I listened to lots of new music this year, but I probably listened to more old music. Therefore, in keeping with annual tradition, I give you my list of the 10 best albums I was obsessed with this year that didn’t actually come out this year.
John Coltrane, Ascension (Impulse!; 1966)
Coltrane’s sax sounds like a wild snake trying to get away from him; he wrestles it and wrangles it and eventually they work it out.
Dinosaur Jr., You’re Living All Over Me (SST; 1987)
This is perfect listening if you’re feeling emo and you have nothing to do and nowhere to go, so you just cruise on down the freeway cranking the epic screeches of distortion at top volume.
Erykah Badu, New Amerykah Part One (4th World War) (Universal Motown; 2008)
When the engine in my car blew up earlier this year, this is what I’d listen to while going on long walks through Chinatown, gazing at the city as it spread out across the horizon from the view on Hill Street.
Jimmy Eat World, Bleed American (DreamWorks; 2001)
To get a sense of the love and care that went into this album, go to Donut Friend in Highland Park, the indie-rock-themed donut shop run by Bleed American producer Mark Trombino. Belly up to the glass case showing off all of his doughy creations, and take a close look them. Regard with admiration the way that they’re all painstakingly crafted, with decorations of frosting, fruit, candy, and more. Buy yourself a Hüsker Blü, and then go home and put on “The Middle.” Take a bite and reflect on the power of dough and art.
Primitive Noyes, Slow Emergency (self-released, 2013)
My friends made this album three years ago. It was like their own version of the search for the treasure of the Sierra Madre. And they found it. Oh, they did.
Funkadelic, Maggot Brain (Westbound; 1971)
Life is all about 10-minute guitar solos and screaming bodies buried up to their necks in dirt.
The Fallujah Seven, Chobiat
I bought this CD at an Arabic music store in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, almost 10 years ago. To date it is still the most amazing piece of Iraqi choubi I’ve ever heard — gritty drum machine beats, rapturous synthesizer runs, heartfelt vocals, songs fit for a true celebration, going on and on into the starry desert night. In the age of YouTube and mp3s, it seems discs like these just aren’t common anymore. This summer I went back to the shop I bought it at and was disheartened to find that it’s now a cellphone store.
Various Artists, Harafin So: Bollywood Inspired Film Music from Hausa Nigeria (Sahel Sounds; 2013)
Um, OK, for real, this stuff is amazing.
Xiu Xiu, Fabulous Muscles (5 Rue Christine; 2004)
I know a lot of people can’t stand Jamie Stewart’s voice, but I love it and I love everything else about Xiu Xiu. I’ve always held this band close to my heart.
Smashing Pumpkins, Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness (Virgin; 1995)
This is an album that just screams “moody teenager!” It came out when I was in elementary school and it’s been years since I’d given it a listen, but I plunged back in this fall. I was going through a bummer moment, frustrated and disillusioned, beaten down by the hatred and violence of the world and suddenly painfully aware of my own shortcomings. Sitting at my computer one night, I felt an urge to put on the video for “1979,” and there it was — the dreamy guitars, the rolling tractor tire, the beautiful abandon of youth. Bald Billy Corgan never looked so contented, and I relished the catharsis and escape Mellon Collie gave me.
According to my calculations, I wrote somewhere around 80 articles in 2015. I’m not sure if that’s a lot or a little.Depends on who you’re asking and what kind of writer they are, I guess. But I was able to survive a full year as a freelancer, and I think I came up with some solid work in the process.
I write a lot of feature articles and profiles, but this year I also pushed myself to think deeper and more critically. Next year I hope to be more focused and organized as a writer. I was probably too “all over the place” for my own good in 2015, and I know I’ve got some bigger moves to make. But I’m still happy with what I came out with this year.
“The Vocal Life Coach”
BuzzFeed, Jan. 23
This was the first big story I took on after moving to L.A. — a long-form profile of Eric Vetro, a beloved vocal coach who works with stars like Katy Perry, Ariana Grande and Vanessa Hudgens. The amazing thing is that everything for the article came together perfectly. Working on some articles is like pulling teeth, but this was a true Hollywood miracle.
“The Sex Toys of the Digital Age Still Have a Long Way to Go”
VICE, Jan. 30
This article happened because I attended a sex industry conference on a whim. I ended up coming across tons of story ideas and digging into a whole new beat. Also, it led to me almost getting cast as a Seth Rogen lookalike in a XXX version of The Interview, which is a story I’ll leave for another day.
“Father John Misty sings about love, warts and all” / The “Chaotic Horror Show That Is the Human Experience: An Interview with Father John Misty”
San Diego CityBeat, April 7 / Passion of the Weiss, April 9 (full transcript)
The most insane, bizarre, thought-provoking 20-minute interview I did all year.
“Experimental Noise Duo Pedestrian Deposit Bleed for Their Art”
LA Weekly, April 14
I was stoked about this article, and also stoked that PD members Jonathan Borges and Shannon Kennedy introduced me to the oh-so-lovely Trails Cafe in Griffith Park.
“Chamillionaire Wants to Be a Chabillionaire”
Noisey, April 28
An interview with Houston rapper Chamillionaire about his residency at a Santa Monica venture capitalist firm. I’m still a little surprised that I was even able to set this up; apparently he’d turned down multiple interview requests before finally granting mine.
“Low End Thievery: After Losing His Gear and Beats to Thieves, Nosaj Thing Tries to Move On”
LA Weekly, May 12
My first (and hopefully not last) cover story for LA Weekly.
“David Duchovny’s Dad Rock Band Is a Beautiful Representation of America”
Noisey, May 27
Oh, wait, you didn’t know? Yes, David Duchovny makes music now. My article examining Duchovny’s admitted lack of musical talent and the phenomenon of aging male celebrity actors moonlighting as generic roots-rockers.
“It Takes a Lot of Dick-Tugging To Get Your Foreskin Back”
VICE, July 1
An article about the “foreskin restoration” movement. Title speaks for itself.
“Sounds of Future Past: The Lyricon”
Red Bull Music Academy, Aug. 26
An article about an obscure synthesizer saxophone from the 1970s is just not something that blows up in the 24/7, SEO-driven media market of today. And yet this also turned out to be a beautifully human story, about a father’s one-of-a-kind invention and a son’s desire to keep the legacy alive. I really wish I’d had more time to work on this and more space to flesh it out, but I’m glad I did it. Maybe I’ll return to it one day.
“Floating on Air: How Dam-Funk Made Another Modern Funk Masterpiece”
Passion of the Weiss, Sept. 21
My argument for why Dam-Funk’s music is important in an age of musical dabblers, chillwavers and escapists.
“Omar Souleyman’s Endless Charm: Berating the Heart and Cursing Fate”
Noisey, Oct. 1
I spent a really long time working on this article, but I know it’s just when it comes to my fascination with Levantine dabke music.
“Artist of the Month: Chelsea Wolfe”
Self-Titled, Oct. 19
Redemption in the form of doom-metal riffs and purgative electronics.
“The Cambodian Organization That Stalks Western Child Molesters”
VICE, Oct. 28 (with Simon Henderson)
Working on this one was just crazy for me, but not half as crazy as it was for the reporter in Cambodia I was working on it with.
“10 Odd Future Fans Imagine a World Without Odd Future”
The FADER, Nov. 16
This reminded me that high school kids are sometimes amazingly stylish and smart. Also, nostalgia can never come too early in life.
“Lost in Translation: The Story Behind Making ‘Purple Rain’ in the Sahara Desert”
Noisey, Dec. 22
This article took me almost a year to finish. It reflects a lot of what I think about the world and especially the relationship between the United States and the “Global South.” It gave me a chance to dive deep into questions and debates that have always interested me, but that I’d never really fully explored before. I know this is just the beginning of my look at issues that I’ll be pursuing for some time to come.
Photo by Vito Di Stefano
Note: I wrote this review earlier this year for Insomniac. An edited version got published on the Insomniac website, but then it got taken down because it was posted up a few days late and was deemed “no longer timely.” Reposting my original here for posterity.
By Peter Holslin
If you ask me, dance music and hostage taking don’t mix. Think about it: Moving your body is a liberating experience. Being turned onto new music opens up pathways in the mind. That same sense of physical and mental freedom might not so easily take hold if you’ve been blindfolded and taken away to an unknown environment by a group of strangers in jumpsuits and ski masks. But that’s still how they did things at TAKEN, a party put on by the British DJ/producer Hot Since 82 that went down in L.A. on Saturday night.
The concept behind TAKEN is a simple one: Gather up a bunch of clubgoers, put blindfolds on them, and bring them to an undisclosed location where they can spend the night getting trashed at an open bar while dancing to house music. It’s a gimmick that’s proven successful for Hot Since 82 in the past (previous TAKEN parties have happened in London and at the Snowbombing festival in Austria), but it’s one with a very strong creep factor. The party planners advertised the event with a promo video designed to look like a trailer for a low-budget psychological thriller, replete with a dramatic soundtrack, images of guys wearing gas masks, and a message rolling across the screen that promises: “YOU WILL BE RELEASED.” Oh, OK, you mean we won’t all be murdered at the end of the night? Reassuring!
Saturday’s party began at 7 p.m., when I arrived at what the publicist explained to me was a special “extraction point.” The address was a side street in Hollywood, right next to the Sound Nightclub, and as I walked up, a long line of kidnappees-to-be snaked down the sidewalk. Several big yellow school buses were parked on the street, their windows blacked out with plastic tarp. As I filed into one of the school buses with the publicist—a friendly fellow named Chris—and dozens of others, masked event staff handed each of us Fifty Shades of Grey-style eye masks, which we all promptly strapped to our faces to blind ourselves once the bus rumbled into gear.
In a real kidnapping situation, this would be the part where you freak the fuck out. The ride could last hours. The mystery and anticipation would be unbearable. Where are they taking me? What tortures await? I am not ashamed to admit that I’d likely piss my pants in such a situation. Thankfully, in our case, the big yellow school bus didn’t go far. The ride was only about 15 minutes, and as soon as the bus came to a stop I cheated and glanced at Google Maps, which revealed that we were at Mack Sennett Studios, a cavernous stage rental space in the Los Feliz neighborhood.
Our masked guards escorted us off the bus and immediately we were hustled through a door into one of the expansive stage rooms. Inside we were greeted by a woman in a surgeon’s mask and lab coat. “Hey guys, take your medicine!” she announced, handing out small, clear plastic cups filled with shots of liquor. I accepted a shot, tossed it into the trash (I don’t drink), and took a look around. The high ceilings were draped with netting, and above us circled a disco ball shaped like a great white shark. Off to the side there was an open bar outfitted with cans of Red Bull and bottles of Belvedere vodka. Over at the other end of the room, colored strobe lights flickered while a DJ in a mask pumped out medium-intensity house music.
For the next 45 minutes or so I entertained myself by drinking Sprite and bopping to the boots-and-pants beat. When I asked Chris who the opening DJ was, he shrugged. “I don’t know,” he said between sips of a vodka Red Bull. Evidently it didn’t really matter because at around 9 p.m., Hot Since 82 was already beginning his headlining set. He appeared at the DJ booth in a black vest and white shirt. He’s a slender and somewhat flashy guy, his hair cut short on the sides and long on top, and he was flanked by two masked “guards.” The crowd let out a cheer as he stepped up the intensity of the music by simply cranking up the volume knob on the mixer. Then, out of nowhere, two pressurized jets positioned on the speakers blasted the audience with some kind of icy cold smoke-like vapor: WHOOOOOOOOSH!
In the 1980s and ’90s glory days of rave music, DJs were known to stretch out into extended sets, taking audiences on hours-long journeys with peaks and valleys and transitions through various electronic music subgenres. Hot Since 82, however, was content to simply play the same boots-and-pants beat at the same 120-something BPM for hours on end. Of course, he mixed things up a bit with syncopated drum accents, satisfying buildups and bass-heavy synth riffs. And the music got better later into the night as he dipped into highlights like Steve Lawler’s late-’80s throwback “House Record” and Maceo Plex’s super-sleek “Under the Sheets.” But as any true prisoner will attest, monotony can be maddening, and as the hours dragged on, I was ready to bang my head against a wall for a little musical variety.
It didn’t help much that there wasn’t much to explore in the club. There was only one room to dance in, and you couldn’t even go outside without having to wait in a massive line—a large masked guy was manning the door, making sure that only a small number of people at a time could go out and smoke or get fresh air. Incidentally, the lines to the bathroom were also extremely long. Well, actually, the line to the men’s bathroom was extremely long. There weren’t nearly as many ladies waiting to get into the women’s room, which seems to me like a pretty strong indication that this party was a total sausage fest. Hmm. I guess maybe women generally don’t find the idea of being “taken” by masked strangers fun.
To be fair, a solid 400 people showed up, and every person I talked to was having a great time. And the idea of being whisked away isn’t always a necessarily threatening one. For some, a kidnapping fantasy can offer a psychological freedom all its own. By relinquishing control, you’re freed to partake in taboo desires that would otherwise be considered shameful and wrong.
Unfortunately, this party-prison wasn’t so stimulating. The organizers might’ve been aiming for a thrilling experience. But my biggest fear that night was dying of boredom.
Note: I just found this essay sitting around in my documents folder. I wrote it a couple years ago, or maybe a year ago. I don’t even remember writing it. I think I just sat down one day and banged it out. I was going to submit it to VAMP in San Diego but I never did, I think maybe it’s because it was right around the time I moved to L.A. Here it is again for your reading pleasure.
I went to visit my dad in Albuquerque recently. I flew out from San Diego, and my dad picked me up at the airport. He drove me to his house on the outskirts of town and showed me around. Finally, in the bathroom, he took off his T-shirt and showed me the scar.
In the area where a plump, healthy man-boob should be, there was nothing. The right side of his chest was completely flat, and it was cut across with a long, freakishly winding line sewn together with medical string. It looked like something out of a sci-fi novel. He looked like a mutant. It actually looked kind of awesome.
My dad was recently diagnosed with Stage IIA breast cancer. It wasn’t a threatening cancer, apparently, just a small bump. But it was enough to scare the shit out of my dad. When he called me to break the news, I thought he was laughing when he told me.
“I have—breast cancer!”
But he was actually crying. This was the second time I’d witnessed my father cry. The first time was just before his mom died over a decade ago—of cancer.
A week after my dad got his diagnosis, he went into surgery to have the cancerous growth removed. The doctors took everything; they didn’t even leave him a nipple. The whole procedure seemed really normal to me. The surgery went off without a hitch. The doctors had a solid plan worked out. My dad had even been assigned a nurse whose job it was specifically to help him cope with the experience of having breast cancer.
I wanted to be concerned, I really did. But even more, I just wanted to not think about what was happening. I wanted to proceed through my life without an interruption. I didn’t tell anybody what was happening. That’s how I coped. I sent this experience off to a deep recess in my brain and focused on my work.
I didn’t know what to expect when I went to Albuquerque. I figured things would be more emotional, more sad. I figured there would be tears. But more than anything, being in Albuquerque was just horribly boring. My dad lives on the outskirts of town, in a cavernous white house in a winding suburb full of cavernous white houses. I didn’t have access to a car, and it took fifteen minutes to walk to the nearest piece of civilization. And that was a Costco.
All day, the sun beat down hard against the pavement. I would go on walks, plugging my iPhone into my ears and listening to heavy metal at top volume. The heat weighed hard against my back and shoulders. It drank up my energy, and as I walked around aimlessly I soaked in the blistering doom of a band called Pallbearer. The guitars were thick and heavy, and they crawled along at a regal pace. It was just enough to bring my dormant sadness to a simmer.
Back home, I sat in a La-Z-Boy in the living room, watching TV. The chair was incredibly soft and plush, really comfy. But after a while, it started to hurt, sitting in that chair. I could feel the metal mechanisms of the recliner poking into my back. I wanted to go back outside, but the world had sucked out my energy.
That’s cancer to me. Being stuck in a really comfy chair, with nothing to do. Dwindled options, and nowhere to go.
Hey everybody! Not sure if you noticed, but this blog is ugly and boring and I never update it. I’ve got a new blog (a Tumblr, actually, and it’s not really “new” because I’ve been updating it for several months now…but you get the idea) and you can check it out here. That’s http://iheartgoatmeat.tumblr.com/ in case you don’t like clicking links.
WOW! It’s been like a million years since I last updated this thing! I promise I’ve been working hard all these years, plugging away at San Diego CityBeat, where I serve as Music Editor (and in-house bruiser). Want to read my articles? Click here.
I don’t really have time to repost all my articles on this blog. But isn’t that obvious? Just read CityBeat, ‘kay? Thanks!
This article, printed in the Aug. 11 issue of CityBeat, won’t be any use to you now, of course. But it’s worth keeping for the record books.
If this year’s North Park Music Thing is notable for anything, it’s sheer ambition. Just look at the numbers: 153 bands, musicians and DJs; 15 venues; two nights.
Now in its third year, the festival (organized by the San Diego Music Foundation, whose president is CityBeat publisher Kevin Hellman) is the biggest local music showcase of the year, featuring two days of seminars with music-industry movers and shakers and two nights of music in bars in North Park, South Park and Normal Heights, featuring small acts, local favorites and a handful of touring bands mostly from California.
But who’s worth seeing? I’ve come up with an epic itinerary to get you through the weekend:
8 p.m.: This one’s a toss-up. Brother duo Writer (at U-31) makes unique, roughly hewn indie rock. Neon Cough (at The Office) offer up jangly pop with saccharine melodies. Street of Little Girls (at Whistle Stop) play epic gypsy-rock with biting lyrics and sugary-sweet vocals.
9 p.m.: If you’ve seen Jamuel Saxon (Bar Pink) more than once, you know that Keith Milgaten’s solo project is never the same twice. Whether he’s manning a laptop as guys covered with white sheets drum ominously on floor toms or he’s playing keyboards with a full band, expect a fevered brand of pop gold with hypnotic synths, Auto-Tuned vocals and dance-y beats.
10 p.m.: One of the best jazz singers in the city, if not the best, Miss Erika Davies (Claire de Lune) has a magnificent, mature voice that flutters fragilely, soars confidently and bends smoothly across registers, augmented with her ukulele and Jon Garner’s lithe guitar. It’s enough to make you wonder why she’d bother playing a local-music showcase when she could be touring Europe.
11 p.m.–midnight: Kadan Club has a hip-hop showcase with plenty of quality MCs, among them the dynamic duo Parker and the Numberman (9:20 p.m.) and the freaky Lady Xplicit (10:40 p.m.). But the highlight is Deep Rooted (11:40 p.m.), local hip-hop mainstays who serve up inspired, cutting rhymes. There’s also an MC battle kicking off at midnight.
12:35 a.m.: Known as much for their sharp suits as their spirited take on folk, gospel and Americana, the gentlemen of The Silent Comedy (U-31) seem to come straight from an older, weirder America. Their latest album, Common Faults, won a San Diego Music Awards nomination. But their live show is another story—one CityBeat writer compared it to a Pentecostal tent revival.
Other highlights: Tape Deck Mountain (U-31, 8:45), Jhameel (The Office, 8:45), Lights On (Whistle Stop, 9:50), Sister Crayon (AC Lounge, 10). John Meeks (Lestat’s, midnight)
4 p.m.: Stop by Tin Can Ale House (1863 Fifth Ave. in Bankers Hill) for a free pre-party with performances by Chairs Missing and Vegetarian Werewolf, two great new local acts. Chairs Missing plays radiant acoustic indie rock, while Vegetarian Werewolf dissects the universe with a keyboard and a boom box.
8 p.m.: Make sure you catch up-and-coming indie rockers D/Wolves (Soda Bar). Lead songwriter Joel Williams happens to be the little brother of the dude from Wavves, but don’t expect irreverent lo-fi from these accomplished young musicians. Their melodious, unpredictable songcraft is undergirded with a killer rhythm section that has the expressiveness of a jazz combo.
9:25 p.m.: If you’re looking for folk music with that indescribably magical feeling, you’ll find it in San Juan Capistrano’s The Union Line (Sunset Temple Room, 2906 University Ave.), with their glistening guitars, rolling drums and haunting choruses. But let’s not forget about the wonderful Chairs Missing (Ruby Room), for whom a clone would come in handy.
10:30 p.m.: There’s nothing quite like the Beach Boys-meets- Captain Beefheart mindfuck of Heavy Hawaii (Soda Bar): disjointed lo-fi arrangements, dissonant rock riffs, ghoulish oohaah vocals that sound like a parody of Animal Collective. I can’t help but feel that they’re on to something.
11:30 p.m.: New Mexico (Bar Pink), the new incarnation of much-beloved rock band Apes of Wrath, has a new set of songs that’re pared-down, hard-driving and so awesome that somebody at a recent show felt compelled to pick the guitarist up mid-song and carry him around the room. Seriously.
Other highlights: Hyena (U-31, 10:35), Sleep Lady (Eleven, 10:45), Sleepwalkerz (Queen Bee’s, 11:15), Abe Vigoda (Soda Bar, 11:30), Lord Howler (Kadan Club, 12:30), The Screamin’ Yeehaws (Ken Club, 12:50).
Lineups are subject to change. Double-check schedules at northparkmusicthing.com.