2021 in Consuming
Just rambling about some books, music and podcasts I’ve been exposed to in 2021. I did a similar thing in 2020.
A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again: Essays and Arguments - David Foster Wallace
I much preferred the short story about the dynamics of professional tennis over DFW’s hesitant adventures on the high seas after which the book is titled. The distinguishing quality might have been positivity. While tries to convey a lot of criticism and scepticism towards tennis, yet can’t help but let raw rays of juvenile sunshine through his cover of rationality. This makes the short story about tennis feel like a net positive description to me. This was unexpected and heartwarming - given the somber nature of DFW’s personality. His short story about the his time on a cruise ship seemed purely cynical and negative. Maybe the classic ‘you dislike others for what you dislike with yourself’ hits here: he might have reminded me of my occasional doom and gloom a tad too much. :)
Ham on Rye - Charles Bukowski
I devoured this. Does having (some) sympathy for Charles Bukowski make me a ‘bad person’?
First Person Singular - Haruki Murakami
Pleasant read. As with ‘Men Without Women’ I never really ‘got’ any of the stories while still enjoying them.
Algorithms to Live By - Brian Christian, Tom Griffith
I had very low expectations for this book: For some reason now unbeknownst to me I suspected this book to be corny and over-confident, relying on an oversimplified view of the world. To the contrary: The authors surprised me with modesty - putting things into context and stating limitations very clearly. Gently revisiting some approaches I don’t deal with on a daily basis on a high level felt very satisfying.
The Almanack of Naval - Eric Jorgenson
Despite the author doing a great job facing the immense challenge of melting individual statements into a coherent book, he didn’t always succeed. At times, the book at times a bit clumsy to read. Form aside, I was convinced by the book’s function. While I don’t understand or agree with all of the statements cited in this book, I found it to be thought-provoking, empowering and quite literally ‘inspiring’. Naval’s emphasis on the long-term, infinite levers and self-productionization left some traces.
Behave - Robert Sapolsky
I would indeed want Robert Sapolsky to be my uncle. He makes me wonder what the antonym of ‘oblivious’ is. I want to learn from him, laugh with him, hug him - preferably all at the same time. Now after these positive words I hope to be off the hook: this book wasn’t for me. The first, very long, two thirds of the book felt like a list of abstracts: some biology facts from a study but not quite the whole thing. This format culminated in a very dissatisfying situation for me personally: the strain and concentration of reading scientific literature without the ensuing depth of knowledge and insight; the fleeting nature and perceived irrelevance of anecdotes and individual studies without the scrumptious story-telling of a pure pop-science writer. The last thirds was more satisfying to read but. Still, this last third came with a kind of content, lightly dabbling in recent history, cognitive science and psychology, that I’ve likely already had my fair share of in these recent years - maybe packaged better elsewhere.
Normal People - Sally Rooney
Incredibly captivating - I most certainly haven’t read anything like this. Beautifully tragic.
Veteran - Jpegmafia
Was going to be my favorite album of the year until…
All My Heros Are Cornballs - Jpegmafia
I think this is the first time I actually discovered something thanks to Anthony Fantano hype that I ended up being in love with. I have to say I have gotten really obsessed with pegi at this point. I have really enjoyed his appearance at the Cambridge Union.
LP! - Jpegmafia
Just when I thought I had hit my Jpegmafia summit of enthusiasm, he released this record. I am blown away by this man. This album, or ‘REBOUND!’, to be precise, even made me tolerate (possibly like?) horns in a rap track - a stern previous taboo of mine.
Portishead - Dummy
I’m always intrigued by ‘artists’ artists’. Still, it took me a long time to finally drill down on ‘Dummy’. I had heard Kanye, Asap Rocky and Thom Yorke rave about it. All the while finding fascinating and coming back to it every now and then, we haven’t gotten too close up until now.
Colour - Matthew Halsall
When reaching for jazz I typically end up with older stuff. With Matthew Halsall I now have someone up my sleeve whom I could actually still see live.
The Life of Pablo - Kanye West
I find this album very enjoyable to listen to - no more, no less.
Dreams - Gabor Szabo
I’ve finally rediscovered this album - it must have been many years ago since I last came across and lost track of it. Wonderfully playful and lighthearted while never seeming superficial.
Roadrunner - Brockhampton
Just like almost any other work of theirs, this somehow doesn’t feel like an album to me. I figure I have above-average tolerane for a not overly spectacular song inbetween lighthouses if it fits in the greater scheme of things. Yet, tracks like ‘COUNT ON ME’, ‘I’LL TAKE YOU ON’ and ‘OLD NEWS’ really pull me out of the flow. Nevertheless, I’ve came back to this record a lot for ‘BUZZCUT’, ‘CHAIN ON’, ‘THE LIGHT’ and ‘WHAT’S THE OCCASION’ and ‘BANKROLL’; these are just incredibly catchy.
Listen to My Song: The Music City Sessions - Darondo
I can very easily get too much of it. If I don’t, this is pure gold. If I was rapping I think I’d be perfectly happy restraining myself to samples from this record.
Atrocity Exhibition - Danny Brown
At first, I had a hard time to look past the vocal similarity with Cypress Hill - which I don’t naturally long for. Once I was able to focus on the many remaining facets, I started appreciating it. This album remains demanding.
Crawler - Idles
The release of the first single, ‘Car Crash’, made me feel strange. I definitely liked the track but couldn’t imagine what the album behind it could look like. The baseline accompanied by the whispering gave me some System of a Down vibes. Evoking this feeling might be charming at first sight but is likely not sustainable or desirable on their end. In conclusion this album is not for me. Neither was it hitting me in a profoundly emotional way that ‘Mother’, ‘1049 Gotho’ or ‘Never Fight a Man With a Perm’ did, nor did it make me chuckle out of surprise they way quite a few tracks off of ‘Joy as an Act of Resistance’ did. Does the ’the first two albums are the only good’ curse hit the Idles as well?
Cymande - Cymande
Call Me If You Get Lost - Tyler the Creator
I can usually admire music for two distinct reasons: as a visceral transmission of raw, unfiltered, overwhelming emotion or as a refined, piece of craftsmanship appreciated from a safe distance. Astonishingly, his two previous albums made me have both - albeit never on the same track. This album hasn’t evoked any of both in me even though I really wanted to like it. Also: a bit too much 80s for my taste.
I’m pretty sure this was the first recorded set from Sarah Kreis I listened to. To this day it’s still my favorite one - her set with Caleesi in Oaxaca from 2019 likely coming in second.
Peach - Kevin Abstract
So, I guess I like a pop song? I wouldn’t mind only having verses on this one.
I figure this has to be the Swiss Army Knife™ of music for social settings: almost never perfect, almost always useful.
I don’t really have much to say, I just like it a lot.
Makes me feel much younger than I am.
Almost ironic that after lamenting about a long drought of material up until 2020 I happened to ‘discover’ a song of theirs from 2004. I find that the scratchy and low-fi intro hasn’t aged so well but am generally very fond of the vocal melodies of the verses.
Conversations with Tyler - Tyler Cowen
Econ Talk - Russ Roberts
While I haven’t been as lucky with it as in previous years, I’d still be comfortable with recommending it. I found Russ Roberts to be incredibly wholesome when not being able to contain his chuckling while describing the visual features of dogs employed in truffle hunts. :)
Beyond Victory - Nico Rosberg
Low information density but sometimes quite enjoyable nevertheless. I’m not sure what this is telling about me and what it is telling about the podcast but it did feel like a guilty pleasure. I was pleasantly surprised by the interview with Toto Wolff for it seemed fairly general.
Lex Fridman Podcast - Lex Fridman
I got what was on the label. I enjoyed the episode with Roger Reaves, a retired pilot who used to work for Pablo Escobar.
Huberman Lab - Andrew Huberman
I think it might make most sense to actually listen to the large majority of his episodes or just his summary episodes, e.g. this one.
Broken Record - Rick Rubin, Malcolm Gladwell, Bruce Headlam, Justin Richmond
The episode with Kevin Abstract stuck in my mind. Their discussion would only require minimal abstraction to serve as a general meditation on project management. Surprisingly unsurprisingly Rick Rubin suggested artificial constraints, in this case in the form of severe time pressure, as a catalyst for creativity. I thought it was very interesting to hear Kevin Abstract’s dry acknowledgment on how Brockhampton has collectively and continuously lost excitement about the process of making music.