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Issue #1 - On Playlists

But doctor, I *am* Tom Victor
But doctor, I *am* Tom Victor
Hi, I’m Tom, the guy who has strong opinions about sandwiches. I’ll be using this space to write about anything which doesn’t have an obvious other location. I guess I’ll include recommendations and things like that too. It’s going to be ‘good’, I ‘promise’.

On Playlists
I don’t know about you, but I’ve had a lot more free time than I’m used to lately. 
Hours spent whiled away doing nothing have started to lose their appeal when the ‘nothing’ ceases to become an excuse not to do something more productive, in the same way that procrastination is more tempting as a diversion from a necessary task. If you’re denying yourself fun, what’s the point?
One of the biggest losses I’ve felt during the pandemic has been live music. As much as I’ve enjoyed a number of the albums released in 2020 and early 2021, it’s hard to match the sensation of showing up a dingy venue, ordering two drinks so you won’t have to return to the queue quite as quickly, and discovering someone genuinely exciting who you might not have ever had access to if you weren’t forced to guard a spot, over-iced whisky in hand, as your friend slides out for a cigarette before the headliner.
On the album ‘Boys and Girls in America,’ The Hold Steady’s Craig Finn sings about the impossibility of getting “as high as we got on that first night”. This is, at its heart, the issue with the last year. When you have no new experiences in front of you, and no certainty around when that will change, you need to find something to fill that gap. 
First Night
First Night
It feels inevitable, then, that so many of us have drunk from the fountain of nostalgia. Whether it’s rereading old books, watching films for the first time since we enjoyed them as teenagers, or listening to the albums which defined our youth, nostalgia both brings comfort and allows us an opportunity to remind ourselves of the thrill of experiencing something exciting for the first time. And so, on a quiet afternoon in March 2020, I started creating a quarantine playlist. 
There was no hard and fast rule with what would be added, but every addition needed to join the list for a reason. One of my group chats attempted to deal with the prevailing sense of doom by devoting one hour a day to ‘hate’, and this prompted the addition of ‘The Angry Hour’ by Titus Andronicus. I ‘celebrated’ my 33rd birthday in lockdown, so ‘Thirty Three’ by the Smashing Pumpkins was added. ‘This Year’ by The Mountain Goats made the cut, for reasons which probably don’t need explaining.
the Mountain Goats - This Year (Jordan Lake Sessions)
the Mountain Goats - This Year (Jordan Lake Sessions)
As an internet-age successor of the mixtape, there’s something youthful, almost immature, about the playlist. It tries but never succeeds in its efforts to shake the associations with teenagers obsessing over the music they’ll share with an adolescent crush to present their best self, while their lack of wider life experiences means they’ll necessarily imbue the music in question with a huge amount of emotional heft. As the pandemic has skewed our relationship with time, condensing all previous experiences into a ‘before’ pile, it’s only natural for us to revert to the priorities shared by younger, less complete versions of ourselves. On top of this, the ubiquity of playlists on Spotify has covered off nearly every conceivable differentiator, be it year, genre or a combination of the two - as with the occasional relitigation of the Landfill Indie or Nu-Rave eras which comes around every few months on social media. Because that’s how social media worked even before time ceased to be real.
And so, in addition to creating more explicable playlists, including carefully compiled ‘best of’ selections by year, featuring internal debates over where to include certain singles, the personal playlists encouraged more readily might be those whose theme is a kind of energy you need to spend a sentence or two describing in detail. In his excellent newsletter ‘No Archive’, my friend Miles wrote of “the kind of music that makes you want to write a screenplay about the last day of the one wild summer where you felt you finally crossed the threshold into adulthood, both gaining and losing things you can never quite describe” - a qualifier which instantly throws up a dozen or more songs which hit the bullseye of that sentence. Another friend, Duncan, willingly created me a playlist to the brief of “Coopting American college culture with a Saturday morning varsity football game at a provincial British university”, and I’m not sure if that says more about him or about me (spoiler: it’s me). As for my current obsessions, I have a playlist on the go which I’ve named ‘Spring 2021’, because if I’d gone with ‘The sensation of knowing you’ll be able to go outside after finishing work at 5:30 and it will still be light’ would have simply prompted too many questions already answered by the playlist.
An underrated benefit of the playlist obsession is to catch yourself hearing songs outside their intended surroundings and taking something new from them, like the first time you catch a Sopranos cast member in a film or when you return to the golden era of The Simpsons after watching Citizen Kane for the first time. Sometimes it’s simply a case of spotting coincidences, like The Libertines’ ‘You’re My Waterloo’ playing during a walk down Waterloo Road, or the ‘time’ updates on a running app syncing up with the same word in ‘Find the Time’ by Get Cape Wear Cape Fly. Feel free to ask me why these were included in playlists, but don’t expect answers. On other occasions, though, it can be more subtle things not picked up on original half-listens, like the semi-background ‘whoo’ in ‘Kyoto’ by Phoebe Bridgers or the moment in ‘Charlie’ by Mallrat where you can, implausibly, hear the singer smile.
Mallrat - Charlie
Mallrat - Charlie
The appeal of mixtapes was their privacy; the idea that they were just between you and one other person, and that their contents were chosen for that precise reason. Now, for me and I imagine for others too, this has changed. Interactions with others have been thrown into disarray by repeated lockdowns, with many of us restricted to contact with far fewer people than we’re used to, and in term the playlist has become a way to invert their previous purpose and reach out from a place of insularity rather than making a huge world that bit smaller. When I share a playlist, it’s in the knowledge that others will enjoy it if they want the same thing I want from it, rather than it being tailored to what I’ve guessed their demands might be. This has helped me discover that, in the last few months at least, those with a line in misery and devastation can be very popular.
It can be tempting to think that, when things return to something approaching normality, this tendency towards playlists will dissipate. At the very least, I’ll surely devote less time and energy to the specifics of it all.
That’s the problem with nostalgia, though: once it gets you in its grasp, it can be tough to escape.
Idle Thoughts
I might as well use this space to share some things I’ve enjoyed lately, because I make the rules here.
After waiting a while for its release, I didn’t immediately vibe with Lana Del Rey’s new album, ‘Chemtrails Over the Country Club’. However, I was on board with Lindsay Zoladz’s New York Times piece on the same album.
I finished reading Shiromi Pinto’s novel Plastic Emotions, about the architects Minnette de Silva and Le Corbusier. It’s fantastic and makes me want to stay on the bus a little longer the next time I go to Monaco so I can check out Roquebrune-Cap-Martin
Glenn Moore’s episode of the podcast YourFest brought back a lot of emotions around indie music circa 2007. It’s good and you should listen to it.
I’m still processing the news that the incredible writing team at MEL is no more. Go and read Miles Klee on Bernie Bros, or Magdalene Taylor on Big Naturals. Or Rax King on Garlic. Or, well, so many other things there. 
Cassandra Jenkins ‘An Overview on Phenomenal Nature’ is probably the best album of 2021 so far, despite having the title of a fictional movie in a David Foster Wallace novel.
You can follow me on Twitter for garden-variety shitposts and occasional article links, Instagram for photos of pasta dishes and sandwiches and Letterboxd for film reviews whose length and detail is entirely consistent with my mood on the day in question. Oh, and buy my book. It’s about Jürgen Klopp, and some people told me they liked it without me even asking.
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But doctor, I *am* Tom Victor
But doctor, I *am* Tom Victor

Writer & editor (@bbcthree, @VICE, @planetfutebol, @WeAreMel etc). Author of ‘What Would Jurgen Klopp Do?’. Commission me (tomvictorwords at gmail). He/him

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