I decided to something fun this New Year's Eve, i.e., I'm staying home with a bottle of port and some actual time to write. I traditionally do a short happy new year video to you all, specially to my international readers, in which I embarrass myself and mangle your languages with my wild-ass guesses at pronunciation; this year I thought I'd expand it a bit into a retrospective of stuff I dig that happened this year.
For me, this chiefly means music. 2015 did modestly well here; I mean, it wasn't 2011, which even Fleet Foxes, Justin Bieber, and Nickelback between them couldn't ruin, but you don't get years like that very often. We got excellent new albums from Passion Pit, BØRNS, and Florence + the Machine.
Kindred, particularly "Lifted Up (1985)," maintained the childlike energy that characterized Manners and Gossamer, but with a slightly more house-inspired, wall-of-sound ethos that feels like Michael Angelakos has sort of filled out artistically. It would've been easy to go very conventionally pop, but he still has the lightness and the ambient motifs that grabbed my attention in the first place.
BØRNS is a newcomer, and an outstanding one. Harking back to the unabashed flamboyance and glamor of bands like Journey and Cutting Crew, but with a deeper, more substantial sound that the synth of the eighties tended to lack, Dopamine is one hell of a debut album. His lyrics could be accused, not quite unjustly, of being a bit generic, but even so they're much better written than most other generic lyrics, and frankly, he can afford it anyway: the layers of sound contained in "Electric Love," and the patient control with which it builds, put the trite pretensions of glam metal to shame. (Be warned before watching the linked music video that, if you attended Woodstock or the Summer of Love, you may think you're having an acid flashback.)
Similarly, the inimitable Florence Welch brought us How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful, a worthy follow-up album to her unforgettable, baroque fantasia, Ceremonials. She infused a wonderfully strong rock vibe into her new production, above all in the arresting single "What Kind of Man" (warning: brief boob shot), which literally makes the hair stand up on the back of my neck, it's so good. She's one of the few contemporary popular artists other than Lady Gaga who's made a bold use of religious imagery in her work, and I think that's one of the main reasons that her work exhibits such power: it taps into an element of human experience that is largely ignored by modern art (save for the occasional, usually juvenile, blasphemy), and does so in a way that evokes the grandeur and mystery of the religious impulse without cheapening it by reducing it to sex -- even if it sometimes combines the two, as in "Bedroom Hymn" -- or diminishing it to mere sentimentality.
But above all, it is impossible to let Sufjan Stevens' latest pass us by. He's almost the sole contemporary Christian musician (mewithoutYou and Psalters are the only others that spring to mind) that I actually find interesting enough to listen to, partly because he's not afraid to deal in grit, uncertainty, spiritual conflict, and his own ugly aspects and experiences -- something many Christians are, to be blunt, too cowardly for. And I think I say this every time he releases an album, but Carrie & Lowell may be his best work yet. I didn't think he would ever surpass The Age of Adz, and his stuff is so good that I didn't even care. Still less did I think that piling achievement on top of achievement would come by revisiting the sound that characterized some of his earlier albums, like Michigan and Seven Swans. But Carrie & Lowell is, words fail me, great. Elusive without being annoying, melancholy without self-indulgence, spare and haunting and magical. "Fourth of July," "Drawn to the Blood," "All of Me Wants All of You," "John My Beloved," and "No Shade in the Shadow of the Cross" are -- well, nearly half the album, but some of my favorites. Seriously, I just, no words. Go forth and buy.
There were also some new book releases this year that I warmly recommend, among them Bill Hoard and Ben Faroe's episodic Hubris Towers, a Baltimore-based homage to John Cleese's beloved Fawlty Towers series, for which I think phrases like "a madcap romp" are most appropriate. Hoard, additionally, just recently released his own first book, The Dagger and the Rose, a classically constructed fairy-tale, which I'll be reviewing next month.
And now, turning to 2016, which is fast upon us, and which many of my readers are already in. My top ten readerships come from here in the US, Great Britain, Canada, France, Ukraine, Russia, Germany, Australia, Poland, and Malaysia. Greece and Belgium have been more to the fore of late, and, for whatever reason, my Russian readership has been way up over the last month. I always like wondering what prompts people from other countries to read my blog; surely some of them are Americans or other native Anglophones overseas, but I expect that at least some do hail from the countries they're reading from. I can't help but have my curiosity piqued by guessing at what could make a gay, anarchist Catholic interesting to a Russian reader.
In any case, thank you all so much for reading my blog; I'm glad you enjoy it (assuming you do -- but if you hate Mudblood Catholic, I wish you wouldn't read it, since I can only suppose it must be rotten spending your time on it). I hope you find it uplifting and thought-provoking, and, to you all,
Happy New Year
С Новым Годом
Щасливого Нового Року
Frohes Neues Jahr
Szczęśliwego Nowego Roku
Selamat Tahun Baru
Εὐτυχισμένο το Νέο Ἔτος
And don't forget to go to Mass tomorrow in honor of the Mother of God. Goodnight.