Top Ten New (to me) Songs

After resisting an i-pod for years, I got one for Christmas last year. It was time to assimilate my music, and I’m glad I did, an instance where the convenience of technology outweighs my initial reservations about it. Those reservations have faded since. Anyway, this post isn’t about i-pods but about what they contain. In the past year, even before getting the i-pod, I listened to quite a bit of new music per suggestions from friends, favorite bands putting out new albums, and the decision my sister, Beth and I had to share an i-tunes music library, thus my songs were combined with hers, exposing me to bands she listens to I hadn’t. Here’s my official top ten songs from the new music I’ve listened to in the past year — not new music, but music new to me. The time frame is the beginning of last October to this year.

10. “Feel it In My Bones”/ Tiesto ft. Tegan and Sara

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i6UcXSBmyZA&feature=related

I don’t know if this is off an actual album or not. The video circulated around the internet. I saw and heard it on Tegan and Sara’s blog. I love Tegan and Sara. They’re music is so emotionally resonant, and they have some of the most compelling lyrics out of any artist working, at least in my opinion. I respect them the most because each album they come out with incorporates a new sound. They’re constantly experimenting and evolving. On their latest album, Sainthood, they brought in different sounds along with their usual indie-alternative folk — almost industrial pop. Seeing them lay down a track like this, one that’s very techno-infused is unexpected and is a testament to the new sound on their latest album.

9. “Cigarettes and Chocolate Milk”/ Rufus Wainwright from Poses

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YOkKADCu9WY

I’ve just started listening to Rufus in the last month. This one makes a great opening song for Poses. I think it shows the range of his voice the best on the album. And oh, the coy third or fourth line, “Everything it seems I like’s a little bit stronger/A little bit thicker/A little bit harmful for me.” Thanks for the wink and nudge at the metaphor of the song, Rufus.

8. “Head Full of Doubt, Road Full of Promise”/ The Avett Brothers from I And Love And You

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t43VgJ4U9_Q&ob=av2e

7. “There is a Light That Never Goes Out”/ The Smiths from Greatest Hits

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=INgXzChwipY

This one may be cheating. Of course I’ve heard this song well before the past year. I put their greatest hits album on my i-pod, and I hadn’t listened to them in years. I have my favorite Smiths songs, but I forgot about this one and was pleasantly surprised to re-discover it. The verses are filled with such melancholy and longing, contrasted with a chorus that’s so extreme as a result — an undying declaration of love — that it’s almost funny. It’s ironic that this type of chorus is an extension of the genuine feelings before and after it.

6. “5 Years Time”/ Noah and the Whale from Peaceful, the World Lays Me Down

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T8YCSJpF4g4

This song makes me smile.

5. “Dance in the Dark”/ Lady Gaga from The Fame Monster

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TVCCjSGcnZE

Don’t judge me. I’ve caught Gaga fever after such reluctance. Beth put her double disk (The Fame and The Fame Monster) on our music library, and I started listening. There’s so many reasons I like her I could devote an entire blog post to it, so I won’t make that post this one. The Fame Monster is the most impressive. With only 8 songs, it packs more force than countless other longer albums.

4. “The Mountain”/ Lucero from Rebels, Rogues, and Sworn Brothers

http://www.last.fm/music/Lucero/_/The+Mountain

This link is to a video from the live performance of the song. I couldn’t find any link to the song on the album, but live is better anyway.

3. “Crazy as Me”/ Allison Krauss and Union Station from Lonely Runs Both Ways

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uqW1bdkAPek

Again, this comment is about the video link. Sorry about the super cheesy flower background and lyrics. As for the song, I can’t get enough of her voice. Gorgeous. And I can’t believe I’ve just started listening this year.

2. “Left Me in a Hole”/ Yonder Mountain String Band from Elevation

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rSMvzoupctE

Again, I couldn’t find a link with the album version, but this is to a live version. I’ve listed a few bands with some bluegrass — The Avett Brothers — or southern — Lucero — influences, but this band is pure bluegrass, which I’ve been getting into a lot of. Sure, living in Murray, KY for four years exposed me to a few bluegrass nights dancing with more than a few drinks in me, but this is the first real bluegrass band I’ve started following regularly after seeing their live show here in Louisville back in February.

1. “The Ocean”/ Tegan and Sara from Sainthood

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_aU2NhzRe7U

I’m ending and closing with T&S. I’m pretty biased. I love them. They opened the concert I saw back in April with this song. It’s the best off of Sainthood, their latest album released last Fall. Their sound pleasantly surprised me. Like I said, it’s borderline industrial. I love how the opening songs from their albums establish the new sound, and “Arrow” does just that. It’s drastically different from their last album, The Con, which was much more indie/alternative. This one doesn’t incorporate any of the new influences; they still stay true to their roots in many of them too, another aspect I like.

That’s all. Thanks for indulging me, if you actually were bored enough to do so.

Coffee Buzzed

I’m a big time coffee enthusiast. Not of the sort that wishes he could hook up an IV to stream the brew into his blood, but the kind that enjoys it as a morning ritual — the scent greeting me as I try to wake up, the warmth of the mug in my hand, and the full-bodied flavor preparing me for the day — and as a great companion for work or weekend morning writing sessions. About a month ago, I woke up on one of those Saturday mornings and had forgotten to get more coffee. I shrugged it off, thinking I would be fine skipping it. Big mistake. By about eleven o’clock, I felt the withdraw like I had never felt before — a headache and a weakness in my body. It was then I came to a realization. I may very well be an actual addict. I’ve been drinking coffee on and off in my life for about fourteen years — decaf when I was young. Over the past few months, I’ve been drinking it every morning, which was probably the cause of the withdraw. Now, I make sure to drink it in moderation, averaging around only two cups a morning and resist it in the afternoon. Coffee has gotten a bad health rap, and recent studies have shown evidence to the contrary. I was pleasantly surprised to read an article in the Courier-Journal (the local newspaper here in Louisville) about the health benefits of coffee a short time after that morning. The link to it on their website was dead, but I found the summary of what it cited here.

I relish in trying new beans. I usually get the varieties at Heine Brothers and have decided the Peruvian kind is my favorite. These beans are lighter than I normally prefer, but the taste is bolder than what the beans would indicate, yet balanced between full-bodied and smooth, a rareity. Lizz has an old time bean grinder her grandmother gave her, and I’ve taken pleasure in grinding the beans myself, a dedication to fresh coffee I’ve never taken up before. I go for coffee that’s from local shops here in Louisville and are usually organic and fairly traded. Right now I’ve given a different shop a try, the Costa Rican kind from Sunergos. It’s one of the most aromatic coffees I’ve bought. It has smooth and sweet notes in the taste with a slight boldness, though I wish it was a little bolder, because that’s my personal preference. I will definitely be trying more from them though. You can pick up a package of their beans, not only in their store, but also at Rainbow Blossom if you live in Louisville and are looking for good coffee.

Fear not, on that sluggish weekend afternoon, I was able to get my fix with frozen Kroger coffee, which cleared up my headache and perked me up for the rest of the day. In the end, I’ll take anything to indulge my coffee comfort. I’m not ashamed to admit I’m a java junkie.

Out of the Bubble

For the past year I’ve been in a book club. In fact, I’m the founder and coordinator of it. Many of my literary friends would find this hilarious; I find it hilarious given the amount of times book clubs were the source of jokes for me and these friends in my college days. The idea invokes a group of people sitting around in a touchy-feely circle talking about surface topics like what characters they liked or didn’t, how certain parts made them feel, or whether they like the book or not with no solid justification one way or the other, and very little, if any, discussion about topics of importance like structure of form, character complexity, narrative causality, sources of conflict, subtext, or line-by-line linguistic analysis of style to name a few. You know, topics with real literary significance. Is this snobbery? Yes, very much so. Am I a book snob? Again, yes, very much so. I started this club reluctantly at the proposal of a few friends, and as the only former English major in the mix, I was the logical choice for the role of organizer. Over the past year, my attitude has changed a bit. It’s been refreshing to speak in a setting about a book openly with no pressure or grade at stake. Most importantly, I’ve enjoyed the opportunity to read books I wouldn’t have chosen for myself otherwise. Of course, I’ve liked some more than others.

The last meeting we had was this Monday. We read War Dances by Sherman Alexie, a collection of short stories and poems. As a whole, I admire Alexie’s blend of traditional structural form with experimentation, especially in a current literary community where everyone is pegged with being in either one camp or the other. As a lover of fiction, I was most eager for the short stories, and I want to comment on one specifically, “The Senator’s Son.” This one resonated with me the most. Book clubbers — at least my stereotypical perception of them referenced in the previous paragraph — tend to hate a book if they hate the characters. In this story, I hated all three central characters: a conservative senator vying for future presidency, his priveleged son, William, and William’s former best friend, Jeremy, a gay republican. While I know if these characters were real I most likely wouldn’t be able to stand them, I found this story, and them, powerful, because Alexie provides insight into perhaps why they are the way they are. Spoiler alert. William gay bashes Jeremy years after the latter came out to the former, which had dissolved their friendship. In a surprising reversal, I felt like William, the first person POV character, was more redeemable than Jeremy, who is essentially homophobic himself, maybe even more than William. Jeremy readily forgives William with no questions, claiming gay rights don’t matter, because far more pressing issues and problems exist in the world than who he has sex with. In the end, I realize he refuses to support his own rights, the ones that are the most immediate to him, because he is a man who has become so disillusioned and beaten down — both figuratively and literally in the case with William and also growing up with his father — by the homophobia in the world that his only defense mechanism is to comply to it by not standing up for himself. William ponders whether Jeremy’s act of forgiveness is an act of cowardice. I can’t help but agree, and I was taken aback that I felt this way — that forgiveness isn’t necessarily redemptive; it can be spineless.

This story is apt for what I’ve been rolling around in my head the past week given all the media coverage of the suicides caused by bullying. I’m shocked at how homophobic our society is. Sure, I’ve known it is. I’m not naive. I’ve experienced it first hand since quite a young age by enduring harassment similar to what these kids faced. Maybe the extent of our culture’s prejudice mind-set is becoming more real for me in these past two years out of college — a place where my sexuality was a non-issue with the people I surrounded myself with, especially being steeped in a creative writing program. Now that I’m out of the bubble, I notice just how latent our homophobia is. I’ve had people telling me these suicides in the news aren’t issues with being gay but are about bullying. Correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t almost every instance in the news over the past month a bully who is making derogatory remarks and harassing a kid because he or she was gay, or was perceived as being gay, or didn’t fit into any type of gender role deemed “normal”? People who make claims like these aren’t looking at the root cause of why their peers are bullying these kids in the first place. And, I wonder why now of all times the media decides to focus on these tradgedies, because they happen much more than the national news stations usually covered before. The suicide rate of gay teens far exceeds the number of straight teens. Maybe now that more people are paying attention to how harmful homophobia is, attitudes will change. In the past week, I’ve found the media covering more instances of violence, discrimination, and narrow-mindedness:

The Bronx gay bashing
A student-teacher fired for answering a student’s question about his marital status
Another suicide, provoked not by harassment at school, but by awful comments made at a community’s city council meeting
More bullying, and physical assault in school
– And, I would be remiss leaving out Carl Paladino

I could list more, but this is sufficient enough to give you an idea. Then again, I wouldn’t hold my breath that exposure will make a difference. These attitudes are pretty heavily engrained culturally. Over the past year, since integrating back into Louisville, I’ve been surprised at certain encounters I’ve had. Like certain “friends” making comments to me like, “Wow, do you have any masculinity left in you at all?” because I was holding a red drink I suppose this person deemed “girly,” or slights like, “It looks like we’ve got four women here,” even though there were three, and then continuing with, “and I’m including Michael.” I’m not trying to use this post to play the victim or to even insinuate at all that these encounters are on any level with the suicides, discrimination, or bashing I’ve cited above. I’m simply pointing to them as examples of how mannerisms and outlooks regarding sexual orientation and gender are so embedded in how people interact with one another that they become second nature, and by extention, these small, subtle attitudes yield the larger more horrific forms of violence and blatant prejudice. Despite the media coverage, I don’t see immediate change occurring any time soon. So, I can definitely understand Jeremy in that Sherman Alexie story. It would be easy to forgive people who are the cause of such direct violence and hatred, if that’s what would save yourself from it all.

Horses

I saw the Band of Horses this Wednesday night (Oct. 6th) at the Brown Theatre. I’ve been a fan of them, specifically their debut 2006 album Everything All the Time, for about three and a half years now. I listened to some of their follow up, Cease to Begin (2007), and none of their latest Infinite Arms, released this May save for maybe one song on WFPK, the local public radio station here in Louisville. I mainly went to hear my favorites from their first album live, and the whole concert itself ended up exceeding my expectations.

Everything All the Time is an impressive album, particularly in the broad tonal breadth it encompasses. Many of the songs feel almost monumental in their mellifluous energy (i.e. “The Great Salt Lake”) contrasted with tunes that are more subdued and meditative (i.e. “Monsters”), along with one that incorporates both elements (i.e. “The Funeral,” a fan — and my personal — favorite). Their live show translated this range well.

The lighting design was one of the more impressive ones I’ve seen in my concert-going experience; the bar was set high after seeing Tegan and Sara on their latest tour back in the spring, the last concert I went to, that was free anyway. A mix of warm reds, purples, and oranges flashed to enhance the epic characteristic of the faster paced songs while static blues and whites set the tone for the gentler numbers. A projection screen sat behind them to display landscape images, appropriate for the mountain-esque and woodsy naturalistic ambiance in their music.

Now to the core of the concert: the music itself. The star of the show — just like their albums — was front man Benjamin Bridwell’s voice. It simply enthralls. It reverberates to create this captivating, ethereal, and haunting quality. This vocal trait is evident in their CDs, but actually hearing him live was a treat. He holds this subtle gregarious air about him that charms. And this feeling may be a product of his stage presence, but he’s pretty easy on the eyes too. As for the rest of the horses — this may be an overall critique of the band in general — they weren’t anything special in view of the rest of indie-southern rock world. I can say this for them though: I don’t claim to know much about the technical aspects of playing music, and I’m not going to pretend to, but it seemed to me like they played perfectly, at least as perfectly as I expect. I wish I could say the same for their opener, Brad. The other opener, Blake Mills, wasn’t too bad taking into account how amateur he is in a solo role.

They provided a good blend of new material with old despite my worry thirty minutes in. They played seven songs off their first album: “Wicked Gil,” “The Funeral,” “The Great Salt Lake,” “Weed Party,” “Part One,” “The First Song,” and “Monsters.” Regardless of some obnoxious woo! girls and yeah! guys chanting for it, they never did play “St. Augustine.” I mean, do you like any other songs? If I were to officially rate the concert, I would give it a 3 out of 4 stars.

If you haven’t checked them out, I suggest it, and start with Everything All the Time. I may be a little biased though. I never got into their newer stuff, because of the love affair I had with their original. The concert definitely makes me look forward to listening to the other two albums in their entirety, spawned from what I felt closing my eyes, hearing Bridwell echo in the venue, and it was like I was in multiple places at once: in my car by myself during many trips their CD accompanied me in a range of highs and lows in my life, and there in that auditorium surrounded by people, listening to them play their songs for me in person, almost transcending time, which really, is what the magic of music ends up amounting to.

The Facebooks

I finally did it. And the moment I wrote that sentence, I realized how melodramatic it sounds, given what I did. I deleted my facebook *insert your shocks and gasps here*. The decision came after months of deliberation, and no doubt, annoyance, on the end of my friends, particularly my roommate, Lizz, at the number of times I would say, in the middle of lull in conversation and I was given to moments of reflecting, “I think I’m going to delete my facebook.” The dramatic tone of the first sentence I wrote was natural, I guess, because when I would mention it to friends, I was met with varied reactions, but the majority was that of shock. This astonishment at the idea of someone leaving an internet site is one of the multiple reasons I decided to leave.

Calling facebook a mere “internet site” may have seemed flip of me, because, let’s be honest, we all know it’s become the internet site. When I joined — way back in the hey day of 2005 when it was a fun way to see who else was on my college campus — it was on a smaller scale. Now, it’s dominated all other sites in the world of the internet, but to me, it’s had more of an impact — dominating all other means of connection and communication, not just on the internet, but in reality. Ah yes, reality. A concept people have lost sight of in the boom of facebook. It really has become what postmodern philosopher Baudrillard coined as the fourth level of simulation, that is, the ultimate postmodern simulacra. To put this idea in simpler terms — it should be because postmodern philosophy can be pretty damn full of itself — facebook has replaced the real world, and by extension, someone’s profile avatar on facebook has replaced him or her. I was met with a series of questions when I expressed contemplation over leaving to friends. How am I going to know when someone’s birthday is? If I genuinely care about someone in my life, I’ll know his or her birthday, and if I happen to forget, I will apologize because that’s how life is. How am I going to see new pictures my friends took? At their house in their living room or on their camera or computer if they show me. How will I know about events? By getting invited to them, dare I say it, in person or via phone call or reading about it. What if a friend needs to send me a message? To quote a blunt blogger I read, “if you’re too stupid to where you don’t know how to use email, then I don’t want to be your friend.” I’m not that harsh, but I take a similar toned down stance. These questions illustrate my point. People have forgotten the “connections” made on facebook are easily transferable to real life. Let’s face it, that type of connection is far more personal and sincere, which I prefer.

Not to be paranoid, but another reason is the state of facebook’s privacy policy and how scary it has become given who can now view what information. This chart is pretty informative. The source of it claims that he likes facebook and doesn’t want this collected data motivating anyone to delete their account. Well, here I am. I can’t see how anyone can view this chart and not, at least, think about it. I don’t want the entire internet knowing I’ve listed Buffy the Vampire Slayer, How I Met Your Mother, Dollhouse, and Dexter as my favorite TV shows or Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion as one of my favorite movies. Embarrassment has nothing to do with my reluctance — heck, I’ve provided this movie and these shows here — which has more to do with the way I’m being defined. As someone who has to deal with superficial identity signifiers shaping my image for people on a daily basis, I’m pretty reluctant to have anyone with a computer creating some idea of me based on information I’ve listed. They don’t know me by these litanies. Contact information on the site is, perhaps, even more frightening. Proponents of social networking and the “free information” age may claim I have control of who can access this information, but to what extent is this really true? Or will be true in the future with the trend this chart shows facebook is heading toward? Facebook stores all its users’ information, even that which they delete. I’ve heard the only way to really delete an account is to delete all of the information on the account — I did this — and also all of the friends on the account — I didn’t do this, because who has time? — to where the profile is blank, and then select the option not to “de-activate” the account so it can be re-activated at any time, but to really delete it. And even then, facebook still captures your computer’s IP address. All of this gives me the distinct feeling facebook owns my information, and by extension, owns me. Call me a paranoid conspiracy theorist if you wish.

Leaving facebook has a certain connotation as a radical anti-social act, according to a few reactions I’ve gotten. I’m leaving for the very opposite reason. Facebook has drastically changed the way we interact with one another. Since when does a “like” of a status or “poke” connote real communication? People on facebook are being assessed by the information they list and not their personality in all of its quirks and eccentricities. There’s a reason I haven’t kept in touch with that guy in the back of my freshman English class in high school who I can barely recognize now, and I want to keep it that way. I want to live in the real world.

It’s pure coincidence I came to this decision the same day that movie The Social Network came out. I promise. I don’t know much about the movie and don’t have that strong of a desire to see it, but it sounds like it’s more about how facebook got started, which I don’t really take issue with. I take issue with what it’s become.

If you don’t have my email address, please respond in a comment, and I’ll get it to you.