It’s been a while – over 140 days since my last music post to be exact. Back when I still had the energy to put pieces together I knew an elongated burnout was pretty much inevitable and just pretended to plan around it. In other (more honest) words, I just wanted to milk whatever energy I had for as long as possible in the hopes that it’d somehow be useful in future. This “plan” was fundamentally flawed on multiple levels, as best evidenced by my false assumption that this burnout would sync up with a return to normality. For God knows what reason I thought that I’d be able to swap this place out for normal friendships, fading off into the distance in a world where I don’t have to know who Stephen Donnelly is and where I don’t have opinions on every record with a synthesizer of some sort in it. However, as we’re still stuck in this hellscape (as well as the fact that this blog makes potential internet friends view me as way cooler than I actually am) I’ve intermittently thought about trying to tie up loose ends on here – I’ll probably never get back to writing as much (or as soppily) as I did back in May or June but there are certain records and artists I’m mad at myself for never getting to cover. This piece is the culmination of that urge – I’d initially planned on putting a series of posts together but eventually amalgamated whatever I had composed into one uncurated mess. I’ve never really liked the tone of year-end lists and have intentionally avoided trying to structure this piece like one – these aren’t the best records of the year (or even just a list of my favourite ones), they’re just records my friends are now sick of hearing about. Does this distinction change or mean anything? Probably not. Here’s the music I’ve been obsessively thinking about lately, for better or for worse.
Some of the best letters that get sent into our local newspaper are the ones that capture an existential crisis – whenever anything of note happens within a fifty-kilometer radius of Portlaoise at least one person will try composing a piece in which they lament about how utterly irrelevant our county has become and there’s something oddly beautiful about it. These pieces never actually go anywhere or lead to anything changing but I guess that’s the point, you’re essentially just seeing someone go through the five stages of grief over the absence of a bridge and that feels oddly poignant, mainly just as it’s surprising that anyone would actually put in the effort to write about it.
I think its time for me to finally try putting together one of these letters – Laois is just after entering a two week localized lockdown due to a resurgence of COVID-19 and my plans for the month have been put into flux as a result. I’d initially planned on weaning myself off my current writing schedule over the next few weeks as we edged towards normality again – the way in which I’ve kept this blog updated over the past few months requires at least two all-nighters a week and that isn’t really feasible while living in the real, non-insane world. At first I assumed that I’d spend the next few weeks making up for lost time – cutting down to just writing once a week in order to focus on returning to regular exercise, actually productive work, and the friends I’ve gone a concerning amount of time without seeing face-to-face. That’s all essentially gone out the window now, leading to me sitting here on a Monday trying to throw together a response to three cynical tweets that made me vaguely angry yesterday for some reason. This year has gone well.
cw: some descriptions of violence, references to suicide attempts
The internet is impossibly large and a bunch of useless-seeming algorithms determine how we interact with it – a majority of what we see on the net is purposely targeted to us based on our past actions and it’s scarily easy to not realize how surreal that is. I think I’m gradually coming to terms with the fact that these blog posts are heavily indebted to Spotify’s recommendation algorithms – I’ve discovered half of the albums that defined my lockdown due to them popping up on my home screen as an album ended and the other half initially entered my life through the rabbit holes these algorithms enable. The space in my life that was once occupied by a certain music forum has been substituted by a piece of software trained on the exact same people I actively chose to stop paying attention to and there’s something morbidly interesting about that to me – there are people out there with nearly the exact same musical tastes as mine and I’ll probably never interact with them. Any (largely flawed) sense of community created by shared fandom has gradually been sidelined as the death march of communicative capitalism (and the world pandemic we’re still living under) atomizes us further and further – the coronavirus outbreak may have accelerated this process but it feels as if we’ve made a major shift over time from the shared, communal spaces of record shops and concerts to the finely-tuned desert islands created by these algorithms. We’re still all connected in a certain sense, just not in a way that lends itself to meaningful interactions – whatever data we generate online is constantly being compared to those around us but these algorithms actively obfuscate that fact, tricking us into assuming that we’re isolated individuals with genuinely unique tastes. This week I’m going to try (and presumably fail) to write about an album that the Spotify algorithm shoved in my face, if anything just so I can pretend to fully understand it.
It feels odd to write about Katie Dey’s music as I’ll never be able to think about it objectively – ‘asdfasdf’ and ‘flood network’ have essentially been wedged into my brain for the past four years and that makes me oddly sentimental about the Melbourne-based musician’s creative output. Around this time in 2016 I met an internet friend who went on to become a scarily large influence on my life and one of our first conversations revolved around Dey’s first EP – I essentially just looped the record over and over in order to have something to say to that random internet person, starting an obsession that hasn’t really ended yet. This obsession essentially just snowballed when Dey released ‘flood network’, my favorite album of all time – I remember wandering around a post-Fleadh Ennis essentially just killing time until I got a text back while blaring ‘fear o the light’ and feeling a vague dread that now seems fairly nostalgic to look back on. I’m not sure exactly why Dey’s discography resonated with me so much at the time but it captured a larger feeling that was oddly cathartic to observe – Sasha Geffen once remarked for The Fader that the album “fold[ed] somatic joy into waves of chaos and anxiety” and that’s the closest I’ve gotten to explaining the appeal of ‘Flood Network’. The record essentially channeled the same anxious energy my life was constantly defined by and turned it into a bunch of shoegazey hypnagogic pop songs, something that offered me an odd form of solace when I was probably at my most misanthropic.
I think it’s safe to say that we’re living in turbulent times – you’re probably just after bumping into your uncle shouting about vaccines outside the GPO for the third weekend in a row, the government is about to spend all its time and effort making sure a rowdy poor doesn’t dare travel to one of the numerous countries they spent the last three months ensuring we could travel to, and we’ve all collectively chosen to ignore how many homeless people seem to be dying because of how hard it must be to live as some overpaid cabinet minister dozing off in a convention center. We’re headed into one of the worst recessions of recent history, hundreds (if not thousands) will choke to death over the next few weeks so our planet can have McDelivery again, and Kanye West is probably in the middle of sabotaging his next album. The barbarism part of the old “socialism or barbarism” adage is beginning to rear its Elon Musk-backed head and we’ve finally realized that Walter Benjamin was full of shit when he implied that we’d get aesthetic pleasure out of our collective destruction. Things can only possibly get worse and Naomi Klein’s pleas about the worldwide implementation of a Green New Deal are completely foreign (and fairly funny) not even a full year on from their publication. This is somehow a problem that only you are capable of solving.
This year has been a bit of a write-off and it freaks me out that we’re over seven months into it. I think that I went into 2020 with a small amount of optimism and that screwed us all over – I was planning on spending most of this year sitting on public transport and I got to do that, it was just with the addition of an ill-fitting facemask, the joys of spending the next week being paranoid about symptoms, and some weirdo behind me blaring Justin Barrett speeches from his iPhone. This year hasn’t really started in my head, it feels like we’ve been in a weird state of limbo for the past four months and that makes looking back on things a bit strange – I actively miss an era of my life where my anxieties seemed relatively menial and I feel like that means something, even if that’s just as we’re rapidly descending into some Michael Martin-backed hellscape. One of the few perks of lockdown is that I’ve constantly been able to listen to music, I’ve nearly always got a pair of headphones on and the time I’ve spent rapidly trying to catch up on some dense text for a reading group naturally lends itself to pretentious electronic tunes. Here are seven of the most interesting tracks I’ve stumbled upon so far this year – I’ve probably put together godawful paragraphs on half of these tracks in the past but I thought it’d be fun to expand on what makes these tracks stand out, even just so some random Discord friend doesn’t have to listen to me drone on about them at half three in the morning.
Statistically speaking by the time you’re reading this I’ll finally be back on Twitter, an app that’s probably ruined me as a person in ways that I’m yet to fully accept. Nearly half of my readership arrives from Twitter and as a result I’m scarily reliant on the website to ensure that everyone around me sits through my weekly Eamon Ryan diatribes – every time I finally make the realization that I need to cut back on the time I waste on Twitter I cynically shrug said realization off by pretending that constantly posting is somehow good for my writing, coming off as a major careerist in the process. This overreliance is probably best exemplified through the content of this post – I had originally planned on writing yet another piece on Irish politics (fun!) but the realization that the two people who would somehow find that piece funny were significantly less likely to stumble upon it essentially killed any motivation I had, leading to this weird meta-commentary on an objectively stupid microblogging website that I should have quit ages ago. I’ve flirted with completely vanishing off the face of the internet a fair few times, somehow pretending that I have the self-control to actually do something productive with my life every three months or so. These attempts always end in some embarrassing form of failure – I remember completely relapsing on social media during a particularly slow day at work a few years back and scrolling through everything Felix Biederman posted that month like it was a particularly depressing morning newspaper. I felt like an utter arse for the rest of that shift, mainly just as that experience made me realise how dumb my relationship with the internet was. I think that was the moment that I realized I was wired in for life, even if I tried to pretend otherwise for ages. But for now, I’m temporarily free from the endless discourse that consumes my life, or I would be if I actually chose to write about music tonight. Has this led to me having any original or interesting thoughts about our collective relationship with the net? Not really.
This is the second part of ‘a comprehensive guide to being really annoying on the internet’, an attempt to explain how this blog works. This is mainly just a technical explanation so I’d recommend reading the first part before getting mad at how boring this is.
This post will (hopefully) be a bit shorter than usual as I’ve actually fixed my sleep schedule but I decided to listen to that 100 gecs remix album on the train last weekend and that lead to me overthinking a little. It’s been around a year since I first stumbled upon 1000 gecs and that means I’m now able to get vaguely nostalgic about it – that album essentially just melted the brains of the extremely-online people I spend a decent chunk of my time texting and there’s something about the way it spread that I found exciting. Friends would eventually give in and watch the Money Machine video after getting hounded about the record for ages, get mad at how shite the song seemed, but then within a few days they’d start talking to me about constantly looping the album and how it was their favorite release of the year – I remember joking at the time about how 100 gecs was essentially a pandemic within my friend group, a joke which doesn’t really land anymore. The reasons behind this virality are extremely simple – this album was ironic enough to the point where it could serve as an easy punchline but genuine enough to the point where you could actually listen to it more than once. Dylan Brady and Laura Les are extremely skilled producers and songwriters and they genuinely set out to make catchy music, even if they dressed it up behind countless layers of irony and tacky MIDI soundfonts. Every single pretentious Autechre fan likes to pretend that with more “out there” music you just have to listen to it a few times until it reveals itself and suddenly feels poppy – 1000 Gecs is an album that actually does reveal itself once you get over the fact it sounds like Nightcore and that’s exactly what made it so memetic this time last year.
Alex G decided to remove the (Sandy) from his name a few weeks back and now my last.fm will feel slightly more inaccurate. Around this time three years ago I was the number one (Sandy) Alex G listener on last.fm (as I tagged all his records under his new name), giving me the lamest possible bragging rights when talking to disinterested Radiohead fans on the other side of the planet. That summer was a weird era of my life in hindsight – I’d stay up all night talking about menial things with someone who would later go on to soupify my brain, walk around Laois Shopping Centre in an insomnia-ridden haze in the hopes of staying awake, and then go home a few hours later and blare the same three or four albums until I eventually passed out. I think I’ve been listening to more music under lockdown than I did that summer but it just doesn’t feel as such – the words just seemed to mean more back then, even if that was just the result of solely using them as some weird method of escapism. I don’t remember exactly what spurred me on to actually listen to Alex Giannscoli’s discography that summer but I very quickly became obsessed with it, making up for lost time by looping tracks over and over until I went mental.