Nothing like going off to England and taking two classes that each met once a week (on the same day!) to clear your head, right? So I took off, threw the shackles of dormdom and music criticdom and other -doms aside and shared a dingy flat in Bayswater with friends of friends (who became just friends) and drank a bunch of tea from an electric kettle and went to Fopp a lot. Five pounds, in retrospect, wasn't great given the conversion rates (round about $9.99 a pop), but it felt nice, and I eventually paid my parents back for the staggering debt I accrued. Sorry, Dad!
Emily was in Italy via a Jesuit program in Rome, and we were in closer proximity in Europe than we ever were in the States. EasyJet was usually cheaper than Amtrak fare. We met on weekends, taking lightning tours through Rome and eating at the Via Doria market and navigating Trastevere and sipping under- and overpriced cappuccino indiscriminately I wrote about our misadventures here (fluffy) and here (emo).
It was a blast! I was a wreck! I hate traveling, but was able to do more of it in that brief period than I may have done since, purely out of necessity and buoyed by the novelty of the sights. Drinking age had been lowered, so my 21st birthday was a bit of a non-starter. I attempted to kick some deep-seated paranoia, occasionally relapsing to peek at old online music haunts or self-Google, listening to drips and drops of new music but (for the most part) relegating listening habits to (on one hand) a kind of austere repetition, listening to the same songs and albums over and over, ten times, twenty times ("Billy S." and Billy Bragg, Basement Jaxx and Alan Braxe); or (on the other) I'd just put my old 30 gig iPod on shuffle and go for a long walk. I put together three "iGod mixes" culled from these shuffle sessions (rules: could re-order the songs minimally for flow and could only delete one song in twenty consecutive plays) and lost all of them before giving them to their intended recipients (sorry Becki, Matt, and Emily G.). Fooled around with some DJ software and made my first continuous mix (of sorts) for Emily, the "Robot Mix," which I've also since lost: Max Tundra, Wagonchrist, Out Hud...who else?
Names that flutter into mind from that period seem arbitrary and frequently obscure: What does Cass McCombs sound like again? Have I listened to Busdriver since then (I almost don't want to)? Was Datarock really that good (yes)? Who the hell is Gustav?
I read a lot of old I Love Music threads absentmindedly as my insomnia grew to absurd proportions. I was better able to keep up with my US friends' evening schedules to chat than my London friends' daytime schedules. My flatmates and I rearranged "Happy Birthday" letters again and again to spell cryptic phrases. I had what I now recognize as my first anxiety attacks walking through Piccadilly Circus. Vividly remember seeing The Sea Inside, though I don't remember if I liked it (I was moved by it, anyway). Was chided by a film appreciation professor when I kept wanting to jump to the ending of the films we watched: "Always going right to the end -- I wonder what your girlfriend must think!" Imported pseudo-kosher foods from various shops to put on a rag-tag Passover seder with Emily and my generous, curious roommate (we slept about a foot and a half apart, which for some reason didn't strike me as a big deal at the time). Drank too much port (not a good substitute for Manischewitz, it turns out) and lied to Emily about how long she'd been throwing up.
And then we were in Paris and Prague and Berlin, getting bedbugs somewhere -- pretty sure it was the $5 Hostel in Prague, where we saw a little pest scurrying across our dinosaur sheets on the mattress on the ground -- trying to enjoy ourselves but being acutely aware of how much it was all costing, now that it was coming to an end. Tourist sites, little nooks and corners, beige flats, creating a well-trodden path in a new place over the course of a few months. Enjoying the gray weather.
I'd resigned from writing for Pitchfork on Christmas eve after doing my first and last interview with whatshisname from Bloc Party. Just a brief email exchange: I asked stupid questions, he provided snappy answers. I figured I could go back to writing on the website I'd started with friends, but that wasn't in the cards.
I got back and I'd started thinking about sorting things out more personal-like. I'd referenced my music career for the first time in a bizarre essay I filed from abroad on Skye Sweetnam, which reads as incoherent to me now. When I returned, I got into the habit of compulsively buying CDs for .99 or less (usually a penny plus the $3 shipping and handling) from various online stores. I went to libraries and ripped their Jessica Simpson albums. I read Metal Mike Saunders on Radio Disney and B*Witched and Lindsay Lohan (prior to her debut album, when her stuff was appearing on soundtracks) and Ruby Blue. I lurked on ILM threads about Ashlee Simpson (Emo or Oh No!) and read the essays in the Voice that emerged from some strands of those conversations. I had the odd desire to pitch something to the Voice just to be a part of that conversation, though I hadn't really written much about music yet. Maybe I could do a Radio Disney update or something?
Oh man, that Ashlee album (I Am Me; hadn't yet heard Autobiography) was awesome! It was like actually good! A wrongheaded approach as I started to figure this stuff out -- I felt the need to qualify the "actually," the implicit message being "despite what I should think," even though I couldn't very well articulate what exactly it was I was supposed to be thinking. All I knew of Ashlee was that she got "caught" lip syncing on Saturday Night Live. But I'd never consciously listened to her before.
Now I'm living with Emily in Boston for the summer working for a documentary production company, and my listening takes a turn for the spare. I listen to one of three albums every day on a long walk to and from work -- Discovery by Daft Punk, The Upper Cuts by Alan Braxe and "Friends," or Minimum-Maximum, the live Kraftwerk album. Later the Mountain Goats album, which ended up on top of my first of six Pazz and Jop ballots as an out-of-work music critic. That's all I can remember from the summer, anyway, needing a way to yoke my body's energy to a beat (or, with MG and I think the Hold Steady album, a story) but not wanting anything too outside of a comfort zone (again my anxiety is rumbling without me realizing it -- at its peak, I would listen to Pantha du Prince's This Bliss every day to try to stop panic attacks walking four blocks to and from work each way).
There was something unsettling bubbling up from the depths, a kind of restlessness that doesn't strike me as entirely healthy (I'd attributed it to some basic creative drive or something -- c'mon, I was in art school!). Insomnia, acute chest pains. Awful blood sugars. An utter refusal to drive anywhere, ever, for any reason. "I don't feel comfortable driving in Boston -- the drivers here are crazy!" Yeah. I figured my time abroad would be something like convalescence from a world out to get me, but it turns out that the paranoia and discomfort I'd been attributing to this thing or that person or anything but me was, probably the whole time, just me and a bundle of nerves. (There was that one nightmare about an unruly mob murdering me after an Arcade Fire concert -- but I wouldn't read too much into it.)
Top Ten+ of 2005