In 2005, the Mountain Goats released an album titled The Sunset Tree, which comprised a series of songs drawn from frontman John Darnielle’s experiences with childhood abuse. The standout song of the album is “This Year,” a cathartic anthem for anyone who’s ever felt (whether figuratively or literally) the bootheel of an oppressor pressing down on his or her neck. The defiant teenager of the song describes the violence he faces at his stepfather’s hands with a well-practiced nonchalance, and he looks ahead to his eighteenth birthday as the light at the end of the tunnel. The chorus repeats, “I am gonna make it through this year if it kills me,” a figure of speech whose invocation of death feels like an outside possibility at the very least.
“This Year” was released around the same time that Bing Liu began shooting the footage that would eventually become part of his debut documentary, Minding the Gap. A teenager at that time, Liu could even have been listening to the Mountain Goats as he filmed himself and his friends doing skateboard tricks in the parks and parking garages of his hometown of Rockford, Illinois. Regardless, “This Year” (Liu’s choice for the end-credits music) serves as a nice encapsulation of Minding the Gap, which draws from twelve years of footage to tell the intertwined stories of Liu and two friends, Zack and Keire.” Over the course of the film, we watch them grow into men, struggling to deal with the fallout from their troubled upbringing and their own mistakes.