57. A year of enthusiasms
January 13th, 2024

(File under: frescos, rogues, hockey, monsters, tokyo)

Only two emails in 2023, Burrows? I know. Shameful. If you still have any appetite for year-end lists, here's a dozen things I loved last year.

J.L. Carr - A Month in the Country
In December 2022 three people recommended me the same book within the space of a week—a book published in 1980, a part of no current conversation, just contentedly pottering around in the past. It felt like a cosmic wink across a crowded bookstore. As snow blanketed Seattle in January, I read J.L. Carr's A Month in the Country, a bucolic little novella set during the last month of Summer in 1920s England. In it, a WW1 veteran is dispatched to a small village to restore a church fresco. He roosts in the belfry with a sleeping bag and a dodgy stove, and muses on art, happiness, and nostalgia. It taught me the words 'catafalque' and 'peroration', and the more I write about it now, the more I want to scrap any plans I had today and reread it.

Hamish Hawk - Angel Numbers
One of my favourite albums of 2023 was Hamish Hawk's puckish, grandiose Angel Numbers. Hawk's lyrics are playful and hyper-literate, delivered in a voice that sounds to me like a combination of other wordy rogues like Franz Ferdinand's Alex Kapranos, or The Divine Comedy's Neil Hannon. Lines from this album burrowed into me and remain in residence a year later. Unconditional king of the internal rhyme, in 'Think of Us Kissing' he sings "Now everyone's weighing in on the lady in waiting/About how long it's all taking, as she sits for the painting/As soon as it dries it starts depreciating." In the chorus to 'Dog-Eared August', a solid-gold couplet: "You share the scariest star sign with my only sister / I've been watching you trying to write Narcissus on my mirror."

Cheekface - The Fringe
A few years ago, I caught myself wishing that I loved any band as much as I loved every band when I was 15. The universe answered with Cheekface, a gleefully dorky bubblegrunge 3-piece armed with killer basslines and one-liners by the dozen ("If you're the light of my life why is it always so dark?") In March I saw them at their sold-out Bowery Ballroom show, and with a crowd of the kindest, most appreciative fans, yelled each lyric to perfection, 15 again in 2023.

Ice hockey
And then, to the surprise of everyone including myself, I got extremely invested in ice hockey. The beginning of the year felt like a miserable trudge up a doomed incline, and April was its peak. Then a friend appeared out of the mist clutching a spare ticket to see the Seattle Kraken in the playoffs, and I plunged down the other side into something unexpectedly joyful. Post-pandemic, any enormous communal experience has felt richer and more emotionally concentrated. To converge on a place with 18,000 others, all of us in some combination of the same colours, to celebrate something together at a volume so loud it requires earplugs—that'll rewire your insides for the better.

Tim Bernardes
As I wrote back then, May belonged to Tim Bernardes—"I'm going to change, I already changed, I'm changing."

To Be Or Not To Be (1942)
Not only the greatest wartime comic satire ever made, but the bravest—released during the same war it was satirising. There are so many exceptional jokes in Ernst Lubitsch's To Be Or Not To Be that I gave up on trying to write them down. It makes every subsequent Nazi send-up look as limp as week-old scallions.

Claire Dederer - Monsters: A Fan's Dilemma
Another brave thing: Claire Dederer's candid, funny, essential book that explores how to reconcile the art with we love with the awful bastards who made it. Here she is on Annie Hall: "To watch Annie Hall is to feel, for just a moment, that one belongs to the human race. Watching, you feel almost mugged by the sense of belonging. That fabricated connection can be more beautiful than love itself. A simulacrum that becomes more real than the thing it represents. And that's how I define great art."

Lucille Clifton - won't you celebrate with me?
One of dozens of ripe fruits plucked from Ross Gay's Inciting Joy. "come celebrate / with me that everyday / something has tried to kill me / and has failed."

Geese - 2122
The second angel number on this list. Geese's '2122' is proggy, jammy, horny mess of alt-country posturing and deity-invoking, somewhere between Sabbath and White Denim, which had me staring at my speakers in disbelief the first time I heard it.

H. Hawkline - Milk for Flowers
And here's the second hawk-adjacent enthusiasm, a beguiling, theatrical, and McCartney-esque art-pop record about grief and the divine.

Diners - DOMINO
I spent most of November in Japan, a trip I've been trying to write about but so far can't articulate properly. All I know is that as I wandered through Omotesando one morning, volleying smiles back at obachans on their sunny morning constitutionals, I listened to Diners' DOMINO for the first time—a hook-heavy jangle pop record under 30 minutes—and felt the lightest I've felt in a long time.

Chants of Sennaar
I spent an unconscionable amount of time this year playing The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom, but a much smaller game snuck in to my favourites right at the eleventh hour. Chants of Sennaar is a puzzle game loosely based on the Tower of Babel where you, a nameless traveler, have to ascend the tower by learning the languages of the people who live there and restoring links between them. A perfectly-formed gem of a game, smartly designed and beautifully scored.

Oh, and here's a playlist of a bunch of songs I loved from 2023, too.

Dept. of Enthusiasm is a charmingly sporadic email from me, Jez Burrows. You can read some past issues, or sign up below.