Xmas 2017

It was an ugly year, right? That’s the word that keeps resurfacing for me. There was ugliness in the streets, ugliness in the corporate offices, and seemingly nothing but ugliness coming from the Oval Office. The meaning of Christmas is that ugliness doesn’t get the last word, but it was harder for Christmas songs to work their way into my brain this year. Does this holiday have to be ruined along with everything else?

Thankfully, no. But this collection of songs is a little more melancholy, a little more ambivalent than usual. I loved the junkyard folk, Tom Waits-ish feel of “Our Rest Has Come” and the Argentinian band Queridas’ gorgeous version of Yoko Ono’s “Listen, the Snow is Falling.” I included a reading of  G. K. Chesterton poem, one of my long-time favorites. I had more fun with the found audio than the actual songs. But I still love how it came out. So enjoy it in the player below, download it for yourself while it’s here (a few of my other Xmas mixtapes are on Mixcloud as well), and… Merry Christmas.

(the cover is a ripoff – sorry, homage – of a handmade card by Lithuanian-born American printmakers William and Marguerite Zorach that I stumbled on on the interwebs.)

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SXIG

I went to the SXSW Music conference again this year, as I have done in recent years. Thanks to winter storm Stella, I got to spend an extra day in Austin, which ended up being a great one, and in all I logged time at around 70 different shows in the 5 days. I’d say the last few years were better in terms of music, but hardly anything to complain about.

I’m not the most consistent Instagrammer, but I decided this year to play around with a few different photo apps and then became somewhat obsessed with it. I like Prisma for its great range of effects and Layrs for the ability to stack images in layers on top of each other (why doesn’t PS Express, the mobile Photoshop app, do this?). Those, combined with the standard iPhone editing tools and Instagram filters, can do some amazing things. Here are a few of my favorites from Austin, and I’ve got a bunch more at my IG account. By the way – in order, this is Mint Field, Tei Shi, Dude York, Weaves, Holly Macve, and Merchandise.

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Heavy GIFfing

Two of my recent New Yorker cartoons, start to finish, in GIF form. Separated by pictures of otters, so it’s not so visually confusing.

 

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GIFrage

My cartoon in this week’s issue of the New Yorker, from original idea to submission sketch to final published image:

renewable-outrage_final

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What I’ll remember from 2016, culturally speaking

Well, except for YOU KNOW WHO.

Here is my meta-list of my favorite music, films, books, and whatevers, from the Year That Shall Not Be Named.

1. David Bowie, Blackstar I listened to Blackstar on repeat the night after its release in January of this year. I was astounded by it’s brilliance, and I was equally excited that David Bowie was making vital art into his eighth decade of life, emerging once again as a presence in NYC. I drifted off to sleep with the album on, and then woke up the next morning to the news alert that he had passed away. The shock and sadness of that lasted with me for a long time, and it made it difficult for me to listen to Blackstar again until just recently. It was a tremendous farewell act.

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2. Stranger Things, Netflix’s thrilling, funny, sci-fi mystery series which bullseyed both taut storytelling and 80s nostalgia. I told you, Lando.

3. Kanye West, Life of Pablo and Chance the Rapper, Coloring Book Both of these Chicago rappers created compelling music this year that had a heavy gospel influence. Kanye’s was tormented and messy – gospel as desperation – and announced itself as being capital “I” important. Chance’s was both full of explicit Christianity and also fun as hell, and settled for merely being maybe the most infectious record of the year.

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4. The iPad Pro Finally an Apple computer whose screen you can draw on! It’s not perfect, but I enjoyed digitally drawing for the first time. When I found the software lacking I turned to AstroPad, which turns the iPad into a tablet that could run my desktop Photoshop.

5. Blake Crouch, Dark Matter A page-turner based on Schroedinger’s Cat? Say no more.

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6. Triumphs and Laments I was glad to be able to visit William Kentridge’s impressive 550-meter long mural, created not by painting, but by by power-washing around the black soot on the walls of the Tiber River in Rome.

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7. LCD Soundsystem reunion I hardly ever bite on the “Band Who Broke Up X Years Ago Reunites For Summer Festival” bait, but I somehow missed seeing them while they had been together, and I believed James Murphy’s promise that they’re in this to do something better than they’ve done before. So I ponied up the money to see them at Panorama, and they didn’t disappoint. My fingers are crossed for some studio music from them in 2017.

8. Unfinished Opening in the old Whitney Museum space on the UES in March, the Met Breuer (the Met’s new museum for contemporary art) crushed it this year with it’s inaugural exhibitions. Unfinished: Thoughts Left Visible featured works that were unintentionally unresolved and also those that embraced an unfinished, “work-in-progress” aesthetic, leaving it to the viewers to ask themselves: when is a work really “done?” Never less than fascinating, my highlights were:

this abandoned Lucian Freud, a portrait that Klimt was still roughing out when he died,

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a Daumier that was gorgeous not despite but because of being mostly scraped away, this creepy incomplete work from Anton Raphael Mengs,

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and a room full of atmospheric Turners.

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9. Kerry James Marshall: Mastry The next show at the Breuer (still on display through January 29) is a retrospective from this Alabama man who deals with the American black experience through both honoring and subverting the many stylistic traditions of Western art which he is well-versed in, from Rococo painting to comics. There are so many things going on in his works that it’s hard for me to accurately summarize it here, but it is powerful.

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10. Empire Strikes Bond It’s refreshing to remember that the internet isn’t just a forum for fake news and hateful trolls. It’s also a place where art that would previously have gone unnoticed can find a wider audience. So what would the opening credits for The Empire Strikes Back have looked like if they were done in a James Bond style? This amazing visual mashup piece by a student filmmaker answers that question.

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Christmas 2016, at last

I don’t need to recap all of the ways that 2016 was horrible. Forget just a little – we need a lot of Christmas now.

Summoning the holiday spirit was difficult this year. Traditions somehow feel less comforting. I wondered if I should take a radical departure from my typical mix and do something completely different. In the end, I stuck to the same formula, because Christmas doesn’t need a reboot. Christmas is the reboot: God entering the world as an infant.

So business as usual, more or less, with the exception that I tried my very first actual mashup – with admittedly mixed results (but at least it’s short). The great artists that we lost this year are represented here – Bowie, Prince, Sharon Jones, Leonard Cohen. Because we’re a nation of misfits I included the Inflatable Men cover of the familiar song from the classic TV special. There are a few fun new songs, some great takes on classics, and other stuff not represented on the tracklist. So – enjoy!

 

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If you like this one and want more, you can still hear my mix from last year:

 

Here is a quieter, more reflective mix to soothe your soul, which I did in 2014:

 

And here’s Xmas in Space, if you like your Christmas music with beeps and boops and sound FX and recordings of alleged UFO eyewitnesses:

 

Lastly, here is a link to a folder with every mix I’ve made going back to 2007, available for download. Get busy and Merry Christmas!

 

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Sketch and repeat

Before they were published, they were just scribbles in a sketchbook.

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Then I decided to see what they would look like all drawn up

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and given a proper caption.

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And the good ones, like this one, get published.

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My original idea on this was a skeleton sitting at a desk. Funnier or just more macabre?

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temp

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temp-sketch

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