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2018 YEAR-END BALLOT 1. “December 24,” Earl Sweatshirt: I like Childish Gambino’s “This Is America,” but this gets the Gil-Scott Heron “Winter in America” mood more right than anything else I came across this year. (Which, my annual disclaimer, amounts to one percent of one percent of whatever hip-hop was out there in 2018.) It must be my shortest #1 ever at 1:46--I wish it went on for another seven or eight minutes. At the risk of sounding white-guy stupid, where does the opening genuine-dialect quote come from? I’ve googled it, looked up the album credits, nothing. The significance of De- cember 24 escapes me too, but it feels right: aspirations, a plan, something that came up just short. Quote I came across in a Goon Sax interview: “Sad music is made for a reason and maybe it's to repurpose something you've gone through.” 2. “Sleep EZ,” Goon Sax: Spent a few days in the car this summer playing the Go-Betweens’ “Streets of Your Town” over and over again--they’re a blind spot for me, but a friend put it on a mix-CD. It especially resonated--deeply--when for some reason I had to make a trip into the small town I grew up in. Which is not all that far from where I live now...I digress. Took me a few songs for me to warm to the Goon Sax album--six, to be exact: “Strange Light,” the first one sung by Riley Jones, the woman in the band not related to the Go-Betweens--after which I liked most of the rest of it. I much prefer when Jones handles vocals; if you took her out of “Sleep EZ,” I think you’d have something in the neighborhood of the Violent Femmes. But I even like those parts of the song in context--“sinewy” comes to mind. 3. “It Makes You Forget (Itgehane),” Peggy Gou, and 6. “Beam Me Up,” Eris Drew & Octo Octa: I wade through a few dozen songs like this every year when I put together my ballot, in search of the one or two I love. I’m looking for something trancey but not too trancey (boring), serene but not too serene (Windham Hill), catchy but not too catchy (makes you want to strangle someone). Authentically mimicked soul vocals are usually a bad idea too. It’s a microscopically fine line, which always adds to my amusement as I skim-read, if I’m working from a niche-publication’s own year-end list, the capsule descriptions accompanying all the YouTube/Spotify links. People I’ve never heard of are designated as legends and colossuses, making triumphant returns after years in exile. Somewhere between 20-30% of the songs are designated as bangers; I haven’t yet figured out the precise contours of bangerdom. The best parts of “It Makes You Forget” are as catchy- trancey-serene as “Inspector Norse,” which has a decent chance of ending up as my favourite song of the decade, and “Beam Me Up” is worlds better than its very unpromising title. 4. “Skip,” Wussy,” and 5. “Apeshit,” Beyoncé/Jay-Z: For as long as Donald J. Trump is president, these two songs encapsulate how I want him to worm his way into popular music: not named, not even necessarily alluded to, but somehow there, lurking around the edges of a bad dream. I sup- pose there will be--or already has been, and I missed it--music that takes him on by name, but whatever I have heard has been clunky and obvious. I loved Wussy’s What Heaven Is Like--I could have listed any one of four or five songs, but in the end it came down to “Skip,” which most knocked me out the first time I played Heaven in the car (I can remember exactly where I was; I did not, Greil Marcus-like, pull over to collect my thoughts, just dialed up the volume and kept driving), or “Aliens in Our Midst,” their Twinkeyz cover. The Twinkeyz? Honest to god, never heard of them, but, if we can finesse our way around the lyric about the five-year-old friend who likes to dress in his sister’s clothes, my school’s music teacher and I are hoping to perform it at a future school assembly with my grade 3 class. (We’re very enlightened, prom- ise; parents and principals sometimes have different ideas.) As for “Skip,” I can understand why Christgau says it’s the only Wussy song he’s ever hated (referring to an earlier EP version that I may or may not have--if I do, it went right past me and was filed away). They’ve never recorded anything like it before. I’m having a harder time writing about “Apeshit” than anything else on this list. (I finished with the rest of my ballot two days ago.) It’s like 17 different things colliding at once. I did what I don’t often do, looked up the lyrics, and they don’t help. These are two of the most famous, most glamorous, and richest people in the world seemingly flaunting their wealth, but I know it can’t--or hope and assume it can’t--be that simple. And Jay-Z is carping about the Super Bowl and the Grammys, just like he carped about radio airplay (how quaint) on “99 Problems,” my #1 of 2004. Beyoncé’s “Get off my dick” might have been a big deal a decade ago, but I know she’s throwing that out there after many others have cleared that space for her. (The cultural importance of Beyoncé--meaning she’s somebody people write think-pieces about--has been, for me, more disproportionate to the actual value of her music than anybody I can think of the past couple of decades. I liked her at the Inaugural Ball and voted for “Naughty Girl,” weirdly enough, at the bottom of the same Top 10 as “99 Problems.” Past that*, I find her com- pletely without interest.) There’s something much bigger here than any of that, though, some- thing in the immensity and sinister weirdness of the sound. If “December 24” is “Winter in America,” then “Apeshit” is “Smiling Faces Sometimes.” I find it extremely unsettling. 7. “Untitled Original 11383,” John Coltrane: I wish this had a better title--I wish it had a title--but this is the only time I’ll ever be able to cast a semi-legitimate vote for John Col- trane, and I don’t want to pass that up. To my ears, this is closer to the first part of “A Love Supreme” than anything else on Both Directions at Once (there are moments that sound like they might have later been incorporated into “Acknowledgement”), so it’s the track that most stands out. My favourite music-related moment of the whole year might have been seeing a commercial for Both Directions at Once on CNN one Sunday morning. No voice-over, as I recall, just music, the album cover, and some text conveying that there was a new John Coltrane album out. It felt like...especially in the context of seeing it on CNN, a network where people have spent the last two years yelling at each other for five hours every night...it felt like a magisterial rebuke to what’s referred to in No Country for Old Men as the dismal tide. 8. “Mileage,” Playboi Carti: I don’t totally understand--sometimes I’m not sure if I even par- tially understand--why something like this evidently gets a pass (if there was controversy, I missed it), while half the rest of the world gets disappeared because of something it says or tweets. I know there are different rules for art, and for presidents. (Except when there aren’t.) Plus it’s pretty, and has clever rhymes. Unless you’re Miley Cyrus. 9. “Miki Dora,” Amen Dunes: I don’t listen to music to learn stuff--not stuff that can be put into words, anyway. But reading up on this song’s eponymous subject was fascinating: a guy from the ‘50s who helped popularize surfing (he’s in every one of those Frankie Avalon-Annette Funi- cello movies) but who supposedly hated the commercialization of what he’d helped usher in, and who conveyed his disgust by acting out in various ways--swastikas, crucifixion imagery, crime, exile. I’m old enough to remember when there’d be an occasional surfing segment on Wide World of Sports; also, Laura Blears Ching in Playboy...I digress. I came across this one interesting quote from the president of the Hang-Ten Chapter of Malibu Surfers just after Dora’s swastika incident: “You had a surfer on one side that was bad, and you had a group of surfers on the other side that was also very violent. Nobody wants to say it, but I will say it right now.” I like the sound of “Miki Dora” fine--it starts off like a dreamy, singer-songwriter version of “Come as You Are”-- but it’s primarily the story that draws me in. 10. “Love Me Right,” Amber Mark: The daughter of the ghost of MoKenStef. I’m a million miles away from that helicopter day, so the most I can get from this kind of song nowadays is for it to remind me of a time when I naturally gravitated to this kind of song. Which is a nice feeling, and this is the first thing in a few years to push that button. *A friend has reminded me that I also voted for Lady Gaga & Beyoncé’s "Telephone, in no small part because of its wild, Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!-inspired video; "Apeshit"s video is some kind of an achievement, too.