We’ve only got a few days left before the Mayan calendar ends and it rains boiling demon blood from the cracked sky, before glorious trumpet peals herald the Apocalypse has finally come. I know, I know – you’re stoked. The anticipation is probably killing you. There will be so many rad parties to attend in the coming (end of) days but you really should get your playlist game right before 12/21/2012. I’m here to help you get started.
After all, it would be a drag to get to Heaven or Hell (let’s be optimistic and assume Heaven) and God/Satan/Quetzalcoatl is there, arms crossed in front of the velvet rope, looking fresh in Sperrys and Ray-Bans, with just one question: What Were You Listening to When the World Ended?
Now, you’re probably used to being judged for what you listen to by your friends, peers and the bearded lookalikes standing behind you on the subway – but God? A guy whose opinion you’re suddenly wishing you’d paid more attention to? Preposterous! Besides, he should know already, shouldn’t he? Fuck.
Anyways, here’s a list of 5 Apocalypse-friendly suggestions with very different takes on what the end of the world will be like. These should help get you pumped up for the official end of the world on December 21st, 2012, not to mention (maybe) get you into Heaven.
1. Bitches Brew by Miles Davis
Now, the key to impressing whatever celestial purveyor of judgment you’re dealing with is to establish old-school cred up front. If you lead with REM’s “It’s the End of the World As We Know It,” you’re gonna get some eye rolling and possible eternal damnation. Go with Miles Davis’ Bitches Brew instead, for its otherworldly overtones and fragmented mysticism. This will let your judge know that you’re not fucking around.
Take this opportunity to pull from your breast pocket (or behind your ear) a jazz cigarette and spark it up. Drag, inhale deeply, and continue. Tell St. Peter/Yahweh/Lucifer that the beauty of this album isn’t in its apparent chaos, but rather in its meticulous organization. This is improvisational music, but curated, second to second, by a man who was a fantastic musician, but also an excellent bandleader. Get out your headphones and listen closely – you’ll hear Miles’ murmuring and gently snapping his fingers, directing the other players and the bearing of the song with croaks of “keep it tight” and “your turn John.” God will surely be floored by this armchair analysis.
But seriously, this album may blow your mind. Much like Duchamp’s “Nude Descending a Staircase No. 2.” which blew minds 100 years ago and was a signpost for the course of Modernity in painting, Bitches Brew seems to function as the window into a mysterious world to come. Has that world yet arrived? Probably not, but probably will. By hook or by crook.
2. Let England Shake by PJ Harvey
While this is an album that shimmers with bucolic grace, it is also very dark and very angry. Here, PJ seems preoccupied with war, blood, politics, horror. On songs like “The Last Living Rose”, “On Battleship Hill,” and “Written on the Forehead,” she does a good job of painting our modern world in terms of combat, conflict – military wars, cultural ones, hard power vs. soft power, the environment vs. humanity, humanity vs. itself.
That, amidst this intense brooding, she doesn’t arrive at any hard conclusions or “solutions” – just that man will keep killing man, building empires on blood until there’s no one left to kill – seems stark but possible. This is apocalyptic realism. There are no cosmic events here, prophesied thousands of years ago. No alien conspiracies. Just mankind eating itself alive, Ouroboros in motion, illustrating some eternal return. And sorry that got kinda dark. Blame it on PJ… she’s such a downer sometimes.
3. Kid A by Radiohead
The headier among believers in the Mayan prophecy of 2012 will tell you that the apocalypse we get may be considerably different than the one we’re expecting. Rather than the end of days it will be the end of a chapter in human consciousness. These people use words like “ascension” to describe what’s going to happen, which is not so easy to follow. You really need one of these weirdos to sum it up for you.
Luckily, in an interview with Kurt Loder recorded shortly after the release of Kid A, Yorke does actually sum it up pretty nicely while describing some of the album’s themes and how it’s all inspired by freaky books about the Pyramids like this one:
Yorke: …It’s a book that has this theory that there are a lot of ancient sites around the world that pyramids and temples are built on which correlate exactly with stars in the heavens and correlate with things like the Mayan calendar, which is like more accurate than our calendar and takes the wobble in the earth into account.
A lot of it is about the idea that in all ancient cultures and myths there is a flood, and before the flood there was a higher form of civilization, a higher form of life on Earth that that was wiped out. And in order to tell us that they were here, they left all this stuff. So, within all this, with the symbolism stuff, they indicate that our period is coming to a close and the next period is about to start.
Loder: It’ll be like an AI period?
Yorke: Well, I don’t know yet. I’m booking my condo on the moon, actually.
Make of that what you will – all poppycock aside, it’s a great album. It really nails the whole “melding of human consciousness into a singular and all-knowing artificial intelligence” vibe. All I have to say is, I’m totally not surprised that Thom Yorke reads stuff like that. And hey – now you’ve got something for your Mayan apocalypse reading list too.
4. Fear Fun by Father John Misty
Right from the opening track of his 2012 album, the good Father (nee Joshua Tillman) treats us to a panorama of the world we’re living in, one that may already be on it’s way out; where the Doomsday knell has already rung and the crumbling’s begun.
These are sad saloon songs in which FJM is both cowboy and man of the cloth. He dissects the place of love in a rotten world, sermonizing (so to speak) on celebrity culture, the environment, peak oil and war. It’s dense. On “Funtimes in Babylon” he nutshells the portentous tone of the LP as a whole with this line: “ride around the wreckage on a horse knee-deep in blood / look out Hollywood here I come.” This album is all brimstone and bravado, but probably one of this year’s best.
5. Maniac Meat by Tobacco
Pennsylvania’s favorite forest witch and creator of the terrifying Allegheny White Fish Tapes, Tobacco, released an excellent album this year via his full band, Black Moth Super Rainbow, that almost stole this spot. But this slice of neo-psychedelia, his 2nd solo album, ultimately takes the cake for a few reasons.
First, its sound is not so cloyingly candy-coated as Cobra Juicy‘s. The tones on this album are harsh and irradiated with saturation, the percussion purposefully crunchy and trashed-sounding. Old-school hip hop beats shine on this album, anchoring it in their simplicity as Tobacco’s constantly vocoded vocals take on a demonic presence, swelling with unholiness (see “Sweatmother”). These robot sounds, from a person who once said, “I dream of the day live shows become all digital like everything else, and we can stay at home, and just be projected like a hologram or something.” Right. Actually, aren’t we doing that nowadays,?
On this album, you get the feeling that Tobacco is looking forward to the apocalypse. And why shouldn’t he be? Whatever form it takes – ecclesiastical hellfire, nuclear Winter, the enslavement of all human minds by the Ubernet, maybe a permanent virtual reality vacation - it’s sure to be exciting.
Just make sure your playlist game is right – check out the complete & expanded What Were You Listening to When the World Ended? playlist on Spotify.