A Year in Music: Sam Hockley-Smith

December 20, 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 Sam Hockley-Smith, check back each day this week for more.

Not long after Christmas, probably like February 2008, I was back home in Seattle at a record store. The guys behind the counter were talking about a noise band’s copious releases—I’m hazy on the details at this point, but basically the conversation was about two things the band released in the same year, each guy ostensibly liked one better than the other, but they couldn’t tell the difference between the two. I never want to become the guy that was trumpeting tiny, weird pressings of noise CD-Rs to a small community of people that didn’t actually care about what they were listening to as much as talking about what they were listening to. I am luckily still not that guy, but this year, I mostly listened to weird drone, weird acoustic guitar records and weird dance-not-dance albums. I also started thinking a lot about what it means to be an adult.

I bought a Christmas tree. I’m not even going to be in my apartment for Christmas, but I bought the tree anyway. Like those drone records and the finger picked guitar ones, and the ones that were “variations on a theme” (What was the theme? Does it matter?), it was about atmosphere more than anything else. I went to the hardware store and got the stand and got some lights. I diligently check to make sure it’s got water. When I get home from work, the first lights I turn on are the tree’s lights. It’s my stab at real adulthood in one way, and a last grasp at nostalgic comfort in another.

This year, I mostly listened to music for pleasure while laying in my bed. During the week, I sat at my desk and checked out everything that came in the mail. I trawled Livemixtapes for the good stuff, I listened to a lot of Starlito. Don Trip became a personal favorite. I listened to Danny Brown's "30" while running. It felt weird. I spent a weekend obsessively listening to a bootleg mixtape (Thanks again Livemixtapes!) of Andre 3000 guest verses, with the rest of the non-Andre parts of the songs cut out. I kept an open email draft and wrote every album I heard down, by date.

The records I spent the most time with at home are perfect for home. Mark McGuire of Emeralds made a beautiful acoustic album that I put on when I didn’t know what else to put on. It’s not my favorite piece of music this year, but it’s what I listened to the most. I traveled a lot too. Went to a lot of shows, went to a lot of festivals. I saw Kode9 DJ a set made up entirely of Burial’s music so early in the morning in Barcelona—but my head’s been at home. I purchased expensive import drone records I can’t even remember the names of, I searched out things that made me fall asleep, and liked them because they made me fall asleep. I spent way, way too much time thinking about the concept of texture in music.

I rented a lakehouse in Connecticut at the beginning of winter. Destroyer’s Kaputt was on repeat. I listened to the vinyl version of Clams Casino’s Instrumental while reading heavy hardcover books. I put on Wu Lyf’s “We Bros” whenever I wanted to feel sentimental and then get freaked out about feeling sentimental. Like every year, the second it got cold, I returned to Ladyhawk’s self-titled debut, which is still a boozy, messy album about being resigned to getting older. Singer Duffy Driediger seems desperate to find comfort in the things he used to find comfort in: drinking, hanging with friends and smoking weed on his back porch when everything got to be too much, but maybe it isn’t working as well as it used to for him. That’s probably a good thing, but losing touchstones is terrifying anyway. The music I listened to this year doesn’t have much in common sonically, but it put me where I needed to be mentally, and that’s the reason I got into it in the first place.

A Year in Music: Sam Hockley-Smith