WE MAY AS WELL go out in the spirit of a flashy quinceañera where everyone’s had too much to drink and there’s no tamales left to speak of. I envision a dance party complete with everyone you’ve ever met — friends, rivals, ex-lovers, current partners. And we’re all miraculously getting along and grooving together.
And maybe, if we dance hard enough, the physical world won’t actually come to an end. Maybe there’ll be a shift in consciousness so extreme that another way of life becomes possible. But hey, I’m just here to start the party off right.
1. “El Alto de la Paz”
I’ve heard about El Alto for most of my life, since one of my childhood best friends was from La Paz, Bolivia. El Alto is the district older people tell you to avoid at all costs. Extremely poor, way up the mountain, and mostly indigenous, neighborhoods like El Alto, long ignored by mainstream government, are what helped elect Evo Morales, Bolivia’s first indigenous president, to govern the country.
“El Alto de la Paz” is a collaboration by Mati Zundel, an up =-and-coming Argentine artist who mixes indigenous sounds with electronica and Boogat, a trilingual DJ based in Montreal. The song is about the poor rising up and initiating a huge shift in power and global politics. It begins with a hypnotic cumbia groove and the words, “Vine pa’ quemar la bandera blanca” or “I came to burn the white flag” because “they put us under ground like pinches cacahuates” (fucking peanuts). As in the case of the Arab Spring or the Chilean Winter, Boogat and Zundel forecast that “la revolución technologica llego a chingarles,” or, “the rise of the internet has come to overthrow the old order.” Here’s hoping that’s what this Mayan apocalypse is actually about.
2. Ana Tijoux – “1977”
“1977” is ostensibly about the year when Tijoux was born; the song marks beginning of her suffering — as the child of exiles, a Latina living in a European country, and simply as a human being plagued by doubt and uncertainty. She refers to herself as an isolated little girl, holding a teddy bear, taking in lo cotidiano, or everyday life. Later she describes her adolescence as a difficult period and concludes, “My big quest wasn’t about showing off, it was something necessary.”
I got to see Ana Tijoux perform live in Oakland this year. After many, many mediocre hip-hop acts, and lots and lots of unregulated weed smoke, the Chilean rapper finally took the stage. Small of stature, in the early stages of pregnancy, Tijoux was immensely powerful. Her movements were minimal, her focus locked on lyrical flow, and her delivery impeccable.
3. Solange – “Losing You”
Solange has been my favorite musical gift of 2012. Her new EP “True,” produced by Devonté Hynes, has some critics wondering if they’ve attached themselves to the wrong Knowles sister. I feel like there’s room in the world for alternative and mainstream, I just happen to know where I fit in that spectrum. And while Solange shows herself to have the same vocal chops as her big sister Beyoncé, her songs are far more intimate. Take the song “Locked in Closets,” about little girl Solange hiding in her family’s old coats to get in some alone time.
“Losing You” is about the crushing moment in a relationship where one party realizes it’s time to end things, but isn’t ready to do it yet. The music video is absolutely gorgeous, shot in South Africa with a group of sapeurs, folks who wear designer clothes despite their relative poverty. The song is notable for its warm back beat, a far cry from cool house music.
4. Bomba Estereo – “El Alma y El Cuerpo”
Before we all die, I’d like to go to the beach. “El Alma y El Cuerpo” by Bomba Estéreo takes the breezes of the Caribbean and condenses them into pure song form.
5. Lido Pimienta – “Basta Ya (Todos Somos Inmigrantes)”
I feel strangely protective of Lido Pimienta. I interviewed her a few years ago, and we quickly struck up a good rapport. She reminds me of high school best friends — girls I admired for their talent. Endlessly creative, Pimienta started off as a visual artist who tinkered with recording music on her computer. She moved from the warmth of Colombia’s Caribbean coast to London, Ontario, where she became a musician and a mother.
Pimienta’s reached the point in her career where she can mix the complexities of her immigrant experience, the shadows of her personal life, and the warmth of her early memories into something hypnotic and delightfully creepy.
6. True Widow – “Skull Eyes”
I have to admit I did not find this song on my own. It’s so damn good I wish I could claim complete and total ownership — I wish I could say I scoured a record store for hours and hours before I stumbled upon it. But the truth is that “Skull Eyes” was on a really amazing mix I got this year. What makes this song is Nicole Estill’s dreamy ’90s voice mixed with crushing guitars and plaintive lyrics:
“Within the confines of wilted hearts
Fall on hard times and fall apart
Within the motions to receive
The parting words I’ll never read
(Forever and Ever)
(When I come to)
(I want to)
(I want to)”
Lars Gotrich, the metal expert at NPR Music, says it best: “True Widow is a band that uses volume as an instrument — not for noise, not for metallic machismo, but a way to convey the weight of the world.”
7. Sun Kil Moon – “Tonight in Bilbao”
“I left Bilbao went to Madrid
To Barcelona, to Pamplona
Where every ghost runs in me now
Sun Kil Moon has gotten me through some really heavy times, when I felt like no one understood what was going on inside. Through reverse culture shock, to my parents’ house in Maryland — feeling like I was the only person home alone on a Friday night — to a new house on the Maine Coast with the unshakeable feeling I was haunted by old Mid-Atlantic ghosts. I turn less and less to this music now as I feel like my life is improving more and more, but I figure there’s got to be some mournfulness at this end-of-the-world situation, no matter what is actually at stake.
“Tonight In Bilbao” is a road song, about traveling, but without any real purpose other than trudging along somewhere else. The changing scenery marks each repetitive memory and thought pattern in the speaker’s mind and adds some unspeakable beauty in that way only places can. Ultimately it’s an emotional landscape that gets told through the lens of physical geography, which is all travel really is, anyway.
So I suppose that even though the fiesta is raging, there’s got to be some travelers outside the party, looking in as everything goes on around them. And having been one of those weary souls once, I salute their cause.
“As the ocean brings in its high tide
As the darkness sets upon the beach
As we drive we look out at black ends
Growing to our windows in old bored stream
Over the bridge, the city sparkles so bright
A hungry stomach smell brings strife
Dim light a television blaring softly
And here the perfect night as fog horns sing”
8. Kate Bush – “Rocket Man” (cover)
Ok. It’s that moment in the night when you turn to your primer amor. Not just that “whatever” boyfriend in between high school and college to whom you technically lost your virginity, but your first radically different experience with emotional vulnerability.
And you’ve got to wonder what happened, but the apocalypse affords you one last close dance, and it’s to this cover by Kate Bush, about unfulfilled expectations.
9. No Doubt – “Sunday Morning”
Time to get down. And nothing gets my generation down like ’90s music. And there’s no ’90s music like No Doubt.
I moved to California pretty recently and my life has changed a lot. Sun tans in November, the best food, the stupidest rents. Something about California makes sense with who I am in a deep and real way. Bands like No Doubt and Sublime are good examples. As a kid I loved “Santeria” and “What I Got,” and in the typical laissez-faire parenting style of my mom, I listened to those songs long before I had any idea of what they meant.
No Doubt, fronted by a youthful-sounding woman, spoke to me even more. And the sound, the sunny guitars and island rhythms, made me hungry for something I’d never experienced. I suppose that it was California all along.
10. Selena – “Dreaming of You”
My housemate Maya still remembers seeing Selena perform at a flea market in Houston when she was just four years old. “Selena was my hero,” she says anytime anyone brings her up. By the time Maya was seven, Selena had been killed by the president of her fan club. I went through my nine-year-old life oblivious, probably because Selena and her impact hadn’t yet touched my white, suburban world. It’s only when I talk to Maya, or do karaoke with my friends from the border, and “Dreaming of You” reduces us all to cathartic hugging, that I have an inkling of what Selena meant to so many people.
“Dreaming of You” was released after the singer had already died. It’s a deceptively simple song with haunting lyrics: “And there’s nowhere in the world I’d rather be, than here in my room, dreaming about you and me.” No matter what happens on December 21, I figure we’ve got to learn to dream together.