Music Writers Exercise 2020

Music Writers Exercise, aka #MWE, is a Twitter challenge created by writer Gary Suarez where each day in February you listen to an album you’ve never heard before and tweet about it. I found these capsule reviews much more challenging to write than I’d imagined they would be! Although I write in a similar way at my day job (cataloging collections at the Bob Dylan Archive), those are mostly summaries and my personal opinions usually aren’t involved. I’d like to think this exercise helped improve my writing a bit and made me more likely to talk about the music and art I love. Most importantly, I had a blast doing this and caught up so much on albums from the past couple of years, when I was dealing with illness and couldn’t pay attention to anything else. Without further ado…

1. Fennesz, “Endless Summer” (2001) Opens with the sounds of machines whirring and roaring to life. Probably one of my favorite opening tracks of all time! The entire album is gorgeous, full of prickly, clicking, pulsing textures, like static electricity.

2. Sleep, “Dopesmoker” (rec. 1996) I wanted to like this more bc of its title and kickass cover but unfortunately metal and I are still oil and water. It’s the only genre of music that does little for me, except in a campy sort of way. Feel free to try & change my mind!

3. Helado Negro, “This Is How You Smile” (2019) You know when your intuition chooses the right music for a time & place? This is the sound of early February to me, its melancholy and the slow spreading return of sunlight and warmth. Excellent songwriting too.

4. …And You Will Know Us By the Trail of Dead, “Worlds Apart” (2005) has more of a mainstream ’90s alt-rock sound than Source Tags & Codes and kinda loses the plot toward the end, but it’s still got plenty of awesome RIFFS and vague fantasy-world imagery. 15yr old me loves it!

5. PAST WHERE THEY PAINT THE HOUSES! PAST WHERE THEY PAINT THE HOUSES!!! Slint “Tweez” (1989) sounds like it was recorded inside a dumpster. Each song starts, stops, and trails off whenever it wants to and doesn’t care if you follow along. Best song: CAROL (see above)

6. Autechre “Tri Repetae” (1995) didn’t click with me until track 6, then I was hooked on its intricate electronic polyrhythms. Fav. track: the delicate, skittering “Gnit” PS- looking for a file of the album cover is a good example of the subjectivity of color.

Autechre "Tri Repetae" various versions of the album cover found during a Google image search

7. Sudan Archives “Athena” (2019) is 21st century genre mixing at its most fluid. Spacey pop/r&b anchored by down-to-earth lyrics. Her Bandcamp bio says she was inspired by Sudanese fiddling, among many other styles of music, so now I want to check that out too!

8. serpentwithfeet “soil” (2018) Apocalyptic songs about the collapse of a relationship. His voice trembles, flickers, and sounds ready to burst into flames at any moment. Difficult listen bc of the raw emotions involved, but well worth it bc of its honesty and beauty.

9. Screaming Females “All At Once” (2018) The 90s are not back, they never went away! Not only does the whole album ROCK, but there’s a song called (about?) Agnes Martin, one of my favorite artists now, but I doubt I would’ve liked her in high school. It’s good to be older!

10. Kælan Mikla “Nótt eftir nótt” (2018) Icelandic darkwave/punk band. Walls of 70s/80s horror movie synths and screams, bigass beats. Sometimes I wish the singer(s) voice was a bit less buried in the mix bc it’s so strong, but I also like all the echoey effects she adds to it.

11. Norma Tanega “Walkin’ My Cat Named Dog” (1966) If the title track doesn’t make you smile then I don’t know what to say! A real warmhearted album, but not sweet or syrupy at all, especially the haunting first song “You’re Dead.”

12. Archy Marshall “A New Place 2 Drown” (2015) is a darker side of King Krule, if that’s at all possible, and released under his real name. Like being hungover at midnight, or the dread before a migraine sets in, after staring at a streetlamp for too long. Anyway, he rules.

13. Fugazi “The Argument” (2001) is their last and sparest sounding album. Mackaye & Picciotto’s voices ring out over the capitalist hellscape of 2001-??? even when they whisper. Fav. part: transition from grim, suffocating “Cashout” to desperate screaming on “Full Disclosure.”

14. Zola Jesus “Okovi” (2017) WOW. I can’t gush enough about this album!! Sorry for the cliche but her voice is a primeval force of nature! Lyrics are bleak and uplifting at once esp. in “Witness.” Now I have to go comb the leaves from my hair and pick the thorns from my skin.

15. Oneohtrix Point Never “Love In The Time Of Lexapro” (2018) I didn’t know where to start with OPN so I chose by title. The EP sounded pretty to me but I didn’t connect with it emotionally. I hear so many good things about his music- does anyone recommend another album?

16. Kacey Musgraves “Golden Hour” (2018) makes me feel like I’m riding across the desert in a silver convertible instead of shivering at home in February. A sense of wide-eyed wonder shines throughout the whole album, which is reflected in its buoyant, subtly futuristic sound.

17. Tyler, the Creator “IGOR” (2019) captures the agony of queer unrequited love better than any album I’ve heard since “Monomania” by Deerhunter. They couldn’t sound more different but they brought up the same queasy memories for me. Fav. tracks: A BOY IS A GUN, WHAT’S GOOD

18. clipping. “There Existed an Addiction to Blood” (2019) Man, this one was disappointing. Diggs’ oddly clinical depictions of gory violence and death sound like a horror film that’s afraid to get its hands dirty. Maybe that’s what he was going for, but I found it tedious. PS- the only interesting AND scary parts of the album were “Blood of the Fang” and “Piano Burning” which is exactly what it sounds like:

19. The Antlers “Hospice” (2009) Ok, I have a bunch of weird sound sensitivities and this album triggered all of them! Does that mean it’s bad music? Not at all!! Blame my brain’s weird circuitry and inability to hear a lot of guttural/glottal and piano noises w/out flinching.

20. Pharmakon “Bestial Burden” (2014) Now this is real horror. Industrial hospital meat locker sounds. Having been through a medical crisis recently this was both cathartic and truly terrifying to listen to.

21. Moon Diagrams “Lifetime of Love” (2017) takes its time sprawling and unfolding into one long hazy groove, tinged with melancholy. Fav. tracks: funky, kaleidoscopic “Magic Killer” and 80s/90s dance party “End of Heartache” Solo project from Moses Archuleta of Deerhunter.

22. Moses Sumney “græ” (2020) is gonna be hard to beat for my favorite album this year! It’s been thrilling to hear his music evolve since “Aromanticism,” which I still listen to all the time. Here, his voice weaves through ever more complex arrangements & lyrics like a satin ribbon.

23. Duster “Stratosphere” (1998) is a great come-down, sink-into-the-sofa album if ever there was. Spacey drones and heavy drumbeats keep a steady rhythm all the way through, but with plenty of variations in tone. My dog and I looked exactly the same while listening.

sleeping brown and white hound dog

24. Nivhek “After its own death/Walking in a spiral towards the house” (2019) is Grouper at her starkest. Heavenly chanting and funeral bells make me feel like I’m inside an ancient cathedral watching specks of dust float by in the dying sunlight. Dark, somber, and beautiful.

25. X-Ray Spex “Germ-Free Adolescents” (1978) Poly Styrene on vocals! Lora Logic on sax! Blazing masterpiece of punk rock and art! FUCK YEAH!!! ::scrapes self off the floor, falls down again::

26. Youssou N’Dour “The Guide (Wommat)” (1994) Production is very slick 90s “world music” (including a trip-hop duet with Neneh Cherry) but Senegalese superstar N’Dour’s voice soars over all and will never sound dated. Nice bilingual cover of “Chimes of Freedom” at the end.

27. Tanya Tagaq “Animism” (2014) more than lives up to its name! Rhythms of Inuit throat singing combined with harsh electronic beats and set off by atonal strings create a vision of our world seething and pulsating in all its beauty, complexity, and brutality.

28. King Krule “Man Alive!” (2020) I’m already a huge fan and his latest does nothing to change that! I was surprised at how similar the songs become from “The Dream” on, almost like one long grey, gloomy track. I liked it a lot but I missed the variety his albums usually have.

29. Kamasi Washington “Heaven and Earth” (2018) It’s jazz odyssey time! Clocking in at nearly 2.5 hours and very heavily 70s fusion influenced- think Herbie Hancock’s “Head Hunters” It’s not my favorite jazz genre but if it’s yours, you won’t want it to end.