Spotify Wrapped 2019: My Top 20 Spins

Spotify rolled out its year-end Spotify Wrapped playlists today!

I’ve been excited to see what mine looks like for a while now, in part because this is my first year using Spotify with any consistency whatsoever, and (also) in part because I’ve always been unreasonably* jealous of others’ playlists in past years.

This year did not turn out quite how I thought it would. In 2017 and 2018, the portion of my personal music-listening pie that was dedicated to black and death metal grew. However, as the calendar turned, I anticipated that my 2019 would be a year of largely punk and punk-derived rock and roll listening… but, for various reasons, it instead exploded into a largely metal listening-fest!

I’ve linked my Top 100 at the bottom, but I thought it might be fun to expound upon my Top 20 from the list. This (Top 100) is not a “releases from 2019” list, like many I’ve seen on Twitter so far today. And it’s certainly not anywhere close to the most diverse list out there. But it reflects three main playlists I’ve referenced this year: two that I’ve created (a Metal list & a Rock-n-Roll/Punk list), and… The Incredible Jazz Guitar Of Wes Montgomery, my favorite Wes Montgomery record, which was in heavy rotation this year.

It’s been an oddly skewed musical year for me. A very heavy year, musically… reflecting some things in my life and the world that I might expound upon at a later date. Normally, my music listening is all over the place. This year was different.

That’s enough of an intro. Here were my Top 20 tracks listened to — on Spotify — in 2019.

20. “Abominations” – Morbid Angel, Blessed Are The Sick

I’m not a Morbid Angel connoisseur, per se — I own a few of their records, and my favorites are Formulas Fatal to the Flesh and Gateways to Annihilation, from the Steve Tucker era — but to my ears, this is the catchiest MA song. The short main riff is hypnotic and repetitive, the vocal cadences in the verses and choruses are short and rhythmically pleasing, and the words are suitably evil.

19. “Caustic Acrostic” – Fugazi, End Hits

Again, not a Fugazi connoisseur, but this song was suggested to me, and I was immediately drawn to the way the guitars complement and mesh with one another, while remaining distinct from each other throughout the song. Two minutes of musicality and energy: a recipe for many repeat listens!

18. “Snakes & Vultures” – UADA, Cult of a Dying Sun

I was introduced to UADA in 2018 when they released their second album, Cult of a Dying Sun. While I really like their sound, I have a difficult time listening to them for a full album because their songs are generally fairly long, and at this point in my life, I’m finding that I like my music in smaller bites. That said, this is definitely my favorite piece from Cult… and I’ve listened to it many, many times over the past year and a half.

17. “Borderlines” – Baroness, Gold & Grey

I really like a lot about this song (and album), but I also have a negative association with it (stupid relationship things, blah) that I’ve been trying to work through lately. The fuzz – and the mix – can be a little harsh at times, but the songwriting, musicianship, and vocals are fantastic. Highly recommended!

16. “Gouge Away” – Pixies, Doolittle

I could never get into the Pixies, for years. I know, I know… but I heard this song for the first time ever sometime in the past year, and basically had a spiritual awakening in that regard. Based on the biblical story of Samson, with some dynamic shifts from “verse” to “chorus”, I was smitten; and while that crush eventually calmed down, I still love the song.

15. “Straws Pulled At Random” – Meshuggah, Nothing

Ever since my cousin David sent me a dubbed cassette of Destroy Erase Improve while we were in college, I’ve loved Meshuggah. Through 30-plus years of astounding music, they’ve gone from heavily Metallica-influenced riffage to mind-crushing, steel door-slamming chaos to droney, hypnotic riffage to mechanized precision (and much in-between and beyond). “Straws Pulled At Random” is a song that I keep going back to, because when I listen to it, I imagine that I am being lifted gently when the notes go up, and then set down gently when they slip back down, as if I am being carried on waves. And the sequence that begins at 3:05 and carries through the end of the song is just musically joyous to me!

14. “Suffer” – Bad Religion, Suffer

I’ve had a weird relationship with punk music, and with Bad Religion. The first BR album I heard was The New America when it released, and I was not impressed at the time for whatever reason, and so I barely ever thought about them thereafter… which was my loss. But this year, I fell in love with the band, and as such there are four BR songs in my Top 20 spins, including two from their seminal Suffer record.

13. “I Only Deal In Truth” – Crowbar, Sever The Wicked Hand

This is probably my favorite Crowbar song, although there are certainly others in the running. Kirk Windstein is a master of heavy, melodic riffs that sometimes make my stomach wonder if it’s going to survive, and other times simply make my heart start to burst. This song has both of those moments/riffs. Listen all the way to the end. “I need to bury this!”

12. “Disciple” – Slayer, God Hates Us All

I see a lot of Loud Voices On The Internet claiming that Slayer hasn’t done anything of note / classic / great / whatever since [insert 80s or maybe 90s Slayer release here]. But I got into a lot of these bands as an adult — well after they were initially big / influential / classic — due to my circumstances growing up. And my impression of “Disciple” from 2001 is that it is one of their most intense songs (through the first 2:51). The vocals and lyrics really carry it for me.

11. “Aneuthanasia” – Gorgoroth, Quantos Possunt Ad Satanitatum Trahunt

I like the structure of “Aneuthanasia” – especially when it gets fast and kind of Slayer-y at 0:48! I started to get into Gorgoroth shortly before Gaahl and King tried to wrest control of the band from Infernus, and wasn’t sure that I’d like the new-old lineup with Pest on vocals. But QPAST had a few songs that I like, and this is the one I still listen to the most. The mix isn’t the greatest, but it’s still effective in my opinion.

10. “Hardwired” – Metallica, Hardwired… To Self-Destruct

I’m on the fence about this album: it has some songs that I really enjoy, and others that I am absolutely bored by. The dynamic range is too small, and the guitars are a little too low in the mix, although the album sounds better than the digitally crushed Death Magnetic. But to me the album is bloated. Several songs are too long, and some on the second disc could have been excised entirely. And while my favorite track is probably “Spit Out The Bone”, I like how “Hardwired” just rips from start to finish in just over three minutes. It’s a fun little song to play on guitar – I often use it warm up – and a fun song to listen to in the morning to get me hepped up for the day!

9. “Dearly Beloved” – Bad Religion, New Maps Of Hell

One of my favorite BR songs, and it tells an interesting story. “I won’t deny that I’m inclined to isolate! Dearly beloved, I can’t relate to you.”

8. “New America” – Bad Religion, The New America

With almost two decades in the books since this record came out, and I heard this song, and I promptly dust-binned the record and the band because I wasn’t into the style at the time, I’m glad that I finally rediscovered it/them. The lyrics are, unsurprisingly, as pertinent today as they were at the time – as is the case with most BR songs.

7. “Dark Intentions” – The Haunted, Made Me Do It

Haha, one of my Top 10 spins this year was effectively an album intro! It’s here for two reasons: a) it’s ear candy to me and b) I learned how to play it on guitar this year, so it got some extra spins during that process.

6. “Things” – Meat Puppets, Too High To Die

This song is more than 25 years old, and I’ve been a fan since the first time I heard it. It’s weird, and it’s got fun lyrics, and I love singing along. It’s here because I love it.

5. “What Can You Do?” – Bad Religion, Suffer

I’m not surprised that this was the BR song that I listened to most this year. The lyrics are, again, perfect for the times: uncompromising and accurate. “The world’s falling apart at the rifts, and surprisingly, the leaders can’t make any sense of it. We mean nothing to this world, we’re all someone else’s fool, but oh, what can you do?”

4. “Thrasher’s Abattoir” – Carcass, Surgical Steel

Surgical Steel has several awesome songs on it, and “Unfit For Human Consumption” – a great track and crazy video! – shows up further down my list outside the Top 20, but this is the one I go to most often for some face-ripping energy to start the day. Clocking in at 1:50, it crushes from start to finish, and I love how the drums speed up between every “line” of the verses.

3. “Eaten” – Bloodbath, Nightmares Made Flesh

I got into several of the bands on my list for the first time this year, and Bloodbath was one of them. This is an extremely heavy track, with evil, serpentine riffs, and Peter Tägtgren’s vocal performance is incredible. The song is based on a true story, although I find the lyrics to be simultaneously horrifying and hilarious. I had this song stuck in my head a ton this past spring and early summer. For as messed-up as it is, it’s quite catchy!

2. “Dødskamp” – 1349, Dødskamp (single)

Finally, we get to a song that’s hands-down my favorite song of 2019. “Dødskamp” was released in January as a single, inspired by Edvard Munch’s painting of the same name as part of an artistic commission by Visit Norway (and reworked for their album The Infernal Pathway, released in October). The lyrics about the “death struggle” are haunting and quite heavy, and the ferocity of the performance — and the way the song resolves at the end — still make my hair stand up. “Triumphis mortis!”

1. “Bathe In Blood” – Bloodbath, Resurrection Through Carnage

The first time I listened to a Bloodbath song, it was this one, via a live video on Youtube, where Mikael Åkerfeldt is obviously reading the lyrics as he sings them. This song has incredible groove, from the vocal cadences to the almost death-n-roll pacing of the verses and choruses. Believe it or not, I’m not really a fan of this type of subject in metal (my list here notwithstanding…), but I feel like this song creates more of a “horror” vibe than a “gore” one. At any rate, this song unfailingly makes me want to headbang, and as such was often a complement to my coffee and/or commute in the mornings! “Eyes stare blank / Unable to see as death reappears / Unspeakable chill in the hyper-white light / Fall to my knees in fear….”

~~~

I will admit to being surprised by some of the results here, when looking at some of the other songs on the larger list, but I think I’ve figured out why certain things are the way they are.

First of all, there’s no song that I’ve listened to than “Dødskamp” this year, but the problem is that I’ve split my listens between the album and single versions, so they’re effectively different tracks/songs, which probably knocked that song out of the top spot. Similarly, I listened to several VLTIMAS songs (“Praevalidas”, “Monolilith”, “Diabolus Est Saguis”) a ton, but each of those were pre-release singles, and once their debut album released in March, I tossed the whole album onto my Metal playlist and removed the singles. So again, a split. Similar situations exist with new songs by Gaahls WYRD (“Carving The Voices”), along with others whose music didn’t even crack my Top 100 because of this. I’ll have to see if I can rein that in so that my list next year is more properly reflective of my true Top 100 spins.

That aside, 64 or 65 of my official Top 100 spins were “metal”, as were 12 of my Top 20. That’s a pretty heavy year, regardless! I’m excited to see how different the list is a year from now.

And here is the link to the full list:

*Unreasonably, because I could have simply used Spotify before this year! (See beginning of post for reference.)

Thanks for reading this post by Russ Sponsler (@DischordantRuss) at Dischordant Forms. I hope you enjoyed it! Let me know in the comments if you wrote about your #SpotifyWrapped year-end list – I’d love to read about it!

Moments: the bell guitar

a tale of surprise inspiration…

As I turned and rose from my chair, the tops of the nails on my left hand collided with the strings of the acoustic guitar sitting upright in its stand. The result sounded like an old bell.

Not exactly like an old bell, mind you, but it reminded me of the sound of a bell on a crackly old recording. My guitar pick — wedged between three of the strings — had rattled amidst the vibrations to make that old recording sound.

I instinctively removed the pick from the strings– instantly, I regretted doing so. I rapped my fingernails against the strings again, and they sounded like an acoustic guitar. I replaced the pick and rapped the strings again; replaced the pick again and rapped the strings again, and again.

The sounds varied, from acoustic guitar to choked acoustic guitar, but I could not satisfactorily replicate the old bell sound.

From down the hallway came the voice: “What are you doing? Slapping your guitar?”

I looked up, startled. “Yeah.”

I stared at the guitar for a few seconds, and walked away. The moment was gone.

Thanks for reading this post by Russ Sponsler (@DischordantRuss) at Dischordant Forms. Comments are welcome!

I quit

“And I will, I quit. Can’t stand the sight of it. And I am, I know, In the path of your evil glow.”

Saturday was a busy, important day at work. I clocked in bright and early, armed with a checklist in Google Keep and a large cup of coffee, and set to work. I managed to be ready when my store opened, and my team performed extremely well. At 6PM, I left for home feeling confident after a successful day.

Shortly thereafter, I settled in at my desk with a glass of water and a blank slate. What to do on a Saturday night?

To make a long story short, at 8:30PM I could be found on Wikipedia, reading about the Byzantine Emperors/brothers/traitors/incompetents Isaakios II Angelos and Alexios III Angelos, and the attack on Constantinople by the Fourth Crusade in 1203. Along the way, I had read about the Hundred Years’ War, the Wars of the Roses, the House of Plantagenet, Richard the Lionheart, Henry the Young King, Guy of Lusignan, Isaac Komnenos of Cyprus, Andronikos I Komnenos, Niketas Choniates… and proceeded beyond them to the Sack of Constantinople, the fate of the family of Alexios III, Theodore I Laskaris and Nicaea, Isabella I and the Kingdom of Jerusalem, Andorra, Switzerland, and the Order of Assassins. (Things got a bit fragmented as I kept opening more tabs…)

I concluded my journey down the Wikipedia hole shortly before 10PM.

At this point, I was slightly annoyed with myself, but not very much. I’m okay with going down the Wikipedia hole from time to time. In fact, I prefer it to certain things I used to do, like

  • go down the “old pro wrestling videos on YouTube” hole
  • waste time adding content that I am never going to watch to My List on Netflix
  • waste time on Facebook
  • spend evenings adding more things to my Amazon wishlist… and occasionally to my cart, and then buying them

and so on.

I don’t drink anymore. And over the past year or two, in addition to alcohol, I have, with varying degrees of forethought, semi-systematically removed certain activities from my life. The time-wasters, paycheck-eaters, energy-sappers, the activities that I judged in some way to be of little or no value to me.

For example, I stopped drinking for more than a year, fell off the wagon for a while early last year, got tired of drinking(!) and stopped again last summer, and immediately started dropping weight. I rolled with it, consciously helping it along by making more food at home instead of eating junk for lunch each day. Consequently, I’m lighter than I’ve been in more than 15 years, and my back and knees are better for it.

Later last year, I cut several topics from my purview on YouTube. With wrestling, I would occasionally spend way too much time watching old matches, interviews, and so on. Some of it was interesting (and educational), and much of it was fun. However, beyond the respective entertainment value, it isn’t one of my very favorite subjects. So, since I was still spending time on YouTube (watching a ton of guitar-related content, which is one of my very favorite subjects), I began ruthlessly eliminating all of the wrestling content from my home page one night last fall. At this point, I almost never see any of it in my recommendations, and I don’t miss it.

Well, I kind of missed it, because shortly thereafter I began seeing Hefty ads featuring John Cena on Facebook. But they caused little more than a twinge.

During the 2018 holiday shopping season, Amazon screwed with the 2-day Prime shipping (paraphrased: “it’s guaranteed 2-day SHIPPING, but the ship date is nine business days from now”). I’m one of those people who generally subscribes to Prime two or three months out of the year to make a few purchases in bunches and then get out, and I had just re-subscribed the day before the policy changed and was about to make a purchase. I was not happy. It served as something of a wake-up call for me, effectively damping my interest in buying from them or spending much time on their site or app. Since then, I’ve only bought a couple of items from them, and do not miss the experience.

These are just some notable examples. I seem to have a new hobby now: to organize my life, organize my brain, and spend less time on activities that don’t bring me much joy. I’ve replaced drinking and binge-eating, wrestling, Amazon, and other such things with healthy eating, more sleep, earlier mornings, more energy, more time to play guitar, and more money in my savings account.

Early last month, I deactivated Facebook. It was the third time in under 12 months that I’ve done so, which is probably a record for me. The lengths of my breaks lasted anywhere from two to six weeks, but this time I deactivated with an eye on total deletion.

After two weeks away (and some reading about what the deletion process entails in the meantime), I signed in on Friday the 22nd to dry-run the process and to attempt to get a couple of friends’ contact info. Two days later, I clicked Delete. During the process, I was informed that they basically keep the account in suspended animation for 30 days in case you change your mind: signing in reactivates the account and aborts the deletion process.

I found this to be annoying, if understandable. I had already done my contemplation. I was over any wishy-washy feelings. I wanted a clean break. But Facebook sets the rules, and they suck, and they’ll do whatever they can to retain users, even if it means they won’t metaphorically actually dispose of the alcohol you asked them to get rid of, just in case. That’s fine. I’ve quit things before, obviously. That was two weeks ago, so I have 16 days to go. I’m determined to forget about it.

I could write a long blog post about how I feel about Facebook and the culture it has been instrumental in creating, but I don’t want to do it, and nobody wants to read it. I am grateful that it gave me the opportunity to reconnect with several long-lost friends, and now that we’re connected outside of Facebook, I’m content with that. But the truth is that Facebook sucks people in and keeps them by preying on certain basic desires and/or fears. In my case, I have a few friends and family members who deal with anxiety or other issues, and Facebook made it easy for me to see how they were doing on a regular basis to some degree. But, having been able to circumvent the necessity for Facebook by readily available alternative means — phone/text, email, other social media, etc. — I’m determined to truly rip its tendrils out of my active life.

Logging back in on the 22nd confirmed my decision for me (rather than sucking me back in – haha!) — I felt sick just perusing the feed for a few minutes. It reminded me of when my desire to drink alcohol petered out last summer: I knew that it was time, and that it had to go.

Quitting Facebook is a big topic right now, and has been since the 2016 election. I’ve read a lot about it, including several good, relatable blog posts where people shared their experiences doing so. One can find many reasons to quit out there, and most of the ones I’ve seen do resonate with me. But the main reason I’m crushing it now is because I think it’s a healthy choice for my life.

Thanks for reading this post by Russ (@DischordantRuss) at Dischordant Forms

It’s been a while since I’ve posted here, and it’s nice to be back. I hope you’ve enjoyed this little outburst. 

I’m curious. Have you recently grabbed something in your life by the roots and ripped it out for good? If so, feel free to leave a comment – I’d love to read about it. Alternatively, if you’ve already blogged about it, leave me a link in the comments and I’ll bounce over to your site to check it out!

I’ll start with a share, and it’s a great one that I read as I was getting around to my own decision: Goodbye Facebook, it’s (not really) been real by Anthony Wilson. Highly recommended!

Have a great day!

 

Musings on my 2017 reading habits

Happy New Year!

I posted here a grand total of two times in 2017. Obviously, it was not a great year for my writing – at least from a non-Facebook-posting perspective. I did, however, do a ton of reading.

I probably read more this past year than I have in a long time, and a great deal of that was related to current events – news and commentary – along with splashes of fiction and sports. For the first few months of the year (and the last few of 2016), I was even actively buying newspapers every Sunday. My lifestyle and habits aren’t as conducive to reading a physical newspaper as I would like them to be, but for about six months I tried to make it a weekly thing.

I enjoyed the physical aspects of unfolding and reading through a newspaper. I appreciated being more connected to local news, reading local opinions, and so on. But I work a lot of Sundays, and after a while my relationship with the newspaper wasn’t working out: I would buy one early in the morning on my way to work, and it would sit on the back seat of my car for two or three days, and then it would be old news and eventually get thrown away. After a month or so of this, I came to the realization that I was wasting my money, so I stopped buying them. I did not, however, stop reading.

Most of the news that I read is online and on my phone. I’ve been a heavy blog reader for a long time, and I still am, although my sources are different than they were years ago (in the Google Reader days). I follow some news reporters, some finance people, some sports writers, and some gaming-related content creators on Twitter, and also share posts with friends on Facebook. Ultimately, Twitter is where I get the majority of my news nowadays, although I also subscribe to the New York Times and Washington Post, and I do use their apps frequently. I still use the Feedly app to read blogs more “traditionally,” but not anywhere near as much as before.

I’ve also become one of those people who reads so much in the way of news, blogs, and other online content that book-reading has completely fallen off. I don’t think I finished a single book in 2017, which bothers me on some level. With that in mind, I got a library card a couple of months ago and can now borrow books on my iPad, so I’m hoping to make use of that in 2018.

Much of this year has been spent reading and learning, in light of the current political and cultural situations in America. I find that I am going through a process of learning about myself, and hopefully becoming a better person as a part of that. As such, in light of the semi-regrets expressed above about not reading books, I definitely feel that I progressed and matured as a person in 2017, with the help of many men and women who wrote thought-provoking material last year.

I haven’t made any concrete resolutions this year. I get a lot of value from learning about both myself and the world around me, and working to better myself, and that doesn’t really fit within the confines of a 365-day period for me right now. I may take up a project or two in 2018, but I’ll get to those as the inspiration (or necessity) hits me. I did a lot of good work in 2017, and I’ll build on that this year, and we’ll see how it goes.

Anyway, this is purely a post that came about spontaneously. I started writing it less than a half-hour ago, and it was fun. I hope you are all safe and well, and wish you a healthy, peaceful, and productive 2018!

_

Thanks for reading this post by Russ (@DischordantRuss) at Dischordant Forms. Comments are welcome!

Comfort: how I’ve been withdrawing as a response to work stress

I work for a company that is either right at or already past a precipice that I have unfortunately lived through before. We as employees don’t know whether we are fighting to keep it afloat, or if it will still be around in the next few years. The future is scary and uncertain. As part of that process, over the past two years our ability to function as “empowered” employees has been increasingly suppressed. This means that from a practical standpoint, my colleagues and I often feel like we are trapped in a vice while simultaneously drowning in unreasonable expectations.*

The pressure waxes and wanes on an irregular schedule. When the stress gets particularly bad, I find that I tend to crawl into a certain place within myself. This retreat takes the form of a hybrid of emotional and practical behaviors akin to “battening down the hatches.”

If I look at this from a detached perspective, I find it interesting. It differs, slightly, from how I dealt with stress as an adult up through the middle of last year. Prior to that point, I had often responded to stress or anxiety by drinking heavily. Last year, I was doing a lot of that, and I reached a point during the summer where I was disgusted enough with myself that I quit drinking alcohol, cold turkey. As the months of sobriety added up, I reasoned that I would be better able to handle stress because I would always have a clearer, sharper mind than I’d had when I was drinking every night.

Of course, as the stress level ratcheted itself ever higher over the course of this year, dealing with it in a non-destructive way became more and more challenging. Rather than (re)turning to the bottle and possibly getting myself into trouble, however, I instead started what turned out to be a project that has evolved and grown throughout the year.

The stress I have with respect to my job comes from several places. Ultimately, my greatest stressor is a fear that I will lose my job for reasons ranging from corporate bankruptcy to local closure to personal failure. As such, I started a “preparation for loss of job” project.

The project has several components that I have fleshed out over the months since I started it. I laid the groundwork in March via notes I made in my phone, which I then expanded upon in both Google Sheets and a college-ruled notebook. I went back to it in July, and again on several occasions during each of the past three months, continually expanding the details. I created a budget, which has been whittled down and refined quite a bit since its incarnation, along with a plan for stretching my emergency fund; a plan for eating on a very low budget (with food price lists, meal costs and schedules, rudimentary shopping schedules, etc.); plans for how I would use my time to recover and rebuild myself; and so on. I won’t bore you with the details, but I’ve put more into it than I ever imagined I would at this stage of my life.

Thinking back on those first notes, what my detached self finds interesting about all of this is that I’ve almost exclusively worked on it while experiencing a heightened amount of anxiety. When I’m having a day like I had last Friday, where I spent my entire morning absolutely dreading going to work, I tend to draw comfort from the act of retreating into my “preparing” mental space. It’s not a positive place, per se: in times like these, I am almost always alone, anxious and withdrawn, focused on moving around pieces to potentially stretch dollars. It’s an activity driven by a reaction to fear, manifesting itself as a somewhat proactive project.

At any rate, though, time passes. Progress on the project is made. And when I get to the point where I have to get ready for work, I’m able to know that my plan is better than it was yesterday. I shower, drink a big cup of coffee, put on my public face, and try to have a great day.

*Side note: For the record, I have a great boss who fully supports us. I still feel terrible about my job most of the time.

Thanks for reading this post by Russ (@DischordantRuss) at Dischordant Forms. Comments are welcome!