If you dig these songs please consider buying them; most can be had for less than a buck. Links will be live for one week.
Some lyrics may be NSFW. Listen at your own risk.
I used to try to write something about each of the songs, then I realized it was all basically a variation on “I like how this sounds.” Music appreciation is idiosyncratic. The only way you’ll know if you like a song is by listening to it. I dig all this stuff and I hope you do too.
In addition to the ones mentioned in the list, here are the albums in 2015 I enjoyed front to back:
Ryley Walker - Golden Sings That Have Been Sung.
ABC - The Lexicon Of Love II.
Beyonce - Lemonade. She made a really striking choice at the end. “All Night” as an album closer would have concluded on a note of sadness, and made the whole piece feel like a meditation on the impermanence of love. But she put it second last, and instead finished with the solidarity anthem “Formation,” which makes for a very different afterimage.
Kamaiyah - A Good Night In The Ghetto.
Lushlife + CSLSX - Ritualize.
Steve Gunn - Eyes On The Lines.
Tuff Love - Resort.
I usually reserve an Honorable Mention spot for a longer song. Most years there’s at least one 7+ minute song that I like quite a bit, but since I try to get lots of different artists on the list I don’t want a single tune to crowd out several others.
(Fits on a single 80 minute CD.)
From the E.A.R.T.H. mixtape (2016 Album of the year). B.o.B has arguably started to suffer from some kind of mental illness. At a minimum he’s started taking some very, um, heterodox positions. Whatever this new thing is, it’s light years from the bubblegummer he seemed to be when he first hit it big. His music has never sounded better than it does on E.A.R.T.H., one of four “elemental” mixtapes he released this year - and the one where he seemed to give freest rein to his new consciousness. Conspiracies and shadows, disillusionment and desperation, all set to killer beats. Put it in the time capsule. This is the document to remember 2016 by.
I’ve spent a decent amount of time since the election on Facebook having heated discussions with Trump supporters. Here’s what I posted there in an attempt to tie a few different ideas together.
A few words on why I’ve been saying that Trump voters who won’t speak out against the recent wave of hate crimes are implicitly endorsing them.
First, “denounce this crime!” should be a very familiar sentiment to conservatives, since that is their demand of Muslims whenever there is a spectacular terrorist attack. This is often accompanied by calls for Muslims to be the eyes and ears of law enforcement and to turn in the perpetrators.
I think both of those things are basically silly, and to see why just apply that logic to ourselves: Were white people told they needed to denounce Timothy McVeigh’s act of mass murder? Were we supposed to be the eyes and ears that tracked down Ted Kaczynski? For as easy as it is to make those calls from outside of a culture, when viewed from inside one it looks absurd (because it is). There are some people who go off the grid and aren’t part of ordinary folks’ regular interactions. Sometimes small groups break off into subcultures that foster paranoia, hate, intolerance and extremism. Again, think of the circles McVeigh ran in.
But at least McVeigh’s bombing was an isolated event. It wasn’t coordinated with attacks elsewhere by other Turner Diaries acolytes, and those who might have sympathized with the idea of, say, an aggrandized federal government eroding our freedoms were nonetheless quick to say THIS IS NOT THE WAY TO ADDRESS IT.
Anyway, when it comes to relatively isolated events I think it’s unproductive to jump up and down calling for denunciations. When Trump supporter Scott Michael Greene killed two police officers a couple weeks ago I wasn’t on here blaming it on Trump supporters or whatever. There’s a tit-for-tat game playing quality to that and I don’t believe it accomplishes anything.
Here’s what’s different now. What’s happening now is a *wave.* It’s dozens of hate crimes happening *every single day.* Like it or not, this crime wave began immediately after the election. And like it or not, Donald Trump made nativism a centerpiece of his campaign. He called Mexicans rapists on the day he announced and called for a ban on Muslims entering the country. He resurrected Nixon’s “law and order” rhetoric, which was racially coded language for “crack down on blacks running riot in urban areas.” He ran on a platform that, while it may not have been explicitly racist, was certainly agreeable in every particular to White Power types.
Those people are part of his coalition. If you voted for Trump, they are part of *your* coalition. Maybe you voted from Trump because you want lower taxes, or you thought Hillary Clinton was an existential threat to the republic, or you just thought it was the Republicans’ turn after the Democrats held the White House for eight years. Whatever your reason for being part of that coalition, white supremacists are a part of it.
And they are responsible for an ongoing wave of hate crimes *right now.* This isn’t an isolated incident that happened, it is something that *is happening* right now, dozens of hate crimes every day. This isn’t Timothy McVeigh and the lunatic fringe in 1995 with one attack. It’s a part of a winning presidential candidate’s coalition.
We don’t know if the current crime wave (we could sure use some of that law and order right now, Mr. president-elect) is going to trail off, continue or gather strength. All we know right now is that we are in the midst of it, and it shows no sign of letting up.
If Trump voters remain silent, they will turn hate crimes into a partisan issue - something one side is against and the other side is, at most, mute about (silence=assent). I’d like to think hatred is a moral issue and not a political one. But until Trump voters start speaking up in the face of dozens of hate crimes every day - again, we aren’t talking about isolated events here - then that’s not the case. Trump voters who remain silent about the wave of hatred that has washed over our country will be taken, correctly, to be siding with the neo-Nazis and the Klansmen.
So the floodgates have opened, and women are coming forward left and right with stories of Donald Trump sexually assaulting them. As he lashes out from his glitzy Trump bunker, Lyndon Johnson’s quote comes to mind: “I feel like a hitchhiker on a Texas highway in the middle of a hailstorm; I can’t run, I can’t hide, and I can’t make it go away.”
The right wing is now claiming it’s a conspiracy, with Ben Shapiro calling it at Sunday’s debate: “This exchange is the set-up. The next week is going to be the punch line.” To his credit, he understood the dynamic that had just been put in play. Trump’s tape bragging about sexually assaulting women was released, he said it was just words, Anderson Cooper asked if Trump had actually done those things, and he flatly denied it. But Shapiro confused an orchestrated campaign with the ordinary workings of a news organization.
It’s very simple: Trump unequivocally said he’d never assaulted any women, so a woman going on record as having been assaulted by him is news. It challenges the veracity of Trump’s claim, and that is exactly the kind of conflict that makes for an actual story. But instead of saying, hm, here is a crystal clear statement that we can follow up on, he took to mean that multiple outlets had anti-Trump messaging in the cannon and were just waiting for Hillary’s word to fire.
This all requires a certain willful amnesia. During the primaries, Democrats were openly astonished at the unwillingness of the Republican field to go after Trump. Since the political and media establishments often have a mutually reinforcing feedback loop for constructing narratives, the GOP failure to push meant the stories never got off the ground.
Here’s how it works much of the time, maybe even most of it. Political operatives dig, then pass along tidbits to (often friendly) media. The story gets reported, other political actors pick it up and make noise, and that in turn drives additional coverage. Think about how it worked with, say ACORN or Benghazi. Story comes out, political hay gets made, which creates demand for more stories like it, and so on.
Yes the press will report stories independently of that, but if there’s no political appetite for the story it will just fade away. In the Republican primaries, no one went hard after Trump, and his closest competitor actively flattered him until it was too late. To the extent any oppo got dumped it was over labor or business practices. But everyone knew the stories of sexual impropriety were out there. The GOP establishment was either too afraid to pursue them for fear of The Donald’s wrath, or they (probably correctly) perceived that aggressively pursuing stories of sexual assault wouldn’t tarnish him in any significant way - indeed may have been likely to backfire.
The party had its chance, and completely whiffed. Then the general election rolls around and the Democrats say, hey maybe the rest of the electorate will find this noteworthy. Turns out it did. And the explosion of new allegations right now is happening for a simple reason. It’s analogous to Bill Cosby - a famous man abuses power for decades, his victims feel isolated and powerless, they knew they will be trashed in the vilest possible terms if they come forward, and arrive at the sensible conclusion that they’d rather not endure an avalanche of grief in exchange for watching their abuser shrug it off.
But courage is contagious. Once a couple women were willing to openly take that risk, it emboldened others to do the same. The abuser’s aura of impunity was shattered, and seemingly overnight corroborating stories tumbled out from all corners. That’s not a conspiracy, it’s safety in numbers.
Republicans were either cowards in the primary or they thought so little of sexual assault that they decided to pussyfoot around it. That was their calculation. The media that covered the primary - and during primaries the more partisan outlets are more influential - either did the same or let it go when it failed to get traction. I’m sure Democrats had their own Trump oppo that they collected at that time (as I’m sure Republicans did for Clinton), but it would be nonsensical to use it before the general election. So they sat on it.
Republicans made the calculation no one would care. Democrats calculated otherwise. It’s looking like the Democrats were right. That doesn’t make it a grand, elaborate and secret plot between the left and the MSM to wait until just the right moment to plunge the knife into Donald’s back. It’s simply the result of political ineptitude combined with native sexism on the right. Too bad, so sad conservatives. You brought all this on yourselves. Deal with it.
Here’s something that seems obvious to me: the starting point for any consideration of Donald Trump’s success is the Republican party’s long history of appealing to white racial anxiety. I don’t think it’s controversial to say that, starting with Richard Nixon’s Southern Strategy and associated political initiatives, those appeals have been a core part of the GOP’s electoral success.
From Ronald Reagan’s states rights signalling and demonizing imagery of welfare queens and strapping young bucks, to George H. W. Bush’s strategic use of a notorious race baiter, and so on all the way up to The Donald, it’s impossible to take an even cursory look at the contemporary Republican party without accounting for it. They have made it a point to stoke fear and grievance, and have frequently prospered by doing so.
Emotional appeals like that are aimed at the lizard brain, at our primitive areas that activate well before reason kicks in. And, it should go without saying, activate much more powerfully. Sometimes, as Lee Atwater acknowledged, they would use high minded ideas like limited government to put a shiny edge on their blunt instrument. Or they’d decorate it with unrelated items so they could look at it and say (to themselves at least) “nope, no racism here!”
But when the chips were down they knew they could count on bowel-voiding terror or seething resentment to activate the base. They’re coming to rape and kill you, they’re playing you for a chump, etc. The big con for many years was to pretend that the racial component was actually the principled-sounding fig leaf, or that the ornaments were the real selling point.
Trump dispensed with all that, and revealed what should now be blandly accepted conventional wisdom: the one necessary and sufficient quality in a candidate for a critical mass of the Republican base is racism. Used to be, the conservative establishment could say that the base was attracted to the party’s well-balanced ideological diet of international engagement (i.e. a bellicose and swaggering foreign policy), low taxes combined with a drown-the-government-in-the-bathtub belief in cutting nonmilitary spending, and playing up social issues like abortion and marriage equality. And a discreet helping of that other stuff for dessert.
Trump came along and basically said: have all the dessert you want, motherfuckers. He dispensed completely with the conservative claptrap and spent all his time stimulating the lizard brain. Some on the right tried to diminish the magnitude of his win by comparing his delegate percentages with Mitt Romney’s at comparable points in 2012. But what Trump did what actually much more impressive. He had the entire political establishment against him and, incidentally, he didn’t know the first goddamn thing about running for president.
He didn’t have any internal polling or consultants. He didn’t have any infrastructure - no one assembling call lists and phone banks, no one organizing “get out the vote” efforts, nothing. He didn’t even know how the process worked; Ted Cruz completely outhustled him for unpledged delegates, and Trump barely knew it was happening. He ceded every known advantage to his opponents and still won.
The right wing commentariat has responded to all of this by literally ignoring it. Look at the columns by George Will (who, to borrow a phrase, is now sulking in his tent), Ross Douthat and Max Boot to get an idea. He’s unelectable, they say. Boorish, immodest, not a conservative, doesn’t support traditionally conservative principals, and so on. All true, but irrelevant. They’re basically saying they’re mad at the voters, which, who cares? Work that out with your therapist, not your audience.
What’s relevant is what they literally cannot bring themselves to look at how a Republican party that prioritizes their ideals could nominate Donald Trump. I understand why they can’t bear to grapple with it, because the answer is a very unhappy one for them: The party, as represented by its base, does not actually prioritize any of those things. Perhaps it hasn’t for a long time; Donald Trump is just the first to test the hypothesis.
That obviously leads to other unhappy considerations. The people they suppose control the party actually don’t. There’s no use pretending a sensible center exists (not at the head of a large enough constituency, anyway). So do you ditch Trump or throw in with him? If the former, keep advertising those principles and see if they plus the dog whistle can compete with Trump’s foghorn. Alternately, they could (with noses pinched I’m sure) reluctantly support Trump - in which case they show that don’t believe any of those principles either.
Either way, the most consequential immediate result of Trump’s ascendance is that he puts the lie to story that the Republican party is fundamentally conservative. It is, in fact, fundamentally reactionary. Those who’d like the rest of us to believe otherwise will literally not allow themselves to see that. So they focus instead on their loathing for the man himself. That’s not a political strategy, though. It’s a coping mechanism.