I’m not really big on birthdays, but I am coming more into myself, so this year I decided to celebrate the things I love, and share them with you!
I also woke up at three am with he drive to do this so like, sorry if the whole thing's a little messy!
Also, this isn’t a numbered list or anything, and I don’t love all these things in the same way, but I do love them and that is what matters.
Now let's get to it!
John Green - The Anthropocene Reviewed
I have long loved the work of John Green (and his brother Hank). I’ve watched their joint youtube channel for years (Vlogbrothers) and listened to every episode of their ongoing podcast (Dear Hank and John). I’ve read every book the brothers have produced and consumed the music they’ve recommend, watched spin-off content like SciShow, Crash Course, and The Lizzie Bennet Diaries (A vlog style retelling of Pride and Prejudice.) Their work holds a special place in my heart, teaching me a huge amount about the world and how to be a part of it.
So why this, a podcast in which John sits down to review human-centric objects and ideas such as Whispering, Hot Dog Eating Contests, and Piggly Wiggly?
Because it has hope.
Green is, above all else, fascinated by the stories of our world. The strange birthplaces of things we take for granted, like air conditioning, or the power of speaking softly with children, like in the whispering episode. He talks about how music can take you to places you’ve been and places you’re going, about how drinking diet soda is an acceptable vice, and about how the Mario Kart imagines fairness as equity, not equality.
And in those stories, he finds a world worth loving and a world worth improving. 1 Star Diseases, 5 Star Comets, 2.5 Star Googling Habits, this is a labour of love that has opened my eyes to so many beautiful and reflective parts of the world.
Mary Oliver - In Blackwater Woods
Look, the trees
their own bodies
are giving off the rich
fragrance of cinnamon
the long tapers
are bursting and floating away over
the blue shoulders
of the ponds,
and every pond,
no matter what its
name is, is
I have ever learned
in my lifetime
leads back to this: the fires
and the black river of loss
whose other side
none of us will ever know.
To live in this world
you must be able
to do three things:
to love what is mortal;
to hold it
against your bones knowing
your own life depends on it;
and, when the time comes to let it
to let it go.
I have read this poem to more people then I can remember. It was the centre of my first ever exploration at ‘The Playground’ (coming up), and it has helped me through a million different situations. As far as great poets go, Oliver is up there for me as one of the greatest and so much of her work is worthy of a lifetimes learning, but this one, this one has sown itself into so many parts of my existence. And I’ve never been good at letting go so the lessons here are forever sorely needed.
I would love to recommend you one album from The Mountain Goats, a jumping-off point into the incredible world of their music. However, seeing as everything I’ve listened to of there’s I’ve loved, and everything I haven’t listened to is someone’s favourite in the whole world album, so I’m not even going to bother.
The only cassette release on my list (sorry), Transmissions to Horace is here because it came to me in a unique way. I was listening to an episode of Unexplained (a podcast about ‘unexplainable’ things, mostly the occult) that focused on the life and exploits of Alister Crowley, and in the bonus episode, they talked about how Alister believed himself to have communed with his guardian angel and received a transmission from the Egyptian God Horus. The same day an episode of I Only Listen To The Mountain Goats (coming up don’t worry) spoke about the connection between the song ‘Younger’ and one from an old cassette release, ‘No I Can’t’. Of course, all the serendipity was smacking me over the head so I went a listened to the cassette on youtube. It’s great and crackly and raw and young. ’Historiography’ is just a list of the only thing he remembers about someone he loved, and it reminds me so much of some I haven’t seen in a long time. It tastes like the past and I like how it tastes.
All Hail West Texas (2002) is recorded entirely on a boombox and captures the very essence of old school Mountain Goats, condensing it down to something wonderfully pure, if less scratchy than their older works. It’s just John Darnielle, the groups lead, in his basement, making music. It’s raspy and loud and weaves some beautiful stories together out of its setting and structure. It also has maybe my favourite line ever, ‘We were the one thing in the galaxy God didn’t have his eyes on.’ which figuratively moves me to tears every time I hear it, and sometimes literally.
2005’s The Sunset Tree contains two of the bands most listened to songs, ‘This Year’ and ‘Up The Wolves’, but it also features, for me at least, a new maturity that is missing from some of the old work. There are two albums between this and All Hail West Texas which feature musicians other than Darnielle, but here there is a wonderful rhythm between what is sung, what is played, and what is trying to be said. It also contains the song ‘Magpie’ (my spirit animal) and finishes with ‘Pale Green Things’ (the song I currently sing at the start of ‘En…Som’), so it holds a special place in my heart for that.
Skipping ahead (and over 4 superb full-length albums) to 2012, Transcendental Youth is a magical album. Filled with musical complexity, beautiful lyricism and phrasing, there is so much to say about the work put into and coming out of this album. But you should just listen to this one. It is worth hearing just for the build-up and descent from ‘White Cedar’ and the albums title track that brings everything I mean everything, to a close.
And now we come to 2019’s In League With Dragons the bands latest album and the one I listen to in long showers when I need to wash my whole being. It is, in my humble opinion, a masterpiece. Loosely formed around the DnD table and Wizards, In League With Dragons is Darnielle's reflections upon himself, now an older, wiser man, he no longer signs about lover and miss opportunities. Instead, this music wraps itself around myths and legends, studying the real world wizards of John’s fantasies. Ozzy Osborn, Waylon Jennings, and Doc Gooden feature as prominent real-world characters, but the album is never bogged down by any of its ideas long enough to get stale. I think that’s why it is so hard to describe without telling you about each song, somehow The Mountain Goats have created a wonderfully cohesive album through sound, instrumentation, and theme, so that Darnielle can pull from all corners of his imagination to depict a world seen only with time.
‘Clemency for the Wizard King’ / ‘Possum by Night’ is currently my favourite two-track combo and I can’t explain any of my love without ruining some aspect of the experience. It is a work of incredible talent and dedication.
John Darnielle and Joseph Fink - I Only Listen to The Mountain Goats
I said it was coming. It’s a podcast where Joseph Fink (Welcome To Night Vale, Alice Isn’t Dead) tries his best to get John Darnielle (The Mountain Goats) to talk about his music and (mostly) fails. Instead, they talk philosophy, religion, writing, being a dad, dying a 56, all the very normal and expected things for a music podcast.
There are currently two seasons, one on All Hail West Texas which also features conversations with artists covering the album’s tracks, and one recorded alongside the mixing and mastering of In League With Dragons which features the original demo’s for the songs. Both are very powerful and interesting, but have distinctly different feels to them so it might be worth shopping around.
You don’t need to know The Mountain Goat’s music to enjoy it either, as it rarely focuses that much on the music anyway, and if you’re an artist, especially a touring on, the second season might give you some useful advice about how to remain human through the process.
Two Aussie dudes sit down and talk comics/comic book movies and nerd culture. I wish I could say it was philosophical or something, but it is just two mates chatting shit and I’ve been listening for at least 5 years. Helped me get through many a hard time including the break up with my long term partner in 2017.
Sometimes you just need dudes talking comics to make you laugh.
Crystal Pite - Betroffenheit
Rated by the Guardian as ‘The Best Dance Work of the 21st Century’, Crystal Pite’s Betroffenheit is a powerful and immersive look into the world of grief and trauma, co-created with playwright and performer Jonathon Young. It is phenomenal and deserves every ounce of praise heading its way. Pite is an amazing and insightful choreographer with an eye for creative detail potentially unrivalled in our modern contemporary dance scene. Alongside Young’s story as farther mourning the loss of his two children in a house fire, the pair have designed, built and brought to life a horrific and enticing world that blends reality with the abstract and crushing experience of grief. If it is ever on near you, you would be doing yourself and your art a disservice by not seeing it.
When I first finished this book, I turned back to the first page and started again. Never before had I felt myself so vividly in a story, so accurately portrayed by a character. 'Perks' is a book that somehow understands the quintessential nature of being on the outside. It’s depiction of a confused and hurt child trying desperately to comprehend a world that is somewhat beyond him is just fascinating, and at 15 when I read this book, it was exactly what I needed. During my time at Rambert, this novel helped ground me and allowed me to feel like I wasn’t a complete weirdo in the space I inhabited. It showed me that actually, there was a place for someone like me. The book probably has some deeply-rooted flaws that I’ve missed along the way, I’m always fearful of expressing love for YA fiction. But it helped give me a starting point in being myself, and for that, I’ll be forever grateful.
Frank Ocean - Blonde
You know I said In League With Dragons was my long shower thinking album, well Blonde is my long walks in the dark thinking album. Most people who know me, especially 2016-2018 me, will know that I idolise Frank Ocean. Somehow mastering the art of sensations as sound, 2016’s Blonde is a long walk at night personified. It’s nostalgic, expectant, detailed, spacious. With an expert eye for sampling, plus a myriad of talented and uncredited artists, Frank uses his deep knowledge of musical history to weave a world that is as encapsulating as Pink Floyd’s Dark Side Of The Moon.
And there are a million parallels to be drawn here, as well as to a number of music's greatest albums. That’s Frank’s skill, pulling together all he knows to make music that is truly built on the shoulders of giants and deserves to stand atop them.
Kaveh Akbar - The Palace
This poem should be read, or even listened to(!) on the New Yorker’s website because the artwork there is just stunning. For a while, I would listen to the 9 minutes 56 seconds recording of the poem over and over. Strange and abstract, this poem continues the trend of being about many things that seem disconnected. Like Blackwater Woods, there seem to be many parts, and they seem somewhat disparate, but I love that, and what is said in the space between these ideas, The Palace Burning, The Child With A T-Shirt On, The Art Surviving What We Survived.
Somehow, especially in the recording of this abstract and somewhat confusing poem, this work takes on a life. Humans are confusing creatures, we never make much sense outside the stories we tell ourselves, and I think this poem understands that, examines that, in a truly insightful way.
Proverbs 11:1 and 11:24 (ESV)
A false balance is an abomination to the Lord,
but a just weight is his delight.
- Proverbs 11:1 (ESV)
One gives freely, yet grows all the richer;
another withholds what he should give, and only suffers want.
- Proverbs 11:24 (ESV)
These two passages capture something so integral to my image of self. As a Libra, I’ve always been striving for a balancing point, always trying to appease both sides of the equation. One of my biggest downfalls in life is the need to be seen favourably by both sides of the argument, which has often left me in a comfortable middle ground when I would rather be doing the extreme or embracing my weird tendencies.
This has lead to me half expressing myself which ends up making you even weird and less approachable because looking for acceptance is never an attractive quality. 11:1 reminds me that is not only bad but an abomination, to forgo my own weights and desires in the act of appearing balanced and fair.
11:24 mirrors, this, teaching me to give my full self when and wherever possible, without exhausting myself. One of my favourite details here is ‘withholds what he should give’. It is not, 'withholds everything he has', it is not, 'give your full self to everyone always', it is 'share what you have, put it on the table, be open to yourself and your value'.
A very different kind of ‘thing’ here, The Playground is a monthly movement event hosted by Rambert Dance in their beautiful building down on London’s south bank. Open to anyone, dancers, painter, photographers, writers, dramaturges, spectators, The Playground is exactly what it says on the tin, a place to play.
Each session four choreographers come to the studio t lead explorations into their practices. Participants are free to choose how they work with and even how they participate, bringing their unique art forms and approaches to the evening. I’ve attended many, many times and even lead a number of sessions, experiences that were truly rewarding and invigorating for me as a creative. If you’re in the area and movement’s your thing, check out the website.
'The Playground' also happens to be run by some of the loveliest people in the industry: Nancy Nerantzi, Simone Stackhouse, and Julia Gillespie
Anthony Missen / Company Chameleon - Of Man and Beast
I’m biased here, I worked on this piece during the summers of 2017 and 2018 and I adore it. Great cast, great choreography, and an exploration of manhood that I just have not seen anywhere else. In Missen’s world, men are complicated, compassionate, and most importantly human. It features the incredible work of artists Taylor Benjamin, Lee Clayden, Theo Fapohunda, and Tomasin Gulgec, who bring a reality to the work that is sorely missed from many contemporary pieces, and has embraced a number of the UK’s best dancers into its cast (including, for a time, me.)
The music composed by Miguel Marin is spacious and phenomenal, a sonic world designed to reflect and empower the character within it, and blends perfectly with the other tracks of the work, (‘Killing in the Name’ by Rage Against the Machine and ‘The Revolt of the Cockroach People’ (you read that right) by Ocote Soul Sound) to land a piece that is sincere, funny, and humble about the world in which men reside.
A bunch of guys and gals playing video games on the internet. I’ve been watching their content since I was a kid and I’ll continue to watch it for a long time to come. Achievement Hunter and their Let’s Play content give me a place to enjoy myself and rest my brain. It is the unloading dock of overwhelm and a que to my body that it can relax. Plus I find them all hilarious and they produce a ton of content so I always have something to indulge in when I need.
Yo big up my boy Kanye.
For reals though, Kanye West is my idol. His next album is set to drop with the new moon and I am forever hyped. West’s journey and music and inspiring, his beats are awesome, he’s one of the best lyricists of our time (though he ain't no to be fair), and he is the living embodiment of an artist. Kanye has defied exceptions through hard work and self-belief and is now arguably the most famous person on the planet.
Alongside his genre-defining work, Kayne has imbued his work with an infectious sense of purpose. He isn’t making work for fun, Kayne has a sacred duty to save the world, or at least he thinks so, and that’s more than enough. In an interview with David Letterman for his Netflix show, Letterman asked Kanye ‘When will this be done, when will it be finished?’ Kanye replies, in stunning honesty, ‘When there’s world peace.’ To me, that’s mind-blowing.
There is, of course, the ongoing joke, ‘I love you like Kanye loves Kanye.’ But in the end, is that so awful. West’s even joked about this premise on his song ‘I Love Kanye’ from The Life Of Pablo, but in the end, wouldn’t the world be a better, more total place, if we all genuinely believed in ourselves and our power over the world the way Kanye does?
Kanye is a philosophical icon, merging his humanity with his spiritualism and creating work that is helping the world heal. Say what you want about his craziness, but every single artist inspired by Kanye to make the world better is a huge benefit to our existence.
Just a quick footnote on this one, I realise and appreciate that Kanye has done some ‘less than great things’ in his time in the spotlight and I do not endorse his acts outside of his art. I also acknowledge that I am a white person, and I can’t begin to understand the effects Kanye’s actions may have on the larger community. It’s not my place to talk about it, so instead, I will link this article by Jenn M. Jackson for Teen Vogue: https://www.teenvogue.com/story/kanye-west-is-what-internalized-racism-and-misogyny-looks-like
I saw this work in 2015 at Sadlers Wells, right before I went to Rambert. It completely broke my mind and opened me up to the visceral possibilities of dance in a way that I really had not experienced before. Hofesh is a complicated presence in the world of dance, as so many male figures are, but his seminal work is truly masterful in its creation, energy, and totality. Music merges with bodies and scenography to bring to you one of the loudest, more physically moving performances. This work needs a loudspeaker to be truly experienced, you should be able to the feel the sound ricocheting through your skeleton, and by doing so, you should be able to connect to exactly what the dancers are expressing.
Here, in this work, Hofesh has married his many passions to bring to life a protest piece that is already known by its audience. Every moment feels exactly right, live sound breathing through your skin, dancers intimately intertwined, the crowd meeting in one focused state of amazement. It's an infection piece, if you don’t want to dance after you see piece then I don’t know what will make you move!
Psalm 19:1-4 (NIV)
1. The heavens declare the glory of God;
the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
2. Day after day they pour forth speech;
night after night they reveal knowledge.
3. They have no speech, they use no words;
no sound is heard from them.
4. Yet their voice goes out into all the earth,
their words to the ends of the world.
Psalm 19 was first read to me in Hull by Theo Fapohunda, a close friend of mine. The sun was settings and I told him the story of my Dad, who was in the process of wondering how a world made by chance could be so beautiful. My father and I never really spoke about God or Religion, and especially not sincerely, so this conversation had been really significant and quite shocking for me. This Psalm resonated with that moment so deeply, and truly capture the reason I adore the sky so much, it’s quiet, endless power over us. It brings me closer and closer to God, and when I look up I know, that even if this is a world of chance, it’s one that ended up beautiful.
Tyler is a special kind of craftsman, his latest album Igor, being entirely ‘written, produced and arranged’ by him, and going so far as to have that exact wording on the albums official cover art. Tyler dreams big, co-founding Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All / Odd Future with the intention of shaking up the industry, and giving so many insane artists a platform to produce content they could be proud of. There’s something infectious about his energy, and he always seems to be doing something more, looking onward to the future. And yet his music has a wonderful, sometimes hypnotic presence, taking you to worlds and place you’ve dreamed off, been too, lived in, and showing you new angles on the furniture.
I'm not hugely well versed with Tyler’s, older work, so sorry to any fans of that, I’m just a Flower Boy fan and I know that offends you deeply, but here we go.
Flower Boy is Tyler Okonma’s 2017 break out album. It mixes a unique understanding of chords with synths and bass ripped directly from the rap scene. Tyler’s distinctive voice polka dots the songs, riding alongside a number of high calibre feature like Frank Ocean, Jaden, Kali Uchis, and A$AP Rocky. Because Flower Boy is a car journey, full of winding roads, potholes, and missed connection, and along the way, we get to see all the people Tyler is carrying with him on this right. It is rightly beloved and showed the world what Tyler had been trying to show with all his previous work, Tyler is different, and that’s awesome.
‘See You Again’, Tyler’s most-streamed song, and its prequel track ‘Sometimes...’ are of special note to me. For one, I love the inclusion of short dialogue-driven tracks and skits into albums, they bring a new life to work. ‘Sometimes’ really sets the tone for what’s coming up, the longing, the distance, the apathy towards that character, as well as being a reference to Janet Jackson’s ‘Got ’til it’s Gone’, places us right into the scene before water-dropping us into Tyler’s dream state. Incidentally EXACTLY WHAT YOU RUN FROM YOU END UP CHASING is one of my favourite tracks for IGOR because it does exactly what 'Sometimes...' does.
Walking through a street in Ipswich during a tour in 2018 this song came on and I was taken forcefully into a world I’d forgotten. The same place, this time with an old friend. ‘See You Again’ also sets up a homosexual romance and the longing of that space. Needless to say, I was there with Tyler as the morning light crept over the quiet streets.
IGOR is an entirely different beast. Dropping early 2019 IGOR is all about Tyler. All the features are ‘uncredited’ (though many have been confirmed on his twitter), it shows Tyler’s desire to grow bigger and more expressive through his art. The album itself is amazing, bouncing backwards and forwards between moving on and longing, a man unable to quite let go of all the people who’ve let go of him. Those of you who know me know I had a great deal of issues holding onto people who are not with me any more. I give a lot of power to those people and am working to understand the place they have within me without being swamped by them. IGOR, and Tyler’s work, in general, has helped me in that journey and it’s an important one for me.
I know, Tyler, The Creator gets on here twice. And I know, there are so many other great artists with amazing Tiny Desk performances. However, I wanted to highlight these three because I think they optimise what NPR Tiny Desk is all about.
Tyler’s Tiny Desk performance strips down the electronic sounds of Flower Boy and highlights the amazing work he has done concerning the chords of his music. Here his voice remains unmodulated, but he embraces that and lets his backing singers (it feels wrong to even call them that they are insane) cover his bases. Alongside this, we get to see Tyler, The Person, a scatterbrain but intent artist who enjoys making music and communicating with the crowd. He’s funny and genuine and a bit weird. Exactly what you’d expect and more.
I’m not a huge fan of Chance the Rapper, I like him on Ultralight Beam (Kanye West) and on May I have this dance (Francis and the Lights), but I’ve never really gotten into his music. Until I watched his Tiny Desk Concert. Chance becomes very human here, wondering how quickly people start the music, and shouting out some of his favourite artists that have played the desk. He also performs a poem ‘The Other Side’ and handles its disruption with humour and grace.
Both of the songs he performs, 'Juke Jam', from 2016’s Colouring Book, and a cover of Stevie Wonder’s ‘They Won't Go When I Go’, are beautifully brought to life here and tell beautiful and human stories.
This guy is mad. If you don’t know Jacob Collier, he’s a musician who creates his songs by layering instruments and vocals over and over to create delicate and complex harmonies. Not mentioning his insane editing and producing skill, Collier has an understanding of music that is beyond anything you’ll find in anyone his age (25).
However, here, unable to edit and layer, Jacob shows off his other skills. His band, who are all incredible, come together to provide the complex and beautiful sonics of his work, while Jacob shines like a child playing in a musical playground. He’s physically expressive as he makes music, grabbing 7 different interments throughout the performance, getting the audience to join him, laughing and joking throughout. In this performance, Jacob is the music he is making, and that is just incredibly moving. Seriously, check this guy out and enjoy all the crazy things he can do. And remember every single sound, even the weirdest ones are made live in the moment.
This is my favourite room in the world. 9 paintings hang in a room lit subtle, as intended by the artist. They depict a combination of reds and blacks on top of maroons, and they absorb you. I have spent hours lot in just a single image, watching it shift as my mind works to fill in and understand the work that denies understanding.
As a kid I used to love the colour red, the Red Power Ranger was my favourite after all, and I believed my self the leader of something or other, so it made sense that I would be red. But as I grew, and maybe as I was taught that I wasn’t actually the leader of anything, I started to disdain the colour, falling in love for it’s softer more understanding cousin, blue, and maybe purple if it wasn’t too reddish.
The further I grew into my manhood, the more I associated red with violence and aggression, something I was deeply fearful of within me. Red was the colour that broke a nose, red was the colour that hit a wife.
Until I was in Ireland, and I made a piece about anger (Meditation 1), and it lived in a big red wheel. The more time I stayed there, the more I realised red was fear, that red was trapped, that anger was a response to an emotion, not the root of it. Now I understand, red is expression, red is release, red is blood boiling through the skin at what feels like injustice.
There is something contemplative about the red’s in that room that eludes me, every time I stay I realise red is another thing. Red is the first colour the sky takes, Red is the colour of your eyes when you look at me, Red is the space behind the sofa at my friend's house.
It’s a good room. I recommend it. (Obviously).
And we’ve come to the final item! New Partner by Palace Music, was recommended to me by John Green, on an episode of The Anthropocene Reviewed (Bringing It Back Baby!). In the episode, John explains his relationship to the song, the places it can take him, and the places he has removed himself from. It’s a beautiful episode, and it gets me every time. But for the moment let's talk about my New Partner.
New Partner rides along many of the running themes of this list. There is something intoxicatingly human about it, the way the voice doesn’t quite hit the notes, the slightly slower than you think pace. Like the other Palace of this list, it’s disjointed nature (the lyrics are almost nonsensical, though I feel wrong saying that because, as you’ll hear, they make perfect sense(?)) lends itself to exploring a myriad of different spaces and ideas without being defined by any of them.
And you can tell each word was chosen with great care, similar to Darnielle on a Mountain Goat’s album, the syntax, word structure, and line length all play a roll in conveying the specific feeling and energy of this unique and shuffling world. it is poetry, playing with the same abstract spaces as Oliver and Akbar’s work before it.
I love this song. I love it for all the places it takes me, and I’m truly grateful to have found it in such a beautiful way.
I promised at the start that I would present to you the same number of people as I did things, and I am fortunate to be able to visit them all though this song and all the work I’ve shared.
20 People I Love, in some particular order.
Mum: Caroline Sale
Dad: Richard Sale
Brother: Ben Sale
Witch: Rachel Strickland
Body of Empowerment: Chantel McCormick
Avatar Fanatic: David Colley
Guardian: Lee Harry Clayden
Dinner and Tunes: Sian Hopkin and Tom Kirkpatrick
Soul Kin: Jennifer De Brún
Soul Something: Julia Kayser
Collaborator and New Tarot Reader: Maybelle Lek
I mean who knows right?: Jem Bentham
Friend(?): Serena Zaccagnini
Cherie: Cherie Jacque
Sun Watcher: Jenny Tufts
Thot: Jao Woramontri
Best Bae: Alex Cheung
To Whom I Am A Rock: Bryony Harrison
A Close Friend: Theo Fapohunda
Thanks to all of you and to everybody who isn't here but whom I love deeply and fully, my life is better for every single one of you.
Image curtesy of Maybelle Lek, thanks for the insight!