Shareholder’s Report – Q1 2022

In the same way that breakfast (brefex) is The Optimistic Meal , the first few weeks of the new calendar year are The Optimistic Days for people Cultural Cataloging Sickness. When nothing new is really coming out and all the best-of lists are reduced to dust like a fucking Marvel movie, it’s easy to look at all the songs / films / television shows / books in the collected word and tell yourself “this is the year I listen to all of Neil Young’s post 1980 records,” or “it is time to read Middlemarch” or “what were all those French new wave dopes on about?” A million little lists, a million nice ideas, all of them as well-intentioned and as doomed as a Duolingo account or a gym membership.

Ultimately, we are who we are and we can futz about the margins and get a new haircut or floss consistently for a couple of weeks, but the return to center is inevitable, maybe even healthy. Best to embrace it, not let it discourage you. Trying and failing to reach a goal is better than having no goal at all. This is what growth looks like. Goddamn, I sound like a recently sober JV football coach.

Anyway, welcome to the Shareholders Report, a blog of what’s been going on in the past three months. Please enjoy some nice songs I found on Bandcamp / were suggested to seek out by friends or family. You can enjoy the playlist on Spotify here. Every stream brings you closer to god!

Bandcamp was purchased by the video game company that makes Fortnite earlier this year. No way to know what this might mean for the future of the platform, but I want to get it on record that I will be monumentally sad if corporate interests, or just the basic stupid human impulse to insert oneself into a system and fuck it simply by being there like a little Dutch boy wandering absentmindedly into the spokes of a water wheel, ruins what I consider to be the most vital and equitable solution to streaming music and one of the most direct ways to support independent art online. 

One of the realities of infinite content and endless choice is paralysis and submission, and Bandcamp provides an alternative to that for those willing to sit through a couple thousand opening acts. You’ve got to be a real sicko to do it, but I am just such a sicko. Don’t fuck this up, Fortnite dudes.

There’s evidence to suggest that the whole NFT gambit is on its way into the dust-bin of digital history, but as I consider the increasing digitization of the formerly tangible world – how almost all art has moved into the computer – it occurs to me that if They can ever find a way to meaningfully replicate the museum or art gallery experience of seeing a painting in person, the last Rubicon will have been crossed and we will succumb to the Endorphin Port. Accept the premise of that sentence for a second and you can be horrified by its implications, or you can be more practical and consider that every technological advancement, from as far back as the creation of the written word, has changed how our minds work. In that light, the could-be failure of NFTs to catch on as the next wave of the digitization of art is interesting as an exercise in the advancement of technology and our relationship to it. It’s also a chance to laugh at the ape people.

Q1 2022 has been the Winter of Big Nothing in the Fatter,Older household. I occasionally get promo emails from publicists who have acquired my address from one failed reviewing gig or another, and I am usually content to archive them without a second thought. However, for whatever reason, I clicked on an email that brought me to this song, which brought me to this album, which brought me to the band’s new album, which eventually brought me to the band’s record release show at Johnny Brenda’s in Philadelphia. 

The show was a blast, but not in the way one expects a show to be good. Big Nothing’s lead guitar player and primary songwriter was out due to Covid, so the band had to find a replacement lead to ensure the show went on, and the late scratch clearly rattled them. I’ve played in bad bands, performing bad shows for non-existent crowds countless times, but it’s endearing, charming even, to see professional bands on big stages go through the same moments of uncertainty. Generally speaking I do not like to feel close to the artists I like, but I felt reflected in the giggling floundering happening on the Big Nothing stage, and it made me like them even more. Please keep making songs that sound like the Replacements. 

I spent the first two months of the year on family leave, in which my infant daughter and I spent a ton of time watching movies; some incredible good (The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo), some stupidly charming (Bill and Ted Face the Music), some puzzlingly compelling but not ultimately worthy of recommendation (Noctournal Animals), some that made Sam Elliot mad (The Power of the Dog), and some that sort of sucked (Black Sea). Black Sea was the letdown of the bunch, since I thought it was going to be a trashy submarine action romp, only to find out it was a trashy submarine action dourfest. Shout out to it, however, for casting the ying and yang of sweaty, nervous, disgusting character actors, Ben Mendelson and Scoot McNarry. Will watch anything with those dudes in it, even if (especially if) it sucks. 

I also watched Station Eleven, which I don’t know what else to say about that hasn’t already been thinkpieced by the real online writers and podcasters of America. It immediately jumps onto the list of the best, most fulfilling, most rewarding TV shows I’ve ever seen, and I cannot stop listening to its soundtrack, which like the show itself is so much more nuanced and artful and considerate than it ever needed to be. The whole thing rides on a pastoral post-rock line, a little bit like a toned-down Do Make Say Think with flashes of twee-folk and tuba-based covers of Gladys Knight and the Pips. Absolutely worth a listen if you’re into background music that demands to move to the front of the stage, regardless of whether or not you’ve seen the show.

I spent much of the rest of my time on family leave getting sick. The whole family got Covid in January, everyone making it through without much issue. Started with the toddler, who had maybe two days of symptoms before snapping back to normal, then spread to my wife, then me, then finally to the infant, who held off as long as she could. It knocked me off my feet for a day, and my wife about the same. The infant is an infant, so who knows. No real observations there. I had, quite stupidly, thought I would be one of the people who avoided getting Covid altogether, but god (and I presume day care) had other plans. Norovirus can go to hell, though.

On the other side of it now, I am basically acting as if the whole thing is over. I do this every day, enjoying my life as it once was (going to goddamn shows, for crying out loud), while knowing in the back of my head that I am both as protected from harm and harming others as I can be, and also that I am, perhaps, being reckless by just jumping back into maskless, disease-less life. There’s no right answer, it’s all personal choice, and it isn’t as if I am the only person in the world behaving this way. But it feels weird to me, irresponsible in a way I cannot articulate, as if I am not learning from my very recent past in real time. 

I’ve asked some people if there is something they will remember from the last two years in a tangible, tactile way. For me, I will remember washing my hands so much in March / April 2020 that they cracked and bled at the knuckles. I will remember looking at my hands right before sanitizing them, knowing it was going to sting like hell, and doing it anyway because we knew so little and I was so scared. I will remember that – I actively remember it – while I plan to attend a Ted Leo concert without a mask in three days. These two realities are true, both exist, completely in conflict with each other. Maybe I should just shut the fuck up.

I love this Spoon song because it sounds like that time Mark Ronson produced a Queens of the Stone Age song

I’m down 14 lbs from the start of the year, which feels pretty good. I spent the first six weeks in a fitness challenge that I gradually lost steam for, and have since been going to the gym consistently. I’m also training for the Broad Street Run and am turning 36, which is to say all of this has left me feeling healthier, more in shape, and with worse knees than at any point since maybe 2018. It honestly feels great, even if it’s expensive (which it is) and is probably unsustainable (which it definitely, for sure is). My goal is to drop a pants size by year’s end. If I actually apply some discipline to my eating, I might get there before the summer starts. Which would be cool, because then I could get a new bathing suit. 

I’ve also played squash twice, losing both times to my friend Sam. Both times I came in determined to kick his ass, both times I was spiked to hell, humbly. I will, eventually, go back for a third round and I swear before you, god, and everyone else that I will play with the spirit of the goddamn Eradicator. Squash rules. Exercise as games rule. Basketball rules. 

See, you’d think this is where I would pivot to talking about the 76ers, since they have traded one miserable zoomer for one of the greatest offensive players in the history of the game. And yet … Perhaps this is a loser mindset, but one of the things I miss about the Process-era Sixers, besides the fact that tickets could be acquired for less than the cost of two gallons of milk, is that there was no expectation to be good, only to sow the ground for future success, so failure was not possible and success was a welcome surprise. Now we have to win otherwise what the fuck have I been doing with my life? Nothing will bring you closer to existential collapse than a pretty-good-but-not-great sports franchise. 

I intend to read 20 books this year and have so far read, uh, one. I’m about a third of the way through The Brothers Karamazov, which is my first real go with the Russians after George Saunders dipped me in the waters last year. This books is a delight on a sentence-to-sentence level, and is by far my favorite book in which nothing has happened in the 400 pages I have read (plot has included “the boys have dinner with a priest” and “one of the brothers brings a letter to a young woman”), but it’s not the kind of thing I can just rip through a page or two of before falling asleep. One thing about having two kids (and, to be fair, being in grad school) is that there’s not a ton of time to just sit around and read. 

I’ve spent the last few years indexing hard on rock music, but I feel the turn back toward rap coming soon. Disregard the fact that “Pasta Water” is the only rap song on this list.

Similarly, I want to continue to turn toward non-male rock music. I’ve got a playlist going for my daughter full of songs that both A) rock and B) are performed by women. She likes it (“Daddy, I think a girl sings this one” – my daughter, any time she hears a song by a woman), though not as much as she likes the Encanto soundtrack (“Surface Pressure” is the one, for those keeping score at home). I don’t think she has to listen to only women – or, frankly, that she should listen to too much of the stuff I like as she gets older than three – but I also want to be mindful of what I am exposing her to, and what I might be telling her without actually telling her. That said, do not count how many women are on the songs I’ve listed here. 

Of all the mainstream hardcore success stories of the past three years (don’t make that face, they exist, there are dozens of us) Drug Church is the one that gets me going the most. I get big time “Snapcase in End Transmission” vibes from this album, and I love the lyrics and ideas the band is grappling with (this song specifically about the relationship between listener and artist when the artist’s actions or politics do not match those of the listener. No spoilers, but the chorus of this one is “We don’t toss away what we love”). 

If there is a show I regret not attending, it is the Constantines opening for The Hold Steady at the mighty Northstar Bar in the winter of 2007. If there is a sect of post-punk that I regret going out of style, it is the heart-on-sleeve style of the Constantines, which was much less focused on venom and cynicism and much more on youth power and resistance. Post-punk is well on its way out at this point as the preferred modal of trendy rock, and god rest it’s over-exposed soul. May the next movement have more to say than a sneer.

So is no speculation, here are the best albums from the past quarter, in no order. Please go listen to them.

Drug Church – Hygiene
Nilufer Yanya – PAINLESS
Gang of Youths – Angel in Realtime
Lost Dog Street Band – Glory
Swamp Dogg – I Need a Job … So I can Buy More Autotune
Big Nothing – Dog Hours
Black Country New Road – Ants From Up Here
Holm – Why Don’t You Dance
Eve Adams – Metal Bird

I end this on a downer note, which is the realization that grief does not ever resolve, merely grows and resonates exponentially as life proceeds. Feeling it once is to feel it again, compounding each time life presents a tragedy. To move this out of theory into practice, the death of my aunt makes me think of the death of my cousin, makes me think of the death of my friend, makes me think of the death of my grandmothers. In this specific realm, each death speaks to the previous, echoes old aches anew, a joining, rising chorus. This is the burden of the living, the cost we must carry to be allowed to continue to carry anything at all. This is what the Russians teach us, that the meaning of life is simply to continue living it. So I hope you continue to live yours. See you next quarter. 

Leave a Comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s