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A Year-End-Not-Year-End Roundup

New Musical Express with John's Music Blog

John’s Music Blog says: Embrace chaos

By John Chiaverina


John's Music Blog is a twice-weekly newsletter created by an aging millennial hipster and failed musician. John also has bylines in T: The New York Times Style Magazine and Kpopstarz. New Musical Express is an exploration of the fractured and confusing contemporary music landscape, written by someone who is one mental breakdown away from moving to the Midwest and working at a gas station.

I’ve never really done year-end lists. Most of my adult life has been too scattered for me to have the discipline to make little spreadsheets or playlists or whatever else it is that people do to log their music intake before spitting it out into a tidy sequence of favorites. Any time I’ve made one, I’ve ended up feeling weird about the result. It has always seemed kind of arbitrary.

It doesn’t help that I’ve spent over 20 years as both a listener and a songwriter. There have been periods of my life where I have lost my mind, dropped out of new music almost entirely, and just listened to the same Springsteen record over and over. There have been periods where anything “cool” has felt antithetical to some conceptual goal I’ve had, a goal that I couldn’t fully articulate then and sure as hell can’t now. The brain of a music blogger and the brain of a musician can overlap, until they don’t anymore.

What am I now? God knows. I do know that these are funny times for music, and to make any sort of a grand statement about the zeitgeist is to miss the actual zeitgeist—it’s pure chaos out there, people. For that reason, I like checking out year-end lists. Even if I can only process them as oceans of data, they seem to capture just how overwhelming and futile it can be to make sense of contemporary music in totality.

The only reasonable response, for me, is to let go. As music’s place in culture continues to shift to the periphery, enjoying a Fall Out Boy song while waiting in line at Walgreens isn’t more or less important than dancing to a techno DJ or obsessing over a single classic rock LP or diving through rap YouTubes. I think it’s important for people to have petty arguments about aesthetics and sonics, but I’m too old to care. I just want to listen. Below is a non-definitive list of music that I liked in 2023, most of it from the final quarter of the year, some of it even newer. More importantly, there is also an interview with the American comics hero Brian Blomerth about his studio listening habits. Hello friends, welcome to another edition of New Musical Express.


1. Sexyy Red (Feat. Chief Keef) - “Ghetto Princess”

The closest thing to a consensus pick that I can find in 2023 has got to be Sexyy Red. It feels good to agree on something. Through sheer force of hooks, bars, and personality, Sexyy Red has built bridges all across America; her 2023 output is full of songs that can move through multiple cultural funnels and come out the other end unscathed. “Ghetto Princess” is another generational connector, with elevated Ear Drummers Entertainment production and a pure turn-up verse from Chief Keef.

2. Graham Hunt - “Tashmere Anthill”

Graham Hunt exists at the intersection of “Bring your own lampshade / Somewhere there’s a party” and “I got two turntables and a microphone.” He’s a Midwest troubadour with an ear for breakbeats. “Emergency Contact,” the single that preceded this one, has got to be the best pop rock song of the year, and that’s the only time I’m going to call anything the best of anything today; it’s just that good. Seeing him play it live before I had heard it recorded was one of those moments that reaffirmed my love for music, for better or worse. “Tashmere Antill” is another hit. It’s got funky wah-wah guitar and a strutting bassline. Graham Hunt: Recommended for fans of choruses. 

3. Treety - “Let Go”

New Orleans bounce seems to be in a weird place. Some of the bigger records in the genre have continued to mine beats from DJ Black N Mild, who passed away in 2020. Two 2023 tracks from Treety have used his beats to great effect. First, there was “Making Love,” which flipped the Fairly OddParents theme song, and now there’s “Let Go,” which came out in December and uses En Vogue as a bed for Treety’s raspy aggro delivery. When chopped up just right, bounce music still has the power to make me want to jump out of my skin.


I love rage beat bubblegum. JELEEL! is to the genre what John Cougar Mellencamp is to punk rock, and that’s what makes his music so satisfying. On “HANDS UP!” he interpolates Miley and sounds like a man who has been surviving on a diet of raw meat, pre-workout, and a deadstock palette of Surge soda. It’s digi-Americana and an ideal way to blast through a gray winter day.

5. Party Hats - “Live @ F.O.E. Gardner 10/20/23”

YouTube has been showing me a lot of Zoomer screamo bands lately, and Party Hats is a three-piece from Texas that is a little more idiosyncratic than many similar bands. Here, they play at a rental hall in New England, which is exactly where a screamo show should be happening, no matter the decade. The video has all the hallmarks of a suburban hall show: awkward pit, confusing fashion choices, an abundance of space. It’s the light show that caught me a bit off guard.


Brian Blomerth is an illustrator working in the “adult dog face” genre. That means he likes to draw humans with animal faces. His psychedelic, critter-forward style is one of the most distinctive in contemporary American comics. In addition to making posters for jam bands (Phish, Goose, The Dead) and elaborate screenprinted shirts beloved by graphic designers the world over, Brian is the guy behind the bestselling books Bicycle Day and Mycelium Wassonii, which explore the histories of LSD and magic mushrooms, respectively. He also used to have a legendary rainbow rock project called Narwhalz (Of Sound), but that’s a different conversation altogether.

When you’re in the studio, what's your breakdown of music versus talk?

Brian Blomerth: Music's the shit, and music's what I wish I did more often. But at a certain point, you want to take too much control over music stuff—you're like, Oh, I want to listen to this, this, this.  You're thinking about it too much. You want audio to wash over you while you're working, but to be just entertained enough to where you're like, Okay, I've got to keep sitting here. I want to finish whatever I'm drawing.

So talk is more of a motivator.

Yeah, for sure, because it's more distracting. But I have a much better time listening to music than I do talk. Audiobooks are sick, but you also feel like you're stuck until it's done. At a certain point, you get burned out by having to pay too much attention. You want it to be dumb enough where if you missed half an hour, you wouldn't care. 

My girlfriend listens to these fake baseball games to go to sleep sometimes.

For a week, I did people recreating famous chess matches and talking about them. It was just interesting enough where it kept me going.

Do you know anything about chess? 

No, and then I tried to play online and I sucked so bad. 

Let’s go back to music for a second. What platform are you listening to music on when you’re working? A lot of it is on YouTube, right?

Yeah, it's all YouTube, all the time, with the ad blocker. 

Are you intentionally searching for stuff, or do you just let the algorithm do its thing? 

If I’m being real badass, I’ll let the algorithm take my dumb ass somewhere. That shit's fucked up.

It seems like there's some shit that the YouTube algorithm just throws on you. Obscure, record collector shit. 

Yeah, I made a mix for NTS—it was just shit that the YouTube algorithm gave me, shit that I'd never heard of. Some of it is vocal jazz; some of it is dental office classics. Smooth and professional easy listening. I don't know if it's a cool mix or not.

When you're pulling an all-nighter, is it ever silent? 

No. I got these sick-ass headphones. They're called No Calm. They're millennial mint. They block out all the sound, so [my wife] Kate will come in and yell at me and I won’t hear. It's sick as shit. When I did Bicycle Day, I started with this 808 State Bicep Remix. And I would let the algorithm go from there, and it would loop at a certain point. It would take you in all these little tech house directions or whatever. I mean, it was sick. I had a really good time with that. 

I'm jealous of visual artists that can just listen to music all day. 

Yeah, it's cool. And that part about it is the coolest part. Drawing is only exciting sometimes. Most of it is just getting the thing done. 

So you're working on a new book right now. It's about a different kind of a drug. 

It is about a different kind of drug. 

Does that inform at all what you want to listen to? 

No. It's got nothing to do with it. It's a totally separate part of the brain. You just occupy this hemisphere while another hemisphere focuses on the gig, you know? 

I remember you telling me that you did Infinite Jest as an audiobook. How do the footnotes work with that? 

I did it for free on YouTube—the footnotes were a separate YouTube. So I would collect four or five footnotes and then hit play. The footnotes were a different person. That was cool. It was a girl for the footnotes. 

I’m sure you process information differently when you are drawing. The book must’ve been somewhat abstract to you.

Yeah. But it's not that crazy of a book. You see why people like it, but it's also pretty easy. 

But there's certain segments that get fairly abstract, I believe? 

Yeah, for sure. And there’s certain things you only get from the footnotes. There's one little detail that you're like, Oh, this is a big key, and it's just one little footnote. And then you go, Wow, for 10 seconds, and then you go back to drawing. 


Ineffable Slime - “Falter (Never Abolish Chance)”

Ineffable Slime is a noise artist from New Mexico, and this track was reportedly recorded in the desert. The piece starts with an ominous hum, like the buzz of an underground meth lab. Right after that, it jumps into a classic brand of hot rod brain sizzle—the kind of sucking, degraded textures that noise freaks crave. It’s ASMR for masochists. Judging from the song title and the fact that the tape is called A Roll Of The Dice, Ineffable Slime is interested in accident and ritual. I picture an artist alone at night in a dusty desert shack, clanging metal objects against a dirt floor. Antonin Artaud is a purported influence, but for those looking to clear their head of any extraneous thoughts or anxieties, there is nothing cruel here. 


Technopagen At XPIZZA 10/23

So many boutique internet radio stations, so little time! A lot of these stations come and go in ways that remind me of DIY spaces or axe-throwing bars, so it’s fun to catch them before the URL expires and the archive goes missing. XPIZZA is a New York pizza parlor that streams and archives in-house DJ sets. Rave warrior Technopagen makes good use of the space, playing a varied 40 minutes of high-energy electronic styles, from trance to juke, all while the occasional chef ladles sauce on dough in the background.


Angels in America - “Free Galaxy”

Angels in America - Free Galaxy
Angels in America - Free Galaxy

Angels in America is one of the more unique and misunderstood bands in the underground. Their music is a mix of accessible and dissonant inputs; songs are crumpled and then straightened, and then re-crumpled. They exist in an ambiguous tonal space. Their spoken-word side endeavor, Angels USA, offers no more clarity, hitting like a demented radio play or maybe noise music Howard Stern. “Free Galaxy” was recorded in 2007, which should give you an idea of how deep their catalog goes. It’s a beautiful, relatively straightforward loner anthem, and it’s how we are going out in 2023. Thank you for rocking with New Musical Express with John’s Music Blog. 

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