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

Crossing the Stone Wall

Highway to Mt. Lemmon

The winding road up…

Way back in October–which strangely enough feels like it was two years ago instead of only two months–my husband and I went home to the desert to watch my sister-in-law get married to a great guy (an upcoming post, which I promise will be worth a read). Being in town for only a few days, and maneuvering our schedule to include some down time, we found ourselves with a (mostly) open Friday afternoon. Racking our brains for something to do, I got the bright idea that we should drive up nearby Mt. Lemmon. My husband was game, so we jumped in the rental and off we went. Little did I know the adventure before me.

As we drove up Catalina Highway towards the foothills, I snapped pictures on my phone, almost compulsively. One of the things I miss the most about the desert is the mountains. My hometown is bordered by four different ranges that align pretty closely with the cardinal directions, so no matter where you look or where you are in town, the mountains are an ever-present feature on the horizon. I must say that this is something that is severely lacking in the harbor of Charm City. As a result, the prospect of actually being on a mountain was more than a little exciting to me.

Sonoran Desert vista

Desert vista seen from the foothills of Mt. Lemmon, AZ.

It was a gorgeous October day, with clear skies and surprisingly cool temperatures for the area. As we began to climb in altitude, I was enthralled by the towering saguaro cacti, the brushy creosote, the spiky palo verde trees, and the sweeping rocky hills. Don’t ever let anyone tell you that the desert is without its beauty. It is a rugged place and every single plant and animal, of which there are many, is there because evolution has engineered them to survive in that environment.  Sometimes stark, it is none the less gorgeous. And it is more colorful than most would imagine. They’d had a pretty good monsoon season this past summer and I was amazed by how green everything looked.

Dead saguaro cactus

The still-standing ribs of a dead saguaro cactus.

After a brief stop for pictures of the view back towards town and of the impressive cacti in the foothills, we climbed back in the car and headed towards Windy Point. Now I’d been to Windy Point many times since I was a child. There is a parking pull-off there with an amazing view and there is a long  and wide rocky outcropping that extends far beyond the low rock wall meant to keep tourists from falling off the edge.

I had been past this wall before when my husband and I were dating, almost a decade ago now. We made a similar mountain pilgrimage together and let me tell you, I was petrified. Every step past that little wall, no matter how stable and secure, was met with shuffling feet, strong feelings of vertigo, and a bit of terror in my heart. It was a miracle that I got any distance past that wall–mostly due to my husband obliviously striding along the edges with a firm grip on my hand. That was my experience ten years ago, but on this day it was the last thing on my mind as we climbed out of our car and crossed the road to the stone wall.

Man climbing over rugged terrain.

Climbing the outcropping at Windy Point.

Taking care placing my feet, I continued to snap photos like a stereotypical Japanese tourist. But my hands weren’t shaking and my breath wasn’t shallow. Not yet conscious of the change in my reactions I forged onward, capturing some wonderful pictures of my husband as he climbed ahead of me.

mountain vista

Impressive view as we move towards the edge.

As we neared the edge, it finally occurred to me how much this sort of thing used to freak me out. And like Wile E. Coyote realizing he is walking on thin air, a little of that old fear started to come back to me. But I had been doing so well, so my husband came back and took my hand.

Crossing the crevice

My brave husband crosses a deep crevice.

He led me gently to the closest edge, I squeezed his hand and looked down… and down… and down… a long way down. I was nervous and a bit shaky, but I gave that drop a good hard look and then we cautiously stepped back. Then he went back to his impression of a mountain goat and I made the startling realization that my breathing was… well, normal.

I looked back to the stone wall and realize how far away it was. It was like something changed in me. I was cautious and vividly aware of my surroundings, but I wasn’t afraid. I was a little bit amazed at myself, but I tucked that realization and the feelings associated with it into my back pocket, and continued my exploration of the outcropping.

Rocky terrain with a low stone wall in the distance.

Looking back towards the stone wall.

If anything I became more adventurous after this, climbing higher and higher and further from that silly wall. I began getting closer to the edges and soon, I was leading my husband, instead of the other way around. And it was… exhilarating? Fantastic? Empowering? All of these words would apply, but none of them truly capture the way that I felt. It has been a hard year, one that would get a lot harder only a few days after these pictures were taken. But this day burned into my memory bright sunshine, rushing wind, a mountain under my feet, and the best day I think I have had for a very long time now.

Looking down without fear.

Looking down without fear.

I’ve been saving this song for months now, waiting for a little personal victory that I could crow about. But every time that I thought to myself, if this pans out I’ll put this song up, things would always fall through. And I’ll admit that during my mountain climbing this song–or any song–never entered my mind. I was too caught up in the moment, which is really saying something for me. But looking back on the experience, I’d say it is the only song that fits.

The song I am referring to is Walk the Moon’s I Can Lift A Car. It is a the story about discovering that the life you once knew is ending, but then finding out that there is another part just waiting to begin. The singer is uplifted and empowered and finds that he is capable of things that he never knew were possible. The imagery in this song is truly commanding. I especially love the way the vocals in the chorus are divided between the four band members. The effect is more echo than call and answer, but there is something about it that is simply wonderful. It is infectiously uplifting and I am convinced that this song is the perfect encore material. It just begs for audience participation.

Just the thing for rediscovering yourself on the edge of a windy cliff.

I Can Lift A Car by Walk the Moon

(All photos in this blog entry are property of Anna Kresmer and subject to the same Creative Commons license as the text of this blog.)

Lennon’s Last Interview

I don’t usually like to reblog stuff here. I prefer to write my own material and give other people the freedom to do the same. But for anyone out there who is interested in the amazing nature of 20/20 hindsight, then you should go read John Lennon’s last print interview, which Rolling Stone published in December 2010 after letting the audio tapes languish for 30 years. The interview, recorded exactly three days before Lennon’s death in 1980, is a stunning look into the mind of the man just before he ceased to be.

The most poignant quote is this:

[Speaking about the media and their styled image of him] “They only like people when they’re on the way up, and when they’re up there, they’ve got nothing else to do but shit on them. I cannot be on the way up again. What they want is dead heroes, like Sid Vicious and James Dean. I’m not interested in being a dead fucking hero…. So forget ’em, forget ’em.”

Looking back on historical figures and events with the knowledge, vision, and mindsets of the present–and the conflicts that are inevitably created between them–has always fascinated me. It is the lens used by all historians view history with–whether consciously or unconsciously. It is the mental filter that makes the saying, “History is written by the victors,” so empirically true. But only when you are aware of this internal conflict can you really be moved by history. Its complexity, its beauty, and its tragedy.

And it is interviews like this one, where you are reading the exact answers that Lennon gave to specific questions, that you can really see through the reverence that so many began to show towards Lennon after his assassination. You see the man as he was–or as close as you can get–you see the human, not the martyr. The musician, not the ad campaign. And that is what makes this interview such an interesting (and arresting) read.

John Lennon: The Last Interview 

Perspective

I don’t even know where to begin. The last two weeks have been my best and worst weeks of 2012–specifically in that order. I got to spend several days in my hometown, watching people I love get married, bonding with my family, and climbing mountains (literally!). It was the best, most gratifying, and least dramatic visit home I have had since leaving the desert in 2007. And it was all shot to hell within an hour of landing back in Charm City… the less said about it the better, but practically everyone I know in this town is currently trying to get their feet back under them again–a process which is still in progress. (How’s that for vaguely ominous? Pretty good, huh?)

Well since the bomb dropped, I’ve been trying to collect my brain cells while watching the dust settle. Things will get better, I know they will. It’s just that sometimes it feels like the extreme juxtaposition of wonderful and devastating has made this new reality that much harder for me to take.  But–as I’ve been repeating to myself a lot lately–it is what it is.

So I’ve been spending the last several days striving  to keep my perspective in all of this. It hasn’t been particularly easy, but (as usual) it got a bit easier when I stumbled upon my current theme song. If you’ve been around the last year and have been paying attention, you know that I change them quite often. And my latest addition to that illustrious list is It’s Nice to be Alive by Ball Park Music. Courtesy of this adorable little indie rock group from Brisbane, Australia, with a lead singer who looks remarkably like a teenaged David Tennant, the song shows a refreshingly innocent sense of humor in both the video and their lyrics. Somehow they manage to keep things light in what could have been a rather existential song, proclaiming “You are alive! Isn’t that great?!”

So here’s your daily dose of perspective, folks. Please enjoy!

It’s Nice to be Alive by Ball Park Music

Confessions of a music snob 2

Sometimes it seems like you really can’t outrun the mistakes of your youth. You change, you grow, and you look back and think, “Wow! Look how far I have come.” Then one day you have a conversation with someone who apparently knows you better than you know yourself. And you realize that the only thing that has changed is the date on the calendar…

A couple of weeks ago, my husband–who is affectionately nicknamed Monkey–and I were driving out to this amazing German restaurant about an hour away from Charm City. I was having a lovely time watching the green summer scenery going by and listening to the radio with my favorite companion. Somewhere along the road I began talking about the songs we were hearing. Now anyone who hangs around me for more than 20 minutes or so knows that this is quite normal for me. Most people just nod and smile until I have finished my piece and then the conversation moves on to another topic. They quickly come to realize that music is a big deal for me and they generally deal with me accordingly. But on this particular occasion, I guess I really got into serious music mode. In addition to becoming quite the critic lately, I am an avid trivia hound. So when I get going not only will I tell you why I like or dislike a particular song, I’ll also give you the artist’s entire biography (or at least as much of it as I know) and I’ll top it off with whatever memories or emotions I associate with their work. And on this night I was in fine form. After about 15 or 20 minutes of this (I wish I were kidding), my husband suddenly got really quiet. Then he looked over at me in the passenger seat and we had the following conversation (more or less):

Monkey: You know, I think you’ve gone back to the music person you were when I first met you.

Me: Aw, really? I lost some of it over the last few years? [Shock and a little sadness for losing touch with something I care so much about.]

Monkey: Yeah, but you’ve changed since starting the blog.

Me:  …So I’ve gotten it back now? [Warm fuzzies over this unexpected side effect of my creative endeavor.] That’s a good thing, right?

Monkey: [silence]

Me: Right..?

Monkey: [more silence]

Me: What’s wrong with becoming a bigger music fan again?

Monkey: [another pause, avoiding my shocked stare… or possibly just watching the road] Well, you keep talking over the music. You never actually let me just listen to it.

Me: [Stunned] Aw crap! You mean I’ve been acting like a music snob again? Why? Because of the blog?

Monkey: Honey, you blog about music. Doesn’t that automatically make you a music snob?

Me: Crap!

So there it is. My past rushing to keep up with me even after all these years. All through high school and into parts of undergrad, I was known (affectionately enough) as a music snob. I had a reputation for talking too much about what I liked (to the point of sometimes derailing conversations), making a general nuisance of myself when forced to listen to songs I didn’t like, and being… well, obsessed is a bit too strong, but something close to it. The moniker was rarely trotted out by friends, but it was made clear to me on more than one occasion that people felt it was well-deserved. It was almost an in-joke, for goodness sake! I despised this title whole-heartedly–still do, truth be told. And for the last several years, I thought I had escaped it. I grew a thicker skin, stopped making faces when country music was playing, learned to appreciate the wider and more eclectic world of music, and mastered the art of agreeing to disagree (or so I thought). I still got carried away occasionally with my little monologues, but on the whole I was a lot more easy-going and less annoying when it came to music. Well, it appears that I was only distracted by school, work, and a committed relationship. Once I got to work on this blog, I started slipping. (You can read about one of my previous lapses here.)

Not to get all whiny on you, but this is frustrating to say the least. The whole point of this blog is to explore my creative side in ways that I haven’t had the luxury to indulge in for the last several years. It’s supposed to give me a place to tell my little stories, without interrupting people or talking over the music, and (hopefully) avoid channeling the dreaded snob of my youth. Apparently I’ve still got some work to do on that count… and maybe the Internet is not the best place to avoid pretension… Crap!

Well, I refuse to give up the franchise here. I enjoy writing and can’t really imagine writing about something else with as much passion. But I do sincerely wish to be a better spokesperson for the musically-engrossed.  And there is no better time to start. They say that admitting you have a problem is the first step towards beating it. So here goes.

Hi, my name is Anna. And I am a music snob.

One of my first goals is to listen more and to let others listen as well. So now with no story, no agenda, no excuses, or explanations, here is a song I love. Just because. Enjoy (but don’t get too used to it)!

Sick of Myself by Matthew Sweet

We’re gonna rattle this ghost town

My, my, how times does fly! I have now officially been writing in this blog for a whole year. And like most good things in life, it simultaneously feels like I just started yesterday and that I have been doing this for the last twenty years or so. I still get that stupendous rush when I’m knee-deep in the creative process that I felt with my first few entries, but after the last twelve months I feel like I have really found my voice–something that simply takes time. Now this doesn’t mean that I don’t go a little crazy and revise my entries to within an inch of their little lives. Just ask my husband and he’ll tell you that I worry about the blog waaay tooo much. But even when I’m agonizing over a turn of phrase or frantically trying to select my next topic, I’m enjoying every minute of the process and I am both pleased and a little amazed that I have kept this up for this long.

When I started out on this venture, I was looking to accomplish two things: 1.) do something with my life other than work and commute, and 2.) finally write down all those little stories and memories that I am compelled to share with people whenever music is playing. I think the first of these goals has been met beautifully. I write every week that I can, miss it dreadfully when my real life intrudes, and have not-so-secretly been dreaming of leaving it all behind to write full-time. (Don’t worry, sweetie. I know that this is not an option when Sallie Mae owns my soul in exchange for grad school. But hey, I can dream, right?) And as for the second goal, well… To put it plainly, I have many more stories left to tell. I actually carry around a list of about thirty ideas for entries everywhere that I go, most of which have to do with my own experiences, and no matter how many entries I write this list never seems to get any shorter. I guess this means I should keep writing…

The one thing that I didn’t expect to happen when I started writing here was how much it would affect my music tastes. I still listen to a great variety of stuff and there still are many older bands that will always be significant to me. But my music appetite has gone from merely nibbly to positively voracious at the same time that my attention span has taken a nose dive. I’m constantly on the lookout for that next song. An album or artist probably only lasts about a week for me now. I listen to it like mad, write something up, and suddenly it is old news. I still love it and may listen again later, but it isn’t the same. I’m already on the prowl for my next target. I also constantly evaluate the things I listen to on whether or not they will make a good entry. Sometimes I wonder if it is less about the connection, the experience of listening and more about, “is this interesting enough to write about?” But I’m working on this latter problem.

And in that vein, I am going to celebrate my first big milestone with a song that I absolutely love right now, mainly because the video makes me smile and the title has my name in it. This is a sweet, goofy, and oddly uplifting video from a new band called Walk the Moon. There is so much joy in this song, the beat is infectious, and there is choreography! The lyrics, which are easy to overlook on the first few listens, have an almost sad desperation in them coupled with a fierce determination.

What do you know? This house is falling apart
What can i say? This house is falling apart
We got no money, but we got heart
We’re gonna rattle this ghost town
This house is falling apart

We may be going down, but damn it! We’ll make it count. Enjoy!

Walk the Moon – Anna Sun

Wishes for 2012

The last two weeks have been absolutely wonderful and just a little bit insane. Between family coming to visit (including cousins, a sister, and a 4-year-old ball of pure energy called a child), multiple tattoo shop visits, and that whole holiday thing, I’m feeling a little ambivalent. I’m feeling physically drained, yet emotionally recharged. As a result, I’ve decided to count this as a win, even though I’m still catching up on sleep and my shoulder is still healing from my little self-inflicted art project. But with all the excitement lately, updating the blog just kept getting pushed farther and farther down my to-do list. So I decided to take a little unscheduled holiday hiatus from writing. Plus, I figured that 2 Christmas themed entries from me was more than enough for one year. And since I’m still not quite back to the usual grind, I’m going to keep this short. But I plan to begin posting regularly again starting next week. A little New Year’s resolution, if you will.

But with the advent of 2012 now whizzing past us, I still feel the need to at least comment. 2011 was a complex year for me, to say the least. A lot happened and I’m still trying to total up both the good and the bad columns in my 2011 ledger. It was a bad year for pets and an even worse year for some people I care very deeply about. I traveled more than expected, but most of it for work. I was officially asked to stay on in my grant-funded position and ever since I have been trying to come to grips with the idea of living in Charm City (or at least this state) on a more permanent basis. My husband got hired by the company he was contracting at and started talking about buying a house. I experienced my first earthquake and dealt with an unexpectedly strong case of seasonal depression (apparently, Winter #5 is a doozy). I spent some extra time quality with family and had one of those significant (as in permanent) bonding experiences with my youngest sister. And (quite momentous for me, if for no one else) I started this blog in an effort to bring some creativity to my life. It has been a crazy time and for the most part, I am glad to put 2011 behind me–even though I do believe that all-in-all it wasn’t a bad year. I still hope that 2012 is a better year for me, or else I may lose what little is left of my sanity.

And as for you, I wish you immeasurable happiness. I hope you hear from an old friend. I hope you find that $20 you squirreled away in a forgotten hiding place. I hope you read your favorite book (again). I hope you watch a gorgeous sunset painted across a desert sky. And I hope you hear a new (to you) song that literally stops you in your tracks and takes your breath away with its power and beauty.

To possibly help you achieve that last one, here is Energy by The Apples in Stereo. A beautiful song that makes me feel like the whole world is goodness and light, with a slide guitar solo that somehow always brings tears to my eyes. Enjoy and have a very Happy New Year!