My 2018 in Songs

Happy new year. As usual, I’ve procrastinated yet again—it’s already a whole week into the new year, and the deadline for this post was so far back as to not even be all that relevant anymore. Everyone’s already come out with their end-of-year lists, and are eagerly focusing now on analyzing the year to come. But time isn’t so easily discarded, and sometimes the things we think we’ve left behind, contained within an arbitrarily-dated year, only show their effects on us a lot later. Sometimes, like wine, some things need to mature with you.

I think the celebration of New Years, and thus the celebration of the idea that there can be “breaks” between one year and the next, that time can be so easily compartmentalised, can be a helpful thing because it gives people the energy to move on from painful experiences, but it is also deeply untrue. I don’t think 2018 (or any of the years that have preceded it) is the past, nor would I want it to be. I want, as Antonio Gramsci has said in his diatribe against New Years, to reckon with myself every day. I want to try, always, to seek out the continual chain of meaning that links every present action and circumstance to its history, thus also allowing us a sturdier ground from which to predict the future.

I had drafted a typical “favourite albums of 2018” listicle like everyone else, but I’ve chosen instead just to focus on specific songs, because I think that’s generally how music works for everyone. Whole albums can impact people, but more often than not we get fixated on specific songs, or even just specific lines of songs, because they speak to all of us differently. Focusing on songs allows me to be a bit more personal, I think. Sometimes you can think an album is just OK, but be really obsessed with a song from it. Sometimes a single line from a single song can inform the way you think for a long time after hearing it.

Anyway. Happy new year. Here is my list of songs (I only chose the ones that were released in 2018, otherwise this post would be much, much longer) that formed the way I thought, and soundtracked moments in my life in 2018. In order of their release throughout the year.

“Famous Prophets (Stars)”

(off Car Seat Headrest’s Twin Fantasy: Face to Face

To write about Twin Fantasy now, after almost a year since its re-release, makes me a little bit sick. It makes me sick, because to remember the album is to remember the person I was when I first heard it, and the places I’ve been while listening to it. Memories are really difficult to live with: in the tedious, fast-paced life that most of us are used to under capitalism, we don’t become attached to memories anymore and instead allow life to pass us by. Sometimes remembering is unbearable, and obstructs you from moving on.

But this album meant a lot to me because it meant a lot to Will Toledo. Through his return to an album he made when he was younger, and when the feelings were much rawer, he showed that self-confrontation can also be a creative process rather than just pain and sadness. The confrontation with one’s past can produce something beautiful and touch the lives of others. This kind of commitment to vulnerability and personal growth, in a music industry in which artists mostly seem to grow more disassociated from their selves over time, means a lot to me. 

“If You Know You Know”

(off Pusha T’s Daytona)

For the forward of the 2006 edition of David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest, Dave Eggers compared Wallace’s book to Sufjan Stevens’ project of writing an album for every state in the United States of America. I’m going to take that one step further and compare Stevens’ project to Kanye West’s exaggerated announcement that he was going to release an album for every week of 2018. So far, Stevens has only got as far as Illinois and Michigan, but West managed to get as far as five weeks out of 52.

The first track of the first album of West’s endeavour came out blaring with loud sirens and a weird voice that just seems to be going, “BA BA BA BA BEE BA BA BA” over and over again. At the time, I had just quit my first job to go travelling for a month, then still full of doubt as to whether that had been the right thing to do, or if I was just being stupid and impulsive as fuck. I was also very anxious during my travels, because it was the first time that I travelled so extensively on my own. Back then, I was someone fresh out of a job, someone who’d quit her job just to travel. I was alone, a lot, but I was also often with people who I knew then I would never see again. I often thought about my privilege to be able to travel, but also of the uncertainty that would be facing me when I came back, and it created this weird thing where I felt like I wasn’t being adventurous enough considering my privilege to be able to travel in the first place, but also guilt at living so recklessly sometimes, because I knew that I would have to return eventually, and confront myself eventually.

The regularity of West’s collaborative releases, which coincided with this same, odd, uneven time of my life, helped to ground me. I spent many long train rides listening to Push’s Daytona, West’s ye, and the Kids See Ghosts album. Anticipating the release that I knew would come at the end of each week also helped me keep time. Five (well, more accurately for me, four) strange weeks out of 52.

Ghost Town” (off Kanye West’s ye)

and “Reborn” (off Kids See Ghost’s Kids See Ghosts

The soft nighttime beat of “Reborn” reminds me of a wind-up lullaby toy I used to have when I was younger. And like a lullaby, this song and “Ghost Town” have been the songs I’ve turned to during times of intense disillusionment this year. 

This year, I’m more than a year graduated from university, after a whole lifetime of following formal schooling straight without any breaks or deviations. This year, I’ve taken risks and made choices that I’m still not sure about. Things seem to be going good, dream-like, but I’m suspicious that my choices have yet to exhaust themselves of their consequences. They may still raise themselves to bite me in the back further down the line. 

In the last verse of “Reborn”, Kid Cudi has a moment of confusion as he asks, “which way do I go?” while in the background his own voice echoes the refrain, keep moving forward, I’m moving forward. The combination of Cudi’s soft, muttering voice with the descending piano key undermines his claims of progress. It sounds more like a song of a lost boy trying to reassure himself that he’s OK, rather than a song from someone who’s really OK. Similarly, I’ve been trying to convince myself that I’ve been reborn through my choices–that I am no longer that lost girl of my late teens, that the years of my early 20s, fresh out of university, are bright and productive, but I can’t quite keep the doubt out of the song either. 

In “Ghost Town”, West similarly slurs the proclamation that, “some day we gon’ set it off,” but follows with the warning, “baby don’t you bet it all, on a pack of Fentanyl.” Fentanyl being the opiod that killed both Prince and Lil Peep. All of his promises of greatness and mental well-being are asterisked with that “some day”. Like with “Reborn”, the whole song sounds more like a song about doubt rather than the successful flaunting of the Kanye we’re used to. Cudi adds his vocals to the song in the plaintive refrain, “I’ve been trying to make you love me, but everything I try just takes you further from me.” 

After his final refrain in the song, it immediately breaks away into 070 Shake’s, “Whoa. Once again I am a child.” That jarring realisation that never fails to sneak one over you, again and again, no matter how old you are and how well you think you’ve “figured it out.” Turns out that doubt is a state you have to live with for the rest of your life. Turns out that your choices do matter, and regret only gets harder the older you get. Turns out that this is true for everyone, even Kanye West, and that I’m not alone in this. Turns out that knowing this only makes things better marginally. 

SICKO MODE

(off Travis Scott’s Astroworld)

Trap music offers a kind of retribution that no other genre of music offers so forcefully or so menacingly. Trap music offers this retribution alongside an attitude of total blaséness that sounds as if it’s not even a big deal, but rather the only logical outcome. 

The start of this year was marked by beef between Pusha T and Drake, and, I guess, Kanye West, who probably just likes to sit back and stoke some fires when he’s bored. So as a response to both Push and Kanye, Drake jumped onto Travis Scott’s song to produce one of the most well-loved and well-banged-out songs of the year, “SICKO MODE”. Many have speculated that Drake’s second verse in the song details his steps through his neighbourhood into the Kardashian-West residence to take his revenge on Kanye by having an affair with Kim.  While an amusing rumour, I don’t really care to speculate on the song’s real-life allusions; I’m more concerned with the very act of detailing one’s revenge in a hit song. Drake literally listed out all his moves down the block, complete with left- and right-turns. 

For all my doubts, this year was also a year of a lot of outwards anger and resentment. Doubt producing the anger at the external world for being so precarious. For making me feel used and screwed over but not allowing me to express that directly at the people who make me feel that way—because I want to keep my job, because of social niceties, or maybe even because they’re just people who are trying to make it just like me and that kind of mutual screwing over is inevitable. “SICKO MODE” is the dream of a revenge that is clean, direct, and, what’s more, something you can dance to after it’s done.

The entirety of Mitski’s Be The Cowboy

and “thank u, next” (Ariana Grande) 

I guess it’s unfair to pick out an entire album by Mitski in a list that’s supposed to be anti-album for the sake of specificity and personalization, but this will be the only exception because her entire album matters. Also… it’s my blog!

Mitski’s album came as a severe warning at a time when that’s the exact and only thing I needed. I feel like she’s staring me directly in the eye and piercing me to the core when I hear her say, “I know no one can save me.” 

This year has been the year that gave us the “big dick energy” meme. People have joked wondering whether their mcm or other male faves have “big dick energy”, but for me, big dick energy is the same energy as Mitski titling her album, “be the cowboy”. A lot of the songs chart a [heterosexual?] woman’s loneliness, but in so doing they also insist that a woman’s loneliness can be her source of strength instead of a sickness. Rather than identifying with the abandoned lover in typical Westerns, left to look longingly at her cowboy’s silhouette disappearing into the burning sunset, the album instead insists on us to identify with the cowboy. The cowboy is a lone ranger, not lonely. 

I haven’t been in love for a long, long time. And it’s not because I haven’t “found the right person”, it’s because I don’t want to. As the fight against the patriarchy and heteronormativity continues, sometimes the most powerful way that a straight woman can cultivate big dick energy is to choose not to fall in love. This goes beyond smilingly telling inquisitive friends and relatives that “I just haven’t found the right guy yet”, but enters the terrain of saying, with a dead serious face, that I’m not interested in anyone except myself. It’s not me, it’s most definitely you. For so long I played the game thinking that happiness and safety could be found in the arms of a man, until Mitski rode into town and told me to be the cowboy I want to see in the world.

Or be the 6’3” guy with the 10” dick you think you’re going to marry. The “big dick energy” meme arose from a joke Ariana Grande made about her ex, but then she pulled out “thank u, next,” proving perhaps that her own big dick energy goes beyond what can be measured by a ruler. This song isn’t exactly on the same wavelength as Mitski’s album, but it still offered to me a more liberating way of speaking about heterosexual relationships than what we’re used to from pop songs. It’s a break-up song with the twist that there’s no bitterness, or false bravado in the face of hurt; instead, “thank u, next” acknowledges that Grande’s past relationships have meant a lot to her, and even bettered her in many ways, but ultimately still insists that she’s choosing herself above everyone else. It manages to be catchy and upbeat but also sagely reasonable. “I love you. I love you, but I’m turning to my verses and my heart is closing like a fist.” (Frank O’Hara.)

“Mo Bamba”

(off Sheck Wes’ Mudboy

Prior to “Mo Bamba”, I hadn’t ever heard of Sheck Wes. It seems these days that trap has one of the fastest cycles of stardom and prominency. Like, has anyone heard from Desiigner lately? But just like Desiigner’s “Panda”, “Mo Bamba” was easily one of the biggest, littiest songs of the year. Just hearing that 20-year-old breakout rapper who already has deals with both Travis Scott and Kanye West, shouting, “Fuck! Shit! Bitch!” makes me feel more confident. Trap seems like one of those machine-produced industries, in the sense that trap artists don’t need to expend much effort to make a hit song and rake in royalties. They can have the stupidest, emptiest lyrics (FUCK! SHIT! BITCH!) with the same style of beats, and end up being played at clubs for a whole year straight. 

There’s something to be said about pushing generic boundaries and experimenting with one’s craft, but there’s also something to be said for following an established tradition but being able to pull it off to a T. In this list, I’ve featured songs that I feel opened up my ears to new creative possibilities, but there’s also nothing quite like a good fucking trap banger. All our endeavours are in the pursuit of giving less fucks, and trap music takes the fastest route there. 

“Nowhere2go” (off Earl Sweatshirt’s Some Rap Songs)

and “E.Coli” (ft. Earl Sweatshirt, off The Alchemist’s Bread)

Earlier this year, I bought tickets to the annual Field Day festival in London, solely because I thought it would be the only chance I’d get for a long time to watch my favourite rapper, Earl Sweatshirt, perform live. And then he cancelled on the morning of the day itself. I found out while I was peeing in a McDonald’s, yet I wasn’t even surprised, calmly returning to my seat and telling Jesse (who I was attending the festival with), “He cancelled.” 

I was disappointed, but I’d also expected it from a rapper who had teased releases without ever committing to any full-length drop, multiple times, over the past three years since his 2015 album I Don’t Like Shit I Don’t Go Outside. Earl Sweatshirt has always been kind of elusive, even back in his Odd Future days, but that’s maybe the most appropriate way to be when you reach an intense level of fame when you’re still a kid. 

Earl Sweatshirt came back with “Nowhere2go”, which was finally followed with his third full-length album, Some Rap Songs. He sounds incredibly different, but you probably could have already predicted the path of maturity that he would follow. In the past couple years with the sporadic drops he’s granted us, he’s shown his propensity for collaborations with more unknown, but willingly experimental, producers, such as The Alchemist on “E. coli”. He’s also slowed down his rap flow, preferring to substantialise his words rather than falling back on his reputation as a child prodigy with a quick flow. 

As someone whose rap literacy literally matured alongside Earl Sweatshirt—besides Kanye West, he was probably the rapper who got me into the genre and all its accompanying sub-genres—it makes me happy to be allowed to follow the progress not only of his music, but also of his person. The Earl on “Nowhere2go” is a lot more chilled out and reflective. The impression is of a guy sitting back in his chair and rolling out sage lines without thinking too much about anything, perhaps belying the amount of emotional turmoil, self-reflection, and self-imposed isolation that he must have gone through in the preceding years to finally arrive at this zen-like state. I’m happy for him.

♫: “Ghost Town”, Kanye West, 070 Shake, Kid Cudi, PARTYNEXTDOOR

Thinking about the betrayal of beauty through the penultimate song off ye

There are some songs that evoke so much within you that you believe that their author was writing from the very same experiences as you’ve had. I’ve felt the full force of Ghost Town most acutely when I was walking around on my own in Tokyo and feeling lonely and abandoned by something I hadn’t even known I’d possessed. (Any city becomes a ghost town if you’re the one who ghosts through it.) I felt it at sunsets, marking the sad passing of time and another day drawn to a close with everything much the same. I’ve felt it while in KLCC park on the eve of independence day this year, sitting alone and eating some bread and watching the crowd thronging around the colourful lights of the fountain. Feeling like there’s something monumental about to happen—or currently happening, all around me—but that I was not part of it, and could not possibly ever be. But some day, some day. The wide, rounded vocals by 070 Shake and Kid Cudi make something bloom in my chest. The latter’s “I’ve been trying to make you love me / but everything I try just takes you further from me,” remind me of that viral video of Barcelona’s “Please Don’t Go” set to a view of a crowd passing a gigantic tank in Japan’s Okinawa Chiraumi Aquarium. The anonymous strangers are bathed in blue light, in awe of the mysterious and fantastic beasts in front of them. Love and its attainment also being another mysterious and fantastic beast that we gape at as we pass through life. We’ll understand some day, some day, maybe some day.

For me, “Ghost Town” is the best song off Kanye’s 2018 album ye, and the only song that induces me to revisit the album at all. Yet it feels corny to say that a Kanye West song made me emotional, and this self-consciousness is probably a result of the total dissonance between the song and the leading man behind it. As 070 Shake herself said in an interview, her refrain (so crucial to the song, for me) was only added in at the very last minute on the day of ye’s release; the song “almost didn’t make it”. It’s for reasons like this that I don’t like behind-the-scenes information about music or musicians, because I don’t like to think that a song that has come to mean so much to me could have just been thrown together on the day of its release. This knowledge suggests a kind of artificiality or shallowness in its production that is totally discordant with the emotional connection I’ve formed to the song.

More than its production, it feels corny to say that a Kanye West song made me emotional, because it’s a song by Kanye West, the man who famously doesn’t give a fuck about how his music or personality makes other people feel. However, for me (and because I’m talking about the controversial figure of Kanye West, I feel like I need to emphasize the truly personal nature of this whole thing, so expect a lot more “for me”s), “Ghost Town” isn’t typically the kind of thing that Kanye has been producing in recent times. “Ghost Town” is different from his discography of recent years, because of how full it is of hope and, consequently, of hope’s cause, i.e. suffering. It is so full of hope for life, for beauty, for understanding, that it’s difficult for me to reconcile it with the Kanye of The Life of Pablo, full as it was of debauchery, racism and sexism. Even in TLOP’s more plaintive moments like “Wolves”, he undercuts the sentiment with a line so ridiculous that it makes you question the seriousness of the entire song. “You tried to play nice, everybody just took advantage / You left your fridge open, somebody just took a sandwich,” he says, plainly and apparently unironically. (Or ironically, but in either case it still undermines the sentiment of the song.)

Songs like “Wolves” and “Ghost Town” force the question of beauty. They lead you into a beautiful, mournful song, and Kanye himself undercuts his own sentiment by forcing something ugly and absurd into it. “Ghost Town” doesn’t have any “absurd” or “ironic” lines like the one in “Wolves”, but the beauty of the song is still undercut by the sole factor of Kanye West being Kanye West. ye was released amidst controversy with Drake and also with fans on Twitter over his support for Trump; the encompassing controversy affects how we respond to his releases. And yet, it’s the very fact of Kanye West being the sexist, racist, Trump-supporting person he is that gives “Ghost Town” its full force as a hopeful and vulnerable song; perhaps there’s no one else other than Kanye West who could deliver the line, “you may think they wrote you off, they gon’ have to rope me off”, and have it be considered so simplistically beautiful by the listener. Like “Bound 2”, the closing track to his 2013 album Yeezus, both songs successfully pull off this image of Kanye West as some naively foolish, thoughtless, Homer-Simpson-esque everyman who runs his mouth sometimes but loves his wife all the same, who has hopes and dreams and a conception of beauty all the same. However, nothing could be further from the truth.

“Ghost Town” shows Kanye as he isn’t, i.e. vulnerable, suffering a lack, striving towards something beautiful & lovely & transcendent. The final few lines by 070 Shake sound like a stadium song with the accompanying steady drumming: “And nothing hurts anymore, I feel kinda free.” I love her refrain, but I also feel acutely the dissonance between these lines and the monumental figure of Kanye West. How hard it is to get your head around him being a man who could possibly be hurt, or possibly feel as if he were not free to do or say anything he wants.

I take Kanye West seriously as a musician and I appreciate his discography. Previously, I’d been able to do this because I ignored his politics, because I can’t bear to take them seriously. In a world where we get so inundated with new media, we sacrifice deep contemplation about personal ethics for the sake of enjoying a new piece of art. By now, a lot of people generally agree that there’s no point getting involved with an artist’s personal and political life when the music industry is powered by money. No matter how much we try to “hold someone accountable”, this sentiment in and of itself pales in comparison to how much the artist’s music brings the industry in profits. My approach to most forms of new American media has been one of mild indifference—enjoy the art, ignore the artist, don’t speak about idolatry or prophecy, and… whatever. Give up the art/artist if you can’t bring yourself to ignore the crime, but as Jenny Holzer said, “abuse of power comes as no surprise.” There’s no such thing as a fully perfect, ethical celebrity because the entire status of celebrity is corrupt.

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With “Ghost Town”, what I really wanted to know wasn’t how could Kanye West get away with saying the things he does? but rather, how could someone so horrible produce something so beautiful? I’m not thinking about how he could espouse the politics he does, or why he’s always insulting Kim in his songs, or why he starts unnecessary drama when he’s a full-grown man; rather, I’m more confused as to how someone so given over to the coarseness and superficiality of the entertainment industry could still produce something so touching and emotionally potent. (At least, for me. You can stop reading if you think I’m talking garbage.) How does that make any sense at all? When I think of beauty, I inevitably think of goodness, because the logic for me is that if someone is able to appreciate beautiful things, then it means that they should also know what is good. Beauty, for me, is inextricably bound up with the good, in that the things I personally consider “beautiful” often carry a kind of moral weight. For me, beauty is arrived at through sensitivity and empathy. Some of the most successful poetry and art are the ones that empathize with a shared feeling, and express this feeling with the trust that others will understand.

Knowledge is both an aid and a curse. Trusting one’s instinctual, emotional response to a work of art seems like a form of naivety, but it also seems wrong to deny the initial emotional response for the sake of privileging the technical production. 070 Shake returns to this naivety in “Ghost Town” when she sings, “We’re still the kids we used to be / I put my hand on a stove / to see if I still bleed,” childishly confusing the consequences of one act with another. Art is experienced through the senses—i.e. visually, auditorily, or kinesthetically—so it seems wrong to say that true art can only be arrived at/appreciated only once one has full knowledge of information external to the art.

There’s a certain repulsiveness in knowing the thought process behind a work of art, or even knowing the artist as a person, because with that knowledge can only come either a confirmation or a denial of your own emotional response to the artwork (emotion also formed by one’s own personal ethics, etc.). Ideally you’d want art to remain as it is when you first saw/heard/read it—as something purely yours, confirming your own ability to find beauty, and your own vision. A piece of art is often more a testament to our own capacity to empathise than it is the artist’s, which I guess is my main trouble with beauty. It is like admitting that you have loved someone more than they have loved you. The uneven empathy, the distance between two people, and the dissonance between what you give and what you receive—this heartbreak and betrayal is, for me, the same one at the heart of “Ghost Town”. I’ve been trying to make you love me, but everything I try just takes you further from me.

There doesn’t seem to be any rational response to this betrayal of art by its artist. Knowledge aids the appreciation, but it also allows cracks to appear in your initial response. Our emotional attachment to a work of art makes it difficult to give up an artist, and ultimately we will never fully know any of the artists we love, because of the distance between our lives and theirs. Music and art come naturally to us, in that we often have no say in what we listen to and how it affects us, because of the aforementioned saturation of media in our modern times; besides, the desire for beauty and art is wholly human and as natural for us to seek out as a fish for water. To Kanye West, “Ghost Town” is likely just a song he’s cobbled together and put out just like any other, and very likely that, on that last day before ye’s release, he wasn’t feeling the same intensity of feeling and I do towards that song. So it’s no good to live on beauty and emotions alone, but it’s no good either to deny them, or the fact of beauty’s necessity to us… How does that work? 

♫: “Sober-to-Death”/”Powderfinger”, Car Seat Headrest

I’m listening to Car Seat Headrest’s “Sober-to-Death”/”Powderfinger” mash-up and–I–just–love them so much. I can’t get over what a beautiful mixture of sounds the whole thing is–the injection of folk americana Civil War mythos into “Sober-to-Death”, one of the most self-indulgent and depressing songs off Twin Fantasy, turning the whole thing into something universal, legendary, American. As American as Edward Hopper paintings, or lonely gas stations, or 24-hour diners. Or prairies, or young men with guns, or colonial plantation houses. In How to Leave Town, Toledo claimed that he’d “never been” to America, but that alienation from one’s own country also similarly strikes me as quintessentially American. The transformation of the individual story into national mythos–a universal feeling–it’s these kinds of things that make me feel American, or feel nostalgic for a dream America. The same way I felt while reading about the Trace Italian in John Darnielle’s Wolf in White Van, the same way I sometimes feel while listening to the McElroy brothers’ podcast “My Brother, My Brother and Me”. The feeling that there’s some long lost part of me that grew up in America, and still remembers all the state names. Lost America, dream America, America as collective memory, America as a universal collective dream a la Freud…

A nervous young man in the backseat of his parents’ car, parking it in various public parking lots (as the etiological legend of Car Seat Headrest goes), and recording his vocals there into his laptop, because he can’t bring himself to record at home where he’s young enough to still be living with his parents, and singing about a disintegrating relationship. This young man alone in his parents’ car singing to himself, “we were wrecks before we crashed into each other.” A young man alone in his parents’ house in the town he dedicates several albums to expressing his desire to leave, singing the resolution to his own depression–singing himself better in the close, “Don’t worry, you and me won’t be alone no more.” Over and over.

Leesburg, Virginia, Americana. This room that he spends so long looking up at the ceiling of in “The Ballad of Costa Concordia” off a later album. As Hua Hsu has written in a profile of Will Toledo, “a pop song can take you higher but it can’t take you out of Leesburg fast enough.” Virginia, plantation houses and the confederate flag, Virginia. Virginia in the Civil War and the boy with his father’s gun in Powderfinger.

Toledo transforms his depression into something legendary, which is sometimes to say American. The Sober-to-Powderfinger-Death transformation is like when Neutral Milk Hotel’s “King of Carrot Flowers pt. 1” transforms from the narrator remembering his father’s suicidal tendencies into the desperate, prostrating chorus of “I LOVE YOU JESUS CHRIST–JESUS CHRIST, I LOVE YOU, YES I DO,” of “King of Carrot Flowers pt. 2“.

Dream America, with its skinny nervous young men desperate to leave their parents’ homes in the town they grew up in and the hatred of which they’ve been nurturing their whole lives, mumbling to themselves about a gun, or a white boat, or Jesus Christ. Car Seat Headrest transforms the depressive mania of “Sober-to-Death” into a national creation myth of the same monumental proportions as the Civil War.

And me, I sleep outside of America, but I dream along all the same. If in a previous post I wrote that Death Grips are the simultaneous arch-nemeses and champions of American values, the dark ambiguous character watching from the wings, then Car Seat Headrest is my broken golden American hero, if only because they don’t hide behind the same cape of irony and because they dare to assume the universality of their longing. I’m trying to find the words, too, to make This grander than it is without romanticising it, to also find a place where all This can rest next to the lives of others. There is some comfort in your nightmare belonging.

♫: “I Want You To Know That I’m Awake/I Hope You’re Asleep”

In the past few weeks, there has only been two moods for me, musically: Death Grips on repeat, for my previous piece, and Car Seat Headrests’ How to Leave Town on repeat. “I Want You To Know I’m Awake/I Hope You’re Asleep” is off the latter.

We have a lot of great songs about one-sided relationships, usually sung from the perspective of the one who loves more, because it’s heartbreaking to love someone more than they love you. However, this song is, for me, from the perspective of the one that doesn’t love enough. The betrayer.

One of the telltale signs that your relationship is doomed is when you start comparing yourselves to other relationships: towards the end of this song, Toledo compares his relationship to other famous, dysfunctional relationships, such as Frank Sinatra and Ava Gardner, John Lennon and Yoko Ono, the split of The Beatles and the Beach Boys. He speaks of them like friends, singing, “Frankie and Ava broke up today,” followed by the refrain, “but we’re not like them, no, we’re nothing like them” after each line.

The refrain is ironic, or maybe just sad, because he’s listing all these couples only for the purpose of reassuring himself that at least we’re not like them. In the naïveté of first/young love, you’re convinced that your love will outlast everyone else’s despite what everyone else says. That high school relationships don’t last, that long-distance doesn’t work, that the average person goes through several relationships in their lifetime, that your heart will mend and you will learn to love others if a relationship doesn’t work out. You don’t want to believe that those things are true, because it suggests a betrayal. When you’re young, and especially if it’s also your first, you want to believe that you, specifically, will be the one who will go over and beyond with your love–through sheer willpower you will just love better than anyone else ever has.

And then the crushing disappointment of your own failure, especially coupled with the knowledge that it’s not even your partner’s fault, but indeed your own. It’s almost as if the fact that you couldn’t love enough hurts more than the idea of losing your loved one; the fact of your own ability to betray a love hurts more than losing the one you’re betraying. Elsewhere on the album, Toledo has another refrain where he sings, “Love isn’t love enough…”

Toledo abstracts, moving beyond famous couples and wonders about The Beatles, a band that made monumental music, but all the same still a band that couldn’t quite cut it despite all the beauty they were able to produce together. John & Yoko separated for a year–eventually the legendary Beatles broke up too–and Paul started doubting everything he did. But we’re not like them, can’t be anything like them. Richard Siken, from his poem, “Scheherazade”: Tell me how all this, and love too, will ruin us. / These, our bodies, possessed by light. / Tell me we’ll never get used to it.

(Which is a way to say: sometimes I still dream about you.)