TABLE OF CONTENTS

PRINT December 2021

top ten

SASHA GEFFEN’S BEST MUSIC OF 2021

Sasha Geffen is a writer based in Colorado and the author of Glitter Up the Dark: How Pop Music Broke the Binary (University of Texas Press, 2020).

Mari Maurice of —-_—___, Austin, TX, August 26, 2021. Photo: Katherine Squire.

1

—-_—___, THE HEART PUMPS KOOL-AID (Orange Milk)
The Heart Pumps Kool-Aid uses abundant negative space to sound out the melancholy of Midwestern geography—the stretches of highway that connect nodes of activity, the time and gas they devour. Focusing on the emptiness between objects, Kool-Aid tracks how even the most embodied sounds quickly decay into silence. 

Promotional image for Body Meat’s Year of the Orc, 2021. Photo: Matt Noll.

2
BODY MEAT, YEAR OF THE ORC (self-released)
Christopher Taylor doesn’t so much write songs as stitch together writhing, spurting amalgams. Here, he pushes that conceit to its most pleasurable limit, enticing the ear with something that resembles a hook only to yank it away at the last second. In music, it’s the wanting, not the getting, that feels the best.

Bonnie ‘‘Prince’’ Billy and Matt Sweeney, A Cell in the Smile, Cleveland, OH, 2020. Photo: Jonah Freeman and Justin Lowe.

3
MATT SWEENEY & BONNIE “PRINCE” BILLY, SUPERWOLVES (Drag City)
In 2005, Will Oldham and Sweeney released Superwolf, a fun and fecund oasis in a desert of largely sexless indie-rock neurosis. While the duo’s last collaboration bored through earthly pleasures to reach the sublime, its sequel hangs back and notices how the divine filters in through the pores of the everyday all on its own.

4
BURIAL, CHEMZ/DOLPHINZ (Hyperdub)
In a 2012 interview with Mark Fisher, Burial likens hearing music to gazing out over a darkened hill glowing with campfires. These dislocated club frenzies feel just like that, their discrete moments softened and stretched across time or glitched out of continuity entirely.

Cover detail of L’Rain’s Fatigue (Mexican Summer, 2021).

5
L’RAIN, FATIGUE (Mexican Summer)
Taja Cheek’s spacious, mixed-fidelity collaging blooms on her second album as L’Rain. By asymptotically approaching the song form without ever quite assuming it, Fatigue presents dissolution as the natural counterpart to becoming. 

Still from Lingua Ignota’s 2021 video Pennsylvania Furnace, directed by Kristin Hayter. Lingua Ignota.

6
LINGUA IGNOTA, SINNER GET READY (Sargent House)
Across organ dirges, Kristin Hayter’s seething alto singes the painful communion between furious gods and pious devotees. She stages her dramas on the level of the body and the terror that rings through it when it’s faced with what it by definition cannot know.

7
LUCY LIYOU, PRACTICE (Full Spectrum)
In Liyou’s music, the jarring, displaced vocalizations of text-to-speech readers hang in spectral washes of acoustic piano, creating a contrast in tone and technique that conveys otherwise unspeakable intimacies. Practice traces the complexities of familial devotion: stinging confusion and life-sustaining love alike. 

Pom Pom Squad performing at Brooklyn Bazaar, New York, June 25, 2019. Photo: Dean Keim.

8
POM POM SQUAD, DEATH OF A CHEERLEADER (City Slang)
Pom Pom Squad’s Mia Berrin vaults up into her elastic head voice with athletic ease only to crash back down into guttural snarls, teasing out knotty vignettes that pulse between naked desire and charred self-loathing. 

9
REVEREND DOLLARS, PVNKHAVS (self-released)
The dizzying, enlivening heat of Renee Jarreau’s newest EP expands the present moment just enough to slip us loose from ordinary sequentiality. Her corroded grooves create shelter, their jagged edges locking together to shut out the alienating world.

10
SPELLLING, THE TURNING WHEEL (Sacred Bones) Chrystia Cabral’s music encircles scenes of love and harmony with the threat of what lurks beyond their light: wolves at the edge of town, snapping at the gates.