A Year in Music: Amber Bravo

December 21, 2011

It’s difficult to differentiate a year in music from just a year. Beyonce exists because we hear her at the gym, Bill Callahan is important because he sings about America while we’re abroad, the first time we heard Frank Ocean it was in a kitchen and underwhelming, etc. To us, music exists empirically and anecdotally, not individually and clinically. In that spirit, to wind down the year, five FADER editors sum up their year through music. Or maybe they sum up music through their year. However you want to put it. Today is our senior editor Amber Bravo, check back each day this week for more.

Earlier this month, news broke that another planet, significantly similar to ours in terms of mass, gravity and temperature was circling a red star right here, in our own galaxy, 600 light-years away. It is called Kepler 22-b and is about 2.4 times the size of Earth with a climate not dissimilar to that of Los Angeles. It quickly ousted last year’s “Earth 2.0,” (Kepler-10b) in the contest of terrestrial likeness because it’s in that Goldilocks spot just far away from its sun, around which it takes 290 days to orbit. I’ve been working at FADER for about as long. About two months shy of a year here on earth, and almost exactly a year on Earth 2.0. It’s gone by fast, and the season’s annual process of rounding up and looking back leaves me incredulous that everything that happened in my life and work and the world at large happened in one year. It makes me feel small, and when life goes by fast, it’s hard to fathom the days that felt long, and how many memories you have to lose in order hang on to the choice few of a year, of five, of 30...

Before I started working at FADER, I wrote almost exclusively about art, design and architecture. I joke sometimes that I like to niche hop, which, in some ways, is like traveling to another planet. Discovering a new world, with its own set of cycles and systems and people can be overwhelming, but it’s also hugely rewarding. There’s never not something to learn—every world its own limitless black hole, depending how deep you want to go. This is particularly true for me with music. I'm so saturated, it's hard for me to feel okay talking about one thing (which is why I'm focusing on a feeling). A couple months ago, I went to interview Girls and see their show at Bowery Ballroom, I met up with Schnipper before the show and we stood up on the balcony, looking down on the crowd and the flower-strewn stage. Schnipper, who is very well acquainted with the band, started narrating the scene that lay before us, pointing out members of the band’s orbiting associations, girlfriends...Ryan McGinley. I loved his stories because they made this crowd, which was otherwise completely anonymous and indistinguishable from any other I’ve encountered at Bowery this year (save for the Washed Out show, which was weirdly fratty) feel complex and rich; even between songs, being one in a crowd somehow felt less lonesome. I joked that listening to his narration felt like reading a bizarro modern-day adaptation of The Age of Innocence (particularly the first scene at the opera), and I thought to myself, only half-jokingly, I'd like to write that book someday, so I’d better pay close attention to Schnipper. One of the reasons I love Edith Wharton so much, is her ability to spend a page telling you about the differences in wardrobe etiquette between turn-of-the-century Americans and Europeans, focusing on the smallest detail of custom and observances, stating seemingly superficial facts that are actually indistinguishable to the larger social order. Her observations are small, but they tell big stories. It’s unsurprising to me that Wharton was also really into architecture and design and that she was bros with the similarly sensitive and observant Jameses.

One thing I've started to do this year (slowly) is go to East Village Radio, where, every Tuesday a revolving cast of FADER editors (and special guests) host a radio show called The Let Out. The way the scheduling runs at the station, we always overlap slightly with the set before and after us. Earlier this month, the hardcore crew who plays after us showed up a bit early for their time slot and, for some reason or another, a fight broke out. It was strange to be sitting in the fishbowl-like station, blinking wide eyed out at the scene unfolding out front. It was also a little scary. Later, one of the guys came up to to apologize, expressing his embarrassment and confessing that despite anger management therapy, he still occasionally had outbursts. The scene had the strange effect of making me think more about him and what his life might be like and what hardcore might mean to him. Maybe it's just a way to deal—like so much music, art or writing is—with an acute sensitivity. He told us that he thought that all the talk of Earth 2.0 was overwhelming people (himself included), and that makes sense: For people whose internal worlds are sometimes too much to take, the prospect of another gigantic primordial stew churning out in space must be terrifying.

Another earth was both the premise and the title for one of the better movies I saw this year. It was the first feature debut from director Mike Cahill, who grew up in New Haven, where the film is set (and which is full of some amazing architectural gems), and traces the story of a young girl who commits a careless act, tragically altering her life course dramatically. The story plays out like a traditional psychological drama, with an underlying sci-fi subplot, that another earth has been detected out in the ether. Despite moments that felt off to me—first feature slip ups and some heavy-handed dialogue, I was really impressed by the originality of the story, and the way it dealt with pretty universal themes of loss, regret and relationship to each other and to ourselves. Looking at Cahill’s Wikipedia page, I’m super stoked (and not surprised) that he also loves Krzysztof Kieślowski’s The Double Life of Véronique, which has made it into my personal archive of movies I bought because I could watch them over and over by myself many times. Like Another Earth, it teases at that mind-bending hypothetical of the doppelganger, that somewhere in the world (or in the universe, according to Kahill) there’s another you, and in what ways are you connected to your twin. Kieślowski used the same cinematographer and composer for most of his films and they are as much a part of the films as Kieślowski. Cahill also chose one musical voice to score Another Earth, which Sam premiered earlier this year on the site.

Stream: Fall On Your Sword, "The First Time I Saw Jupiter"

I wonder if Fall On Your Sword will also score Cahill’s upcoming projects, movies about reincarnation and a fashion designer that lives under the sea (again, according to Wikipedia)? If not, he might want to consider Grouper, whose music is already cinematic, but also seems to fit Cahill’s sensibility well, the idea of our alienation and interconnectedness. Her very excellent “double album” A I A was about the experience of creating through two different periods in her life—one before and one after, as she says, a "really difficult time"—and how the sounds are related but are not exactly of the same mind. It's nice that she can have that perspective to share. Two people in my life struggled very deeply this past year living inside their own heads, sadly, to varying degrees of success. Who knows what keeps people from going over the edge. Sometimes the world gets to be too much, which is why I'm thankful for those moments that simultaneously take me out of myself, encourage me to keep looking and, hopefully, keep finding new places right where I am.

Stream: Grouper, "Alien Observer"

A Year in Music: Amber Bravo