405. A$AP Rocky’s ‘Live Love A$AP’

As I’ve gotten older—and it’s how my mind works, really—I’ve come to mostly associate music with specific memories, rather than how the music makes me feel or whatever. I can’t really recapture what it was like to listen to Meteora every day in 11th grade, but I can remember driving around on a sunny day at lunch on time, listening to “Lying from You” and screaming and laughing with Matt and Nick about dumb shit and eating Burger King. 

When I listen to this, the first mixtape from A$AP Rocky, I remember listening to the entire thing while sitting hungover in the Notre Dame in Montreal, missing Wisconsin, wondering if I’d be able to score with that the radio programmer from L.A. (nope), and thinking about how God might not exist, but his houses on Earth are fucking awesome. I remember being worried about French directions on city busses, and smoking too much hash the night before my flight home and worrying I was going to be detained by homeland security. I remember seeing M83 in a weird monolithic art studio thing, and I remember trying to explain A$AP Rocky to a Belgian music writer.

And now, that I’ve bought a bootleg vinyl copy of this, I’ll always remember where I got it; Repo Records in Philadelphia, on a trip that included me and Graham going to MoMA, to the Philadelphia Art Museum, and to Barcade to meet Irene. I’ll remember waking up Irene’s roommates with Lil Boosie at 3 am, and showing up at a fancy bar for a birthday party for a girl I’d never met dressed in a Bray Wyatt T-shirt. I’ll remember Wrestlemania, and grilling steaks on a perfect Saturday, seeing a Flyers game, and rap squatting at the Liberty Bell.

I hope that my memory holds up as I get to old age, because I can’t imagine not being able to remember this stuff thanks to records. I guess as long as I keep them, hopefully I can keep the memories too.   

401. Kacey Musgraves’ ‘Same Trailer Different Park’

1. A few weeks ago, I wrote a concert review/thoughtpiece for Noisey about making the conscious choice to see Kacey Musgraves instead of Neutral Milk Hotel, a decision that confounded my friends (quote Matt: “Kaaaaccceeeyy Musgraves? Who is that? What? A country singer?” quote James: “fuck you”) but which really required no debate. Despite owning In The Aeroplane Over the Sea and being a member of Madison’s indie rock blogging cognoscenti, I never even considered going to see a band I liked when I was 19 over a woman who made one of my favorite albums last year. It wasn’t even a decision, and I think I came close to explaining why that is in that piece. 

2. Since about November, I’ve been reclaiming my pop country roots in a way I don’t think I would have ever considered a life possibility. From the ages of about 5 till 11, I listened to pop music—whatever was on MTV and VH1—and pop country. I have life memories related to Alan Jackson singles. I remember listening to Tim McGraw’s “Don’t Take The Girl” on a cassingle a bunch as a kid. I remember being in the back of the van on car trips and singing every song on No Fences with my entire family. I have seen more country music videos than you can imagine, because watching the CMT countdown on Saturday mornings has been my mom’s Saturday ritual since about 1995. 

But for a combination of reasons—wanting to set myself apart from my parents, wanting to establish myself as someone “too serious” to listen to country music, wanting to separate from the “hicks” in my school who listened to country and wore cowboy boots, despite living in nice houses far away from farms, building a #personalbrand—I stopped listening to country music all together. I never gave it any time in my listening schedule.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: quitting full time music blogging opened me up to being able to ONLY listen to shit I wanted to, instead of shit that could allow me to pay rent. And I can actually slow down and appreciate shit without having to jump to the next thing always. So after spending like 4 months this year playing Florida Georgia Line’s debut album after getting into them via Nelly and “Cruise,” I’ve been on a major pop country binge.  

Which I guess led to me spending the last month pretty much only listening to the new Dierks Bentley album (which rules), the Eric Church discography (rules even more), Kacey Musgraves, Taylor Swift, Florida Georga Line, and Luke Bryan. I wish I could explain why I’m so way back into country music, but part of me loving listening to those artists is that I am not forced to intellectualize it. I can just enjoy mouthing the words to “Bourbon in Kentucky” while I walk around campus and not caring about what it means that I have gotten more enjoyment from Dierks Bentley this year than anyone else really. 

I am not sure where I’ll end up with this pop country renaissance, but I know that I’m going to be buying tickets to Country USA, a country festival in my hometown, to see Luke Bryan and Florida Georgia Line, in June. 

395. Beastie Boys’ ‘Licensed to Ill’

1. It starts, as I suppose all these things do, with someone’s older brother. It is sometime in 1991-1992, and I am in kindergarten at Washington Elementary in Oshkosh. Back then, kindergarten was only a half day, and I went in the morning because my parents could then send me to a daycare in the afternoon. This daycare was in the basement of a church, and there were maybe 6 other kids my age; most of the daycare was taken up by 3-year-olds like my sister.

I don’t remember a whole lot about this daycare except for two things: 1. The time I pooped my pants and I tried to hide that fact by throwing my underwear in a locker, which of course was the locker actually assigned to me, so everyone knew it was me because the whole locker area smelt like shit and they found shit-filled Ninja Turtles underwear in my locker 2. the fact that for the kindergartners, the area where we hung out—this elevated room in the basement that was segregated off from the rest of the kids—had a boombox that we basically controlled. Most of our time was spent goofing off and wrestling and picking on the one girl in the room—it was 5 boys, 1 girl—but we also spent a lot of time fiddling around with that boombox. We listened to the radio mostly, but every once in a while, we’d play tapes that someone brought from home. Kyra, the girl, used to play New Kids on the Block, and then we used to have to BE New Kids on the Block for Kyra’s enjoyment (I suppose this what a PUA would call “building worth”).

But the tape I remember listening to the most was the tape of Licensed to Ill that Zach’s older brother gave to him. We played that shit over and over again, and “by that shit” I mean the three song stretch of “Girls,” “Fight For Your Right” and “No Sleep Till Brooklyn.” I remember headbanging to “Fight For Your Right” and “No Sleep Till Brooklyn” and slam dancing and basically being 6-year-old punks. I remember trying to get every word of “Girls” right, and I remember when the tape got taken away because our teacher—who spent most of her time sitting outside the room reading magazines and checking on us every half hour—finally heard that we were singing songs about wanting to have drunken parties while inside of a church.

I was supposed to tell my parents I was sorry for listening to that music—our teacher was trying to teach us “responsibility”—but I never did. I didn’t feel bad for liking the Beastie Boys.

2. 

3 . I know the Beastie Boys eventually began to hate this album—they never made anything close to it again, and felt bad about the subject matter—but as a kid who was born 7 months and 9 days before it came out, it’s one of the few albums that has been a constant my entire life. It’s in that ThrillerPurple Rain, seminal albums of the ’80s territory. I think a song from License has been played at every dance/wedding/church service I’ve been to my whole life. I played air guitar to “No Sleep Till Brooklyn” at my first dance in sixth grade, and then two weeks ago at a bar. I have no doubt that I will try to slam dance with another 80-year-old in the nursing home when “Fight For Your Right” comes on.

4. When I was in middle school, we had this school-wide project in English class, where for a quarter of the year, every English class wrote, filmed, and produced its own 10-minute movie, and then we had a film festival every year. It was a pretty cool thing to be involved in; it was basically the only thing everyone in school always looked forward to academically.

In sixth grade, the love story (there were sub groups in every class writing a script based on different genres) me and a group of girls wrote became the movie our class made, and I was a character actor in it—I played the fat weirdo in 3 separate scenes. In seventh grade, the science fiction script me and the two “hottest” guys in class wrote got selected and filmed, despite not having a third act…or a first or second one. But then in eighth grade, I was selected as director of our class film, a script about a kid who was dating two different girls at once, and then they conspire to sabotage a skateboarding contest he was in.

As part of being the “director” I was the principal editor, along with this girl Katie, who I had taken to a couple dances in 7th grade before it became clear that we liked each other mostly because we liked to argue angrily with each other in classes and at lunch.

So here’s where I’m going: as part of editing this movie, we had to pick music for scenes, and Katie and I had a very angry fight in the school library—where the editing computers were—over my insistence we use “Girls” as the soundtrack for a scene where the main character goes between dates at a restaurant. I don’t remember all of what I said, but I know she kept saying that that song was “misogynistic” and I was mostly mad that I didn’t know what that even meant because I was 14 and stupid.

I guess I remember this because it taught me that there are different ways to interpret songs, and that maybe I need to be aware of how other people will react to songs that I think are great. I also remember this because this would basically be the beginning of my exposure to the never-ending—which it shouldn’t end—misogyny and hip-hop battle.

Either way, the song was in the movie. I won.

5. 

6. The major thing I get from listening to this album in 2014 is how audacious the sample swipes are here; I mean Led Zeppelin, the Clash, Black Sabbath samples are on here, which would cost something like 12 billion dollars today.

But that’s maybe the most genius thing about the album. It was made to sell a generation of Middle Americans on hip-hop as an art form, and functionally, the album is a rock album with spoken vocals. There are more guitars on this than the newest Van Halen album.

I know it’s messed up that a white group helped prime a large population for rap music, but at the same time, I don’t think N.W.A. would have made as much of an impact in Wisconsin—my cousin Troy had their first album, and he lived in Wausau—if a generation of kids hadn’t listened to “Fight For Your Right” at every turn up function. We had no frame of reference for rap at all—and I don’t mean this in the Macklemore way of people who don’t listen to rap liking him, I mean that the Beastie Boys were the only rap group on pop radio in Wisconsin in the ’80s (my dad confirmed this)— until the Beasties. For that, they’ll always be Important.  

7. 

375. Freddie Jackson’s ‘Just Like The First Time’

1. One of my fashion goals for 2014 is to find an outfit that would make sense to wear with a cummerbund. Cummerbunds personify swag and not giving a fuck to me. They are the most obtuse man’s fashion accessory of all time, not including spats.

2. My record buying goal for 2014—well, in addition to maybe slowing doing so I can actually afford to go on the trips I have planned this year—is to get a record by every artist mentioned on “Slow Jamz,” and this is the record that made me think of doing that. Mostly because I knew the name Freddie Jackson but hadn’t listened to him until I bought this record for $3.

3. Turns out he sounds a lot like the Peabo Bryson albums my mom used to listen to when she cleaned the house on Saturday mornings when I was 5. Which is to say this hit a comfort food pleasure center for me, in a way I did not expect.

4. Also, this went platinum, which only goes to show that even if you are a platinum artist, you can be moved off the center of history and be discount bin fodder a quarter centry later.  

374. Willie Hutch’s ‘The Mack’

1. This is the best rap music video of all time, and it’s not even debatable. 

2. I put that there because, in case you were unaware, Willie Hutch’s “I Choose You” provides the backbone of “International Player’s Anthem.” Here’s the original. 

3. I’ve mentioned it a lot on my Twitter, and a little on here, but when I think back to what I did in 2013, the most life changing thing I did was start going to a karaoke bar. 

I’ve lived here for four and a half years, and until the first week of October, I had never thought about going to Karaoke Kid, Madison’s only dedicated karaoke spot. That was until a kid who works for me told me he goes there every weekend, without fail, and that performing karaoke was the best thing he did every week. So I had a four day weekend in October, and I invited 10 of my student employees to my downtown apartment, and we drank a bunch of beer and went to the Karaoke bar. 

I don’t want this to be another one of those, “Karaoke is a transformative experience” thinkpieces 45-year-old music writers sometimes get commissioned to write, but seriously performing karaoke totally rules. James, the kid who went every weekend, said to me after my first performance that he could tell I liked it because, “it allows you to be the star you’ve assumed you are in your head,” and damn if that 21-year-old wasn’t right. The song I did first? Bun B’s verse on “International Player’s Anthem”, with three kids doing verses and one singing Willie Hutch’s part. 

4. Now the song has become something I do everytime I do karaoke. I think I’ve done it 10 times, including 3 or 4 times alone, rapping every verse. It’s not exactly a song that fires up the typical karaoke bar crowd in Madison, Wisconsin, on a Wednesday night—though one time a guy bought me a drink because he couldn’t believe I had nailed every verse because “you didn’t look like you had it in you” he said—but I’ve come to realize that that doesn’t matter. Karaoke is ultimately about using someone else’s song to sing and forget the bullshit you have in your life.

It’s not at all about entertaining other people for me; it’s entirely about proving to myself that I can do it, and forgetting for a moment that I have a car note due via yelling “my bitch a choosy lover never fuck without a rubber” into space in front of 8 friends and 30 strangers. One of the girls who came out with us last weekend said, “Don’t you guys (me and James) get sick of doing that song? No one here knows it except me.” And we both kind of laughed and said we didn’t care. We do it as a warmup song before doing whatever else we’re gonna do that night, and one time we paid $10 to do it at 2 a.m. right when the bar was closing. I did it this past weekend and I think I’m doing it next weekend. And I’ll probably do “International Player’s Anthem” again.

5. Which is why I bought this Willie Hutch album. UGK’s Underground Kingz album isn’t on vinyl, and the only way I can see clear to pay someone via royalties for a song that has been such a huge part of my social life the last 4 months. RIP, Willie Hutch. RIP Pimp C. 

372. The Gap Band’s ‘Gap Band VII’

1. This cover is swag personified. 

2. This is apparently a “lesser” Gap Band album, but since I haven’t heard all of them—I want to listen to them only on vinyl, I’ve resisted torrenting their discography except for jumping around on YouTube—but I still found a lot to love here. When Gap Band get in slow jam mode—as they do on “I’ll Know We’ll Make It”—they give hints that Charlie could solo and would be capable as the hired gun old school soul crooner Kanye hired him as for Yeezus

3. I found it inconceivable that the Gap Band were from Oklahoma; I kind of assumed they were from D.C. or Detroit. Can you name any band other than Flaming Lips and Gap Band to come out of Oklahoma? Yeah me neither. 

371. The Gap Band’s ‘Gap Band V: Jammin”

1. Inconceivably, this is actually the Gap Band’s seventh album.

2. One of the things I think a lot of us love about music is that there is always this opportunity to unearth some band you never knew existed or had hardly listened to, and then become completely engulfed in tearing open their discography. The Gap Band are a recent discovery for me—I’ve heard “You Dropped a Bomb On Me,” of course—but I didn’t know that the band had a huge discography of awesome funk and R&B albums. It took Charlie Wilson showing up on British TV this summer with Kanye to do “Bound 2” to make me realize that I had somehow missed an incredible performer and needed to get everything I could by him. This album is like listening to a really awesome block party from 1984 that had some killer weed and a killer band. 

3. That said, I live in a city that doesn’t have a whole lot of classic ’80s R&B and funk in its record stores, so it took till I went to North Carolina to find this (and the next entry). Gap Band are number one on the list I have in my phone of records to look for at record stores, and I imagine it’ll be like that for a while, unfortunately. I feel like I’ll be looking for the record with “Dropped a Bomb On Me” for a while.    

4. We need more wrestling ring danceoffs in music videos: 

367. Blood Orange’s ‘Cupid Deluxe’

I don’t have much to say about this Blood Orange album except for that I really like it and put it on my Pazz and Jop ballot this year (shouts to Drew Millard for joining me in the “Hey Porsche” mafia).

I figured I’d use this space—since this is one of my favorite albums of 2013—to run down my favorite movies of 2013. I think it’s possible I saw something like 60 movies in theaters this year, and here’s my favorite 20.

20. Act of Killing- Because it ends with a mass murderer suddenly realizing that what he had done was wrong, and you get to watch a man realize that he’s a monster.  

19. Rush—Because for 2 hours it was able to convince me that two insufferable people driving cars really fast was worthy of my attention, no small feat.

18. Blue is the Warmest Color—Because this was a really great capturing the arc of new love to no love, even if it was overlong.

17. Drinking Buddies—Because no romantic comedy has ever been this real, and also ended how things usually happen in real life: you flirt with making the gigantic romantic move towards the partner it would be the least rational to pair off with, and you never do.

16. The Great Gatsby- Fuck the haters; this was better than the Redford version. The book I’ve read the most gets the over the top, overblown movie edition it deserves. 

15. Wolf of Wall Street—This was lowkey 2013’s greatest endurance test and wish fulfillment movie, as you got to spend 3 hours imagining what and who and what drugs you would do if you had untold millions and Leonardo DiCaprio’s face. Watched old people flee the theater during this, and saw it with Dave Reyneke in Raleigh, good times.

14. Room 237- Because never has a movie made me feel higher when I wasn’t high. And also make more sense while being completely crazy. And also I watched it drunk once and it made even less sense.

13. The World’s End—Because no movie has captured how epic the nights with your 20 year old friends feel, and how nostalgic you are for them, even if you are now 27 (or 40, in the case of the guys in this movie) and you realize it’s dumb to be nostalgic for the time you threw up in a gas station parking lot. 

12. Pacific Rim—Because it turns out watching giant robots punch giant aliens for 2 hours fucking rules.

11. This Is The End—Not so secretly the best comedy of the year by a wide margin. Aspire to behave like Danny McBride’s intro scene every morning when I wake up.

10. Place Beyond the Pines—Because it’s a movie about how dads kind of shape everything dudes are, and it’s beautiful, and it has a great left turn in that Ryan Gosling—the person you expect the movie to be about—dies ½ the way in.

9. Spring Breakers—Because no movie had a better character (James Franco’s Alien) and because Matt, Danielle and I saw it together opening weekend along with only 2 other people in the screening, and me and Matt were the only 2 who realized that it was meant to be a hilarious comedy. Gucci Mane’s scenes have become so overrated, they might be underrated now.

8. Her-I don’t think I buy the criticism that this movie is about how a man chooses to jerk off to a computer instead of dealing with the (admittedly written as shrill) women who occupy his life. Mostly I think this is about how being able to replace the loneliness that has become part of modern society—and to avoid the real emotions you have when other people are in an IRL relationship with you—with a computer screen is probably not a net positive, and that maybe the computers are making us feel less connected and more alone than ever. Also I mostly think you were supposed to read Joaquin Phoenix’s character as a fucking asshole, not as a hero, which is hard for people to do. I wish I could have fallen as hard for this as some of my peers, but I still greatly enjoyed it. 

7. Behind the Candelabra-Because it should have been in theaters and Michael Douglas should be winning Oscars, and it led to me and my mom arguing for an hour about whether or not Liberace was a tragic figure (she said he was a sex predator, I said he was so sad).

6. Don John- Because the scenes when he looks at porn are so well acted, so true to life, hit so close to home (sorry mom) and because for a week it made me and all my friends wonder if maybe we have been fucked up by our Internet proclivities.

5. Blackfish—Because I’ve seen this 10 times now—shouts out to Netflix—as it’s become my dinner default for something to watch. It bothers me how I never thought of Sea World as a shitty circus until this movie, and it bothers me that people would think that whales killing people because they are bored is anything other than an incredible tragedy. 

4. Fruitvale Station—Because no movie has made me feel like I needed to make a march on something like this one, no movie has made me feel as shitty as this one, and no movie in 2013 made me feel like being a sobbing mess more than this one.

3. 12 Years a Slave—I don’t know what I can say here other than that it’s powerful and Steve McQueen deserves all the awards. 

2. Frances Ha—Because no movie captures what it’s like to be 27, what it’s like to be overwhelmed by adulthood, what it’s like to be struggling to make a career in the arts, what it’s like to feel alone together, what it’s like to feel abandoned by more “mature” friends, what it’s like to realize being an adult sucks, what it feels like to worry about that $2.00 ATM fee, what it feels like to struggle, what it feels like to go home as an adult and what it feels like to feel like you’ve peaked better than this one.  

1. Inside Llewyn Davis—This is the only movie I’ve paid to see twice in the theaters since There Will Be Blood in 2007, and coincidentally, it’s the first movie since that one that I walked out of thinking was a stone cold, brilliant, instant classic. It’s about how “authenticity” is a trap, it’s about how hard it is to be a musician, it’s about how maybe being an asshole doesn’t get covered by being a “genius,” it’s about how folk music was a weird uniform for people, it’s about selling out, it’s about not selling out, it’s about how no matter how together you think your life is shit will still hit the fan, it’s about how cats are horrible animals to keep as pets, it’s about how ultimately everything you do in life is determined by how much money you can make someone else, it’s about a crazy era in popular culture, it’s about how Justin Timberlake is great in everything always, it’s about how your life is really just a series of repeating events, and it’s about the ultimate futility of existence, really. I just got back from seeing it the second time, and was bowled over, again. Hang me, oh hang me.  

366. Big Star’s ‘Radio City’

According to the documentary on Big Star, Nothing Can Hurt Me, Big Star weren’t even going to make this record—Chris Bell had left the band—and were kind of just settling into life post-being in Big Star, and then there was a rock writer’s convention in Memphis, and they needed a headlining Memphis band, and there was no other band worth booking other than Big Star. The band played the show, and then reformed—minus Bell—and recorded this album. This leads to some questions:

1. Can you imagine a band/a promoter/anyone paying to fly 100 music critics anywhere to do anything today?

2. Is this the first and only time music critics were an indirect cause of music being made? 

3. Is this the best thing any music critics have ever done?