A not-so-secret-secret: I hate end-of-year lists.
Actually, I love other people’s end-of-year lists. I love discovering hundreds of albums from artists I never heard of and cramming them all in during the final push of Listmas. But, as you can probably tell by the nature of this very newsletter, I tend to put too much pressure on myself to accurately sum up the year in my inner-life and connect it to broader musical trends. For those of you who aren’t music reviewers: yes, we really do think like this, and are fully aware of how pretentious we sound.
The final months of the year are spent in a dual position of both reflection and discovery — what have I missed? What music made me feel the most this year? Was the profound experience of listening to this album greater than or less than the experience of this other album? Will anyone mind if I don’t have [insert a popular record of the day here] on my list?
The days following Listmas are, therefore, a little bit odd. Usually, I revert to music that’s familiar and comforting. But this year, for whatever reason, I had more space in my heart for new releases. I went on to Bandcamp on Christmas eve — spent alone this year, due to the pandemic continuing its trend of ruining everything — and searched through the small selection of new releases. Albums that arrived past the deadline for end-of-year flurries, music released just for its own sake.
Slaughter Beach, Dog is the side-project of Jake Ewald, formally of the group Modern Baseball. On Christmas Eve this year, he released his fourth effort under this moniker with a stunning folk-rock full-length called At The Moonbase. “Have a listen",” he says in a post on his socials. “hope you enjoy it, hope it brings you a glimmer of joy at the end of this terrible year”.
Despite being recorded in isolation, Moonbase is a fully-rendered folk-rock thrill, which sees Ewald leaning into conceptual storylines, bustling locations and spoken-word driven narratives. Much of the record centres on the locations of the before-times: dive bars and busy streets, gigs and parties, truck stops and passport photo booths that let you take a picture two at a time.
And there are honest-to-God characters here too; conversations between a New York Times crossword editor and girl named Jenny, or the coupling of co-workers Tommy and Fernando who spend their time writing fan-fiction and worrying about not knowing how to play the piano (“A Modern Lay”); a group of “terrible dealers/peddling head for favours”, and smoking cigarettes at a bar called The Moonbase (“At The Moonbase”); guests at a party who arrive at random intervals “lookin' to drink beer in front of / some different pictures on the wall for a change”.
It’s a birds-eye view of falling in love in modern America; the pains and joys and spoils of it. So much of the record is an impossibility right now, and through telling small seemingly inconsequential stories it invites us to, maybe, reframe our own experiences with a similar slant. At The Moonbase is a good companion-record to Andy Shauf’s 2020 record The Neon Skyline, which focused in on a single night spent moving from bar to bar with friends and ex-lovers — another seemingly innocuous odyssey that sheds soft light on our most base relationships. These small interactions, backdropped by the sonder of other people’s lives, is like a dream world right now.
On “Do You Understand (What Has Happened To You)”, Ewald opens with the line “today I remembered all the things I have forgotten”. Hearing this for the first time, its as though I received permission to look back at the year that’s in it and engage anew; to reformat my thinking and remember that — after all that’s happened — there’s plenty out there that I just didn’t get around to. Plenty of music (or art, or books, or whatever your tipple) that, despite feeling like the year has run out, I still have time for. Things that don’t need to be quantified, qualified, or compared to the rest of it.
At this time of year, I tend to lean a little too hard into looking forward and making plans for the new year to come. Making promises that I’ll, for example; try to go for more walks, call my family, read more books and fewer tweets, remember birthdays and send cards. Before I know it, I’m half-way through March and still feeling behind. This year — or for the next few days at least — I’m trying to sit still in the moment, and engage with music without pressure, to reflect without numbering the experiences.
So, in lieu of a playlist this week, I invite you to check out the aforementioned Slaughter Beach, Dog record. Releasing such a phenomenal album at a time of year when it’s unlikely to be reviewed — let alone make it to end-of-year-lists — is a move I have a lot of respect for.
I’ll be back in the new year with more playlists and stories but, for now, I’d like to thank you from the bottom of my heart for supporting this newsletter. I’m still finding my feet here, but it's meant a lot to know that so many of you are reading and engaging with the music. I hope you have a safe and happy New Year, whatever that looks like to you.
Slaughter Beach, Dog “At The Moonbase” is available to buy or stream on Bandcamp, Spotify, Apple Music, and from the artist’s website. If you can, please consider financially supporting artists this year!