I ain’t dead yet

**To everyone who reads this post who is over 32-years-old, I apologize in advance.**

Sadly part of growing up is growing older. Even though the generational lines have been getting down-right blurry lately with adults continuing to act like kids well into their thirties (or forties… or even fifties), sometimes you have to admit that your body is getting older–even if the rest of you doesn’t feel like it.

This dichotomy has become somewhat more apparent to me during the last few weeks. Between the college students storming back into town (some of them are setting off fireworks in the street as I speak) and a carpal tunnel issue with my left hand (argh!), I have been feeling a little bit used up. Mentally, I feel like I am at least 10 years younger than I really am. Emotionally it is more like 15, thanks to a bit of pre-seasonal depression angst (I think). And lately it seems like I have the sense of humor of a 14-year-old boy (i.e., lots of snarky laughter at things that would have appalled me as a girl at that age). But my body tells a different story. And it annoys me. *sigh*

Thankfully, tonight I was reminded that I am not dead yet. I may be old enough to curse my aching hand, as well as the maniac students on the roads and in the streets. But I am not too old to roll down the windows on a cool Saturday night, crank the stereo all the way up, and cruise down a winding city road.

And what was I so happily blasting for one and all to hear? The wonders of shuffle mode once again served me up a song that felt just right for a night like this. With blaring horns, harmonious voices, and subtle, yet ultimately uplifting lyrics, it was Santa Fe from Beirut’s 2011 album The RipTide. Zach Condon’s brand of folksy, almost Mariachi-reminiscent indie rock (Do not let that stop you from listening to this! Live a little! Sheesh!) was just what I needed to soothe my soul and indulge in my remaining youth.

So please give this one a try. I promise you won’t regret it. And go ahead and crank it up a bit. If the neighbors complain, you can always blame it on the students. *smirks*

Santa Fe by Beirut

I’m in a relationship with the sun and it is complicated

For the past week or so, Charm City has been hit by the same heat wave that has been terrorizing a huge chunk of the country. With highs in the upper 90s, heat indexes of 105 or higher, and relative humidities of 60, 70, 80%, it has been absolutely miserable here. And despite working in an office that seems to get colder the hotter it is outside, I have been hard pressed to keep from flashing back to the alarmingly large part of my childhood that was spent heat sick in Southern Arizona.

It is ironic now to see me shunning sunlight in the middle of July when I would practically kill to get some of it’s warmth and Vitamin D in the pit of January. Readers in the know are well acquainted with my dislike for weather most of the year. It’s safe to say that if you can name a season, I can probably regale you with several reasons why I dislike it. Even the times of year I actually look forward to are tainted by their proximity to the seasons I despise. I long for fall color in July, but then spend all my time walking through October’s red and yellow drifts of leaves preemptively shivering over the February winds to come. Since moving to the East Coast six years ago, I have learned to fear and loath Winter with a fiery passion that is the only thing that can keep me warm in the depths of its icy grip.

But nothing, nothing can erase my in-grown, nurtured-from-birth, unholy hatred of summer. It doesn’t even matter that the heat wave currently holding my current city of residence captive will roll away on the crest of low pressure system within the next few days. Or that for the most part summer in Charm City hardly even be compared to August in the Old Pueblo. It is hot and humid here now, therefore a little voice at the back of my head is constantly screaming doom and gloom to the rest of my psyche. It is unreasonable. It is silly and childish. And ultimately my struggle against an entire season is futile. I know this. But I just can’t shake that icky feeling of resentment for a climate that includes things like heat indexes, code orange air pollution warnings, and the dreaded beast known as humidity.

All last fall and winter, I kept focusing on the sun. I posted pictures of sunlight filtering through leafy trees and pushed myself to walk outside in freezing weather to soak up every little bit of goodness from the sun’s weak rays. I truly longed for sunny days and warm weather and I have tried to keep that feeling foremost in my mind. It is unhealthy to make yourself crazy all the time. Constantly longing for something else instead of appreciating what you have is the best way to live an unhappy life. And I think I was actually doing pretty well this year. I even survived a week in the suffocatingly humid blanket that is Orlando in July without throwing a hissy fit about it. But this week has sorely been trying my patience.

And to top it all off, I have once again discovered that my subconscious is a bastard with a wicked sense of humor because I keep finding myself humming It Must Be Summer by Fountains of Wayne. Go figure.

No one understands me quite like the Go-Go’s

I can’t quite believe that so much time has passed since my last entry. The last thing I knew April was quietly meandering along, minding its own business. Now July is bearing down on me like a freight train and I find myself blinking in the blinding head lights of summer. Six years of living on the East Coast has not cured me of my reflexive dislike of the warmer months. I spent too many summers sick with the heat in the Sonoran Desert to ever truly be rid of it. No matter how nice summers can sometimes be here in Charm City. But my seemingly year-round struggle with low-level seasonal depression issues are fodder for another entry…

For those just tuning in, the majority of my blog probably sounds more like an apology than a place to vent my music-obsessed mind. But I truly don’t know why I maintained radio silence so long this time. Probably because life is good right now. Furiously, amazingly, surprisingly, insanely busy, but good nonetheless. So what has had me so distracted lately? Well, a large chunk of it is work, which I won’t go into here. The rest of it is that my husband and I kind of fell into a social circle and sank in up to our noses. And we’ve been enjoying every minute of it.

It seems like after nearly four years here, life here in Charm City is finally falling into place. And a city that seemed obstinately foreign–only associated with endless work and endless commuting–has transformed into a wild mess of foody explorations, geeky trivia in an “Irish” bar, and weekly brunches at a charming cafe just down the street. There are people in our lives again. Strange, varied, and wonderful people! And a whole part of my psyche that was constantly restless has unexpectedly calmed. My life is still insane and often stressful. But there is depth and breadth and a whole new level of geeky joy that does both my heart and brain good.

Right now it is especially crazy though, as I prepare myself for a week of work at my employer’s annual convention in Florida. The last three weeks have taken on new levels of madness in the preparations for some major work responsibilities. This has been topped by the now usual round of social engagements, with the addition of throwing a highly successful backyard BBQ, staying up way up past my bedtime for a spectacular concert (more on that later), and hosting my lovely sister-in-law and her husband the last 3 days. All of it great fun, but man am I beat now!

Today is my one and only quiet day, which will involve a lot of last minute packing and if I have anything to say about it (which I do!) this will be accompanied by many episodes of Star Trek (a.k.a. my other obsession).

I am sitting smack dab in the eye of the hurricane right now. The calm before life speeds back up to that break-neck pace again. And in the serendipity that is sometimes shuffle mode, my player dished this one up to me this morning. (I knew the universe had a quirky sense of humor.)

Yes, only Kathy Valentine and Charlotte Caffey really know how I am feeling right now. Who better than two veteran Go-Go’s–infamous for their wild and crazy touring days–would understand the chaos that has become my summer? And thanks to the rest of the gals in this classic New Wave venture, it has the cheery (slightly frenzied) upbeat feel that will hopefully keep me going until I hop on my plane tomorrow morning. If your life is feeling a bit upside down these days, give this one a listen and you’ll know exactly what I mean. From 1984’s album Talk Show, here is the Go-Go’s iconic Head Over Heels.

Your welcome.

Your Civic Duty: Record Store Day

I think this might my longest radio silence since I began this blog almost 2 years ago. (Holy crap! Has it been so long?) Suffice it to say that spring has sprung and the day job is positively humming away like a steam locomotive heading straight for a bridge that is no longer there (read: no end in sight and picking up speed). Add to this the bitter reality that my brain has simply not been cooperating enough lately to even contemplate putting my fingers to a keyboard outside of work and you have the complete recipe for a silent blog. (I know, excuses, excuses! Whine, whine, bitch, bitch, etc.) But what, you may ask, could possibly be so important that I would attempt to overcome my stifling writer’s block on a sunny spring day after a long day at work. Only one thing my friends: your civic responsibility.

Yes, just like it is the duty of every American citizen to vote, to help wayward turtles across the street to safety, and to wave at your friendly neighborhood crossing guard, you have the duty to support your local, independent small business owners in mid-April. And not that creepy hole in the wall storefront that sells crabs. No, no, I mean the ones who will sell you that new Vampire Weekend album you’ve been jonesing for. That’s right, folks! Saturday, April 20th is Record Store Day (my very favorite secular holiday!)

If the next question bursting from your lips is, “What the heck is Record Store Day?” then obviously you’ve had your head stuck in the clouds. Well never fear, my dear deprived readers, for all will be explained with my handy-dandy Record Store Day fact sheet:

What: Record Store Day
When: Saturday, April 20th (all 4/20 jokes unspoken)
Time: All day
Where: Participating venues in every state and most cities. Click here to check your local listing.

But the most important question is why? In the modern world, music is available everywhere, sometimes even for free. All you have to do is grab a computer or IOS device, punch a few keys, and music is practically thrown at you. No muss, no fuss, no dragging your butt down the street, no shirt or shoes required. But also… no soul, no joy, no heart. Some of my happiest memories are roaming the miles of aisles in record stores; walls crammed with posters; teenagers running loose in the stacks; brushing elbows with both young and old, black and white, hipster and redneck. And there is no substitute for riffling through piles of albums, finding that one that you absolutely HAVE to have, plunking your money down on the counter, and rushing home to listen to it before your heart rate returns to normal. It is an experience that fewer and fewer people are having these days and–in my opinion–that is just downright tragic.

Heed my warning! Don’t wait! Make the pilgrimage to your local record store before it is too late. Grab that album you’ve been meaning to pick up, peal back the plastic, pop the disc into the nearest player, and savor your musical good fortune while you still can. As a bonus, you’ll also be helping support a local small business owner. Your local chamber of commerce will thank you for doing your part to keep the economy alive. It is your duty as a citizen of [insert country name here]. Oh come on, you know you want to! All the cool kids are doing it!

And to help you get your brains in gear (and mine), here’s just a few of the bands that I intend to search for this weekend. Enjoy!

TRAILS AND WAYS

Edward Sharp and the Magnetic Zeros
[Technically this one is a remix, but it is brilliant, so listen to it anyway!]

Tinted Windows

The Flaming Lips

Tegan and Sara

Pay Attention Now

The last few months have felt pretty bland for me musically speaking. I’ve listened to a lot and acquired several albums that, while each good in their own ways, all failed to live up to the high expectations that I placed upon them. Each was purchased on the strength of a single song that hinted at the possibility of a wider, more innovative album. And each has left me feeling unsatisfied. Nothing has moved me. Nothing has… wowed me. And unlike the teenager I used to be, these days I really want to be wowed.

But I am excited to report that I have recently found two new artists who have not only wowed me, they have literally blown me away. Both are fairly new artists–one of them literally just released his first album last week–who employ layered/altered vocals; beats that change unexpectedly and often during the course of a single song; some rather inspired drumming; electronic influences; and well… Let’s just say that these two are kinda hard to define. They genre-bend like mad and the result in each case is something truly intriguing. Despite their similarities, their sounds are worlds away, yet both fall under what is currently called indie music–whatever that means these days. And most importantly, each of them literally had me itching to visit every record store in town until I could get my grimy little hands on their albums. You have no idea how wonderful it feels for me to be this excited about a new artist after this awful dry spell. There honestly are no words. But who, you may ask, has inspired me to such a frenzy with such a long introduction? Once again, dear readers, you ask a great question. So let’s get to it.

Artist you should absolutely know about #1: Tune-Yards.

This New England project is led by the crazy-talented Merrill Garbus, who literally records and loops vocals and drum tracks on the fly during live performances!!! (Yes, she totally earns those 3 exclamation marks.) Pulling in electronica, Afro-beat, R&B, and something affectionately called “wonky pop”, Garbus and her small band of experimentalists create some really interesting soundscapes. And her voice? Holy crap! Don’t even get me started. I literally had to hunt down a live performance for you because you will not believe that this voice can come out of one little white girl otherwise. I highly encourage you to check out some of their other songs, but for now here’s an in-studio version of Gangsta from their 2011 album Whokill. (Pro tip: Stick around at the end for a short interview. Highly informative.)

Artist you should absolutely know about #2: Robert DeLong.

This guy is so new that, despite having already started to gather acclaim, he doesn’t even have his own article on Wikipedia yet, but I’m sure that will change soon. There is something really fascinating about his sound, which is created through the use of a whole host of different drums and electronic devices, not the least of which is a Wii-remote. Aside from sporting a smooth voice, some major lyrical chops, and an obvious talent at drumming, DeLong manages to fill his songs with a sense of youthfulness that is invigorating and a philosophical world view that feels ageless.  His first single, Global Concepts, is a great example of this. Listen to him wax existential as he wanders through a variety of electronic flourishes, pounding drum beats, and changing time signatures. Suitable for black light raves, massive arena shows, and maybe even a mosh pit (do people even do that anymore?), this is one not to be missed. The video pays tribute to both his talent and his creativity by showcasing his many instruments, along with an impressive use of light tubes and some frenzied dancers. Expect to hear a lot about this guy in the coming months, both from me and from the wider music industry. I predict that Robert DeLong will be a name everyone will know soon. And if you didn’t already know about him, brace yourself and hit play. You can thank me later.

Winter malaise

It is time to face the facts. I have been suffering from a major outbreak of writer’s block, the worst case I think I have had since starting this blog. And it is almost comical because I didn’t even realize that I had writer’s block until I mentioned the blog to someone else at lunch today. I’ve been in a bit of a funk for the last several weeks and I wasn’t aware of how bad it was getting. I was starting to think that maybe I had lost interest in writing, but that is clearly not the case. Writing here has been on my mind almost constantly–ideas floating in, ideas floating back out–but every time I started to contemplate even outlining a new post, my mind would veer off in a different direction. Invariably, some small task, the furthest thing on my mind and way at the bottom of my to-do list, would suddenly take on significance of epic proportions and I’d run off to fold the laundry or wash that dish (or re-watch that episode of Star Trek: the Next Generation that I’ve seen 5 times) instead. Then I thought it was because I wasn’t hearing any post-worthy music lately, that maybe I was just bored with the scene. But my list of music to buy is growing by leaps and bounds, while my list of entry ideas is keeping pace. So that couldn’t be it either.

So what could possibly be keeping me in such a state of frustrated suspended animation? And when I said it out loud today without thinking, the answer became so clear: writer’s block. A textbook case to boot, magnified by a resurge in the seasonal blues. And for the last week or so, it has been getting worse. It seems like writing has been all I can think about, a constant dialogue in my head between my creativity and my apathy, the former desperately trying to get something done in the face of the latter’s soul-crushing indifference. I want to write, I need to write, but the thought of actually writing makes me feel panicked and a little helpless. [Would you believe that my New Year’s resolution for 2013 is to work on the blog more? Ha! One month down with barely a peep, only eleven more months to go. Sigh.]

Well, there is only way to deal with writer’s block and that is to put something (anything) down, save it, walk away, and try not to worry too much about the details. So here goes…

Charm City’s temperature has been all over the map lately, but the last several days have been the most bitterly cold we’ve had all season, and that mean old imp known as Snow and his little toady Sleet have been making less than minor nuisances of themselves. Winter and I never do seem to get along together, dessert rat that I am. Even at the best of times, it seems like we are only able to call an uneasy truce. And despite a period of détente, our current cease-fire is wearing thin.

But there is still a lot of brilliant music associated with this season–much of it stark, cold, and depressing–but beautiful none the less. So in honor of this, here’s my top 5 picks of the best songs for this most frosty (read: dreary) of seasons.

To start things off right is the Pixies and their classic cover of Neil Young’s bittersweet ballad, Winterlong. I first became familiar with this version and was kinda blown away to learn it is actually a Young original. But if you think about it, it makes perfect sense. The Pixies pay this song some serious tribute, but the lyrics feature a sweetness and almost innocent longing that is not usually a characteristic of Black Francis or Kim Deal’s styles–as much as I love them.

Next up is Winter Winds by Mumford & Sons. Gorgeous vocals, layered acoustics, and a sense of the ethereal tempered with a healthy dose of cynicism, this band never fails to deliver. I know that they are hot to the point of being overblown (I hate to admit it, but I’ve been avoiding their new album because of burnout), but they are really talented guys. And in every live performance I have found of them, they are spot on.

Moving on, we come to the deceptively cheerful White Winter Hymnal by Fleet Foxes. I know that I have ragged on these guys before, but their style has grown on me over the last year. What once seemed too avant-garde for comfort, now feels clever and rings of craftsmanship. Beautiful, polished, and harmonious, often with just a touch of the sinister, this band keeps popping up on my radar and despite my initial hesitation, they have earned my praise. This song, in particular, really appeals to me. To the casual listener, and without the visuals of the video, it seems sweet and upbeat, but a closer listen reveals much and the video truly showcases the darker themes of the lyrics.

The fourth entry in my winter list is the Bangles’ rock-out cover of Simon and Garfunkels’ Hazy Shade of Winter. Retaining the bleak cynicism of Paul Simon’s lyrics, while adding some feminine four-part harmony and a searing guitar line, the girls produce the goods. And a little bit of 80’s flamboyance never hurts.

And the last, and perhaps my favorite, entry on this list is the haunting Winter Time by Steve Miller Band. I have loved this song since long before I knew what love, longing, or winter really were. And now that I am a bit older and more knowledgable (if not wiser), I love this song even more. Perhaps the saddest piece I know of from this band, it lacks the pomp and bombast that featured so heavily in the 1970’s classic rock scene. No winter mix can do without this one.

2012 Closeout

It has been a very crazy, stressful, happy, sentimental, geeky, tear-filled, music-crammed year. For many reasons, 2012 really put me through the ringer and for much of the year I was more distracted from this blog than I care to admit. A lot of good and bad things happened this year. Looking back now on the last twelve months, all I can say is that I’m one year older, my joints are a little stiffer, perhaps I am a tiny bit wiser, and I am definitely a tad more cynical. But I’m still here. I’m lucky enough to have a day job that pays the bills, a loving husband who puts up with my moods, dear friends, faithful family, and snuggly cats. And I try to appreciate all of it, and give them their much-deserved credit for keeping me sane.

But enough introspection. The year is coming to an end and I’ve got a backlog a mile long! So let’s cut to the chase and fill you in on a few of the amazing albums I’ve been obsessed with this year, but have been just too darn busy to write about until now. Put on your thinking caps and open up your ears, my dear readers, because we’re going to hit them fast and hard and it is definitely going to get loud.

First on my list is an intriguing little synthpop trio from Brooklyn called Class Actress. This group was brand new to me, but turned out to be oh-so-appealing. Elizabeth Harper’s voice and lyrics bring to mind classic pop princesses like Tiffany and Blümchen (two of the artists on my list of guilty pleasures), but she manages to ditch the teeny bopper innocence and bubblegum in favor of sexy lyrics and a jaded world view. And when paired with Mark Richardson and Scott Rosenthal’s synthpop production, it is not surprising that their 2011 album, Rapproacher, is nothing short of top-notch. The bouncy beats, techno flourishes, and New Wave influences actually mask a lyrical content that is much heavier than is apparent at first. Much of the album is spent dealing with the problems of an almost obsessive love affair that is obviously coming to an end. Starting out strong with the upbeat and endearing Keep You, by the end of the track list all you are left with is the sad, echoing, and introspective plea of Let Me In. There is definitely more than meets the eye here, and the result is an album that is hard to put down for long.

Weekend by Class Actress

Next up is the emo-tinged pop-punk outfit known as Motion City Soundtrack. I loved 2005’s Commit This to Memory, but I kinda lost track of these guys until 2012’s release, Go. (Oops!) However, I was downright thrilled when I heard they were releasing a new album this year. Their first single, True Romance, is positively stellar and perfectly evokes all the things I loved about them years ago, yet somehow manages to feel amazingly fresh at the same time. The most likely culprit in this is Justin Pierre’s lyrics, which have changed a lot over the years. What happens to the neurotic emo singer that grows up? They start talking about the mid-life crisis that 30-year-olds across the country seem to be experiencing these days, that’s what. This is probably why I keep coming back to this album. Nostalgia pulled me in, but the way it speaks to my own experiences as an unwilling adult is what keeps me listening. As a whole, the album is a little unbalanced, starting strong but getting darker and more depressing as the track list progresses. The opening songs of Circles and Wires and True Romance start the album out on a high note. But when you hit the contemplative Everyone Will Die at track 5, you start to realize that this is a different kind of album than they would have released eight years ago. And it only gets darker from there, with the second to last song, Happy Anniversary, which is a rather chilling account of a man who believes he is dying. Pretty heavy stuff, I must say, and the mood only partially recovers in the closing track entitled Floating Down the River. Surprisingly, this all feels even more introspective than their previous work and throughout the album there is a keen awareness of the passage of time and the changes caused by it. However, despite the slightly depressing finish, there is some major potential here, which renews my faith in the viability of the post-punk rock alternative genre.

Timelines by Motion City Soundtrack

Moving away from the heavier (read: soul-crushing) stuff, we now come to the amazing riot girl rock of Wild Flag. This indie rock supergroup (if there really is such a thing) is made up of former members of Sleater-Kinney, Helium, and The Minders. The list of members would be familiar to many a hipster, I’m sure, but I found this straight up rock ‘n’ roll band through NPR’s All Songs Considered–confirming that I still like new music, while simultaneously publicizing my advanced age (listening to cassette tapes when dinosaurs roamed the Earth). Rejecting all traces of bubblegum, Wild Flag’s 2011 eponymous album is nothing short of indie rock bliss with a hard-rocking edge that avoids sounding overly heavy or dirty. Devoid of all the usual synthpop and electronica influences I so often gravitate towards, they feel like a real successor to Siouxie Sioux and the Banshees. Tough and intelligent, empowered and full of bravado, with just a touch of vulnerability, the result is downright brilliant. The album is filled with strong guitars, pounding drums, good bass lines, and the clever use of a Hammond organ that completely sidesteps being cheesy. And on some of the songs you can hear that they are just itching to be a jam band, which I’m willing to bet must be the case with their live performances. Clocking in at only 41 minutes, my only real complaint about this album is that it is always over too soon.

Black Tiles by Wild Flag

And last but not least, my absolute top album of 2012 is Master of My Make-Believe by the fantastic Santigold. This is a juggernaut of an album from start to finish. Well-balanced in both genre and mood, she ranges from boastful, arrogant, and tough as nails, to quiet, introspective, and understated. Throughout the track list there are touches of punk rock, synthpop, industrial, electronica, rock, rap, R&B, reggae, and a whole lot more. Hailing from Philadelphia with the title of A&R representative for the likes of Epic Records on her curriculum vitae, the unsinkable Santi White embraces all genres and bends them to her will. Everything, and I mean everything, is fair game. This is evident in every aspect of the album, from the music, to the lyrics, to the album cover, which features her in some of her many and varied guises, including an oily looking man in a suit lounging in a leather chair, two bikini-clad amazon gatekeepers flanking him, and a grinning country noblewoman posing in a massive portrait painting hanging in the background. She is everything and all. Not afraid to genre bend, she moves around and through them freely, both throughout the album and within each song. Displaying a talented voice, she is not afraid to push to the far reaches of her range, and her use of overdubbed vocals in the background is clever. And I have got to say that her collaboration with Karen O. of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs on the opening track,Go!, is one of the more brilliant match-ups I’ve seen in a while. I truly adored her first album, and (if you couldn’t already tell) I can’t say enough good things about this second album. I love that she pushes the boundaries of my musical tastes and encourages me to get out of my rut, as all truly worth while artists should. I am anxiously waiting for her next project and just about ready to kick myself because I have not seen her live yet. So what are you waiting for? Hit play now!

The Keepers by Santigold