kudos to this man for creating such rich, foggy, and dense atmospheres for us. Good content, more please.
Kings Kaleidoscope– Zeal
My spotify data must have choked trying to digest the number of plays I had on this record. 4 out of my top 5 songs of the year, at least according to Spotify’s algorithms, were from Zeal, and I am not surprised. My youth group friends and I hyped this album up to disproportionate amounts, but that was also because we were excited to see them live in May. (One of the best concerts I’ve ever been to. These guys know how to put on a show). As with i,i, I got bored eventually, and I have the songs close to memorized at this point, but I felt this list would not be complete without it. A lot of the struggles Chad describes on this album met me exactly where I am at in my spiritual apathy. He’s now made an album for almost every possible season a Christian can go through, from joy to isolation to anger and now too reawakening. This is the band that most closely represents what I think Christian artists should act like: unabashedly bold, creative, and theologically sound. Favorite songs remain , “Same Blood”, “Oxygen”, “About to Break”, and the entire “Breathing Infinity” suite. I think Becoming Who We Are is still a stronger album, The Beauty Between more interesting, but yet it still sounds distinct from everything else. Bonus points for using a rainbow in a platonic form.
Tyler, the Creator – Igor
I have never listened to Tyler that much. He’s kinda vulgar. I don’t know what made me interested in listening to this record, but I did, maybe because Trevor mentioned it or something, and the first song got me so stoked I started dancing in my room. It’s everything I want in a rap album: an ugly fusion of a ton of genres that would normally never coexist, (I think a lot of it is soul, but it still has trap beats, funk, and thick, thick synthesizers), a thoughtful narrative, a wide variety of sound, and an addicting production sound. Honestly, I don’t get those people ragging on the production, as if like they knew how they would change it. I know I don’t. This might actually be the best album of this year, but I just felt kind weird putting it first just because of how good it is. I usually associate the best albums with the best memories, and the only mems I got are talking about it with Trevor and Judah. Think it will win a Grammy? Favorite songs: “IGOR’S THEME”, “I THINK”, “GONE, GONE / THANK YOU”.
Vampire Weekend – Father of the Bride
Baby, baby, baby, baby, this is a fun album. Once again, I owe a nod to Trevor for this one. My sister and I fell in love with “Harmony Hall”, the first single off the record near the start of the year, (and one of the best songs they’ve ever made, no question about it), and though I missed the following singles, the album really grew on me over the summer. At one point I borrowed the CD from the library so we could listen to it in the car. (My empty wallet could not afford Spotify premium then). The album feels so bright yet also dark. It’s unconcentrated, but that might be the point. It’s loose and sparse, but the singles help glue the pieces together. The center lacks a little in substance, but then it is followed by such a great string of jams from “Sympathy” to “2021” that I am more than enough willing to forgive its slower moments. It’s kind of a mess, yeah, but it’s such a fun mess to wade through, and at the very least, my whole family enjoyed jamming to it on our road trips—and that is a rarity. Favorite songs include “This Life”, “Flower Moon”, and of course, “Harmony Hall”.
JamesBlake – Assume Form
For the final time, this is a Trevor recommendation. I think the covert art speaks for itself: it’s sparse but perfect. You don’t need much for a good song (except for “Can’t Believe the Way We Flow”, one of the greatest songs of his career and also a little convoluted). I remember we were driving home from a funeral for my aunt’s father, a war vet, and feeling such at peace with these songs. The organization is opposite of Father of the Bride: the center contains the best, while the weaker songs stray to the edges. The first and last songs are forgettable, although they would be comfortable to fall asleep too, and while “Mile High” may be one of the most boring songs he’s ever written, I can vibe to that song, man. It’s smoother than a baby’s butt. Starting with the fourth song, “Into the Red”, (which has this gorgeous stringed instrument that I cannot name for some reason, it sounds like a banjo), the album lays out bangers after bangers. I mean, my love for it might also just be from hearing these songs on Trevor’s playlists. (Side note, I started this thing at the beginning of the year where I would make a playlist titled Ep. 001, then 002, and so on, for every week or two, and these songs go all the way back to the very first Ep. playlist. In other words, I’m still not tired of them, and I think that is the best proof for how much I enjoy it). Favorite songs: “Where’s the Catch”, “Can’t Believe the Way We Flow”, and “Power On”. I want this on vinyl. Please.
More albums I liked:
I Love You. It’s a Fever Dream. – The Tallest Man on Earth TTMoE has been and always will be a great songwriter. I think I neglected to absorb this album as much as it needed to be.
Chrysaline – Josh Garrels I was hoping for something a bit more like his old stuff here, but he instead seems to be continually pushing himself in the folksy realm. Which is totally fine. I wasn’t crazy impressed by anything on this record, but it is nice to have in the background. It’s comforting, and warm, just not as inviting as Home.
Anima – Thom Yorke I kinda wish I gave this album more time, too. It’s definitely my fave out of his discography, which might be the most uninviting, cold, stiff albums from Radiohead or any of their solo work. This one’s easier on the ears, and man, the Netflix short show that got released with it is so good. I watched two or three times already. And “Dawn Chorus”. The. Best. Song. It’s so good, I’m going to go listen to it right now. I’ll be right back.
Yep. It’s still killer. I’m going to go cry under my desk.
Two Hands – Big Thief
U.F.O.F – Big Thief
JESUS IS KING – Kanye West (This is not a great album, but I did spin it for quite awhile, and it made a big enough impact on my campus for it to warrant an appearance on this list)
Infest the Rat’s Nest – King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard
I finished the fifth book of the Dark Tower. Up until the final tenth of the book, I had decided the plot was unimportant (compared to the overall arc), the side characters were boring, and the book was the worst one in the series so far.
Then I finished the book. The climax: cathartic. Euphoric. The ending? Cliffhanger, of course.
And thinking over the book, I understand how this series would be all the less without it. Far from being a tangent from the Dark Tower main plot, this book is a side-step, a moment to get our bearings. I believe, honestly, that this is our answer to Britain’s Lord of the Rings. Actually, DT 5 feels a lot like how The Two Towers adds in new plots aside from the main story. New characters, (much more interesting once we fully understand their motivations), new connections, (this book establishes the extended universe that surrounds the series, even going meta near the end), and new depths to my favorite characters’ pathos.
I’m scared where we go from here. I have no idea how it’s going to end, and I’m guessing King had no idea either.
Gilead, by Marilynne Robinson. This book was nothing like I expected: a chunky, meditative novel that dwelled too much on ideas more than reality (I like a healthy balance of both). I want to get my thoughts down permanently before I lose whatever feelings I had when I read that wonderful, wonderful novel. Words; objects and actions and people that came to mind.
So here they are: memoir. Father to son. Pastor to pastor kid. Society norms. Traditionalism vs. rebellion. Enjoying the small things in life: lovers running through the rain, popsicle stains down a child’s belly, playing catch at dusk. Serah. Loving life. The pain of life. The beauty of theology and the beauty of transcending theology because there is no possible way we can comprehend everything there is to comprehend about an all-powerful, all-knowing, albeit unchanging, God. How easy it is to misjudge someone based on their marriage or past history. The danger we create when we refuse to forgive someone. The ache of childhood. The beauty of childhood. Heck, the beauty in nearly everything. Old, run-down, close-knit towns. Poetry, gardening, grandparents, tough decisions, churches, traditions, hunger, baseball. Shy children. Prayer.
I don’t know how to describe how this book made me feel — and I hope that is something I can change. No writer should say, “It was indescribable.” You must describe it. And I will try, but my time is short, (I have to get up early tomorrow and it is already past ten), and I hope some of that feeling already transcended our minds in the previous paragraph. I did love this book, a lot more than I expected, though I should have figured I would have, based on the Pulitzer Prize sticker on the front. It’s a memoir, and split into three parts, if I remember. No chapter headings, no chapter titles. Each section is separated by only a double paragraph space. I really appreciate the rambling nature of the book, especially as I never feel lost, and weirdly enough I never lost interest. It was hard to put down at night, no less so from the lack of page breaks to signal me to switch off the lamp.
One of the admission counselors to APU recommended Gilead to me. Must remember to thank him later on. He also recommended The Goldfinch, which I listened to halfway through as an audiobook and still intend to finish sometime. More notes to self. Current music: “Please be patient with me”, Wilco. Loving Tyler’s new album. Goodnight.
I’m writing this instead of doing homework because Economics appeals only so much to me, and one of The Mountain Goats’ new songs came on recently (Done Bleeding, an excellent opened track on par with Amy Gladiator 1 and Rain in Soho), and I want to listen through the full album sometime and do my best to dissect it. Not a review per se, but like a kid pulling apart his ham sandwiches so he can eat the ham, cheese and bread separately, I want to see if there’s anything substantive inside this 45 minute ballad.
A couple albums from my favorite artists got released within the past weeks, including The Tallest Man on Earth, Citizens, Kings Kaleidoscope, Vampire Weekend, and, thank you Lord, King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard. (Note: consider ranking these albums later on). However, the Mountain Goats’ record has really stood out among the bunch (though I do enjoy KK’s Zeal a lot; I should talk about that one as well sometime). In League with Dragons. What a title. But I was a little anxious heading in at first.
Look, I love The Mountain Goats. I feel I can say that honestly by this point after a rocky relationship with their music. I’m saying it here and now, take note: the mountain goats will be my most-listened to band of 2019 according to Spotify. But for a title like “In league with Dragons”, I was hoping for something of the mix of Lord of the Rings meets John Darnielle’s “Beat the Champ”, with a strong lyrical narrative. Instead I’m coming out of it like I did from watching the three Hobbit movies: initially excited, but ultimately disappointed at the lack of re-watchable value. I don’t want to assume John’s days are behind him, (and they aren’t, just look at Goths), but I just didn’t feel excited about many of the singles.
Pray I’m wrong. Maybe there’s something extra in this sandwich I missed on my first time listening-through. Mustard, some mayo, and a tomato would be nice. Lettuce for some crunch. And, of course, albums usually grow on me with time. Goths holds some nostalgia for me, just because it was released when I first stumbled upon these guys. I’m going to take this album on its own terms: embrace that wizard on the hill terrorizing the town below. Tame a dragon/ride a dragon. And so far, the album seems bookended by two rock-solid tunes.