Chris’s Favorite Music of 2012

January 3rd, 2013 | Posted by:

Between the release of Faitheist, HCH’s most ambitious interfaith food packaging event, our blogathon, and the interfaith conference call set up by the SSA and IFYC, it was a pretty big year for NPS. Now that the year is out, it’s time to reflect on what made 2012 significant to us: the music. (Don’t forget to check out Vlad’s, Walker’s, and Stephen’s!)

When I was around 12 years old, I began a tradition that brought each year to a close. To conclude the year, I’d write a list of my favorite songs and albums released that year. When I got to college, I became the A&E editor of the school paper, and I got to do it for publication. Even after I graduated, I continued the tradition—sure enough, you can find overly exhaustive and hugely self-indulgent lists here on NonProphet Status from 2009 and 2010.

But then life got much busier. I kept listening to a lot of music—I spend at least half of my waking hours doing so—but I had less time to search out new artists and albums, and even less to put together a list of my favorites. But as I wrote in a soundtrack song list for Faitheist that I put together recently for Largehearted Boy, music is one of the ways I most readily find meaning.

This year has been one of the most challenging and exciting of my life, and I’ve relied on good music more than ever before. So, along with the other NPS writers, I decided to indulge in my tradition this year during a day I had off from work. (Don’t ask me about the state of my email inbox, please.) Below, a few of my favorites from the year.

1. John Grant, Pale Green Ghosts

Technically this is cheating, as Pale Green Ghosts won’t be released until March 2013. But I couldn’t leave it off the list, because it’s the best thing I listened to all year. Like his last album, the stunning Queen of Denmark (one of my all-time favorite records, which I unfortunately discovered exactly one week after publishing my list of favorite albums of 2010), Grant’s forthcoming release is a rich, complex, and unexpectedly charismatic set of songs that exemplify a man unafraid to forge new ground and open up old wounds. For his second solo album, Grant diversifies—ably demonstrating that, even after the jawdropping scope of Queen of Denmark, he still had some new tricks up his sleeve. His ability to marry dark humor with visceral emotion is unparalleled, and his voice is an international treasure. Grant is a once-in-a-generation songwriter, and the last song on the album just might be his masterpiece. Don’t miss this exquisitely heartbreaking and hilarious album when it is released later this year.

2. Lana Del Rey, Born to Die / Paradise

Music blogs and gossip websites were consumed for much of 2012 by a single inescapable question: “Is Lana Del Rey for real?” I frequently found myself asking the same question, but for different reasons. In my eyes, the rabid and often ugly inquisition concerning her authenticity missed the point; many a performer has changed his or her name, or written and sung about imagined experiences. “Authentic” or not, a more interesting question is whether a musician creates work that is compelling, convincing, and challenging. In 2012, no album was more rapturous, lush, languorous, and consuming than Born to Die and its appendix EP, Paradise. Questions will continue to swirl around Del Rey—especially regarding whether the way she sometimes plays with unquestionably problematic gender conventions is an intentional effort to subvert them, or just poorly conceived shock-bait—but, for now, her music is impossible to deny.

3. The Weeknd, Trilogy

A compilation of three previously released mixtapes (updated for this release and paired with a few new tracks), Trilogy is overflowing with haunting chronicles of consumption and regret. That these songs were originally given away for free says nothing about their quality; in fact, it suggests that there is much more to come from this relative newcomer. This stunning collection of cautionary tales about love gone wrong and the dark side of overindulgence could easily have become navel-gazing overkill—but, upon listening, you’ll be hard pressed to not revel in his stuttering, soulful despair.

4. Frank Ocean, Channel Orange

When Ocean came out this year, I wondered if his revelation would eclipse his artistic output. Would the focus shift entirely to this brave and important act, and would people be unable to focus on his music? When Channel Orange was released, such concerns were erased. Quite simply, this album speaks for itself. Ocean is an earnest and evocative storyteller, and on this album his poetic songwriting is matched by a gorgeous, flexible vocal range and a diverse array of sounds that leap across music genres. Some tracks are undeniably slick and forward-thinking; others are raw and classically soulful. This transcendent debut is more assured than many a musical veteran’s, and he’ll be one to watch for years to come.

5. Ellie Goulding, Halcyon

For much of this album, Goulding collaborates with Jim Eliot, who previously contributed to Will Young’s equally evocative Echoes. Though “Lights,” a song she released several years ago that became a massive radio hit in the U.S. in 2012, is bubbly and light, much of Halcyon is sumptuous, dark, and brooding. But it’s far from a buzzkill. Experimental and multifaceted, this is an album that twists and turns—tying the listener into knots that, even hours after listening, are difficult to untie.

6. The Tallest Man on Earth, There’s No Leaving Now

Tender and spare, There’s No Leaving Now is less of an emotional steamroller than his last—and, while it doesn’t hit as hard as The Wild Hunt, there is much to love here. Kristian Matsson’s voice is an incredible instrument, and his music and lyrics are wistful and packed with longing. Give this album several listens to let it sink in, and you’ll find yourself sinking along with Matsson.

7. Kendrick Lamar, good kid, m.A.A.d city

After an impossibly hyped mixtape, Kendrick Lamar emerges with grit and conviction on good kid, m.A.A.d city, and he doesn’t hold back. Packed with clever and honest commentary offered over dazzling, crisp production, this album turns hip-hop tropes on their head and reveals a flawed man with great intentions, surprising empathy, and a sense of humor. A landmark debut.

8. Garbage, Not Your Kind of People

The long-awaited return of Garbage finds them sounding as urgent as ever. Taking the hard edge of Bleed Like Me, the calculated perfection of beautifulgarbage, the anthemic electrorock of Version 2.0, and the signature sound of their debut, they mash these sounds together to create what may be their most cohesive album yet. Unlike a certain album from another popular band from the 90s that staged a return this year, Not Your Kind of People doesn’t sound like an aging group pandering to recent shifts in popular music. They stick to doing what they do best, and it works to great effect. They might have counted on nostalgia to drum up interest for a new album after years of silence, but this veering, punchy, thrilling rush of an album demonstrates why didn’t need to.

9. Nada Surf, The Stars Are Indifferent to Astronomy

“Consistent” is one of those words that is often not meant as a compliment. Particularly when used to describe a musician’s catalog—more often than not, what someone is really saying when they use the word “consistent” is that a musician’s output is predictable and perhaps even boring. But Nada Surf is consistent in the best possible way, delivering a new album of pop-rock as solid, shimmering, and anthemic as any other they’ve released. If only every band was so, y’know, consistent.

10. Jessie Ware, Devotion

Listening to Devotion, one hears a splash of Sade and a dash of Aaliyah. But even the homages to other artists (it’s hard to listen to her cover of “What You Won’t Do For Love” from the album’s deluxe edition and not think of Aaliyah’s early hit “Age Ain’t Nothing But a Number,” which famously incorporated lyrics from the song) feel consummately original. Confident, collected, contagious, and cool—Devotion sounds like a classic.

11. Rye Rye, Go! Pop! Bang!

M.I.A.’s protege more than holds her own on her long-delayed debut full length, delivering huge beats, quick-witted rhymes, and an irrepressible personality. From the first track to the last, this is a party that rarely misses a beat.

12. Tame Impala, Lonerism

Buzzy, fuzzy, and a bit scuzzy… Tame Impala’s stomping rock surprises by sounding so damn lovely. This is an album of layers, perfect for summer getaways and late nights in an empty apartment.

13. Azealia Banks, Fantasea / 1991

A mixtape and EP that easily surpass many artists’ full-fledged releases. If these are a taste of what’s to come with her debut full-length album, out this year, then get ready for a genre-shattering smash.

14. Marina and the Diamonds, Electra Heart

Whether it was Marina herself, or her label, or her public relations folks… Somewhere along the way, someone constructed a narrative that tried to pass this album off as a concept record where Marina is inhabiting a character, ironically performing as a sad rich girl in order to explore the questions of morality such stories raise. But this record isn’t really about that character; media narrative aside, Electra Heart is permeated by a sense of loss in two respects. Fundamentally, it’s a break-up record—but there’s also a sense that Marina let go of some of what made her debut album so charming and creative in order to descend into the intimacy of rejection and the escapism of faux superficiality it can inspire. But Electra Heart is ultimately saved by its massive pop hooks, its quiet moments of introspection, and Marina’s quirky personality, which no amount of conceptual posturing could hide.

15. Donkeyboy, Silver Moon

Silver Moon is entirely entertaining; equal parts light and dark, it is a gorgeously realized collection of progressive pop.

Bonus: Nicki Minaj, (the first half of) Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded

Though the second half of the album suffers under the weight of its maker’s desire to be the world’s biggest popstar, the talented rapper that upstaged everyone with her mixtapes and guest features reemerges with a fire in her belly on the first half of this album (as well as its rerelease, Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded – The Re-Up). I don’t hate the serviceable power-pop that follows, but a part of me wishes she would leave that to others and stick to what she does best: delivering wicked, wild, and utterly wacky spitfire rhymes that reveal no greater ambition than the hat trick of delivering a barbed flow with her tongue firmly planted in her cheek.

After the jump, some very worthy honorable mentions…

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Vlad’s Favorite Music of 2012

January 1st, 2013 | Posted by:

Between the release of Faitheist, HCH’s most ambitious interfaith food packaging event, our Blogathan, and the interfaith conference call set up by the SSA and IFYC, it was a pretty big year for NPS. Now that the year is out, it’s time to reflect on what made 2012 significant to us: the music.

2012 was a pretty crazy year for me, and the music was absurdly good. Thus, I have a lot of Thoughts:

10. Beach House “Bloom”

Dream pop due Beach House caught mainstream attention in 2010 with their third album, Teen Dream. Since, adjectives like “ethereal” and “nostalgic” have been used to describe their sound, and it’s particularly appropriate for their latest album, Bloom. Victoria Legrand’s vocals feel airy and occasionally dark over Alex Scally’s dreamy and reverberated riffs. While the album isn’t particularly unique for Beach House, it’s nonetheless a highly textured and beautiful work.

Standout tracks are Myth and the somewhat dark and chiptune-esque Lazuli.

9. Crystal Castles “(III)” 

Crystal Castles third album, (III), is dark. The album artwork is a photograph of a mother holding her son who has been teargassed during a demonstration, and it’s an appropriate symbol. (III) is all about the horrible things we do to one another, with songs as morbid and haunting as their titles. With songs like “Pale Flesh,” “Wrath of God,” “Violent Youth,” and “Child I Will Hurt You,” the track list reads more like a coroner’s notebook than an electronic album. The music is pretty standard Crystal Castles, though without much of the griminess that characterized their second album and glitchy pop-mindedness that characterized their first. Nonetheless, there’s a lot of depth and sophistication in keeping with what continues to make Crystal Castles a powerful duo.

Standout tracks are Plague and Affection 

8. Grimes “Visions”

Grimes recorded Visions on Garage Band over a three-week period in her apartment, and it was released in January of this year to almost universal acclaim. It’s a quirky, human, and unusually engaging project. Songs can be airy one moment, churning in the next, and overall haunting in an endearing sort of way. Often danceable and sometimes lost in its own hollowness, Visions shows what a strange young woman with a slight lisp and a lot of talent can make alone on an apartment floor.

Standout tracks are Genesis and Visiting Statue.

 7. Alt-J “An Awesome Wave”

Alt-J is a difficult band to describe, but An Awesome Wave is as compelling a debut as any indie-rock quartet can hope for. It’s a well-layered, personal, and surprisingly unique work. The vocals have perfect indie quirkiness, the instrumentation is varied enough to avoid repetitveness—it’s one of the few albums this year where the drums were interesting enough for me to notice—and the songs have a personality that’s really hard to place. Alt-J has a tendency to eschew labels, and though An Awesome Wave is hardly a groundbreaking addition to 2012′s musical canon, it’s definitely an engaging one.

Standout tracks are Breezeblocks and Matilda.

6. Sleigh Bells “Reign of Terror”

I remember the first moment I was really impressed by Sleigh Bells. “Infinity Guitars,” a song from their highly acclaimed debut, Treats, is loud and abrasive, with just a simple drum beat and electric guitar. But during the last forty seconds or so there’s a screech of feedback and the song explodes. There’s something interesting that Sleigh Bells can do with loudness, and they are very good at what they do. Their long-awaited sophomore album, Reign of Terror, shares much of the same dynamic control and brashness that made Treats so enjoyable. Alexis Krauss is perfect as the leather jacket-clad vocalist with an almost paradoxical sensitivity in her voice. Reign of Terror is slightly more refined that Treats. It’s also a bit more nostalgic, trading a cheerleader aesthetic for some 80′s inspired metal. Whatever it is, it’s an interesting and encouraging direction for Sleigh Bells.

Standout tracks are Comeback Kid and Demons.

5. Cloud Nothings “Attack on Memory”

I don’t like to admit it, but I was something of a scene kid in high school. I had shoulder length hair and wore skinny jeans before it was even socially acceptable, and I had an embarrassing taste in music. The shows I would go to often involved whiny singers and mosh-pits, and I loved every second of it. Cloud Nothings is something of a spiritual successor to the emo and post-hardcore music that had its peak in the early 2000′s, and it feels perfect for scenesters like me who have grown up and moved on. I may be projecting, but I hear hints of Taking Back Sunday in songs like “Stay Useless” and Green Day in songs like “Fall In.” Attack on Memory is a hugely unique, fun, and a refreshingly heavy album that seems to represent the spirit and ethos of the hardcore millennial.

Standout tracks are Stay Useless and Fall In.

4. Kishi Bashi “151a” 

Kishi Bashi may very well be one of the most unique and delightful new artists to gain mainstream attention in 2012. 151a brings the skills of a talented composer and violinist to bear on contemporary folk and indie music. Though comparisons to Owen Pallett and Andrew Bird abound, Kishi Bashi approaches his music with a weird mix of Avant-garde originality and endearing sincerity. Each song on 151a is textured with rich strings, elements of electronic music, and vocal harmonies and falsettos that often come in spurts of Japanese. It’s a nice injection of an original-sounding orchestral artist in a year that, in a lot of ways, was geared toward nostalgic music with retro elements.

Standout tracks are Manchester and Bright Whites.

3. Kendrick Lamar “good kid, m.A.A.d city” 

At the start of “Backseat Freestyle,” Kendrick Lamar invokes Martin Luther King Jr before praying for his dick to grow big enough to fuck the world. I think that more or less captures the ambitious scope of good kid, m.A.A.d city, a work which is already being touted as a classic hip-hop album that brings Compton back into the mainstream rap scene. It’s a work that is as honest as it is uncompromising in its compelling narrative of a young man caught up with the gangs, drugs, and violence. This album hearkens back to feel of old school hip-hop, but treats it with a modern edginess that, along with tight rapping and catchy hooks, has ensured that good kid, m.A.A.d city is a commercial and musical success.

Standout tracks are Swimming Pool [Drank] and Backseat Freestyle.

2. How to Dress Well “Total Loss”

“Say My Name or Say Whatever” starts with a spoken-word recording of a boy who says “The only bad part about flying is having to come back down to the fucking world.” If philosophy graduate student Tom Krell’s first release as How to Dress Well, Love Remains, was about flying, then his sophomore follow-up Total Loss is that heart-wrenching process of returning to land. The album is a sparse, minimalist, and expansive project that explores human relationships and the grief left by loss. Krell rarely breaks his somewhat thin falsetto, but it works well with the reverberated and hollow aesthetic of the album. Light pejoratives like PBR&B have been used characterize the music of How to Dress Well, as well as his contemporaries like The Weeknd or AlunaGeorge, and there may be an element of truth to that. But it ignores a lot of the sophistication that makes this album, and How to Dress Well as an artist, something more compelling than just a hipster response to R&B music.

Standout tracks are Cold Nites, & It Was U, and Say My Name or Say Whatever

1. Purity Ring “Shrines” 

A$AP Rocky played over the loudspeakers at the album release show in Le Poisson Rouge in New York, and I noticed that the pairing felt really appropriate. There’s something about Purity Ring that fits really well with the slow and chillwave inspired hiphop that producers like Clams Casino have recently popularized. After the 2011 release of only one song, “Ungirthed”—a bizarrely hooking mix of churning dreampop and grimy witch-house influences—Purity Ring garnered impressive buzz. They went on a tour that spanned the U.S. and Europe after having only released three songs (such is the trajectory of success in the internet age), and it seemed that their debut could do little but disappoint in light of such high expectations. But Shrines has done anything but. There’s something haunting and tender about the album; it has a lot of pop and dance influences, but it constantly plays with the notion of intimacy as something inherently morbid. Lyrics like “Cut open my sternum and pull//my little ribs around you” in “Fineshrine” and “Drill little holes into my eyelids//that I might see you when I sleep” in Belispeak sound disturbingly saccharine with the light and simple vocals of Megan James. While Shrines might not have the most variety of any album released this year, what it does often it does consistently and very well.

Standout tracks are all of it. Seriously. But if I’d have to pick: Ungirthed, Fineshrine, and Lofticries

Favorite songs (not listed above) and in no particular order:

The xx “Angels” 
Chairlift “I belong in your arms” 
Taylor Swift “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together”
Earl Sweatshirt “Chum”
Kanye West “Mercy”
El-P “The Full Retard”
Of Monsters and Men “Litte Talks”
Icona Pop “I love it”
MIA “Bad Girls”
AlunaGeorge “Your Drums Your Love” 

Vlad Chituc is a lab manager and research assistant in a social neuroscience lab at Duke University. As an undergraduate at Yale, he was the president of the campus branch of the Secular Student Alliance, where he tried to be smarter about religion and drink PBR, only occasionally at the same time. He cares about morality and thinks philosophy is important. He is also someone that you can follow on twitter.

Stephen’s Favorite Music of 2012

December 29th, 2012 | Posted by:

Between the release of Faitheist, HCH’s most ambitious interfaith food packaging event, our Blogathan, and the interfaith conference call set up by the SSA and IFYC, it was a pretty big year for NPS. Now that the year is out, it’s time to reflect on what made 2012 significant: the music.

2012 was the year I got into Sufjan Stevens and Astronautalis and rediscovered The Smiths and Elliott Smith (no relation). This was not the year I got into new or relevant music in a timely fashion. I guess what I’m trying to say is that I’m not “with it,” “hip,” “happening,” and/or “cool.” Squareness aside, I did listen to some great new music from one of my favorite bands, Why?, and I think you should consider giving them a listen, too.

Why? is a weird band and it’s hard to describe them without falling into cliché, so forgive me. They’re part rap, part hip hop, and part indie rock, with a definite emphasis on rap. This is why I am so attracted to Why?’s music: it is at once diverse and difficult to categorize despite being consistent. Their music is a lot like people in this way: coherent but hard to pin down.

This summer, they released an EP titled Sod in the Seed followed by a full-length album, Mumps, etc. Sod in the Seed was my summer soundtrack, and iTunes tell me I played the title track, which also appears on Mumps, etc., 96 times since purchasing it. Unlike the older Why? rap songs which punctuated my high school years which had a stream-of-consciousness flow, the new raps on Sod and Mumps come across as a bit more confidant and a bit more structured. This new quality has earned Why? one of the least favorable reviews from Pitchfork I’ve ever read (and frontman Yoni Wolf says it’s the worst review he’s ever gotten). I think this review greatly misses the mark and, contrary to Pitchfork, Why?’s newest music contains some of the most honest lyrics to come out of independent music in a long time. Below are some songs which I think especially stand out and made 2012 enjoyable for me.

Sod in the Seed

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U7yci4ib_z0&w=400&h=225]

Yeah, the music video is weird. And for this reason, it’s been really polarizing (read the comments, or don’t). With its white backgrounds and colorfully attired hipsters, the video looks like it’s advertising some new Apple product and a throwaway Mac G4 reference doesn’t help dissuade you that it’s not. What Why? achieves in aping the style of an iPod commercial is an atmosphere of luxury and frivolity to display as the backdrop outlining the accompanying guilt that follows moderate success. Wolf’s self-critical lyrics (“What, does it make me evil?/ Am I a feeble deranged fuck?”) come hard and fast in four verses segmented by the chorus “I’ll never shirk this first world curse/ A steady hurt and a sturdy purse.” The combination is deeply powerful: though the lyrics seem cocky, it is actually Wolf thinking hard in a self-deprecating fashion about what his “first world” problems really amount to. Plus, this song has some of the best internal rhyme scheme you will ever hear:

New corpus publicist, thanks ya bud
As hundred bucks worth of wordy blogger thugs
Come forth forthwith to four seasons aflood
To morbidly orbit your toilet like hornets abuzz
Forming above like buzzards in love
When you first wake up, spitting sick from the gut
And shitting black blood at six

See why my play count’s now up to 100?

Strawberries

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=47u8kSRusfE&w=400&h=225]

Mirroring a stylistic feature of their last full length album Eskimo Snow, “Strawberries,” the second song on Mumps, etc. is tightly connected to the preceding song with a smooth transition. While this song features singing, not rapping, from Wolf, his brilliant skills as a wordsmith still come through:

Itching like an intern with a sunburn
For what a stone unturned covers
I don’t wear rubbers and I don’t wear sunscreen
I want to heat my hide, not hide under something

“Strawberries” is the Why? song my friends who don’t like Why? like. It’s just weird enough to interest you, but accessible enough for all you ‘normal’ people. I’ve found it a great starting point for getting my friends into the band I love.

Kevin’s Cancer

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xqwsj8ylLgA&w=400&h=225]

I hate how often atheist writers connect every movie, song, or sandwich they experience to their lack of belief. That said, I’m going to connect “Kevin’s Cancer” to my lack of belief (sorry). This song was written for a fan who died of the big C and it documents in an abstract way the “vague, indefinite afterlife scenarios” the terminal fan had “on loop… in the rustiest back silos of [his] mind.” The chorus hits home for any religious doubter:

Oh I know with no uncertainty
That I’m uncertain and I don’t know
I know with no uncertainty
Kevin’s cancer said

Because my own atheism is tightly interwoven with the experience of being a cancer survivor, this song has a special significance for me and It’s become a sentimental anthem I’ve adopted.

Bitter Thoughts

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N7v9psZWwSs&w=400&h=225]

Something that’s great about “Bitter Thoughts” is that it has Wolf’s trademark tongue-twister lyrics spaced out at a slow, even tempo. This makes it easy to appreciate all of the contents he packs into his verses:

A pallid sallow corpse for a rising hell to swallow
Fully unarmed or armed under the robes with a staff only
Or unarmed fully under the robes
Through the ribs and inner body but
But for a bulging lung of poison
Poised to voice its cuts
And what’s worse, of course
The sick and biley guts

Paper Hearts

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uyjK4RTCG9M&w=400&h=225]

Like “Bitter Thoughts,” “Paper Hearts” is a slow rap. I think this song succeeds a little better than “Bitter Thoughts” at evoking emotion, though, perhaps because of the swells of inflection Wolf will supply on lines like:

The wind is at my back anew
But still I feel the lack of you
Oh, you were so heavy in my heart, boo
That soon no longer could my true heart hold you

In terms of lyrical content, “Paper Hearts” also has an incredible extended metaphor comparing falling out of love to the way a horse figurine from the Met gift shop falls through a damp paper bag.

And like the angular Etruscan tchotchke my mom got me
At the Met gift shop in ’92
Tearing from the brown paper bag I kept it in when it was new
After I left it overnight when it was wet with dew
It sounds blue and shitty
But of course kid, like the little skinny bronze horse did
You fell through

For Someone

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fwm1R2GZXX0&w=400&h=225]

“For Someone” has so much going on. Between the fantastic percussion to the wide range of instruments complimenting Wolf’s singing, the song strikes you as densely populated. This atmosphere contrasts beautifully with the pensive, calm content of the lyrics:

6:03, the city is asleep
And these streets are seven seas of confetti in the breeze
When dawn comes and I’m waiting on the beach like a slow sucking leech for someone

Shag Carpet
[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j8mf7TkCHB0&w=400&h=225]
In many ways, “Shag Carpet” is a spiritual successor to the deliciously filthy “Good Friday,” a hyper-sexual (and hyper-self-critical) rap from the earlier album Alopecia. Following the self-conscious understanding of his own privilege that Wolf established in “Sod in the Seed,” “Shag Carpet” now turns to examine explicitly the frivolity of his sex life. With the one-line chorus, “What’s your name,” interspersed between the verses, we get a sense of just how frequently Wolf is engaging in the bizarre sexual activities he hilariously alludes to.

Son, the putrid things I’ve done for purely my pleasure?
It’s horrid
Surely at 30-plus it must seem untoward
Dirty stories untold
Mass nasty sex in the dorms
Don’t ask me when I was born
Less known is best come morn’

Again, like “Sod in the Seed,” these lyrics sound cocky taken on their own but this view is incomplete. The internal struggle Wolf reveals (“Yes, you’d never guess, but in this form I’m a mess/ And with this heavy chest I can’t rest”; “But heed this honey, even if I beg for relations/ You should try to only keep me as a distant acquaintance”) show the depth of his suffering amidst the sexual indulgences he engages in. It’s the shameless vulgarity that we might mistake for conceitedness that makes “Shag Carpet” tragically funny and honest.

Why?’s music was an incredible backdrop to my 2012 experience. I’ll be seeing Why? play at the Brighton Music Hall with Astronautalis in February, and you should probably make a point to see them live, too. Check out their tour schedule here.

Stephen Goeman is an atheist and Humanist. A senior at Tufts University, he is the former president of the Tufts Freethought Society and now serves as their Community Outreach Representative. He is also an Interfaith Youth Core alumnus and a member of Students Promoting Equality, Awareness, and Compassion, a peer education program that coordinates student responses to acts of intolerance at Tufts.

I got lunch with a friend today at a local taco place, and I noticed that they served horchatas.

It’s December now and, thanks to Vampire Weekend, it’s impossible to turn down an opportunity to drink horchatas in December. So as I was enjoying my delicious mixture of rice, milk, and cinnamon, I realized that it had been something like three years since the band’s last album, the wonderful Contra, was released.

Like any socially oblivious twenty-something, I immediately ignored all present company to bury myself in my iPhone to see what the band had been up to. It turns out they debuted a new song, “Unbelievers” on Jimmy Kimmel a little more than a month ago, performing in Halloween-inspired face paint with a brass section and cello accompaniment.

“We know the fire awaits unbelievers, all of the sinners the same” sang frontman Ezra Koenig to the clapping audience. “Girl you and I will die unbelievers, bound to the tracks of the train.”

Not only is Vampire Weekend paradigmatically hip, but the content is particularly relevant for the blog. I’m surprised it passed under my radar for so long, but I’m excited for the album to drop.

 

Vlad Chituc is a lab manager and research assistant in a social neuroscience lab at Duke University. As an undergraduate at Yale, he was the president of the campus branch of the Secular Student Alliance, where he tried to be smarter about religion and drink PBR, only occasionally at the same time. He cares about morality and thinks philosophy is important. He is also someone that you can follow on twitter.

A very Sufjan Christmas

November 24th, 2012 | Posted by:

Thanksgiving is over, and Black Friday seems to have passed with no casualties and only modest violence. That can mean just one thing, readers—it’s time to get in the Christmas spirit. And what better way to bring in the Yuletide festivities than with music by Detroit’s favorite folk-singer-cum-hipster-demigod, Sufjan Stevens?

Sufjan has been recording yearly Christmas EPs since 2001, giving them as gifts for friends and family and eventually assembling them in boxed-sets for release. He took only a few years off to work on other projects (like his critically acclaimed album, Illinois) or to polish up older material (which he’s been doing for the last few years). The songs, more than 100 in total, were released in two different 5 EP box sets. The first, titled Songs for Christmas, was released in 2006, and it contains straightforward and enjoyable Christmas classics and original work, focusing largely on the religious nature of the holiday. The follow-up, Silver and Gold, was released earlier this November. It has 59 songs, spans more than three hours, and embodies Sufjan’s conflicted relationship with Christmas. Along with stickers, a poster, temporary tattoos and a DIY ornament, Silver and Gold comes with an 80-page booklet containing essays and reflections on the holiday. In an in-depth review and analysis of the release and it’s background, Pitchfork writes:

The entire project is an excavation into Sufjan’s conflicted Christmas heart. He also penned two essays for the booklet, and both are filled with some of the most critical seasonal tidings you’re ever likely to hear. In the first, which reads like a tortured self-justification for the project itself, he observes that the yearly economy-boosting hoopla reduces us to “that clammy, pre-pubescent Christmas wish-list spoiled brat kid of our insatiable childhood, throwing an empirical fit on Santa’s lap, faced with the hard-candy facts of reality, knowing for certain we will never really get what we want for Christmas, or in life, for that matter.”

It’s pretty heavy stuff for a Christmas album, but who can’t relate to the tension in Christmas? Many atheists are reluctant to celebrate the holiday because of its religious nature, but even believers have to struggle with the blatant commercialism of the season. Jesus has always been and will always be second to Santa when it comes to Christmas.

But the set still manages to keep Christmas from feeling dour. Sufjan has always demonstrated a gift for manufacturing beautiful contradictions, like the simultaneously joyful and heart-wrenching Casimir Pulaski Day. To see a Christian really engage and wrestle with the unpleasant aspects of the holiday, while still fundamentally celebrating it, makes for good music and some challenging material. Sufjan highlights this perfectly, albeit strangely, in the final track of the set, Christmas Unicorn—a metaphorical and absurd autobiographical account of his relationship with the holiday.

The songs range in scope from breathtaking and somber reflections on death to finger-picked acoustic classics to bouncy lumberjack carols and auto-tuned clusterfucks, and little of it disappoints. I’ve written before that I’m not willing to let a minor technicality like not actually believing any of it get in the way of celebrating a perfectly good holiday. So for the next month, as I decorate and get in the Christmas spirit, I’ll be playing through my 100+ Sufjan Stevens Christmas songs on repeat. How better to celebrate such a nostalgic, troubled, and beautiful holiday.

Vlad Chituc is a lab manager and research assistant in social neuroscience at Duke University. As an undergraduate at Yale, he was the president of the campus branch of the Secular Student Alliance, where he tried to be smarter about religion and drink PBR, only occasionally at the same time. He cares about morality and thinks philosophy is important. He is also someone that you can follow on twitter.