The feeling you’ve left the oven on


Exit Simulation, Niecy Blues

Spotify / Apple / YouTube / Bandcamp

  • I can’t stop listening to “U Care.” The way the instruments layer in, so methodically, first the bass, walking up, walking down, then a plaintive, circular guitar line, setting the foundation for the vocals—and here they are, ethereal, spinning off with so much glorious delay, and filling all that expanse. It’s a familiar, comfortable groove, but quickly becomes unfamiliar. You think you know it, then you don’t, then you try it with headphones, then you can’t stop.
  • The album is so much more, though. Endless washes of warm ambience, then these unexpected, chilling moments that turn the mood on its head—the spoken-word sample in “Violently Rooted,” for example:
If I wanted to control you
I would keep you afraid
I would keep you in a state of fear
And it would be coming through your device
All your devices
It would be on line at the checkout
That little video
You’ll wonder how the hell did that video get in my grocery store?
It would be a steady stream of fear
And I would be telling you at every opportunity
That you are not safe
You are not safe
  • There are no obvious choices here, and these clever deceptions make the album tick, warranting repeat listens. (See “I can’t stop listening” above.) There’s so much texture here, and so many details. Take the heartbeat pattern in “Exit Simulation.” It interrupts the rhythm so slightly, but rather than overtaking the song—a trick you’ve heard countless times—it makes its presence known for a moment then chooses to float away.
  • “Analysis Paralysis,” toward the end of the album, would have made a pretty good title for this post.

I left this one off my top albums of 2023, only because I didn’t actually hear it until this year, which poses a problem only if I let it. I’ve asked the steering committee (hi!) for special consideration to amend the list, but was denied. Why? Because I’m yearning for a sense of completion, and because I’m so prone to going back and revising, and rethinking, and I know I’m not alone in that motivation, no matter how damaging it may be to, you know, completing things.

A few years ago Craig Mod wrote about the use of “edges” in design:

And so what projects like this speak to is the unique and increasingly important value we can give data by abstracting physicality. Jumping back and forth. Creating that space. Capturing a journey effortlessly in bits, and then giving it edges. This dance makes our digital experiences more understandable, parseable, consumable.

It’s an extremely useful concept, and one I now realize, reading the piece again, that I’ve probably mangled into something entirely different, so I’m going to mangle it here once more by saying the concept of “edges” is also helpful in thinking about lists of top whatevers of whenever, because knowing the edges—the rankings, that there’s a “best” in this stated number of items—is a helpful form of limiting, of way-finding, of situating. We are at the top of the list, where we see the lowest ranked, we scroll, the numbers tick down, we reach the top 10 (we’re at the good stuff now!), until we arrive at the top thing of the thing.

Edges, in that way, are how we contain ourselves on both sides of the screen. The way I’ve been doing my album lists, however, is a disorganized hodgepodge of things I like in no particular order. And without order, without clearly defined edges, there’s also no chance of what so many expect in a year-end list: pristine finality. It becomes a tumbleweed of noise, incapable of reaching any tidy, entirely happy conclusion, like everything maybe, and certainly our 401(k)s.

Still, I love this album more than a list. This week is more pertinent than last week. What’s next is what’s good. For anyone who makes a thing, it can be painful to let go of the past and continue pressing forward, especially as uncertainty glowers above our shoulder. And anyone who’s been there might well look for inspiration from Niecy Blues, who declared when announcing the release of Exit Simulation: “There were SO MANY OBSTACLES to getting to the finish line. I did it.”