Bonus Notes: December 2021
New music playlist + thoughts on HAIM
A new year has begun! I’m so looking forward to writing some new essays and thinking out loud here at Quarter Notes in 2022. But before we get there, I’ve got a month-end post for December. With all the focus on year-end lists really beginning in November (plus the barrage of Christmas music), it’s easy to miss some of the music that comes out in December. So here’s my new music playlist for the month with blurbs for each song. I’m trying to practice just getting raw thoughts out about more music—thinking through why specifically I enjoy the songs I do rather than just intuiting it internally. So feel free to browse the blurbs and listen along!
Favorite Albums of December
“Labou” - Mach-Hommy
Fresh off his highly acclaimed album from earlier in 2020, Pray For Haiti, Mach-Hommy dropped another top tier project in Balens Cho (Hot Candles). “Labou,” the first full song on the record, is carried by an unforgettable horn loop that quite literally lifts the Haitian-American rapper “out the mud.”
“No Choice” - Tame Impala
It’s always a joy to hear Kevin Parker’s silky voice smothered in reverb over busy bass riffs and endless layers of synth heaven. This Slow Rush B side is just a jam.
“Mortgage Free” - DJ Premier & 2 Chainz
Preem and 2 Chainz, yes please. Preem brings booming drums and a gorgeous soul sample (courtesy of Millie Jackson and Isaac Hayes); Chainz is his usual, likeable self with the joke bars: “This flow sicker than the CDC / Time to rent another yacht so I can see the sea.”
“Tabula Rasa” - Earl Sweatshirt feat. Armand Hammer
Earl Sweatshirt joined Armand Hammer earlier in 2020 with “Falling Out the Sky” off the duo’s excellent record, HARAM. Here, the duo return the favor, offering just an embarrassment of talent with three master lyricists sharing verses over a chimpunked Billy Paul sample.
“Heaven” - Tierra Whack
The Philadelphia rapper-singer released three EPs in December, but “Heaven” off R&B? is the standout. “Heaven has all my favorite people,” Whack laments in beautiful harmony over spare hi-hats and snaps. The vocal production here is perfect.
“Over and Over” - Beach House
As is their way, Beach House swaddles us in blankets of light, allowing angelic whispers to wash over us as we drift off into the neon night.
“Spud Infinity” - Big Thief
Honestly, I have no idea what’s happening here. But I can’t stop thinking about the part where Adrianne Lenker, joined by a bouncing Jew’s harp and squeaking fiddle, starts talking about how “your elbows, they’re on their own / wandering like a rolling stone / rubbing up against the edges of experience.”
“Endless Summer” - Superchunk
Superchunk is another one of those indie rock long-haulers I haven’t really explored yet. But this song immediately grabbed me—the youthfulness of 54-year-old Mac McCaughan’s voice, the little chromatic riff, the self-honesty of the line “I’m a year-round bummer / but I’m not ready for an endless summer.”
“Four Folks” - Jeff Parker
I first encountered jazz guitarist Jeff Parker through his 2020 record Suite For Max Brown, one of my favorite records of that year. I need to spend more time with his follow-up, Forfolks, and with his entire discography. But this song is so tender—just Parker keeping a steady rhythm with a five-note line over which he plays ever so gently until the whole thing evaporates into a final chord that oscillates at varying speeds for a mesmerizing 30 seconds.
“Photographic Memories” - Boldly James & The Alchemist
The Alchemist has been on an absolute roll as of late, offering just the perfect beat to accompany the MC he teams up with. Here he joins a calm, calculated Boldy James, a Shakespeare-riffing Earl Sweatshirt (“Something wicked inbound fast” is a bar), and the always-precise Roc Marciano.
“I Miss You” - Lord Jah-Monte Ogbon feat. Navy Blue
Navy Blue put out possibly my favorite rap record of 2020 (it actually came out last December, but who’s counting). Here, he produces and offers a reflective verse in praise of mothers alongside Charlotte’s Lord Jah-Monte Ogbon (whose new record Beautifully Black is excellent).
“Meet Joe Black” - Nas
“Took a slice out of the Big Apple, made apple pies / Family sized.” I love Nas on this Hit-Boy beat, and I especially love his flow in the hook.
“Heat Lightning” - Mitski
Mitski’s latest single from the upcoming Laurel Hell broods with the claustrophobic humidity of a southern gothic novel as she contemplates faith and surrender in the face of the ominous unknown. I’ve had trouble in the past fully connecting with Mitski’s songs, but I’m very much looking forward to this record.
“Tears in the Club” - FKA twigs feat. The Weeknd
A new Weeknd album is coming at the end of the week! In the meantime, we have this chill late-night drive jam with Abel joining art-pop/R&B vet FKA twigs. It’s conventional in its “I’m sad, but dancing through it” lyricism, but a jam nonetheless.
“Vivir Así Es Morir De Amore” - Nathy Peluso
Discovered this song through an NPR Listening Party hosted by the hosts of the podcast Alt Latino. I’m hoping to have an increasingly global focus to my music listening in 2022 and so cherish resources like this from thoughtful music lovers who engage segments of the music landscape I’m less in tune with. Anyways, I love this song’s horn section, the rich pop melodies, and the foundation provided by dreamy keyboard chords.
“Dreams Come True” - aespa
Speaking of a global focus, I need to be more aware of K-pop this year. It’s one of the largest global movements in music, and it’s time I stop ignoring it. I first encountered girl group aespa through their single “Next Level,” and it quickly became one of my favorite bangers of the year. “Dreams Come True” is another slick pop hit, a cover of a ‘90s K-Pop hit by S.E.S., updated with R&B stylings not dissimilar to Ariana Grande.
“Down Softly” - Five Pebbles
This song is noisy, shoegaze-y, and just full of light. The lyrics are entirely indiscernible, but the drama of this overload of distortion is so compelling.
“Mental Static” - GEL
This is the first song I’ve heard by New Jersey hardcore band GEL. But I love the way the singer’s voice cuts through the mix. I love the transitions, especially the one at about 1:20.
“Des Affûts Elliptiques” - Nick Cave & Warren Ellis
Not many people could get me to listen to a soundtrack for a French documentary about snow leopards. Nick Cave and Warren Ellis could get me to listen to just about anything though. And I’m glad I did because this whole record is gorgeous. This piece is particularly transcendent.
“Rare Symmetry” - American Football
The arpeggiated guitar riffs here are immediately entrancing.
“In My World” - MIKE
NYC rapper MIKE has one of the most laid-back flows I’ve ever heard. His newest single clocks in just over a minute, but the RHYMES. “I lust for the day's resolve, my chest snatched / From hugs that will fade into fogs…”
“Blessings” - Cousin Stizz
I love this sample. Pure joy.
“Ball & Chain” - 2KBABY
I was a big fan of 2KBABY’s debut record Pregame Rituals. The follow-up, First Quarter, was a bit of a letdown for me, but this song stood out with 2K’s brilliant melodic bounce and sincere lyricism.
“Friki” - Feid & Karol G
I’m a sucker for bangers with great hooks, also great Urbano beats. This is going on the bangers playlist immediately.
“Fireprayer” - Arca
Venezuelan electronic producer/musician Arca put out three 30-40 minute collections in December, which is unbelievable. I have mixed feelings about much of the three projects (kiCK iiiii is my favorite), but “Fireprayer” is memorable, beginning with heavenly industrial (how’s that for a paradox?) instrumentals before melting into tender solo piano chords briefly and then exploding into the heavenlies once again.
I Re-Listened To HAIM’s Discography
After watching (and loving) Paul Thomas Anderson’s Licorice Pizza starring Alana Haim and Cooper Hoffman, I had to go back through HAIM’s entire discography over the last few weeks. Some thoughts:
Three Things I Love About HAIM
I love the rhythm of HAIM’s melodies. It’s rare that I think of someone as a “rhythmic singer” (think Anthony Kiedis from Red Hot Chili Peppers), but I just love the way Danielle Haim lets words fall into place. Like in the chorus of “Forever” (“I’m tired of fighting the good fight / If you say the word, then I’ll say goodbye”), or “Want You Back” (“I’ll take the fall and the fault in us / I’ll give you all the love I never gave before / I left you”).
The way they fuse ‘70s rock and roll warmth with new wave glitz. And the way their approach feels more like borrowing tried-and-true building blocks to make something meaningful, rather than a cover artist trying to recapture the “good old days.”
There’s a lightness and joviality to HAIM. They just sound like they’re having fun making music and writing songs about fumbled relationships or love-filled desire.
Top 10 Songs
“If I Could Change Your Mind”
“Leaning On You”
“Little of Your Love”
“Ready For You”
“Something To Tell You”
“Want You Back”
“You Never Knew”
Apparently Danielle and Este Haim were in a girl group. It’s amazing.