year-end lists as a prompt; DJ Lil OBS; après moi, le déluge
The Internet in December is a portent for end-of-the-year wrap-up lists. I’m on the heels of making a hesitant return to social media after a brief hiatus—I made it without Instagram and Twitter for a month and a day, which I think demonstrates an ample amount of resolve!—and scrolling through people’s wrap-ups sounds stressful to me, but only because I thought being off social media helped reset my brain. Apparently, it transmuted my personal insecurities into e-FOMO. However, with that being said, I do like to read my friends’ favorite (or least favorite) things from any given year. So when I do open up the bird and camera apps, if I happen to come across any 2020 greatest hits posts, I hope it’s by one of my friends and not an influencer or media person those apps are being paid to boost.
I’m more of a fan of the lists that encapsulate experiences had, observations made, and media consumed that wasn’t necessarily produced in the year drawing to a close. The only album released in 2020 I listened to at length was Destroyer’s Have We Met, which skewered and strong-armed my Spotify Year in Review because I tapered off listening to music in general this year, and if I were to make a list of things only released this year, I feel like I would be sifting through a freshly charred garbage heap.
In any case, I’ll keep this as short and sweet as possible, so adhering to no rules, and in no particular order, here are some of my favorite things I engaged with in 2020:
Destroyer, Have We Met
Really appreciate Dan Bejar leaning into his sophisti-pop influences. The Destroyer frontman is one of my favorite living lyricists; I’ve cribbed many words from his songs. My favorite thing about Dan Bejar’s vocals is that they seem like they’re jogging or soft shoe dancing a few paces behind the music. It reinforces the image of his songs as places to inhabit.
Ok, maybe I over-exaggerated. Upon deeper recollection, I did listen to a few more pleasant surprises from this year.
Midori Hirano, Invisible Island
I was delighted when I found out Midori Hirano released a new album this year. I discovered Hirano’s work in 2016 through her album Minor Planet. The title Invisible Island reflects the melancholy and otherwordliness of Hirano’s electro-acoustic sound; it truly does sound like music from a faraway place. However, the pieces on the album do not fail to deliver a variety of emotion, encompassing a sense of urgency along with wonder, longing, peace, and more. Contemplative neo-classical ambience.
Katya Yonder, Multiply Intentions
The new LP from Russian multi-instrumentalist (and multi-lingual) Katya Yonder, who I’ve only learned about this year via one of those boutique record distro-labels I follow on Instagram, marries influences from anime, Japanese video game soundtracks, and Soviet film soundtracks to create 13 tracks of beautiful, gauzy chamber pop characterized by intricate strings, delightful textures, and vocals like layered diaphanous veils billowing in a breeze let in through a picture window.
Kate NV, Room for the Moon
Another artist from the Eastern Bloc with her ears attuned to the pop of 80s Japan, in addition to art rock icons such as David Sylvian, Kate Bush, and the YMO cadre: Kate NV confidently incorporates the essence of playful and experimental synthpop of the past into her unique parallel retro-futuristic Soviet vision. Listening to it is like rolling a hard candy around in your mouth, and relishing its flavor and the sound of it clacking against your teeth. If it had a visual representation, it would look like one of those bead maze toys that used to sit in the corner of every office lobby to keep you stimulated as a baby while your parents waited to filed their taxes or whatever.
Far and away, the movie that struck a chord with me the most this year was Atom Egoyan’s Exotica. From my Letterboxd review:
A friend recently said to me, "There's no right way to understand grief. Grief is like a wall with understanding on one side of it. The other is all feeling." This could very well be Exotica's thesis. Take, for instance, the motif of the two-way mirror. A visual device that underscores not only the power dynamic of perceiving and being perceived but also the way the film's players deal with and understand their own trauma, loss, and feelings of alienation.
An alluring and masterful film that challenges you to reevaluate typical narrative and genre conventions and how they guide and manipulate you. All of the implicit and explicit contracts the characters have made with one another somewhat reminded me of the favor in Strangers on a Train, and I wouldn't be surprised if that was something Egoyan had in the back of his mind while making this. Exotica reminds us that there can be tension and desperation that drive one to drastic revenge measures, but empathy and forgiveness aren't necessarily thrown out of the window. It's startling how this subversion of expectations makes you forget that kindness exists in the crosshair of tragedy.
Other films I enjoyed, some of which I hope to write more about in the future: Strange Days (Kathryn Bigelow, 1995), Come and See (Elem Klimov, 1985), Pulse (Kiyoshi Kurosawa, 2001), The Spirit of the Beehive (Víctor Erice, 1973), Thief (Michael Mann, 1981), Model Shop (Jacques Demy, 1969), Body Double (Brian De Palma, 1984), When Night is Falling (Patricia Rozema, 1995), In the Cut (Jane Campion, 2003) and Heat (Michael Mann, 1995).
Three-Month Fever by Gary Indiana
One of the best decisions I made this year was subscribing to Alana Johnson’s book subscription service she offered to a limited number of followers on Twitter. The first book she mailed out to subscribers was Three-Month Fever, a thoroughly researched and fictionalized recount of the delirious killing spree perpetrated by Andrew Cunanan. If you need a snappy analogy: think In Cold Blood on coke at Flick’s. I feel like an idiot for not having known about Cunanan, especially since he grew up in parts of the South Bay in San Diego that I did.
As an art critic for The Village Voice during the mid-to-late 80s, it’s clear Gary Indiana witnessed and engaged with his fair share of fluff-and-puff bullshitting from the most glamorous to the sleaziest to the smarmiest people of the art world and adjacent social circles because his fast-paced, pop culture-infused writing style reflects it. This experience around big egos in tandem with his keen observation equip him to expertly capture a credible approximation of Cunanan’s interiority as a social climber and up to the moment when he committed his crimes.
I love that Indiana describes San Diego as “credulous.” It effectively crystallizes how simple it is to be just the tiniest bit larger than life, or to build a rep on lies, in this city because why would you? In San Diego, of all places? Most people will believe anything of you here.
I’ve watched the first three episodes of The Assassination of Gianni Versace and, although I think Darren Criss does a good job at portraying how I imagined Cunanan to behave after reading Three-Month Fever, the whole production really makes me wish Gregg Araki was the creative mind behind it, and not Ryan Murphy. I’m nostalgic for the transgression of the New Queer Cinema movement of the 90s.
I’ve since ordered copies of Resentment and Depraved Indifference, two other novels by Gary Indiana that are a part of his loose trilogy of crime and surrounding media buzz because Indiana’s writing is that infectious.
One of the most chilling things about Andrew Cunanan is that his senior yearbook quote was King Louis XV’s famous, “après moi, le déluge.”
The Little Girl Who Was Too Fond of Matches by Gaétan Soucy
I read this early on in the year and don’t have my copy in front of me as I write this, but I recommend it to fans of dark folktales or gothic horror. And I mean it when I say dark. There are many disturbing elements in this little book, so be mindful of that if you’re sensitive to animal violence and child abuse. The prose is strange and idiosyncratically archaic but it ultimately allows you to fully inhabit the narrator’s psyche.
Cyberville: Clicks, Culture, and the Creation of an Online Town by Stacy Horn
I’m barely motivated these days (I had to use the end of the year as a prompt to get myself to hammer out this newsletter) and the hamster spinning the wheel in my brain is tired, so tired, so to those of you subscribed to the Burn All Books newsletter: please forgive me because I’m copy-pasting a chopped and condensed version of my write-up of Cyberville for their October issue here:
Joanne McNeil’s bibliography from her book, Lurking: How a Person Became a User, led me to a memoir from 1998 by Stacy Horn called Cyberville: Clicks, Culture, and the Creation of an Online Town. In 1990, Horn founded the BBS ECHO (East Coast Hang Out), a virtual salon enabling communication amongst NYC milieu. Horn writes candidly and incorporates chatlogs to recount the evolution of the community she forged back when the Internet wasn’t even blogs, just websites being cool websites. The book is exciting when the logs mirror aspects of online life that are still relevant. For instance, a real-time discussion of O.J. Simpson’s now-infamous white Bronco freeway chase evokes the instantaneous commentary on events as they transpire on Twitter. Though, what I appreciated most of all was Horn’s honesty and self-scrutiny when recalling interpersonal user discord emerging on the BBS; more especially when she discusses the situations that exposed her naivete and the margins of her purview at the time, like a difficult matter of gender identity and inclusivity.
Here’s a sample of Horn’s casual, conversational tone:
It’s currently out of print, but it shouldn’t be too hard to find used!
Perhaps thee best thing I read this year was Natsuko Ishitsuyo’s manga, Magician A, but I’m in the process of writing a standalone piece on that so expect that through the transom eventually.
Trader Joe’s sparkling cranberry ginger beverage is delicious on its own and tasty as a mixer. Add it to a shot or two of gin (vodka works too, of course, but I haven’t tried it yet) with a squeeze of lemon, and you’ve got yourself a refreshing and merry little bubble party on your tongue.
On the path to “Twitch Affiliate”
Call me DJ Lil OBS. My foray into Twitch streaming begins. It’s a bit cringe, innit? Well, I don’t care, I had fun! With Aaron’s help setting up cables and wires, and with the use of his gamer roommate’s webcam, I was able to host my very first live DJ stream on Twitch this week. I was a little rusty on the ones and twos, but the feedback I got from it sent me over the moon.
I didn’t realize Twitch sent you summaries of your streams after they’ve concluded. Apparently if I gain more followers and stream for what seems like an inordinate amount of hours and days out of the week, I could be an eligible member of the Twitch affiliate program! Ahhh! (That’s sarcasm.) I’m not completely sure what that entails beyond being able to monetize my channel, which isn’t a primary concern of mine. It would be nice, but I honestly just like using the platform for its breadth of interface and being able to chat with pals on it. I’ve been meaning to try to stream Animal Crossing: New Horizons, but I had issues with the Elgato HD60s video capture device on my MacBook Pro. So if I figure out a way to stream games off my Switch in addition to spinning records, maybe look forward to that—that is, if you’re interested in watching my virtual character walk around my virtual island and talk to my virtual animal friends. In the meantime, I’m gonna invest in some cat ear headphones and a pink DXRacer so I look legit.
Not only did I spend the latter half of this year ravaged by fear going to doctor appointment after doctor appointment, convinced I was dying (I’m not), I also contributed to the burgeoning film quarterly, NO CINEMA! It’s packed with illustrations, a film still gallery, poetry, and several thoughtful longreads ranging from YouTube piracy to probing the horror of workplace training videos. Consider following them on Twitter for updates or subscribe now on Patreon to receive handbound, riso-printed copies of the forthcoming first issue, in addition to the usual perks that come with most subscriptions: shirts, buttons, exclusive podcasts. Or send a pitch for publication in future issues to: email@example.com
I’ll leave you with one of the first photos I took of Fritz, the little neighborhood stray Aaron and I befriended in quarantine who mysteriously vanished in mid-October. I miss her dearly. Duckie, if you’re still out there, thanks for all the time we spanned together. You made a bad year just a little brighter for as long as I got to bask in the warmth of your light.
Anyway, thanks for subscribing to this newsletter. If you don’t hear from me before 2021, happy holidays. Stay safe. Most of all, good riddance, 2020!
Thanks for the Exotica rec it was super good. I’m going to jump in to Three-Month Fever as soon as I can!