Archive for the ‘Music’ Category

Year End Lists

I guess there are many wonderful things about the rise of blogs and the decentralization of information due to the internet, but if I were to name just one that I really really appreciate, it is the return of the critic as fan.

As I read year-end lists of fiction and music (go here for books, here for music) I respect that many of the people writing the lists, while still applying critical standards and actually judging the art, are letting the lists be personal. “I liked” is a phrase that enters into these lists quite often. 

I appreciate that, because I’m not really interested in why an album is definitively the best album of the year; I want to know what people who have more artistic knowledge than me liked. I don’t have to like it, but it least gives me a lot of new options to try.

And don’t worry, although I’m no critic, I’m working on my year end list. It’ll only be music, unfortunately I don’t read enough to make book lists. I guess I could make a “favorite magazine articles of the year” list, which would be completely comprised of New Yorker and Wired articles, but that doesn’t seem fair either.


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The past three weeks I’ve been banished to the basement of the building where I work to sort paper. Thousands and thousands of pages of paper. We are being audited by Apple Inc. (because I work at an Authorized Service Center). It’s understandable, but the paper sorting is kind of hell.

But thanks to the magic of iTunes, and free programming that is Podcasts, I’ve turned what was mind-numbing hell into rather educational and entertaining time. 

One thing I did was sign up for a free account at audible.com and redeemed my one free audiobook for a season of This American Life, which gave me 26 hours of storytelling. I love that. But here are my other favorites, in no particular order:

  • Creative Screenwriting Magazine – This podcast was actually very helpful, and not filled with softball questions or pointless information. So far I’ve only listened to the interview with Danny Boyle regarding Slumdog Millionaire but I have also downloaded the interview with Charlie Kaufman for Synechedoche, New York
  • The Moth Podcast – A live storytelling podcast that pulls from regular live events in New York and LA. Nearly every story will make you laugh and quite a few are pretty touching. The storytellers range from former Brooklyn cops to Published authors. 
  • Folkways – A public broadcast TV show rereleased online as a Video Podcast, this show focuses on folk music and folk traditions. Each half-hour episode hones in on a topic. I watched the episode on the banjo yesterday, and learned about the history of the banjo, the different playing styles, and the major players of each style. It was very well put together for a public access show. 
  • APM: Word for Word – This podcast features “the best of recent speeches” and I was excited to find it because the speakers are good, and the topics are quite interesting. I listened to Paul Roberts speaking on the state of the world food supply yesterday (he’s the author of The End of Food) and another gentleman give a history of the CIA titled “A Legacy of Ashes.”
  • Stuff You Should Know – How Stuff Works.com brings this podcast every week, and they do a good job of packing factual information into a radio morning show format. Two hosts bounce back and forth to explain topics that range from “How Important is Sleep?” to “How does the Bailout Work?” I would start with the latter and also “How do mortgage-backed securities work” if you are interested in understanding our current economic troubles more. 
  • New Yorker: Fiction – Fan of short stories? This podcast is excellent for you. Every month the New Yorker invites a fiction author to choose a short story from the magazine’s archives to read aloud. Then the fiction editor and author will discuss the story. I don’t usually care much for the discussion, but it’s a great way to hear some classic short stories read aloud. Available so far, Tobias Wolffe’s Bullet in the Brain, Shirley Jackson’s The Lottery, and many more. 

That’s all for now. I can’t remember if I’ve found any others of note, and right now my iPod is playing the new Kanye while my wife gets ready (my choice of music, not hers). If I find other good ones, I’ll be sure to post them here!

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Bedtime lyrics

This is where the ipod jumped, as i started the playlist.

though we’re strangers still i love you
i love you more than your mask
and you know you have to trust this
to be true
and i know that’s much to ask

to lay down your fears
come and join this feast
he has called us here
you and me

and may peace rain down from heaven
like little pieces of the sky
little keepers of the promise
on these souls the drought has dried
in his blood and in his body
in this bread and in this wine

peace to you, peace of Christ to you

though i love you, still we’re strangers
prisoners in these lonely hearts
though our blindness separates us
still a light shines in the dark

and his outstreched arms
are still strong enough to reach
behind these prison bars
to set us free

so may peace rain down from heaven
like little pieces of the sky
little keepers of the promise
on these souls the drought has dried
in his blood and in his body
in this bread and in this wine

peace to you, Peace of Christ to you

A beautiful comfort, but also a beautiful reminder of what friendship is.

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Derek Halet

“When I was in Mexico with an Indian friend of mine” would be a head-turning way to start a story. Just imagine where that story could go…

Truth is I was in Mexico last monday with a friend i had met the evening before. And he is American Indian, and he towers over you, but he seems more teddy bear than wild bear if he were to be compared to a bear. he carried with him a large moleskine notebook – the sign of a true artist. his art i came to find out, was music, and mostly at the recommendation of his friends, i bought his cd.

beginning with the opening line (from with the title is taken), his album Hope Written is everything my ears have been searching for in the past month and one half.

I’m going to go ahead and say it, I like Derek Halet’s cd better, yes better than i like Damien Rice’s cd “O”. I think that is a great compliment, because Damien Rice’s cd is excellent. But Derek’s is better.

Three reasons, in order of weight of persuasion:

1) The fullness and variance of every song on the album, creating a really diverse sounding acoustic album. Dereks voice works so well with his guitar, and the other instrumentation fills each song out so well. It works together to create a wonderful album sung from the perspective of a loving, empathetic, and inviting friend. The songs are clearly by the same man, but to my ears each song is given a different and fitting emotional and melodic tone.

2)  The sometimes subtle sometimes blatant common thread of hope, a hope based on faith not naivety, that runs throughout every song. This may be the main reason that his album surpasses Damien’s – that although the songs deal with tough subjects of heartbreak and trials in life, one walks away from the album uplifted and inspired. That is a hard balance to find, but it is successfully woven in this album.

3) I know Derek, only somewhat, and that means I am automatically biased towards his music much more. It is much better to know someone personally and see their art, than to just hear pretty things disconnected from that context.

So just do it, go buy his cd.

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Attempting to write well when you can’t, is like attempting to carve an ice sculpture in the middle of this heat wave. Oh, and you don’t really know how to carve ice either.

At least three of my good friends desire to be writers. the good part for them is that they are naturally good writers. I write sentences like “The clouds today were dull and dreary.” They write sentences like “the sky was filled with the hope of new life for dry blades of grass – the sun was hiding but the grayness felt like a hallmark get well card from a friend you assumed was long forgotten.”

hmm, that sentence might actually pass as good! unfortunately i come up with sentences like that when i attempt to spoof good writing… they come up with them because they want to capture the moment in a way that inspires.

this creates a momentous obstacle for one whose audience is an audience of readers with high standards. i start looking through those high standards, adopting them as my own and trying to match them. i can’t, because i’m not a writer. or, i should say, i’m not a natural/practiced writer. i am amateur.

Amateur is my least favorite adjective, when applied to myself. fittingly, it probably is the most apt adjective when describing my relationship to my pursuits. I am not really an expert or professional in anything I do. The closes I would come to that is in Video Editing, but as with everything there is so much more that I don’t know than the amount I do know.

so this blog has actually become an exercise in overcoming otherwise likely futility. tell me you understood that sentence, please.

i am writing here, with no promise of an audience, in the mere hopes that i will practice writing and thus improve my skills thereof.

maybe one day the heat wave will pass and i’ll figure out how to carve an ice sculpture. maybe.

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This evening stands on the edge of an epic journey in my life – for once it is a journey I see coming. I’m sitting here listening to The Avalanche and kind of just being, for a few minutes. I’m packed and prepared – an odd feeling. I’m ready to go, just under 24 hours in advance.

Lately the question of why create art or what is the point of certain mediums has sprung to mind. As an idealist creative type, the hidden agenda in my creativeness is that it might change… something. The world eventually, but something else before that level too.

In light of that goal, it is disheartening to survey modern media, to view the art  that gains popular attention. The ADHD modern mind is split between instant internet fame – celebrity of the minor kind, and lifestyle glamour fame – celebrity of the major kind. In this sense, the Numa kid, Britney Spears, and Tom Cruise have a lot in common. Each has created something that has captured our cultures attention – for a varying span of time. None of them matter though. In the history books, Tom Cruise will be a sidebar trivia fact, Britney Spears will be credited with ushering in the new era of Pop, and the Numa Kid won’t be mentioned.

Yet each has created something or another, whether it be a stupid internet video, some bad music, some interesting movies, or what-not, they have produced something. And in that measure, I have potential in-common-ness with them. I too hope to produce something, to create. I hope it falls into the category of art.

The questions in front of me now is – in this modern ADHD age, how can art of any significance be created, and in these troubled times, is that the best use of time/money/energy.

Enter [stage right] Sufjan Stevens though, and the new perspective on this issue his work has brought. I respect him not just for the music he has created, but the work done prior to becoming a musician. He put in the work, he studied his craft. Rather than taking the “I’m going to start rock band and get famous” road or any variation thereof, he studied. He learned. He majored in short storytelling, he learned to play multiple instruments, and he honed his craft.

Maybe I glorify him too much, with the goal of encouraging myself. But here’s what I’ve learned from his music. Good art, art that takes time and is layered and is not necessarily populist, that art can be significant. Sufjan creates music that invites further learning. His study of Illinois contains many aspects – the history involved in the songs, the fictional narratives his lyrics weave, the emotions conjured by layered instrumentation – the further you delve in studying these, the more rewarding the music is. In other words, Sufjan creates songs that engage, not merely entertain.

Sure, you can enjoy his cd’s on a purely aesthetic level, they do sound really good. And maybe many people do, never actually hearing the lyrics. But I just find that even a cursory examination of the lyrics piques the curiosity enough that you can’t be satisfied until you understand, until it makes sense.

It’s also comforting to know that Sufjan has cd’s out that critics aren’t going to rave about, that while still worth considering – are not going down in history as albums of note. It’s encouraging because I tell myself that my first work must be perfect, not to me, but to the audience. And that won’t happen.

Leaving for a road trip tomorrow, I know the journey set out before me. But in life, I have no clue, literally no clue, how it will pan out. I sense where I am to be, where I am headed, but I could be way off base. I only know what God has put into me, what I have learned, and what I enjoy doing. Fifty years from now, I have no clue what it will be like to look back. But standing right here, on the eve of life, I feel that maybe just maybe I do have the ability to create something significant, something with value. And I look forward to that day.

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