Features | Awards

The Congeniality Award

By Clayton Purdom | 18 December 2008

Some Racing, Some Stopping
(Polyvinyl; 2008)

Thao Nguyen and the Get Down Stay Down
We Brave Bee Stings and All
(Kill Rock Stars; 2008)

The Horror The Horror
Wired Boy Child
(Tapete Records; 2008)

Some days I feel entirely alone in the universe, a miserable speck crushed into ever smaller form by the oppressive infiniting cosmos. On these days I seem unable to move past surface familiarity with the ways other humans interact; my passions seem strange and my histories uninteresting. On these days children terrify me. On these days music effects me solitarily: Tim Hecker piling blankets atop my depressed hot nest, Raekwon blurting cold reminders of man’s inhumanity, and so on. On these days I typically play pretty good Halo.

But also on these days, when I yearn for universality sometimes I can find it: unchallenging, not on the Big Kids list for CMG but no less worthwhile, no less crucial to art, and no less worthy of mention in what was important in music in 2008. I find myself constantly qualifying my affection for Headlights’ Some Racing, Some Stopping, but it’s time I didn’t. I proper love it, instrumentally, melodically, and lyrically. Through its simplicity, and indeed its mundanity, it expresses a quiet affection for that which already exists. In this case: pop music; big choruses; pretty harmonies; electric guitars and xylophones; wordless choruses and worldly caresses.

Few other records this year were as good in any respect as Some Racing, Some Stopping, but others tapped into its primal congeniality, if with diminished returns. Perhaps I listen to too much music and am suspect to a certain jadedness. I pray, then, that Thao Nguyen’s wee We Brave Bee Stings and All isn’t the subject of a token fondness from my end—“indie songstress,” maybe—but if so I’ll accept the diversity of its token implementation, the banjo flailing wildly through “Swimming Pools,” the bubbling bass and handclaps of “Fear and Convenience,” the staunchly sub-Pharrell beatboxing on “Bag of Hammers.”

The point ultimately being that in another year wherein bands like TV on the Radio and Deerhunter were touted as revolutionary without doing anything that couldn’t be summarized as “post-Radioheadian,” there blossomed, among the types of bands that play chords on guitars with drums and lyrics attached, a sort of jaw-droppingly unimpressive substratum. Field Music and The Horror The Horror did exactly what they’ve done before, and wonderfully. My Morning Jacket probably should’ve. Q-Tip made a new Tribe album to keep his label happy, and sounded happy to do so. RZA probably should’ve. Inasmuch as art and making people happy might ever be regarded as such, here’s to small things.