Thursday, December 31, 2020

A Difficult 2020 (To Say the Least)

Well, that was a shit sandwich of a year, but I’m doing all right, and feeling blessed that I came out intact. I’ve always expected that I’d experience a pandemic in my lifetime—these are the types of things I think about a lot as post-war Western Civilization winds down—and the idea never stressed me that much. If some terrible new disease broke out, I reasoned, we’d be able to isolate it and use our incredible communications infrastructure to let people know what to do to avoid the new plague. We’d have the tools; we’d have the science! We’d all knuckle down and quash the thing.

I forgot to factor in human stupidity, laziness, magical thinking, and the cult of rugged individuality (and the governments that arise from, and foster, that cult). My other apocalyptic fantasies—religion-crazed murder mobs, cyanide pills and so on—seem more likely in the couple decades of life I have left in me.

Again, I’m doing all right. I’m still working, and my employer has been more than generous about enabling us to work from home. My housing situation is secure and comfortable. My mom, pushing 90, remains healthy and has been a champion of independence and stoicism. My wife suffered a work-related loss, then seized an opportunity that has put her in a better position than ever. It was a brave move, and I’m incredibly proud of how she’s built a new business around her amazing self.

There are weeks where I’m just cruising along doing my thing, feeling like the luckiest SOB alive. Other times, I flash back to the whole list of events of 2020 and remember: this year sucked. SUCKED. No gigs, no festivals, no travel. Friends out of work and in distress. One of my best pals, a real guru of our cohort and one of the coolest people I’ll ever know, died a lonely, sudden death mid-year. My band, with two years of hard work and growing success behind it, imploded in the most ugly and humiliating way I could have imagined. The days when I’m feeling good about things, I wonder if my positivity is just a PTSD-induced mirage.

Here’s a list of a few things made 2020 a little less hideous.
  1. Guitar lessons. This was my first and best decision of 2020…which led to… 
  2. Dirty Vicar. Kyle and I did this thing out of boredom and love for heavy metal music, and it was the most magical creative convergence I’ve experienced since Huxley (true Diff Music insiders will know what I’m talking about). More to come in 2021! 
  3. Bandcamp Fridays. This is how I shopped for music in 2020. Support! 
  4. The JHS Show. For 20 minutes or so every Friday I’m blown away by the professionalism and plain old entertainment value provided by Josh as he ponders guitar pedal history, shines a spotlight on a particular maker, and talks about a favourite album, all interspersed with jams that hammer home the point that gear doesn’t count for squat if you don’t make good music with it. 
  5. Hot Wheels Racing. What is a man-child gonna do when the F1 season is postponed? Time for some gravity-fed racing that is far more unpredictable and action-packed than anything involving Lewis Hamilton. As with the JHS Show, the production values on my favourite channel are insane. 
And of course, the music. A whack of stuff that moved and inspired me, in no real order: 

Meredith Bates's debut solo album is a surreal journey through a landscape of bowed strings and effects. It reminds me of nights at Merge or the China Cloud when I can't decide whether to close my eyes and drift off, or stay alert and try to figure out how it's done. 

Black/death insanity that is both killer and local. 

Trying to decode this album's knotty language would be futile. Just know that it has Robert Wyatt and Mary Halvorson doing incredible things together.

Ross has a way with sounds both bleak and seductive.

Sam Barton is from the esteemed Teeth of the Sea, and in lieu of new TotS, Apple Acid Satin Walls easily tides me over. A real favourite release this year.

Rocket Recordings always brings the good stuff to light.

As ever, Zombi thrill and amaze with this surprisingly guitar-laden album.

I know this dude. I was there when he debuted a lot of this material at the Vancouver Jazz Fest, and it's so good to hear it in its final form. "Harmonium" has one of my favourite sick riffs of 2020.

Sarah Davachi had a productive year, providing my go-to work-from-home soundtrack with several releases throughout 2020. This one is her major work, though.

One of many things to slither out of Mattias Olsson's sonic laboratory this year, I will happily grapple with this barrage of Lovecraft-inspired heavy prog.

Everything is up for grabs these days, so why not some '80s nostalgia via the expertly sculpted synth-pop sounds of Jacob Holm-Lupo's The Opium Cartel? You can keep it light and be serious while doing it.

After Morbus Chron ended, founder Robert Andersson continued pursuing his very personal take on progressive death metal, naming his new project after the old band's final album. The music here steps sideways at every opportunity, but never loses you.

Let's end in my comfort zone. Elds Mark aren't a modern take on anything, or boldly combining genres or some foolish idea like that. These concise but satisfying jams are straight-up progressive rock that sound like they were released on some tiny underfunded label in 1975, and I'll drink to that.

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