ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Is Patrick Wall the only one here who gives a shit about the rules?

KNEE MEETS JERK: A Tragicomedy in Three Acts
Or, In Which a Mostly Retired Music Critic and Journalist Offers Brief, Non-Critical and Non-Sequitur Thoughts Only Tangentially Related to His Favorite Music of 2019. Because, Hey, Music Is Personal and Subjective, Right? 

Listed in alphabetical order. Results subject to change.

I’m not sure I know where to begin.

So maybe this is a place as good as any: In mid-December, when year-in-review lists started propagating, my friend Reid asked on Twitter how folks can keep up with the never-ending stream of just so much god damned stuff, let alone listen to it and hopefully connect to some of it.

My short answer is simple and practical: I keep a list. In years past, it’s been in a spiral-bound notebook or a Microsoft Word file; this year, it was in a Google Keep sticky note. If I listen to a record and it strikes me on some fundamental level, I make an entry on my list: the release date, the artist, the record, and the label that released it. Come the end of the year, compiling a favorites list is easy: I go back to my list. Some years, there’s a little chaff to be trimmed. Some years there isn’t. But the list helps keep the year-end panic at bay. 

The long answer is complicated.



I used to write about music for a living. I don’t anymore. I quit about halfway through the decade, ground down by the constant grind of the pitch cycle, by the burden of an inbox groaning under the weight of unread emails with watermarked promos, by the nerve-fraying vexation of having to repeatedly defend my opinions. Part of it was the pay grade, sure, but the fun went out of it, too. There is more music released on a daily basis than it is even possible to listen to. Digging through hundreds of albums a month in search of hidden gems became a chore. Content became currency. Human and algorithms blended inseparably. To put words onto a page was to scream into a garbled cacophony of voices. Good writing, bad writing — didn’t matter. It was all folly. Creating a top ten lists at the end of the year — the dick-measuringest of internet dick-measuring contests — even more so.

So I gave it up. 

My standard line is that I’m happier now. I don’t know how true that really is. Sure, regular hours and financial stability and health insurance are nice. But the way I interact with music has changed. My tastes have broadened. As I’ve become less interested in defending my opinions, I’ve become perhaps less attuned to them. I don’t know how fully I can articulate why I preferred a certain piece of music over the manifold other pieces of music floating around in the vast ether of the internet. I’m a moving target: My inclinations change in response to any manner of stimuli: whims, weather, mood, whatever. What I like today I might not like as much — or at all — tomorrow, let alone come the end of a month or a year or a decade. I engage with music on my own terms, but those terms are fluid, capricious, unexamined.

Taste, Susan Sontag wrote, has no systems and no proofs. But isn’t the unexamined life, as Socrates mused, not worth living?

All this is to say that I didn’t really search for any throughline in my listening habits in 2019. A cursory glance leaves a few suggestions: ambiance, isolation, confusion, nostalgia. Endless disappointment. Bone-deep dissatisfaction. 

So here’s what I focused on instead. I climbed two mountains. I played on a hockey team that, after winning exactly zero games in the previous two years, took home a tournament trophy. I went to my first professional development conference in a city I’d never been to and spent as much time biking and wandering around as I did networking. I set a number of personal bests: fastest crossword times, fastest miles, heaviest Olympic lifts.

This all means something, I’m sure. I do not know what that is.

It’s the primary circumstance of humanity that we are imperfect, that we are built upon an apotheosis that we can never fully attain. At every point in between our first breath and our last we are, therefore, continually guessing, grasping at straws to cobble a basic sense of self. Perhaps, in that way, we can never really know ourselves.

Sometimes, there aren’t endings. What we perceive as foreshadowing is ultimately a projection, devoid of tangible meaning. Sometimes, questions can’t be answered. Ultimately, this is all just a blip, the briefest of stops on a train that’s been running for four billion years since life bubbled out of the primordial ooze. Deadlines are arbitrary. So-called milemarkers delineate nothing. To say that achievements are meaningless is to state the obvious. Time turns everything to dust. Death destroys all memory. 

But the absence of intrinsic meaning allows us to ascribe our own meaning to what we do. It is because nothing has meaning unto itself that we are free to create meaning. 

As I age, and as I step farther away from being all-consumed by cultural criticism, it’s only been reinforced that I will never, ever be confident in any assessment that any one record is the quote-unquote best. That answer will change every day until I die. So what follows is just a best guess. Tomorrow, or the next day, or the one after that, I’ll remember some melody that moved me, or I’ll revisit a song or record that I connected with once but no longer do. No man, Heraclitus mused, can step twice in the same stream. Ain’t the same stream, after all. For that matter, ain’t the same man.

The point of liking music is finding some personal resonance in it, even if that resonance is inexplicable, its origins too Delphic to discern. Does knowing that I don’t know why I like a piece of music mean that I don’t know myself? Or does being free from the burden of communicating the pleasure I receive mean that I know myself fully? How do I even answer that question?

I’m not sure I even know where to begin.

I. Perspicacity
Or, Records Released in the Past Twelve Months That I Felt Compelled to Listen to More Than Once

75 Dollar Bill, I Was Real [Glitterbeat]
Joshua Abrams & Natural Information Society, Mandatory Reality [Eremite]
Altars Altars, Fragments [Home Normal]
Teodross Avery, After the Rain [Tompkins Square]
Jaimie Branch, Fly or Die II: Birds of Paradise [International Anthem]
Chris Cohen, Chris Cohen [Captured Tracks]
The Comet Is Coming, Trust in the Lifeforce of the Deep Mystery [Impulse!]
Floating Points, Crush [Ninja Tune]
Richard Dawson, 2020 [Domino]
Dibia$e, Bonus Levels [Fat Beats]
Fennesz, Agora [Touch]
Freddie Gibbs & Madlib, Bandana [Keep Cool]
Robert Glasper, Fuck Yo Feelings [Loma Vista]
Gotobeds, Debt Begins at 30 [Sub Pop]
Steve Gunn, The Unseen In Between [Matador]
Dave Harrington Group, Pure Imagination, No Country [Clandestine]
Loraine James, For You and I [Hyperdub]
Matt LaJoie, The Center and the Fringe [Flower Room]
Lake Mary & the Ranch Family Band, Sun Dogs [Whited Sepulchre/Full Spectrum]
Lambchop, This (is what I wanted to tell you) [Merge]
le berger, for an audience of not a single cow [self-released]
Loscil, Equivalents [Kranky]
Galcher Lustwerk, Information [Ghostly International]
Mdou Moctar, Ilana (The Creator) [Sahel Sounds]
Mount Eerie, Lost Wisdom Pt. 2 [P.W. Elverum & Sons]
Nérija, Blume [Domino]
Bill Orcutt, Odds Against Tomorrow [Palilalia]
Junius Paul, Ism [International Anthem]
Rapsody, Eve [Roc Nation]
r beny, Echo’s Verse [Dauw]
Resavoir, Resavoir [International Anthem]
Ronin Arkestra, First Meeting [Albert’s Favourites]
Sault, 5 [Forever Living Originals]
Seabuckthorn, Crossing [Eilean]
Gavin Singleton, Weak Intl. [s/r]
Julia Shapiro, Perfect Vision [Hardly Art]
Sunwatchers, Illegal Moves [Trouble in Mind]
Suss, High Line [Northern Spy]
William Tyler, Goes West [Merge]
Billy Woods & Kenny Segal, Hiding Places [Backwoodz]
Thom Yorke, Anima [XL]
zakè (扎克), Orchestral Tape Studies [Past Inside the Present]

II. Whimsy
Or, Bonus Tracks!: A Handful of Songs From Albums Not Listed Above

2 Chainz, “N.C.A.A.”
21 Savage, “a lot”
Big Thief, “Cattails”
Jordan Blackmon, “A New Hymn”
Caleb Burhans, “A Moment for Jason Molina”
Denzel Curry, “Ricky”
D’Angelo, “Unshaken”
Da Baby, “Suge”
Brittany Howard, “Stay High”
Killpete, “No Backseat”
Lizzo, “Juice”
Noname, “Song 31”
Oscillator Sink, “Pattern One”/”Pattern Two”
Jeff Parker & the New Breed, “Max Brown”
Sandro Perri, “Time (You Got Me)”
This Is Lorelai, “We Are Taking You Home”

III. Paradigm
Or, Notable Reissues & Archival Records

Richard Buckner, Dents and Shells [Merge]
John Coltrane, Blue World [Impulse!]
Duster, Capsule Losing Contact/Duster [Numero Group]
Brian Eno, Apollo: Atmospheres & Soundtracks [UMC]
Steve Roach, Quiet Music Vol. 1–3 [Projekt]
Sonny Sharrock, Ask the Ages [Hivemind]
Various, Kankyō Ongaku: Japanese Ambient, Environmental & New Age Music 1980-1990 [Light in the Attic]
Various, Nigeria 70: No Wahala: Highlife, Afro-Funk & Juju 1973-1987 [!K7 Music]
Various, No Other Love: Midwest Gospel (1965–1978) [Topmkins Square]

IV. Catharsis
Or, A Smattering of Good Live Sets

Rafiq Bhatia, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Massachusetts, March 1
Richard Buckner, Atwood’s Tavern, Cambridge, Massachusetts, November 2
Charnel Ground, Lilypad, Cambridge, Massachusetts, April 17
Kuzu, Nash Hall, Raleigh, North Carolina, September 7
Mdou Moctar, Kings, Raleigh, North Carolina, September 7
The Messthetics, Great Scott, Allston, Massachusetts, July 14
SUSS, Lizard Lounge, Cambridge, Massachusetts, November 21
William Tyler, Columbus Theatre, Providence, Rhode Island, February 23
Ken Vandermark & Nate Woolley, The Alternative Space, Watertown, Massachusetts, April 25

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