Best of the Decade – Ilya Arbatman

Best of the Decade – Ilya Arbatman

Thinking about the ‘best of the decade’ got me thinking about how we really like to think in decades when we turn a retrospective eye. The 60s with their enviable and (maybe) successful political movements, the 70s with their bright lights and disillusionment and cynical thrillers, the 80s with their synthesizers and alleged collapse of socialism, the 90s with their goofy hip-hop and perfectly earnest indie rock, the 00’s (do people really say ‘naughts’?) with their terrifying step towards Big Brother – just a few decades too late – and dunk in the postmodern bath where ideas, genres, and ideologies get all swirled up and messy and too diluted to matter, and then, now, the two-thousand teens ——— how do we characterize this decade? Unfortunately, it will probably take some good old-fashioned distance to really get a hold on what’s transpired these past ten years. It’s weird how you never really know what’s happened until it’s been over and done with for some time.

It was hard for me to conjure up anything meaningful for this ‘Best of the Decade’ because any trip I took into the past ended up being too personal, too about-me to really make sense to anyone else. So I thought, what objective record do I have of the past? Embarrassing as it may to be admit, the best thing I found was… e-mail. Seeing as I’ve had the same e-mail address since high school – back in those days somebody had to ‘invite’ you into the sacred Gmail society – it’s actually a pretty usable record of stuff. I could dive pretty deep into my own shit, but that’s a project for a different format and a tad too self-indulgent for this, so instead I figured I would: go year by year through my e-mail and sieve out the music that popped out. Hey, if a band made it into an e-mail that probably means I was pretty stoked on them, at least at that moment in time!

Of course, if past Ilya – say, 2014 Ilya – could read this list, he might be like, ‘dude, you were only into that band for like three weeks, that doesn’t characterize that year at all, you are an embarrassment to all Ilyas past, present, and future.’ But, there is only 2019-going-on-2020 Ilya, and he just really wanted to contribute to this ‘best of the decade thing’ and do his darned best, so here it is…




Synare drum synths – I used to have two of these!

Lemuria – mostly the ‘Get Better’ album

Tsai Ming-Liang – incredible Taiwanese filmmaker I got into around then. Favorite films: The River, Rebels of the Neon God, The Wayward Cloud.


Cathedral Ghost – one of the best bands out of Reno ever!

Nabokov, Perversely by Eric Naiman – if you’re into Nabokov and want to read a really well-thought out critical take on his work, check this book out!

Dusty, the Cat Burglar (must watch!)

Lydia Davis + Clarice Lispector – two really rad writers I read a lot that year.

Marital Impulses – we met Megan because we set up a show for her band in Oakland. I got a tape because the show ruled and the tape dub was horrible, just awful, but the songs were so good that it didn’t matter. These are hands down some of the greatest rock n’ roll songs ever written (these are the demo versions – look for a high quality re-release soon….maybe!):


Baader Brains – New Era Hope Colony – incredible record. Do check it out.

Tascam 688 – this is the year I got one of these machines and got into recording. if you’ve ever thought about getting into analog recording, do it!

Are You My Mother?, by Alison Bechdel – awesome graphic novel! Her ‘Dykes to Watch Out For’ collection is probably one of the most engrossing, fun and moving things I’ve ever read

One Last Wish – 1986 – I heard this record for the first time in 2012 – so sick.

Tender Buttons – noise punk San Francisco band


Crisco Thunder – do yourself a favor and listen!

Dreamdecay – this is the year they came and played at the Sutro Baths in San Francisco – crazy show in a cave by the ocean at the Western Edge of the world. They also played at 1-2-3-4-Go! and I recorded it on my 688 and here is the bootleg for you to enjoy! Shhh don’t tell Justin!

Where Do You Go When It Rains?  – this is a documentary about the Albany Bulb, a landfill and homeless encampment that was around for over 20 years before the City of Albany kicked everybody out and turned it into a State Park. Rosie and I used to live down the street from the Bulb, which was, in addition to being home to many people, once a hotspot for crazy art as well as weirdo generator shows. There is an LP compilation record called ‘Letters from the Landfill’ that documents some awesome old Bay Area bands that played out there.


T-shirt quilt – this is kind of silly, but this year my mom made me a quilt out of my old, no longer really wearable t-shirts for my birthday. it’s a great way to keep those old band tees or whatever they may be alive and repurpose them so they actually get out of the closet and back into circulation. my mom made a really cozy blanket quilt out of my old tees!

UNITY – awesome Bay Area band. Table for One is my favorite track.

Big Crux – band from the Northwest – jazz + punk + ‘latin twang’ + a ton of other shit.

Clarke and the Himselfs – one person multi-instrumentalist singer/songwriter etc etc etc!

Hey Hallways – solo self-recorded guitar rocky kinda thang – awesome songwriting, great lyrics, very personal and moving and just the right kinda thang.


A lot happened this year. This was the year I really tried going to therapy for the first time and it was pretty significant for me, I think. I don’t think I really thought about it in this light before, but I am pretty sure that working out my shit in therapy is what eventually led to the decision to move away from the Bay Area – where I had lived my whole life – and move to Reno and start fully being myself for the first time. It’s a longer thought, but the short version is: go to therapy. You don’t have to be on the verge of a nervous breakdown or anything like that to benefit from therapy. Everyone is fucked up in their own way, and there is no way to un-fuck-up yourself that does not involve talking through your past, your problems, and your self. So suck up your pride and give therapy a shot. You’ll be surprised at what happens when you sit and talk about yourself to a stranger for an hour every week.

T. Rex – The Slider and Electric Warrior – classic, groundbreaking albums, both from a songwriting and from an engineering perspective. In 2015 we did T. Rex for the Halloween Show and it was the most fun thing I’ve ever done.

Sorry, Not Sorry – one of the best bands I’ve recorded. Listen to the song Denialists.

Acid Fast – rad Oakland band.


a dark year, I guess – I couldn’t scrounge much……I turned 30! That’s probably good.


Stucko. Another band that came and recorded with me that I think had something really special. Most songs were one take and the vocals and style are simple and straightforward in a way that is hard to fake and rare.

Twin Peaks Season 3: I was pretty skeptical about this, especially after all the back-and-forth-is-David-Lynch-doing-it-did-he-bail-oh-wait-he-is-doing-it-after-all crap. But, you know what, it was fantastic. So bizarre and dark and engrossing. It really made all the rest of TV looks like the real worthless shit it was. Really fun and cozy to watch over the course of a few weeks, one or two episodes at a time, with friends!


Surly! I remember when I first saw Erin play, at Holland probably in 2015 or 2016? Anyway, I was really blown away but we had not met yet, and I just remember thinking that it would be awesome to collaborate, jam together, record whatever at some point. And then, because that’s how Reno’s beautiful inevitability vector works – if you see someone but don’t know them yet, you will! – we got to know each other and became friends and ended up jamming together and I was so stoked to record some of Erin’s beautiful songs. Can’t wait to hear what the future holds for this incredible musician!

Eddie and the Subtitles – Eddie has been playing punk music since many years before I was born, but this was the year we met and that I heard his music for the first time. What a wonderful, honest guy and a down-to-earth songwriter. I love watching him play and really, truly respect that he is doing the same legit, DIY, real raw punk he was doing 40 years ago.

Wreckless Eric – another old-timer I met this year who has been doing his thing forever. Same as with Eddie, Eric has such a sincerely close and bullshit-free relationship to being a musician.


The no-brainer highlight from this was Girls Rock Reno. The showcase was such a moving and memorable afternoon for me. Watching people get into playing music, especially younger people, is such a magical thing. Once you get into it, music follows you for your whole life, and being there in the early moments is a special thing…can’t wait for the camp this coming summer!

This year I listened to a lot of Daniel Johnston, mostly after he died. YouTube also showed me a band I really like now, called The Sound. Their album Jeopardy is so simple and powerful.

I watched a documentary called ‘Leto (Summer)’ with my parents about the early 80s punk/new-wave scene in Leningrad/St. Petersburg. That movie turned me on to the band Kino, the first Russian New Wave band. I’ve been listening to their album ’45’ over and over again for a few months now. My cousin says that Kino was his first tape back in the early 80s in Tiraspol, Moldova.

This was also the first year I really listened to Jay Reatard. Like with a lot of stuff, I tend to miss it when it’s happening. His album Blood Visions is a unique moment in music history. Perfectly lo-fi, melodic, frantic and beautiful and whatever other adjectives you like. Wish I had seen him when he was still on this side of the gig!

So that’s the decade, I guess. Doesn’t really wrap up that neatly, yet. Might take another ten years or so for things to come into focus. For now, it just seems like 10 years that happened in a row.