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The Big Takeover Issue #94
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Happy New Year

30 January 2010

New Year’s Eve is my favorite holiday. Arbitrary as calendar days may seem, that night represents a moment where it feels like everyone is getting a blank slate to start over, where it seems like this year is going to be better than the last, the best year yet. Through repetition, “Auld Lang Syne” has become the musical expression of that feeling, a farewell to the bad, hello to what’s next.

This year may have been the first New Year’s Eve when I didn’t hear that song once. I’m not sure what means for 2010. Instead the song I found myself singing in my head throughout the day and night was the final track on Slaraffenland‘s 2009 LP We’re On Your Side (Hometapes). Called “Away”, the song begins, to clapped hands, “Happy new year / my dear / it is time to face our fear”. That’s the line I kept singing, like a mantra.

It’s a good alternate New Year’s theme, I think – welcome to a new, fearless year. Nevermind that the ‘we’ of the song separate a few seconds later, right before the instruments kick in: “promise me to take care / you will see me in a year”.

Still, like all of their songs, it’s filled with a mysterious, transcendent but maybe ominous and bittersweet sort of hope and joy. And a looking towards what’s next: “we can try another year”.

I imagine there’s a whole catalog of these alternate New Year’s songs, emblematic of crossing that threshold into a new year. Another that’s been floating around my brain is on Matinee Recordings’ excellent new various-artists compilation Matinee Grand Prix. The Lucksmiths‘ “Get-to-Bed Birds” may have been the last song the band recorded, I’m not sure. It was recorded in June 2009, which would have been after they announced their break-up, in the midst of their farewell tour dates. The song is a New Year’s Eve anecdote that doubles as the perfect farewell song for a band. The song’s narrator is walking home late on New Year’s Eve, walking past places filled with memories, and looking ahead to what’s next. Aren’t we all?

A great visual companion to these songs of steps forward is the Thai film director Apichatpong Weerasethakul‘s minute-long New Year’s greeting, posted on YouTube. In it we’re walking into a cave – dark, weird and gorgeous. Who knows what lurks around the corner?