Let’s just start with the good stuff. This year, Beats Per Minute became more than just another music outlet. We became a community, and honestly, in another year of sheer chaos and volatility, the BPM-slack has been such a comforting space to rage out feelings in unfiltered fashion. Whether it was music related or not, here we could argue, vent, shitpost, joke, discuss, compliment and connect. And get to know each other maybe a little bit better. It reminded me of the utopian days of scrolling the message boards, just opening up thy heart to new sounds, relationships and ideas.
Beats Per Minute has also been a place where the writer’s specific musical interests lead to smaller editorials that highlight them. Jeremy J. Fisette’s excellent guest-filled Meet Our Makers podcast, Ana Leorne’s franctastic Bonjour Motherfuckers entries, and John Wolmacher’s insightful Let It Beat writer discussions have given Beats Per Minute its identity. I mean, it’s one thing to discuss the records that dominate the feeds, but giving writers an incentive to highlight lesser-known artists from a more personal and specific field of interest really is what keeps a music outlet from becoming redundant. For every Kendrick Lamar or Adele, you need to cover more obscure and local artists in their exciting formative stages. Striking the right balance between the knowns and unknowns is an ever-evolving challenge, and it’s in my opinion what keeps a music platform fertile and fun to contribute to. At BPM, I feel encouraged to nerd out about my own little scene every once in a while. On an international platform, that’s huge.
As for myself, I enjoyed writing reviews this year more than ever, while at the same time contemplating the real value of music criticism in this day and age. I’ve come to treat reviewing records more and more as a simple conversation, realizing that not every conversation is inherently meant to become this deep and profound thing. I would argue that most of the time, it doesn’t elicit much of anything. But what records like Mabe Fratti’s Será que ahora podremos entendernos? made me realize that the willingness to make a connection is more valuable than the ability to understand one another. And I feel reviewing records is just another way of doing that. I’ve come to frame the site’s review metrics – which are often seen as a measure of quality/quantity – more as a succinct means to gauge the potency of this conversation. Or maybe an indicator of how urgently the maker and listener are attuned to one another, and how much is lost in translation. In that light, I feel the use of metrics can feel a bit more kosher, even though I could perfectly do without them.
To me, 2021 was a year of confusion first and foremost. But also a year of self-reassessment, of trying to make the best out of the worst situations. And finding ways to be a little bit more kind to the self. Clairo wrote the biggest hook of the year for me on “Amoeba”: “Show up to the party just to leave.” This line is delivered in such a laconic fashion that it’s easy to miss, and there’s something about that. It’s more or less been my year: I’ve treated every day like showing up to some unseen party. I’ve changed the way I look, became a more extraverted, more cartoonish version of myself, manifesting outwardly how I always felt inwardly. People have started treating me differently because of this change in mentality: service would be more courteous, pedestrians would walk a curve around me instead of walking me over. Heck, to top off the weird, fashion brands were asking me to model for them (although I refused, I was a little flattered as well).
Ultimately, I felt like I carved my little space in the world, almost as a defense mechanism of seeing my mental health deteriorate and my relationships enstrange. At the same time I became saddened by how superficial that world can be, how it demands you to be on top of your game all the time. It seems to only want to engage with the ‘most glamorous’ version of you, not the version that is flawed, messed up, alienated from the world and in over its head.
So naturally, I was drawn like moth-to-flame by pop music that felt in some way corrupted and amorphous. Yves Tumor for instance, is a perfect example: their excellent EP The Asymptotical World contains debauched, bleeding edge wraiths of established sounds. That song “Secrecy Is Incredibly Important To The Both Of Them” is so wicked: it renders those familiar zeroes post-punk leanings to something that feels depraved and dangerous again. In an entirely different fashion, Low’s HEY WHAT doubled down the quest to find new sounds, almost as a proxy for some kind of spiritual quest for illumination. That too, feels corrupt in the most delightful sense.
Great music needs to rally against oppressive things like ‘codified listening’ and ‘genre’ , and I think that’s when it can potentially change the world. In combination with Mimi Parker and Alan Sparhawk’s very earthbound vocal harmonies, Low ripped open this new rift of feeling with their pioneering production values. It’s incredible when music can do this: actively evoke that feeling of creation out of destruction. Injury Reserve’s By The Time I Get to Phoenix does something similar within the hip-hop realm: putting the power of creating and destroying up to eleven and watching them duke it out, nullifying all that is known.
As I’m writing this, I’ve reached a (no pun intended) low point, and I’ve contemplated giving up several times over the past few days. But I also know I’m not alone, and a lot of records have solidified that for me. Close to home, Rats on Rafts’ Excerpts From Chapter 3 also harvests something new from the pits of despair and isolation, moving within dream states and rude awakenings in impressionistic fashion. While the Rats were headstrong in fantastical retreat, another local outfit, Lewsberg, opted for soft, threadbare resignation on their new surprise release In Your Hands.
On a hot summer’s day, I wanted to see one of my favorite live bands, The Sweet Release Of Death in Nijmegen, but the corona regulations slammed that door right back in my face, as I hadn’t gotten my second jab yet. It was one of my lowest moments of the year, because that band actually gives me a lot of life whenever I see them. But life always has other plans, doesn’t it? This year, a new Rotterdam flock of incendiaries, Tramhaus, made an exciting splash. As noisy as the aforementioned, they bring in another new voice in the scene, a new wavelength, one that’s at the epicenter of where the city aches. One of their songs’ main hooks steals from a shallow city-marketing campaign. “Rotterdam, make it happen”. Punk rock’s old adage of vomiting capitalism’s language back to itself isn’t dead yet, and that gives me hope.
The lockdown started again here in The Netherlands, and I consider myself fortunate to attend my favorite festival, Le Guess Who?, again. When the new regulations kicked in halfway through the weekend, they didn’t give up and cut their losses: instead they made good on their promise to change continuously, readjusting the schedule in what was a logistical undertaking for the books. I got to see Suuns being magnetic as always, Lucrecia Dalt frightening the hell out of me, members of Irreversible Entanglements pretty much reinventing music itself on the damn spot. The last performance I saw was Pink Siifu’s chaotic display at the Tivoli, which was an unbelievably intoxicating experience. Siifu was acting almost like a court jester out there, as his backing band veered from Sun Ra-ish cosmic jazz excursions, Funkadelic’s libidinous grooves to battering-ram hardcore punk (the wild thing was how a band with such virtuoso chops could replicate the playing of a ‘shitty’ sounding pub band, it blew my mind honestly). All these impressions have caused a positive ripple effect: it restored a person’s faith again in knowing that no, we in fact haven’t heard it all.
Inevitably, 2022 will once again be a big struggle, but there will also be great, adventurous music to make that struggle just bearable enough again to see it all through.