In 2021, some ended friendships, some parted from relationships, and some reached the end of a journey. Everyone has their own rituals for saying goodbye and grieving these experiences, leaving them in the past or keeping them as secrets buried deep in their memory. In Taiwan, before the Lunar New Year, we usually clean our house—to reorganize or discard old things that we’ve stored for a long time, and to adjust our inner space as well. The process of physical cleaning allows us to clear out cloudy thoughts or emotions that have disturbed us over the past year. For me, music is always the best companion for this extensive process. As the ever enchanting Prince wrote in his autobiography, The Beautiful Ones, “Music is healing. Some secrets are so dark they have to be turned into song first before one can even begin to unpack them.”
With every end-of-year cleaning, I reflect on whether I’m living just in terms of right or wrong, or whether I’m embracing the gray areas of life. In our current era, people are trying to deconstruct binaries, to examine our own original emotions, identities and orientations, and even our daily logic. Binary thinking is so deeply ingrained in us, it is easy to narrow our vision unconsciously.
The ongoing pandemic has narrowed my social life and my daily activities in drastic ways. Some of my relationships have become codependent, and thus my practice of developing personal inner space has gradually moved towards coexisting with my own solitude. I even choose music related to these themes when I’m cleaning. Knowing that loneliness and being alone are in reality two completely different things, dualistic thinking tends to direct “alone” into a negative direction, and the word becomes frightening. I am reminded of what Simone de Beauvoir wrote in her book Memoirs of a Dutiful Daughter, “Alone: for the first time I understood the terrible significance of that word. Alone without a witness, without anyone to speak to, without refuge. The breath in my body, the blood in my veins, all this hurly-burly in my head existed for nobody.”
When the world seems full of darkness and societal collapse feels just around the corner, we need music that makes us put down our weariness and vent our emotions wantonly. Most of the albums that I chose for this article are about facing unbearable loneliness and making a qualitative change from toxic codependency. With themes such as complicated friendships, intimate relationships, and fragmented daily lives, they gently carve out all kinds of heartbroken states, openly face their vulnerabilities, and unfold personal emotions into in-depth musical narratives.
Suppose we see time as a forward line. Many of the songs on these albums use the past as the beginning of the story, like a metaphor for the seasons changing as one experiences sadness with human relations, the various traumas in life, the emotional pain from heartbreak, and the loneliness of the process of self-identification. These beautiful narratives comb out journeys of self-examination and transformation. Loneliness exposes anxiety and brings out the darkness inside of us, reminding us that the past has never ceased, but we can flow and coexist through it.
Along with the Baltimore and DC artists listed in this article, so many musicians in the area put out new material that attracted abundant attention in 2021, such as Do You Like Salt? by BRNDA and both feet en th infinite by experimental duo Model Home. Baltimore hardcore band Turnstile’s Glow On was included on many music media outlets’ best album of the year lists.
Even though COVID is still around, and we’re struggling through the always-depressing wintertime, 2022 is already shaping up to be a good year for new music, with releases expected from Natural Velvet, Midnight Sun, Outcalls, Zomes, Ed Schrader’s Music Beat, and more. Also, the Baltimore experimental music organization High Zero just relaunched a series of online performances called “The Red Room in Your Room” on Twitch every Thursday. Participating musicians include local legends Matmos and Lexie Mountain, New York sound artist C. Lavender, People Like Us, and many other experimenters. Entering 2022, it is gratifying that this city’s music is still full of such vitality.